Summary: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is y
The Blessing No One Wants
How many of you have seen The Passion of the Christ movie? As the “national conversation” continues, I hope you’re taking advantage of the opportunity to tell people why Jesus died. I’ve had a number of discussions this week about the topic with people I don’t even know. Next week we’re going to begin a new sermon series called, “Experience the Passion” as we focus on the last three chapters of the Gospel of Matthew. It’s my hope that you’ll invite your friends, family members, and co-workers so that they can more fully understand how passionate the Savior is about them.
I was intrigued with the front-page story in the Pantagraph this past Thursday. At the end of the article, one person who saw the movie on opening day said this, “It deepens my faith.” Another moviegoer responded, “I felt like I need to go to church more. I will moan and groan less” (www.pantagraph.com). I was also thrilled to receive a phone call from a church member on Thursday who told me about someone from another state who prayed to receive Christ after watching the movie. I pray that many more will come to saving faith as a result.
Many people have commented about how graphic and violent the movie is. I agree, and would advise parents that those 12 and under should probably not see it. It received an “R” rating because crucifixion is an “R-rated” event. Not surprisingly, some reviewers, in typical Hollywood hypocrisy, have castigated the movie because of the violence, while embracing the gore of other films that are bereft of spiritual value. Unbelievably, Merrisa Marr from the Wall Street Journal cited some critics that have referred to it as “emotionally void” (Wall Street Journal, 2/27/04, Section B, Page 5). Having seen it, I don’t know how anyone could make a statement like that. Those who criticize the movie probably didn’t like the Book either!
The title of this film comes from the old English word “passion” which literally means, “suffering” and focuses on the final twelve hours of the Savior’s life. As Jesus contemplates His upcoming death, He says in John 12:27: “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” Simply put, Jesus came to earth to die as our sin substitute. We see this in John 12:47: “For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.” And, in His final hours, He suffered horribly. In rapid sequence, the Bible says that Jesus was arrested and faced a number of illegal trials. He was punched in the face, spit upon, ridiculed, taunted, insulted, and then mocked as a king when a crown of sharp thorns was crammed down on His head.
Jesus was then led out to be scourged. This part of the movie is almost unbearable to watch. A scourge was a vicious whip and was called a cat-of-nine-tails because there were nine pieces of leather to which bits of bone were tied to rip a person’s flesh and bruise the body. Every time the whip came down on Jesus, it left nine bloody marks, often pulling out the skin as it recoiled.
In a sermon that he preached last week, Rick Warren adds, “This torture was so painful that there was a Roman law that said you could never give more than forty strikes because forty would usually kill a man from blood loss. It said, ‘If you give more than forty strikes then the person who administered the punishment will be given the same punishment.’ So they always…only gave 39 strips, just in case they miscounted. Think about this – 39 times 9. That’s nearly 400 marks on the body of Christ…His back, His stomach, His legs were one bloody pulp long before He even went to the cross” (“What the Passion of Jesus Tells Us About God,” downloaded from www.pastors.com).
When the Messiah preached His message on the mountainside at the beginning of His ministry, He knew what awaited Him, and He knew what was in store for His faithful followers. As we come to the eighth and final beatitude, many of us would like to take a pass on persecution and suffering, me included. Follow along as I read from Matthew 5:10-12: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
A pastor friend suggests that there are at least six reasons why we can’t ignore this instruction (www.calvarymemorial.com).