Well-known Christians have therefore reacted to this movie differently than to the earlier-mentioned movies. I read that Billy Graham, during a preview of this movie, was moved to tears. And Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ who recently passed away, expressed before his death the expectation that seeing this movie would lead people to involve themselves with the gospel. Bill Bright was also the man behind the movie about the life of Christ, the so-called Jesus film, which has been and still is used widely as a means for evangelization.
This explains why many see a difference between this move and others. The fact that the title of this new movie speaks about Christ seems to be a sign of faith: He is the Christ. And yet, when I try to consider what can be the significance of this movie, I encounter a number of obstacles that are such an impediment for me that I would not want to see the movie.
Play or Proclaim?
Is it possible for an actor to play the part of his Saviour? How would the apostles, who have known the Lord Jesus so intimately, have reacted to such a question?
How would John, who in a vision on the isle of Patmos saw the glorified Christ in His majesty and fell as dead at His feet until the Lord Jesus laid His right hand on him and said, ÒFear not; I am the first and the lastÓ (Rev.1: 17), have reacted? Would the John of the gospel, who stood by the cross, ever have said, ÒI was present and I will show you how things went with JesusÓ?
And what about Peter, who followed Jesus into the court of Caiaphas, who denied Him, but who, when Jesus looked at him, went out and wept bitterly? Could we expect Peter to play the part of Jesus that He endured those last ten hours of His life on earth? In his first epistle he writes how essential it is to love the Lord Jesus without seeing him! ÒWhom having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see him not, yet believing É you rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of gloryÉ.Ó (1 Pet.1: 8). The gospel that he writes about and that has been proclaimed through many witnesses is of such a nature that even Òthe angels desire to look intoÓ it (1 Pet 1: 12). They spoke about believing, loving and longing; yet not having seen. What then do you still wish to see of what Hollywood can contribute?
I am thinking of still another apostle: Thomas. No doubt throughout the rest of his life he must have heard ringing in his ears the words that Jesus spoke to him after the resurrection: Òbecause you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believedÓ (John 20: 29).
And there was the apostle Paul. He has seen the Lord Jesus in an awe-inspiring vision near the entrance of the gates of Damascus. But Paul does not say that we have to pray the Lord for a similar experience. On the contrary, he makes very clear that the gospel is spread in a totally different manner--by the Word. In a passage that deals particularly with the ministry of reconciliation (which the final stages of JesusÕ life deal with in particular) and the cross where the Son of God was made sin for us (2 Cor.5: 11-21), Paul writes: ÒWherefore from henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more (2 Cor.5: 16).
What then do you want from a movie? To know Christ after the flesh--the way He lived, suffered, and died on earth? Or do we wish to love Him by seeing Him? Is it our wish to believe, not just by hearing, but also by seeing? If that is so, we are way off the mark.
In my understanding, the emotion that is evoked by a movie like ÒThe PassionÓ does not have anything to do with the compassion of the gospel. Such emotions are way off the mark.
There is still more to be said about this subject. We confess that the Lord Jesus became true and sinless man and that He is at the same time true God. What happens when a sinful man tries to place himself in the position of our Surety? Can he play-act the sinlessness of Jesus? Can he play-act the part of JesusÕ divinityÑbeing God? Can he give expression to the inner compassion that compelled the Lord? Can he act out the divine of authority by which the Son of Man spoke?
In Mel GibsonÕs movie, he deals with the actual data of the final day of ChristÕs suffering, the day Jesus was condemned to die and was crucified. A brazen attempt, although surely intended to be respectful, was made to picture the actual crucifixion of Jesus. The crown of thorns and the blood that flowed at Golgotha were portrayed in every detail. But can a fallen man play this part without it turning into a great deception? Can anyone, even someone who believes in the Lord Jesus, play that He was made sin for us? Can the passion of the forsakenness of Christ by His Father, which brought Him hellish darkness, be play-acted?
What kind of blood will have been used to portray ChristÕs blood? Tomato ketchup or blood from a slaughterhouse? Perhaps, in order to be as realistic as possible, will they have asked for a supply of human blood from a blood-transfusion agency? I donÕt even want to think of the identity of the person whose blood was used! For many years I have been a donor and therefore have donated a pint of blood quite a few times for the benefit of others. But I donÕt want to think of the possibility that such blood could portray the blood of Christ.
This imitation cannot be anything but deception. A movie presents only a caricature. When you think this through, perhaps you will also understand somewhat why already in the Old Testament God forbade people to portray Him in order to worship Him. Such an act can only be counterfeit and therefore is deception.
Can the blood seen in this movie ever have anything to do with the blood of Christ by which we are justified (Rom.5: 9) or with the Òredemption by his blood, the forgiveness of sinsÓ (Eph.1: 7)?
No Depiction of Jesus!
There are meeting rooms in some churches where a photograph of an actor who played the role of Jesus is displayed. In such a case, one had better think of the words of Isaiah 53:2: ÒHe had no form nor comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.Ó The actor was selected on the basis of other criteria than Jesus, Who is the Word that became flesh (John 1:14). At the transfiguration on the mountain, He received honour and glory from God. At that time GodÕs voice was heard: ÒThis is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleasedÓ (2 Peter 1: 16-18). These words are found only in GodÕs Word. It was GodÕs good pleasure to save us by the foolishness of preaching and not by signs or by human wisdom (1 Cor.1: 21,22). God destined that our ears and not our eyes are to receive the gospel (Rom.10: 17).
JesusÕ great commission was: ÒYou shall be my witnessesÓ (Acts 1:8), and not, you shall act out salvation by means of a play. We are to worship God in spirit and in truth. This is realized by the Word and not by pictures on a screen.
May we during the weeks of lent, as it were, be at the foot of the cross, looking with the eyes of faith.
1. J. W. Maris, ÒFilm over het lijden van Christus,Ó De Wekker, 113, nr. 16, February 27, 2004, 252-253, translated with permission from the author by Rev. Lawrence W. Bilkes.