Summary: The recent controversy over Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ proves that whenever the message of the cross is presented unfiltered it always evokes controversy.
The Unfiltered Cross
17For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel--not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. –I Corinthians 1:17-18 (New International Version)
As of today (March 7, 2004), the Passion will have grossed over $215 million, making it a box office phenomenon. One commentator on the Fox News network predicts that this film could gross over $1 billion dollars--making it the highest grossing film in history. While a box office hit, this movie has also sparked more controversy than any other movie ever made. Even at Eden Seminary my class seemed divided about what they thought about the film.
As I reflected on the controversy, however, I had an epiphany. It seems that whenever the full message of the cross is presented in its unfiltered, brutal form controversy is sure to follow. This is what has happened today with The Passion, and this is what happened two thousand years ago whenever the cross was preached to cultures that witnessed the horrors of crucifixion.
I discovered as I viewed the movie that there is a reticence to see the cross as it really was. We want to dress it up. Indeed the cross makes a nice ornament. For example, you can see pictures of pop stars such as Brittany Spears and notice they wear gold crosses. Indeed, for many people the cross is just hip jewelry to wear—empty and devoid of meaning. Some scholars and liberal theologians want to reduce the cross to a metaphor. For many others the cross is merely a nice sounding spiritual platitude.
While Mel Gibson’s The Passion did not perfectly align itself with Scripture, I believe that his film caught the essence of what the cross is about. It was certainly the most vivid and visceral presentation of the passion I have ever seen. I certainly saw no sign of anti-Semitism in the film, and would like to point out that Gibson’s Christ certainly was the most Jewish looking Savior I have ever seen portrayed in film.
I also would like to add that Jesus was Jewish, and that it is impossible for a true Christian to be anti-Semitic. If Jesus was Jewish, then to be anti-Semitic is to be anti-Christ. What the film did for me is inspire in me a greater love for all peoples, Jew and Gentile, black, white, yellow, and brown.
This morning I want to speak on the unfiltered cross. So what is the cross? I don’t believe its message can be contained in a single word. I have heard some ministers say that we shouldn’t talk about the cross so much because we shouldn’t worship a cross, but rather God. I feel, however, the message of the cross is central to our faith, and that a proper discussion of it always points to Jesus.
I am somewhat of a World War II buff. Many of us who like to talk about World War II often reflect on the battle of Normandy. When I reflect on the Battle of Normandy I don’t esteem a beach, but rather the men who sacrificed their lives there. When I say “Normandy,” the meaning for me is not a mere geographic location, but rather thousands of men who sacrificed their lives to liberate Europe.
A cross to me is not two pieces of wood nailed together, but instead the sacrifice of love Jesus made to free mankind. The cross of Jesus for me is not merely what He experienced on Good Friday, but rather encompasses an entire life of sacrifice that culminated on Good Friday.
It seems to me that as I read the book of Acts that whenever the cross was presented in its raw, unfiltered form controversy seemed to follow. Whenever the first century apostles would go into towns their message of the cross would either be ardently embraced or a mob would try to stone them.
It seems that the pure message of the cross evokes passion—passion either for or against.This is what I have noticed about the response to The Passion. It seems people either love the movie or hate it. I feel that whenever the raw, unfiltered message of the cross is preached, it will always evoke controversy.
As I watched the Passion, I saw the cross in its raw, unfiltered form. I saw the bitter, organic cross presented—not the one with artificial sweetener. I saw that the cross was brutal, and anything but politically correct.What I saw in the movie during the brutal depiction of the suffering of Christ was a reflection of how depraved all of us really are, and far we all have to go to become more like Him.