Eric V. Snow Sermonette 3-6-04 UCG, Ann Arbor, MI
After working late last Thursday night on a monthly report, I decided almost on whim to see “The Movie.” That is, I decided to see Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” Ask for showing of hands of who have seen it yet.
Movie’s brutal realism: 1. The scourging by Roman soldiers, the carrying of the cross to Golgotha amidst a raucous city crowd, the awful depiction of the process of crucifying someone itself. Jesus is systematically beaten to a bloody pulp before your eyes. The stretching of Jesus’ second arm to reach the other already drilled hole in the cross’s crossbeam is a particularly gruesome touch. The cross is flipped over with Jesus attached upside-down to hit the points of the stakes downwards. Then it’s flipped back over before being lifted it up by ropes to drop it into the hole already dug into the ground—Woosh! Thud! Imagine that action causing the nails to tear at your flesh. The general accuracy can’t be doubted, fits Isaiah’s description of how the Messiah would look, about being marred and disfigured .
2. Not recommended for anyone under 13 certainly, R-rated for good reason.
3. Not always accurate, such as in certain added scenes not in the Gospels: The Virgin Mary using a towel to wipe up her Son’s blood on the pavement around the site Jesus was scourged at after all the soldiers had left. Mary’s role played up some, which fits Mel Gibson’s very conservative Catholicism. But she did see her baby tortured murdered before he eyes, even if 33 years old by then. Greek presumably used when Pilate talked to Jews, including Jesus, not Latin. Golgotha may not have been on a hill (which makes a for a dramatic pictorial backdrop in the movie). Cross not a “cross”? But the exact shape of the piece of wood used to kill God not of especially great importance intrinsically. Graven image issue (show magazine).
Bus-Amish analogy: Amish can ride the motorized bus despite not allowed to drive it, fix it, or manufacture it using electricity. Likewise, Christians shouldn’t make graven images, such as this movie, but it’s a “bus” that may be wise to get “on.”
But the utterly awful and terrible pain Jesus suffered during the last 12 hours of His life leads us to an important issue: Why? That is, suppose you were God. You are planning to create a universe with creatures like yourself in it, made in your image. Why do you choose to die for them if they violate your law, your will? After all, they’re the ones in the wrong, not you.
So let’s look some at the theory of atonement, and why Jesus had to die for our sins. Why did God allow evil to exist, and then choose to die for His creatures’ evils? Why did God allow pain into His universe, but then take such an awful share of it for Himself?
S.P.S. We should have faith in God’s goodness and we should not condemn God for allowing evil to exist when He accepted such terrible pain upon Himself.
The great reality of God’s general master plan for the universe was that the Creator signed His own death warrant by creating the human race. At the barest minimum, God knew Adam and Eve likely were going to sin. But He went forward with His plan nevertheless.
Ambiguity issue in translating Greek not really important actually since God’s foresight makes this a necessary truth. Also, the alternative translation turns salvation into a matter of predestination, “every one whose name hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain” (ASV). This is enough to rule it out since it would conflict with other texts about showing people have free will.
But why did God choose to die for His creatures’ violations of His will? A great mystery always overhangs this issue. Why couldn’t God the Father just look down, and say, “You all are forgiven if you repent”? Why must there be a blood sacrifice as the basis for the process of granting forgiveness for His creatures’ violations of His law?
Why does the process of atonement require the innocent Creator to allow His creatures to inflict such pain upon Him? Why does God think that He had to allow His creatures acting from evil motives to inflict evil upon Him? Why must atonement require pain’s existence for reconciliation to occur?
If we can answer these questions, we can understand why Jesus had to die, and why He had to die so painfully. After all, if atonement requires death to be effective, why must the death require such enormous agony to be effective? Why couldn’t Jesus have been (say) simply beheaded? By tradition, that’s how Paul died, for example, since being a Roman citizen gave certain rights. Why couldn’t Jesus have been given the hemlock to drink, like the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates had to drink when the city of Athens executed him?
