Wednesday, February 18, 2004

As usual, certain elements of our American Christian subculture seem to be "gospelizing" something that shouldn't be. In other words, making some thing a test of orthodoxy, an matter of conscience, treating it as if it were the Gospel itself, and then portraying anyone who disagrees as a persecutor of Christianity. For sure, there are persecutors, but not everyone who has a different take on some matter is necessarily anti-Christian.

No, I'm not talking about Judge Moore and his granite monument which one must endorse or be labeled anti-God. It is my impression, just me talking here, that a little of this is taking place over Mel Gibson's movie The Passion. Mel Gibson isn't inspired and doesn't claim to be. Neither was the movie script, camera angles, cinematography, the actors, or anything else. It is great that he wanted to make the movie. But this is not a holy struggle between light and darkness to have the movie released, how the movie is reviewed, or what people think of it. I'm sure that the movie will be very impactful. I also think of several matters to remember.

The inspired writers of the New Testament said little about the gore, violence, and physical suffering of Jesus. The Gospel writers do not dramatize the events for us, but speak rather sparsely of the crucifixion. No preacher worth his salt today would pass up the opportunity to wring more out of the story than they do. But still they don't.

The writers of the epistles say little of the agonies of Christ's death, giving only brief allusions and certainly not graphic portrayals. Our examples of the early kerugma, or preaching of the apostles, clearly centers on the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ - but not on the actual violence of Christ's death. Of course, one could say, they knew what crucifixion meant. Yes they did, and it would have been ridiculous for the apostles to argue that the manner of death was significant, because it was a common form of execution. The rebel slave Spartacus was crucified but that meant nothing for me.

The meaning of Christ's death is not in the physical manner of it, nor the cruelties associated with it. Thousands of others died in the same manner, many suffering more prolonged and painful deaths than Jesus - take the two thieves who died that same day, for instance. The meaning is not the torturous manner of death, which is why I think the inspired writers did not dramatize that for us. If Jesus had been beheaded, electrocuted, strangled, poisoned, thrown to lions, or anything else, he would still be my Savior. We just wouldn't wear crosses. Interestingly enough, the early Christians didn't use a cross as a symbol for their faith - they used a fish.

See the movie. Jesus suffered greatly in his death. The extremity of his suffering is not what saves, but the atoning life of a righteous man paying the death-penalty for sin. May God use the movie to His glory.

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