In 2004 my wife and I were among the millions of Christians who packed into theaters to see the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” It is a very powerful film, and it burns indelible images into your mind. Many of the critics of the movie attacked the explicit violence depicted during those last twelve hours of Jesus’ life. (Indeed, in 2005 there was a rerelease of the movie with about five minutes of the most graphic violence removed.) The violence was indeed graphic, but it was also accurate. It was the accuracy and historic truth of it that made it difficult to watch (at least for me). It is one thing to read a sentence that tells us Pilate had Jesus flogged. It is quite another thing to watch it. The same is true for the abuse of Jesus as the soldiers made sport of him.
We found the film to be impressive and forceful, so we decided to purchase a copy of it when it came out on DVD. To date, we have not been able to make ourselves sit down and watch it. It is not something you would watch for entertainment. In fact, I think that I would like to fast forward to the last scene in the movie, the resurrection.
Many Christians prefer a religion of glory, as opposed to a religion of suffering. They want to hear about all of the things that the risen Christ is going to do for them. They really do not want to hear what the Crucified Christ has done for them. They especially do not want to hear the Crucified Christ say something like, ‘take up your cross and follow me.” They want a faith that jumps from Palm Sunday to Easter Morning, like Evel Kenevel jumping over so many cars.
To dwell on the trial and passion of Jesus is a bit of a downer, primarily because it does draw attention to our sin. People do not want to hear about their sin, or their need for a savior. They want to hear sermons about how God will help them achieve their goals in life, as they become the very best person they can be. They want upbeat, happy inspirational messages. They want to know what wondrous things God is going to do to improve their lives. The suffering and passion of Jesus makes us uncomfortable, yet there is the cross sticking right smack dab in the middle of our faith. (Unless you attend Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church which has no crosses in it.)
Whether we want to look or not, the truth is that Jesus was taken and shackled to a post. The soldiers then beat him with a type of whip which is called a flagrum, which had small lead balls and mutton bones at the ends of the leather straps. These objects were designed to tear the flesh and to cause contusions. The idea was to weaken the victim in order to shorten the times needed for crucifixion. Although Jewish law limits the number of lashes a person may receive to forty, Roman law had no such limitations. If indeed the Shroud of Turin holds the image of Jesus, he received somewhere between one hundred and one hundred twenty lashes. The soldiers then placed a crown of thorns on his head, dressed him in a purple robe, mocked him, and made sport of him. We may not want to see this or read about it, but it happened.
Let us return to “The Passion of the Christ” for just a moment. The director, Mel Gibson, said this about the story of the passion: “This is a movie about love, hope, faith and forgiveness. He [Jesus] died for all mankind, suffered for all of us.” It is a story about an amazing love that God has for his people. The suffering was for me and for you, to pay a ransom we could never hope to secure. Every drop of blood that was spilled in that gory spectacle was a demonstration of God’s love for us. As St. Paul wrote, “…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)