Mel Gibson has released “The Passion of the Christ Recut” in theaters across the United States and Canada. About five minutes of the gruesome beating of Jesus has been cut from the film. Apparently Gibson took to heart some of the criticism regarding the violence of the movie.
That Jesus was severely beaten is not debated among Bible scholars. Yet, theologians and laymen alike agree that if Jesus suffered the kind of beating portrayed in Gibson’s film, it’s likely he would have died before ever getting to Golgotha, the place of the skull, the gruesome place of the crucifixion.
As a culture, it is difficult to shock us anymore. We routinely see murders on television. We see dead bodies from explosions and shootings on the evening news and we see the results of natural disasters that go beyond our imaginations. Yet those who saw Gibson’s movie last year were shocked by the gruesome beating Jesus sustained. If this was Gibson’s intent, he succeeded.
Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Hearing the account of the passion of Christ year after year tends to soften the gruesomeness of such a death. Each year it becomes easier to hear the passion narrative without feeling any pain. Without our feeling the pain of the passion narrative, it is likely to be of no more value to us than reading of the death of Socrates.
We need to hold the bone-tipped whip in our hand. We need to hear the cries of Jesus’ pain. We need to see the sweat and drops of blood oozing from his body. We need to taste the bitter vinegar potion offered on a sponge to his lips. We need to smell the stench of dying men as we stand at the foot of the cross because it is easy to forget the costliness of our sin and the price that was paid by God to save us from sin.
The more we visit the foot of the cross, the more thankful we should become for God’s love, the more repentant we should be of our sins, the more willing we should be to share with others the life we have discovered through Christ, the living Lord.
The cross reminds us of the importance of being obedient to God, even in those times when we are asked to do unpleasant tasks which we are not very excited or enthusiastic about. Obedience, especially in the presence of obstacles and difficulties, is honored by God.
Whenever life requires sacrifice, we can draw strength from the cross. God did not even spare his own son from sacrifice. Avoiding sacrifice through life will only guarantee that we will not fulfill our potential and that we will live a self-centered life, which is totally opposite from the kind of life Jesus lived.
I have no idea how badly Jesus was beaten by the Romans before being led to Calvary. Regardless of whether it was closer to Mel Gibson’s first release of “The Passion of the Christ” or his second, what’s most important is to realize that Jesus’ death represents sacrificial living at its highest level. Although we are not called to lay down our lives in such a way, countless people have laid down their lives for the benefit of others and for the sake of the gospel.
The Lord asks all of us to make sacrifices. We are asked to take up our crosses and follow Jesus. Whenever we deny ourselves in order to make life better for others, sacrificing important desires of our own, we have caught part of the meaning of the cross. If we can keep the cross in focus and never forget its significance, surely we will maintain our course, finish the race, and get the prize of eternal life. (2 Tim. 4:7-8)
In what ways might Jesus be asking you today to take up your cross and follow him?
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. His column appears in The Moultrie Observer.