The Hidden “Passion” of the Christ
It has been over ten years since the release of the movie, “The Passion of the Christ “, Mel Gibson’s epic film that depicts the suffering of Jesus at his execution by crucifixion. This movie is a fairly accurate portrayal of the Scriptural account of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because of this accuracy, the scenes of the scourging of Christ and the crucifixion are quite brutal and violent. Since that time there have been a few other books and movies (Bill O’Reilly’s recent book and movie “Killing Jesus” and Stu Epperson’s book “The last Words of Jesus” to name a few) that have attempted to capture the suffering that Christ endured in His brutal death. Each of these producers/authors have done an exceptional job and I commend their works to you regarding Christ’s physical suffering.
In my simple reading of the Biblical narratives I never picked up on the graphic nature of Christ’s physical suffering. The Gospel writers, to a certain extent, skip over most of the gory details. I believe I know why they don’t emphasize the deep physical suffering of Christ. It is because, in fact, there is a greater suffering that our Lord went through than the physical.
To comprehend this we must first understand that God is perfectly holy and that man is hopelessly sinful. We sin by nature and we sin by choice. We must also understand that a holy and just God requires that sin be punished and judged. We must also remember that from His holiness flows His love for us, as well as His grace and mercy that He pours out on our lives.
In the Jewish Scriptures which we call the Old Testament, we learn that “the soul that sins it shall die” (Ezekiel 3:10) and in the New Testament we learn that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). This death is more than a physical death. It is a spiritual death, a separation from God both now and for eternity. We call this eternal separation “damnation”. To pay the penalty for my sins and yours, as well as for the sins of all mankind, Jesus Christ needed to experience not just a physical death but a spiritual death, a separation from God. He had to experience God’s punishment for sin for us — in our place (This is called the substitutionary atonement).
Is there any evidence that Jesus Christ suffered this separation and judgment during His Passion? We need look no further than to the hours of noon to three, as Christ hung on the cross, for the answer. The Biblical text describing this time in Matthew 27:45-46 reads: “Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
During this time, Jesus Christ is the “Sin Offering” for the world. The Apostle Paul sheds light on this when he tells us “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21). The Apostle Peter echoes his statement saying “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness – by whose stripes you were healed (1 Peter 2:24). The Apostle John tells us “And He Himself is the propitiation (the appeasement of God’s wrath) for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:2).
Jesus Christ was sinless yet He is made sin. He never lied yet He is made a liar. He never blasphemed, but he is made a blasphemer. He never abused anyone but He is accounted an abuser. He never stole but He is accounted a thief. He never had an impure thought but He is accounted an adulterer. He was a man of peace but He is made a murderer. This in itself was worse than the physical beating He received. To be sinless as Christ was and then to bear all our sin must have been hideous beyond our understanding. But there was more.
When Jesus cries out “My God, My God why have you forsaken me,” He is bemoaning His separation from the Father. God has turned away from His Son. This is a quote from Psalm 22:1-2. The answer to the question is found in Psalm 22:3 which reads “But You are Holy.” A holy God could not fellowship with His Son, for during this time Jesus was bearing our sins as well as paying the penalty for them. The prophet Isaiah tells us “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin.” The word “bruise” means, “to crush.” It seems that Jesus’ very being was made an offering to atone for our sins. His soul was being crushed in the winepress of the wrath of God. The depth of that pain is something that is impossible for us to fully grasp. On the cross, this eternal person, Jesus Christ, was suffering the eternal punishment of a holy God for what must have seemed like an eternity on account of my sin and yours as well as for the sins of all mankind. We cannot imagine what this must have been like. Yes, men have been beaten and crucified in the manner Jesus was in Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” Even some innocent individuals may have experienced such a death (though none were sinless like Christ). What makes Christ’s suffering so unique and redemptive is that He took on himself the sins of mankind and bore not just the wrath of man or of a human government but the wrath of a holy God. Then He cried “it is finished”, completing His work of redemption for us. There is no way that this event could ever be portrayed to its fullest in a book or on film, even with the most artful use of the written word, the work of the most skilled actors, extremely realistic special effects, or an unlimited budget.
We should be very grateful for the physical suffering of Christ that has been written about and portrayed for us by many. We should be even more grateful for His suffering that is unseen and which cannot be depicted.
During this “Holy Week” when we intensify our focus upon Jesus’ indescribable suffering for us, we cannot help but want to sing — and even shout — the words of the hymn writer, “Hallelujah, What a Savior.”
Pastor Dave Watson