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By Greg Gerber
I spent Friday night the same way I observed every Good Friday evening since 2004, by watching The Passion of the Christ.
The movie provides a realistic description of the final hours of Jesus’ life starting from the moment Judas agreed to turn him in to the religious authorities and culminating with Jesus walking triumphantly out of the tomb.
As I watched the movie this year, I paid attention to the various types of people and groups who were depicted in the film and the roles they played in executing Christ.
It was profound because I saw myself as a member of nearly every group at some point in my life. They included:
Greedy betrayer – Judas turned sold out his relationship with Jesus for the price of 30 silver coins. How many times I have betrayed people I cared about by putting money ahead of those relationships? By withholding a tithe, how many times did I prove I put more trust in financial security than I did in God’s promised provision?
The arrogant mockers – By rolling my eyes and laughing at people of faith while pummeling them with sarcastic comments, I allowed my ignorance to be projected as arrogance. While claiming Christians considered themselves better than everyone else, I was really saying I was better than others, too.
Cowardly deserters – When trouble came, Jesus’ closest friends abandoned him. I’m ashamed at the number of times I turned my back on other believers when I saw them being vilified or harassed in public. I have also failed to stand up when I saw biblical truth being distorted or taken out of context.
Deceitful liars – At Jesus’ “trial” several people stepped forward to repeat what he said out of context. Many times, I have lobbed accusations at others by judging their motivation and thinking for no greater reason than I have heard only half the story.
Reluctant supporter – Simon of Cyrene was tasked with helping Jesus carry his cross through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha where Christ was eventually executed. He did what he was told, but despised every moment of it. Even when he became aware that he was aiding an innocent man, he had a hard time even looking at the badly beaten man he was helping.
How do you respond to a request for money from a homeless person or street beggar? Do you ignore him, or divert your eyes? Or do you reach into your wallet for a few dollars and reluctantly present the gift without offering a word of encouragement? I do.
Self-righteous Pharisees – The religious leaders of their day, the Pharisees considered themselves holier and more superior to other people. They looked great on the outside, but pride was rotting them away inside. Their conceited holiness even blinded them to the actual presence of the living God.
In many ways, I am still self-righteous, especially when it comes to people who follow some other denominations. My attitude stinks just as badly today as did the Pharisees stinkin’ thinkin’ 2,000 years ago.
Gleeful floggers – The soldiers tasked with whipping Jesus into a barely recognizable human delivered each blow with glee. How many times in my life have I jumped on others to deliver verbal blows, and even more gleefully when part of a group effort? Before becoming a Christian, I was a lethal flamethrower directing my anger toward anyone professing faith.
Brutal executioners – In the movie, one of the executioners dislocates Jesus’ shoulder, another stands on his back while Jesus is nailed to the cross, another forces a thorny crown onto Jesus’ head and still others keep whipping Jesus as he weakly walks to his death — even after he was already soundly beaten. I am sure there have been times when my words and actions have sucked the life out of others.
Curious voyeurs – Our depraved minds seem to enjoy being voyeurs into the suffering of others without ever standing up to injustice. Why would anyone want to watch videos of people being thrown off roofs, burned alive in cages or beheaded for their faith? Yet, YouTube and TV channels makes that type of gore available around the clock in the name of “news.”
Terrified supporters – In the movie, hundreds of people were depicted as being upset at Jesus’ treatment. Even some Pharisees objected to the mock trial and punishment that was administered. Yet, they cried quietly at the injustice rather than stand up to the powerful authorities.
Even today, many Christians are aware that fellow believers are being persecuted to the point of death, yet refuse to even speak up in their defense. How many people died this morning — on Easter — when a series of bombs ripped apart Christian churches in Sri Lanka? How many of us did nothing more than shake our heads?
Convicted agnostic – Hebrews 10:31 says it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. The movie depicted two instances where people were changed after they encountered Christ. One was the soldier whose ear had been cut off during Jesus’ arrest, and the other was the soldier who thrust a spear into Jesus’s side. Both were dumbfounded and left unable to speak.
Repentant sinner – One of the thieves hanging on a cross next to Jesus was overcome with emotion at watching a innocent man being killed for nothing more than saying things that others didn’t agree with. The thief understood why he deserved punishment for his crime, but he still asked Jesus to “remember him” when Jesus’ came into his kingdom. Jesus proclaimed that the repentant criminal would soon be with him in paradise. It is a promise that is still available to anyone today.
Worried sinners – After Jesus had died, an earthquake left people scrambling for cover. Those people who connected the dots between Jesus’ death and the earthquake ran in fear. Rather than confront their sin and embrace Christ’s mercy, like the earless and spear-bearing soldiers did, they ran away. For years, I ran away unwilling to face my own sin and admit that my attitude, actions, speech and thoughts were very selfish.
As the movie credits rolled, I was overcome with the realization that had I been present on the scene, I could have very easily and happily participated in Jesus’ death.
James 1:23-24 notes “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”
It’s actually worse than that. When we continue to disobey God’s word, it is the same as looking Jesus in the eye and driving another nail into Jesus’ body. I may not have driven nails into Jesus’ hands, but my sin still held him to that cross.
That’s why I did and still do need a savior to rescue me from my pride, arrogance, unbelief, lust, greed, and dozens of other unpleasant character traits.
Easter is a difficult observation that goes well beyond chocolate bunnies and colorful eggs.
When observed correctly, Easter is a painful reminder of our own shortcomings and the joyous tribute to God’s unfailing love and mercy.
He created us so that he could delight in us forever. Yet, our sin keeps us separated from the holy and perfect God.
So he did the improbable. Rather than raging at us for our weakness, or demanding that we work to earn his favor, God sent his son to bear the rage we deserve so that we can live at peace, without guilt or shame.
Nothing we have done can void God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. We only have to accept the gift that is freely given to us.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus’ passion was the cross.
May we each be more passionate today in extending that same love, mercy and patience with each other.