Many have said that the benefit of Mel’s movie is that it gets people talking about Jesus. The unfortunate thing, I have found, is that because of the wrongly placed emphases in the movie, people are generally quick to talk about the wrong things about Jesus. People are quick to talk about the violence in the movie, if the Jews are really to blame for Jesus’ death, and did the crucifixion really happen that way?
In the true gospel story, however, it was not the violence that was front and centre (a concept foreign to the maker of movies like Braveheart and the Patriot). While the brutality Jesus experienced was most likely more horrible than anyone ever reading this post will ever have to go through, that was not the point. The depiction of the suffering of Christ in the movie was at the very least superfluous, if not distracting.
The point of the cross was not how bad the pain was for Jesus. The point of the cross was that he had to die. But removed from the rest of the biblical plotline, audiences everywhere walk away saying, “What did he do that was that bad?” Or else, “Man, the Pilate guy sure was a wimp.” Some even leave saying, “Those crazy Jews, why did they kill an innocent guy?”
I understand that it is impossible for Mel to make a movie that depicts the whole story of redemptive history, but to focus on the cross without giving any background rationale for it makes the evil seem pointless and people leave with more questions than answers.
God created the world, and the world was good. But when man was tempted to disobey God’s command, he did it. Adam, our first representative, chose to sin. He thought what he wanted outweighed what God commanded. He thought that he knew the way he could be happy and that God’s command was keeping him back from that.
But like God had warned Adam, in the day when he sinned, he would surely die. Sin brings death. That was what God told Adam from the beginning. When Adam and Eve sinned, God killed an animal so he could cover their nakedness (ie. their shame). It was a picture that to cover their guilt, death would have to come.
They were cast out of the Garden where they lived with God, because sin cannot be in the presence of God. The whole rest of the Old Testament functions as witness to this fact… Even before the Law was given on Mt. Sinai. That’s why Paul could write in his letter to the Romans that from Adam until Moses sin and death still reigned.
So what about the Law? Could it save? No! The power of the Law was sin and death. As Paul said, “I wouldn’t have known what it was to covet if the Law hadn’t said ‘Do not covet’.” The Law functioned to stir people up to more sin, and to make their transgression obvious! Which of us hasn’t had an experience like this? We have no inclination to do something until we’re told not to do it. Then, once we know that we can’t do it, that’s exactly when we want to do it! And our sin becomes all the more obvious.
So we (each and every one of us) stand guilty before God and unable to live in his presence. Our representative (Adam) fell, and all of us fell in him. But then each of us, once we were born and able to choose right or wrong, chose wrong and bore testimony to the fact that we are fallen creatures. We prove our judgment to be right when we act the way that we do when we make our own choices.
So what can save us? Is it good works? If we do enough good things to outweigh the bad things? Clearly not. Isaiah says that our “good works” are like dirty, old, used menstrual rags before a holy God. Somehow I don’t think that’s the effect we wanted them to have. And the simple fact of the matter is that even if God is saddened by our sin, he cannot simply forgive by ignoring the facts any more than we would want Paul Bernardo’s judge to acquit by ignoring the facts. That’s not fair and it’s not just. But God is a God of mercy, is he not?
How can his mercy and his justice come together to accomplish his purpose of glorifying himself in redeeming an innumerable people from all over the earth? That’s why we have the cross. That’s why Jesus had to die.
To be continued…