In February 2004, the film The Passion of the Christ hit theaters to the excitement of most Christians. The movie was financially backed by Hollywood super-star Mel Gibson, so this was going to be a first-class production. It opened to full houses, but one immediate concern arose – it was so bloody! The depiction of Jesus’ beating and crucifixion was so gruesome the movie earned an “R” rating.
Was this another example of Hollywood exploiting violence for box office success or was the representation of the passion gruesome because the event itself was gruesome? The consensus was that the movie was horrific because the event itself was horrific. There was no way you could make the passion of Christ “G” rated.
But I wonder why? Why did the event have to be so gruesome? Is there anything about how it happened that reveals to us something about the nature of God?
Before I address that question, let’s get two things clear. First, Jesus could have stopped it anytime he wanted. During Jesus’ arrest Peter pulls out a sword to which Jesus responds that he has 12 legions of angels at his disposal. All it took was a simple request and all this would come to an end. Second, the way it happened was the way it was supposed to happen. Jesus assures the apostles that Scriptures predicted that his death would be messy. Passages like Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 make it clear that his death was going to be ghastly.
Back to the question at hand – is there anything about the manner of his death that is significant? Here’s something to think about.
(1) His great pain corresponds to his great love. Who has made the greatest sacrifices for you? Friends, family, and, most likely, parents come to mind. It’s those people who love us most who are willing to suffer for us. The cross was for our benefit and if Jesus was wiling to suffer like he did then he must really love us. Who does something like that unless they deeply love you? All that pain reminds us of his great love for us.
(2) His pain reminds us of what we have been saved from. What he experienced should have been our experience. We should have been the ones who endured all the pain. We are the sinners. We are the ones who deserve the punishment. All he went through, we have been spared of.
(3) He never asks us to do something that he wasn’t willing to do. When Jesus calls us to follow him he calls us to deny ourselves and take up our cross. Aren’t you annoyed by people who ask you to do something that they won’t do? Jesus isn’t one of those people. When we suffer for our faith we can be assured that he has walked that path. And in his suffering, he leaves us an example to endure pain with endurance and grace.
(4) His pain assures us that he can empathize with our pain. In addition to the obvious physical pain, he suffered the emotional pain of being betrayed, denied, and deserted by his friends. He suffered spiritual pain as he bore the unfamiliar guilt of sin. He experienced the full spectrum of pain in the passion and can therefore understand the pain we suffer. When we suffer we have a God who understands.
The pain of the passion reminds us the we are loved, that we have been rescued, that we have an example, and that we have a compassionate God. He suffered all that so we would know.