Rev. Dick is pastor of Grace Protestant Reformed Church in Standale, Michigan.
Hoopla over the movie The Passion of the Christ will, by the time this article is published, have simmered somewhat. Evangelical faddists will have begun testing the market for another new thing (a Disney version of the Chronicles of Narnia, anyone?). Conservatives will have gone back to the Bible for sermon material. Writers, if you will believe me, will still be finding The Passion grist for their mills.
At this same time most churches are, in their worship services, in their concerts, and in their devotions, reflecting upon the real passion of the Christ. We think of it always. But it is that time of year according to the church calendar when we focus on the last week of our Lord on earth, His suffering, death, and resurrection. And that is good. By seasonal reflection on the very historical events of our Savior’s life and death, we are led to ponder anew the Wonder of Eternity intersecting Time, Truth among us, the significance of soul and body, resurrection, and such like.
So there you have them: The Passion of the Christ, the new movie; and the passion of the Christ, the thing the Church of Christ has always thought and also now thinks is God’s own old inimitable drama. Good time for Grace Life to consider, methinks, a couple of questions. First, Were you there? Second, Are you there? At The Passion of the Christ, that is. At the passion of the Christ, that is.
The hymn asks the question: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” It is a beautiful line. It takes us right to Jesus’ suffering for our sins. It sings us to Calvary. It tells us to tremble, to tremble, and to tremble. And we do. For we were there! Jesus Savior died. And we were there, with Jew and Roman, a whole world of us spitting good riddance! Crucify him! Crucify him! That was our devil chant….
And so we know the meaning of it all. Jesus died for us while we were yet in our sins. Christ Jesus died for the ungodly. The Christ Jesus died for the Christ crucifiers. God in the death of His Son revealed righteousness meeting grace, in grand and bloody embrace, and so was the beginning of the gospel of God. God in Jesus, God through that Jesus the Christ, with us sinners! Of His divine fullness and His crucified emptiness have all we received, and wave after wave after wave…of grace.
Were you there, Grace Life reader? Does the song take you there? Does your faith take you there? Does the Word of God take you there? Do you tremble, and tremble, and tremble?
Show me a young man or woman who has begun to tremble about Christ’s passion, and I will show you one who has begun, as the very spring, to blossom in the true religion, to stand up for Jesus, to confess Jesus, to bow down before Jesus, to follow hard after Jesus…to tremble, and also to rejoice, at the very mention of His Name.
We will then be showing each other, of course, a person who trembles even to think about seeing the movie, The Passion of the Christ.
He truly trembles about that Passion.
Not because he is afraid that if he does see the movie God might (!) see and he might be struck by lightning (as was the actor who portrayed Jesus in The Passion of the Christ). Not first of all because she does not like the prospect of Christ’s vigilant Elders knocking at her door.
The movie is sin. The Passion of Christ is Gibson’s folly and the blasphemy of man. Being entertained by it, or even seeking to be inspired by it, is the viewer’s folly, blasphemy, and ignorance.
That is why a Grace Life, true passion-of-Christ-life believer trembles about this new movie. The believer loves the real passion, the real and atoning suffering of his Lord Jesus. He is reconciled to God by that suffering. He is favored and forgiven by that suffering, and that, even though he was there crucifying when they crucified his Lord! But the movie, The Passion, is the lie about the passion of his Jesus. For our Jesus is our God. And when He comes in human flesh He is ever God, and without sin. And when He is crucified He bears the wrath of God, and goes to hell for our sake. And love, not nails, held Him to the cross…. All these things may not and cannot be portrayed by a man and a sinner. God is the above God, dear reader! Even when, and especially when! He shows Himself to be the God who is with us God, in human flesh even, no one dare impersonate Him and His work (read the 2nd commandment in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5;Deuteronomy 4:14-20; Isaiah 40:18-26; Romans 1:23-25; Acts 17:22-29)!
Bothers the believer, does this Passion, precisely because of this. It is not because The Passion is an inaccurate rendition of the gospels, which it is. It is not that The Passion is one Roman Catholic’s attempt to foist Roman Catholicism upon the world, which it is. What troubles and trembles most is this bold Hollywood assault on and infinitely cheap R-rated imitation of the sacredness of the Person of the Son of God, and the Passion of the Son of God!
Whatever biblical arguments one can adduce against Passion it is not to be denied that for many there is a great urge to see it. Not sure why. Maybe it is this perceived need for some sort of experience to ground and to revitalize religion. Probably many go because so many are going (I think lemmings say that too). Definitely many are just doing as their evangelical bosses say, and going because their church just bought a block of tickets.
