Points to Ponder/The Passionate Reaction to The Passion

by Pastor Dennis Whitmore

All the stir over Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is in itself, a work of God. All kinds of people of many different faiths and backgrounds are writing or talking about it. It’s bloody and graphic, moving and upsetting, convicting and exhausting; these are effects people have experienced. Think about how God is in the midst of it all.

In America, gory, violent films are common fare. I do not recall Friday the 13th arousing such a reaction. There are some films, like Saving Private Ryan which offer a graphic story set in the context of a real historical event. People were touched, particularly veterans who know the realities of war; but we did not see as many articles, discussions, and even discussion guides, produced in conjunction with that.

What gets so many stirred up is not that it’s “based on a true story” - it IS a true story. Millions of people have lived and died proclaiming the message that this Jesus is God incarnate. He submitted Himself to the cruelest form of humiliation and death to pay for the sins of the whole world (John 3:16), and then He rose from the grave (Matt. 28; Mark 16; Luke 24; John 20). Afterward, He physically ate, drank and conversed with His disciples for 40 days (Acts 1:1-4; 10:39-43). In First Corinthians 15:3-8, we are told that he appeared to over 500 people. If all of this was not true, then Jesus was a false prophet and a liar and Christianity is a false religion which touts empty promises of eternal life.

“... If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith... and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have (died) in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (I Cor. 15:14, 17-19 NIV)

So, the power behind Mel Gibson’s movie regardless of flaws or inaccuracies (both real and perceived) is that it is a true story of TRUTH. That’s why it is troubling to some and inspiring to so many others.

I saw how God is using this film when I heard the gospel on the Today Show. Yes. A secular film critic was telling Katie Couric the various points of controversy the film had raised (and this was before any theatre had showed it). In the end, he told why Jesus died and for what purpose: to pay for our sins.

Other secular programs I caught here and there eventually had to bring that up, because in reality that’s the root of the fuss. The claims of Jesus the Messiah (in the Greek, “Christ”) are a “stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” (See I Peter 2:7-8)

I saw two programs back to back; one was a network broadcast, the other a Christian program. I have also seen as many as two large editorials and a column in a major newspaper all on the same day. People are talking, critiquing, praising, and criticizing Gibson, the movie itself, and the Christians who stand behind it. And as they do, they have to either talk about who Jesus is and why He died that way; or they have to at least wonder about it.

On the network program, some scholars questioned the accuracy of some of the movie scenes and character portrayals. Some were questioning the accuracy of the scripture itself. One said that Jesus can not be the Messiah; it is foolishness to think that He could have been. As I watched them, Paul’s words came to mind.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age?” (I Cor. 1:18, 20 NIV)

Well they are on CNN, ABC, and the other media. They are in seminaries and some are in pulpits and in church schools. I enjoy watching their debates and arguments. I remember that not so long ago I was one of them.

“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believed.” (I Cor. 1:21 NIV)

This is controversial stuff! The Passion of the Christ forces the serious thinker to either embrace the power of the Truth which the film portrays or finally conclude that Jesus was just a man, a false prophet and a liar, and that Christianity is a bogus religion based on a myth.

As the debates and discussions go on, some to praise and others to criticize, it is a good thing. As Paul said, “...what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (Phil. I:18).

In the movie world, violence, blood and gore are normal and regular fare. So why is this bloody movie causing such a stir? Because, like it or not, even with its flaws, The Passion conveys a holy message. Many are embracing it and others are trying to discredit it; but the truth it tells will stand.

The question is - what will you do with this Jesus?

“Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a ‘fool’ so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” (I Cor. 3:18-19a)

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Dennis

Pastor Whitmore serves God at the First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD.