Even when I am somewhat familiar with the story - the Lord of the Rings trilogy is one example - I can maintain a certain element of surprise by refusing to listen to know-it-all movie critics who think they have a better understanding of my likes and dislikes.
However, when I went to see The Passion of the Christ, I was already very familiar with the subject matter. I knew all the main characters and their backgrounds. I knew exactly how each scene would unfold. As a Christian, I knew how the story was going to end - or, more accurately, begin.
If that weren't enough, I had read dozens of movie reviews, many of them describing scenes in great detail. For all practical purposes, there was no reason at all for me to see this motion picture.
I went anyway. Though I was intimately familiar with the gospel accounts of the crucifixion, the movie made a tremendous impact on me and proved to be an eye-opener in more ways than one.
A good artist is someone who is able to make tangible the intangible, and a true work of art takes something that would ordinarily defy description and put it into terms that mere mortals can understand. Picture the most magnificent painting you have ever seen, or imagine the most beautiful piece of music you have ever heard, and you will know exactly what I mean.
Mel Gibson accomplished this with The Passion. He was able to take an event as indescribable as the crucifixion and present it in such a way that makes an indelible impression.
The vivid images of an innocent man being tortured to death provided the shock Gibson was going for. There in all its grotesqueness was an artist's depiction of what it must have been like for millennia of sin and wickedness to be poured out on one individual. Through the sounds of splattering blood and ripping flesh I could hear members of the audience gasping and crying. Even though every single one of us in that theater knew the violence was simulated, that didn't make it any less disturbing. What's more, I believe that despite Gibson's great attention to detail, his version of the crucifixion was most likely a bit tame compared to the actual event.
As I sat riveted to the screen, I suddenly realized why so many people found this movie offensive. No, it isn't anti-Semitic. Those who have leveled that charge have either never seen the movie or are simply covering up their abject hatred for Christianity and the gospel. The reason they were offended is that they saw the truth come to life on the big screen - and people tend to lash out in anger when confronted with the truth. Paul reminds us in his letter to the church at Corinth that "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" (1 Cor. 1:18).
I know it is only a movie. I know that it isn't God-breathed scripture. But there is something to be said of one's ability to bring history to life.
I believe that people were offended because they fail to understand how Christians can find such joy and happiness in an act as hideous as the crucifixion. In Psalm 118:24 we read of the anticipation of Christ’s sacrifice: "This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." Hebrews 12:2 speaks of Jesus enduring the cross "for the joy that was set before him," and 1 Peter 4:13 tells us to "rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy." That kind of joy is something the world cannot understand.
Many critics complained that the movie didn't provide an adequate explanation for the reason behind Jesus' suffering. Why did so many people hate him? Why did he subject himself willingly to such excruciating pain? Why didn’t the movie focus more on his ministry of love and forgiveness?
Oh, it truly is amazing how utterly ignorant people can be. The gruesome act of the crucifixion was the ultimate act of love and forgiveness played out before all humanity! It was the culmination of Jesus' entire life and ministry. Beyond that, it is the one, blessed event to which all of scripture points.
As shocking as it may sound, The Passion of the Christ is perhaps the most beautiful love story ever filmed. It portrays a love so powerful that it hurts to even look at it. It shows us a love so overwhelming and so suffocating that sinful creatures cannot help but recoil from it in horror. The critics whined that they wanted to see more of Christ's message of love and forgiveness; for two whole hours it was right there in front of them in all of its crimson glory.
The beauty of the crucifixion is that it is the embodiment of God's love. The apostle John captures the essence of this truth: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1, 14).
Christ made flesh was God's ultimate masterpiece. The Master Artist made tangible the intangible, and in doing so provided His children with something we could never hope to achieve on our own: eternal life.
Yes, The Passion of the Christ is only a movie, but it reminds us of the offensive beauty of God's love. It also delivers the unforgettable message that it is a love that cannot be ignored.