Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Questions from "The Passion of the Christ"
By now, millions of people have seen "The Passion of the Christ" film by Mel Gibson. I remember months ago Gibson was ridiculed for even making the film - wasting his money because no one would help him or distribute the film. Now it's on course to make some 800 million dollars and has broken all kinds of records for all films - not just religious films.
They include: Highest grossing independent film of all time, the highest grossing "R" rated movie, more pre-release ticket sales than any movie in history, the biggest weekend for a film opening on a Wednesday - and on and on.
But what is most amazing of all is that the film is done entirely in Aramaic and Latin - subtitled in English. There is very little back story - the film begins in the Garden of Gethsemane and ends with the barest hint of what happens after the resurrection. In many ways the film raises more questions than it answers.
I'm not going to address some of the more obvious questions - like, why so much violence, how accurate was the movie's portrayal as recorded in the gospels, or was it too Catholic? Instead I want to attempt to answer 6 key questions you might have after watching the film - questions that cut to the heart of the story and could have ramifications for the rest of eternity.
Why was Jesus arrested & condemned to die?
The movie begins with Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane - an olive grove at the base of the Mt. of Olives, just outside of Jerusalem. He is in agony, praying that if there is another way, could this cup pass by Him.
A group of soldiers, led by Judas Iscariot, approach Jesus and bind him.
That's all we get - there is no explanation of who Judas is, or why the soldiers, and later the religious leaders, dislike Him so much. Jesus comes across as an unfortunate victim of some political/religious jealousy.
But there was so much more to it. And behind it all, God Himself was orchestrating events so that they would occur just as they did - a plan so powerful in its scope and so intricate in its implementation that no one - not even Satan himself, saw it coming.
In reality Jesus was arrested because God wanted to show how the three great institutions of man were incapable of redeeming humankind.
Those institutions are: Government, Religion, and the People.
Government was represented by Rome - probably the most powerful and far reaching government that ever existed. At its peak it held sway over about 1,000,000 people. At its peak, the empire included most of Europe, northern Africa, and the Middle East.
Some people think that government is the way for man's salvation. If we can just get the right laws and the right structure then society will be able to go on indefinitely. We are seeing this happening in our country right now.
But government, without God to lead it, is subject to politics. Government not governed by God will eventually settle to the midpoint between the extremes of the members of society - or of the makeup of the most powerful political groups that exist in that society. So Jesus was a threat to Rome. He represented an absolute without debate or compromise.
So government had to reject Jesus - to not recognize what God was truly doing and the purity of who Jesus was.
Acts 4:25-26 "'Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One." (from Psalm 2:1-2)
Religion was represented by the Chief Priests - the Scribes and Pharisees. They were the ones who called for Jesus to die. Their stated reason was that Jesus blasphemed by calling Himself the Messiah.
Jesus was actually the Messiah, and had proved it over and over - but these religious leaders were not interested in proof, they were interested in power - maintaining power, that is.
Jesus was saying that the Jewish religion, without the Messiah, was nothing but legalism and empty philosophies. The question each person must ask about religion is: is it efficacious. In other words - can this religion actually do anything for me?
In Mark chapter 11 Jesus condemns a fig tree as a symbol of religion that has a beautiful covering but without any fruit or substance.
All religions in the world are legalistic in nature - and concentrate power among those that set the rules. You must do something in order to work your way towards salvation.
But Jesus came to say that not only is there nothing for you to do to be saved, there is nothing you can do - and that leaders in His kingdom are servants, not masters.
So religion rejected Jesus because He wouldn't come under its power and follow its rules.
Jesus said of the religious leaders of his day:
Mark 7:7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'
3. The People
Thirdly - Jesus was rejected by the people. In "The Passion" we don't see what happens prior to the Garden arrest - but several days prior to that event, Jesus came riding into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey - and was heralded as the Messiah by the crowd.
They loved Him - and even protected Him from arrest until it was time.
But the religious leaders of the day were able to convince the people that Jesus should be killed, not made King. The problem with people without God as their shepherd is that they tend to wander.
And that's the problem with looking to man for salvation. That's because popular opinion has one constant - and that is change.
I heard a great quote the other day - that in this country we have substituted tolerance for truth. Moral relativism causes a society to sink to a lower common denominator - and that eventually what someone will dare is what will be accepted as okay because we must tolerate without regard to ultimate truth.
Pilate as he was about to send Jesus to the cross asked Jesus: "what is truth." Well, the truth is Jesus. He said it Himself: "I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me."
The people had to reject Jesus because there can be no absolutes when it comes to man leading the way.
John 1:10-12 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
John 3:19-21 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."
Why the punishment of the cross?
The cross was the worst form of capital punishment ever devised. It was a slow agonizing death of suffocation - you were left to dehydrate and be attacked by birds and feel the most pain possible.
Jesus, I believe, wanted to feel the full brunt of our punishment - not just physical, but spiritual as well. He took the worst for us - and not just a quick cutting off of the head, but an agonizing death.
Isaiah 53:5-7 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. KJV
Why is this event so important?
As far as man is concerned, there are only really three events that matter - our creation, our fall, and our redemption. The book of Genesis records how God made man in His own image and placed us in the Garden of Eden to tend the garden and fellowship with God - we had purpose and we had relationship.
There was only one rule in this paradise - leave the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil alone. But Adam and Eve decided following their own intelligence was better than obeying God. The result was we lost that "rightness" or "righteousness" we were created with and there was a breaking of fellowship and a barring from paradise - and death.
God cannot exist with anything that is impure - that is, impurity is destroyed in God's presence. A punishment had to be exacted, a price paid in order to restore that relationship with God - and nothing human could do it as we just talked about. So God did it Himself.
2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
That happened by the third great event - Jesus coming to earth and taking on our disobedience and the punishment for that sin - dieing on the cross - then coming back. Without the cross we would be forever barred from God's presence - and from everything that is good.
What did this accomplish?
I'm going to throw two big words out to you - advocate and propitiation.
1 John 2:1-2 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. KJV
Now I'm not going to get too technical on this - but propitiation basically means to disinfect. You put raw meat on the counter and before you set a head of lettuce on that same place you wipe the area with a disinfectant so that ecoli bacteria in the meat doesn't get on the lettuce. We are infected with sin ecoli and Jesus, by dieing for us became the disinfectant for our sins. And not just our sins but he disinfected the sins of the whole world.
So then, why worry - Jesus died to disinfect our sin so everyone goes to heaven, right? No - because of the next term: advocate. It means "to speak on one's behalf." Jesus is the only one that can approach the Father - and we can only approach Him through our advocate, Jesus. The key is that we must be related in some way to Jesus in order for Him to speak to the Father on our behalf.
Matthew 7:21-23 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'
So you've got to hire a defense attorney - your personal public defender - Jesus Christ.
What should I do about it?
In the end there are only three people - the two thieves and Jesus in the middle. One thief cursed Jesus, the other placed his trust in Him.
Luke 23:39-43 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." 42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43 Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
We are those thieves - both condemned to die for our sin. Will you be the one that hurls insults at Him - without repentance? Or will you be the one who realizes they have fallen short of this incredible Person - and simply asks to be remembered by Jesus.
How do we know if any of this is true?
We could only know if someone had died and gone there and come back and told us about it. Too bad no one has - wait - Jesus did that, didn't He?