Whether or not you have seen The Passion, the movie, you may, and I may, “kind of be there” in spirit. Christ’s true passion may not mean as much as it ought to us. It is all and just doctrine to us, but really, not even that, for we do not appreciate the doctrine. It is history to us, but not really even that, for we do not live, in our time, and on our Friday nights, as if there were incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection, and Pentecost in the fullness of the time. It is nothing to us. And we pass by. From Sunday to Sunday, from lifeless prayer to lifeless prayer, we pass by the cross, are acquainted with it somewhat, and still may have good religious form. But the passion, Christ’s passion, is not our world, nor our love, and certainly not our passion. The other world, the world “not of the Father” has taken over. At first we liked it, pitched our tent toward it, and now we love it, and are in it up to our pillars. We butcher the popular song, singing instead: “you can have this whole Jesus…give me the world!”
Do you tremble now? And is your trembling, dear reader, the sobbing…of shame?
To those who may be reading who want it another way, I write. To those who are tired of wavering between the worldly Passion life, and the godly life loving Christ’spassion, listen closely. To those who were there when they crucified the Lord, and know it, and who want at any cost in their heart of hearts to show their love for Jesus, and to appreciate His passion, yet who sense the need to revitalize their love for their Lord, and who may even be tempted, as have many, to view The Passion as a help to their religion, and a tool for evangelism…there is another way.
The other way is the Word of God’s way of knowing and appreciating the passion of our Savior. What way is that? Why it is the preaching of that passion! We learn from the book of Romans (10:14,15) that the preaching of the gospel by the very ambassadors of Jesus called and sent out by God through the Church, is Christ Himself speaking to His Church, and is salvation to the people of God.
Indeed, God has appointed preaching so that now, 2000 years after the fact, His people can know and be impassioned about His Son, the cross, and the peace of God. For through this preaching God works an amazing thing. It is called faith. Indeed—an amazing gift! For faith is the gift of God whereby our eyes are lifted up to heaven, and directed to the Word of Holy Writ to see and understand what the natural man and mind cannot perceive. It is the power of God that takes us back 2000 years, when all we could think about was sins and hurts of youth. It is the spiritual telescope whereby we are enabled to see beyond another lonely and mateless next week to the new heavens and earth and the kingdom coming. It is the graft of God joining us now to Jesus when all we thought was with us were demons….
All attempts to see and believe Jesus through James Jesus Caviezel (the actor), or to have the religious fires fanned there at the theatre, are in vain at best, for unholy fire usually, for unholy alliances always. The many calls of leading evangelicals to see Passion betray a shocking mistrust of the sufficiency of preaching, and will convey the damnable distortion that it is the more blessed thing to see and touch and to have moving (and movie!) experiences of Christ than to believe (John 20:29).
Preaching! Preaching, and precisely not reenactment, is for the faith of the Church, and for her daily and annual celebrations of the Christ’s passion. Preaching is the spark and the fire of holy passion for Jesus. Preaching is what the Lord Jesus Himself did always and then first thing after His passion, death, and resurrection. You remember? Remember one time, when there were two confused souls traveling away from Jerusalem to Emmaus? Jesus had died just a few days before. The Hope of salvation, they thought, lay buried. Then Jesus came to them preaching. When they are given to recognize Him, and after He had disappeared, they remember how their hearts burned within while He talked with them by the way and while He opened to them the scriptures (Luke 24:32). Preaching by Jesus—not even the sight of Jesus (for they did not recognize Him!) was the important thing. Taking people to the scriptures, and not to the theatre—that was how our Lord fanned the flame of holy devotion to His Person and Passion. Preaching—that is how Jesus Himself instructed and saved His people to believe passionately His passion! Preaching—now given to us by God so that the light from heaven is known, and sinners saved, built up, and set all aglow with holy zeal and love for God, principles, and persons.
Now showing…The Preaching of the Passion of the Christ!
At your local, but true, church, where through faithful declaration of Truth, there is Christ, evidently set forth, crucified, in the congregation of believers and their seed (Gal. 3:1).
In the virtuous and honored bride of Christ, God blessed for ever! (Ps. 45) where the virtues and glories of Christ Himself are displayed.
By the righteous believers willing to suffer and even die for Christ’s sake (Acts 7).
Among holy saints who know the difference between the cross of our Lord, and the cultivation of true piety and virtue, and the cross of an apostate church and the culture of this world (Acts 17; II Cor. 6:14, 15).
Among the happy saints who know, in living and in dying, and by the very faith worked by preaching, their belonging to Jesus, and that this is their only comfort in life and in death (Lord’s Day 1).
Go see that Preaching and that Preaching’s Passion, and that Preaching and that Passion’s fruit! Be part of it! And bring your friends. Start young pursuing it. And grow old enjoying it. No need for tickets, as if attending a cheap thing. For there is wine and milk and a Jesus without money and without price.
Just grace. Just faith. And Jesus above all.
Were you there? Are you there? At the passion of the Christ, that is.
Then see you in Church! See you in the home. See you in the universities. See you on the street. See you working. See you playing. See you, the body of Christ, the passion of the Christ. See you at the cross, and at the empty tomb. See you forgiven and forgiving, graced and gracious….
Trembling. Trembling. Trembling….
That’s life, isn’t it?
Grace Life. Trembling. But faith trembling. There where is the blessed communion with the living God. And righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost….
Are you there?