There must be a reason why God decided not merely to die, but to die a very painful and protracted death by crucifixion, in order to save us.
Ultimately, part of the reason why has to be to impress all his intelligent, conscious creatures, both angelic and human, about His love for them being limitless. The agony of Jesus during His passion, during the process of being beaten, mocked, scourged, and crucified, which He undertook to give us eternal life, shows we shouldn’t doubt His love for us. He also suffered incredible emotional pain as He was separated from God the Father as the Father turned away from Him, as all the sins of the world were transferred onto Christ, which the Father must not be touched by.
Yet how often do we think, “God, if you loved me, or mankind in general, why did you allow this terrible thing X to occur to me, or them?” This thinking is very shallow. It doesn’t recognize the utter agony of Christ, which Mel Gibson’s movie so successfully drives home.
Consider the story of Zaleucus as a way to explain why the theory of atonement required God’s own death. Ancient Greek ruler of city in southern Italy. He had severe laws, enforced them rigidly. His own son broke a law. The stated penalty was to be made blind for violating it. Zaleucus’s roles as ruler and father now conflicted when he had to judge the case. He wanted to have mercy on his son as a father. But as a ruler, he knew if he let his son off lightly, others would say he was unfair, playing favorites, and then be encouraged to violate his laws in the future. And this was despite the people he ruled now were asking him to be merciful to His son. So how did he reconcile justice and mercy? How did he reconcile being both ruler and father? He devised a means of atonement: Two eyes were still to be blinded, but he had one of his own eyes blinded in place of one of his son’s!
Thus God rated the violation of His own law as such a serious issue that a serious penalty had to be inflicted. This was done to prove to every created intelligence who could question His fairness that His laws had to be obeyed in the future. But if the penalty of death was justly inflicted on the violators of His law, there would be no way they could be reconciled and made at one with their Creator. God reconciled justice and mercy by inflicting the penalty for the sins of His creatures upon Himself. God allowed evil to exist, as He gave us free will, but then allowed an incredible amount of pain from allowing it to directly hit Himself from their choices. Therefore, we shouldn’t doubt God’s love even if we don’t fully understand why he allows all the trials and tests we and others have had to endure in this life.
God is in the process of making Beings like Himself. To do this, He has to be reconciled to them yet not let them off the hook lightly when they break His law. Otherwise, they would be encouraged to violate it in the future. The pain God took upon Himself is designed to deter future acts of evil by His physical creatures when (eventually) they are made divine and part of His family as spirit beings. For man to become God, God had to make sure human beings would become totally righteous and never want to violate His law in the future. God doesn’t want a repeat of Satan’s revolt among the angels, who obviously questioned God’s justice and love even when nothing evil had yet occurred. Christ died, and died so painfully, so we wouldn’t want to be like Job, and question God’s fairness in the eternity ahead of us.
Jesus’ pain also is the basis for being physically healed by God’s spiritual power. But why make this the basis for healing, other than to teach us a lesson also?] [Added since omitted in original notes but is a very important issue in this context]
Conclusion: Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” drives home the utter agony and pain Christ suffered on the day he was crucified by its graphic and brutal realism. Christ’s pain and death for our sins so we could live forever shows we should never doubt God’s love and fairness to us. Consider seeing this movie to impress on yourself how high a price God paid for us to be reconciled to Him. It’s time to stop griping and complaining about God’s lack of love when he allowed some bad thing to happen to you, a family member, a friend, or the anonymous millions of the past in such atrocities as the Holocaust or the Ukrainian Terror Famine under Stalin. True, God allows such crimes as women getting raped and men getting murdered, but then He allowed Himself to be murdered. It’s time to have faith that God knows what He’s doing, and so commit ourselves to Him fully, including by being baptized if we aren’t. The pain Jesus endured on the day He died shows we have no right to condemn God or question God for allowing evil to exist. We should let Christ’s crucifixion drive a stake through our doubts about His love and His fairness in allowing evil to enter His creation.