By Rev. Dr. Michael A. Coleman
On Thursday, February 26th, the day after it opened in Farmington, Missouri, my family went to see Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of Christ. There was much stirring about in the packed-out theater, the usual chit-chat and all. Yet, when the lights were lowered and the projector started I immediately noticed there were no "upcoming attractions," no previews of movies that we were being lured to come back and see later. I also could not help but notice that there was no title on the screen, no list of stars, nothing like Hollywood uses as a standard format. Instead, the opening screen revealed a soft, smokey, blue-gray hazed Garden of Gethsemanae with Jesus standing there speaking Aramaic, and large subtitles with translations. Also, in that opening scene was the Devil speaking to him challenging him to give up on redeeming the souls of sinners because it is just an impossibility for one man to do.
Then Jesus confronts the three disciples and the temple-guards arrive, led by Judas. Now the story is off and running. Since I have personally taught the details of the crucifixion of Christ many times I was looking for serious details and not the sugar-coated versions I had watched since my childhood. I saw things in this movie that were consistent with Roman crucifixions that I had not come across that might be associated with the crucifixion of our Lord. For example, they took him away in chains and at one time accidentally dropped him over a wall seriously putting his back out of place. They pulled him up and he had to continue to walk toward his judgment.
Another example is when he was taken and scourged, and beaten severely. The cruel and sadistic Roman soldiers caned him several times before they lay the thirty-nine stripes across his back and even his front. The cat-of-nine-tails was an after-thought for these soldiers but was very realistic. As the metal and glass hit his flesh, you could hear and see the hunks of flesh fly upward and blood spattered upon the faces of the soldiers - who were enjoying beating this criminal. They fashioned a crown-of-thorns and the thorns were so long and sharp that they had to pry the crown into his forehead with poles.
When he was being nailed to the cross, the soldiers pulled his arm, dislocating his shoulder, to stretch it so that it would reach a starter hole already placed in the cross bar. As they were securing him to the cross, they flipped him over with the weight of the cross on him as a coffin-lid, and bent the nails back into the wood so they would hold. Then they flipped him back on his back further dislocating his frame. From the foot of the cross the spear was thrust into his side and the pericardial sack was ruptured with water and blood gushing out onto the face of the soldier with the spear. When the crucifixion ended, not only was the curtain in the temple torn in two, the earthquake that is evidenced there today in the rock structure, ripped through the entire temple tearing up the very foundation of the temple structure.
And the final scene did not, as liberals often want to portray the event, leave Christ hanging upon the cross as a dead folk-hero. No, we actually see the stone roll away and there he is, all cleaned up from the bloody mess, fully recognizable, with the holes in his hand, as he walks out of the tomb.
I was choked up, and deeply disturbed in my heart, my soul, my stomach; and I couldn't talk. As everyone was leaving, no one spoke a word. Then came a cry from some teenagers in the very front center row, "Jesus is Alive." An adult in front of me as we were approaching the door out of this theater, replied "He is alive." The teenagers huddled around each other in prayer as we were all leaving.
Mel Gibson has brought to us something that may not win an Academy Award. He may not get an Oscar statue to place upon his mantle at home. But, I believe he will receive a crown in glory for teaching and reaching the lost in a way that no church or pulpit could do. In the March/April 2004 issue of the Good News Magazine, a Conservative United Methodist publication, Editor Steve Beard writes in an article about the movie:
I want to go see it again, and again. It was the most disturbing movie I have ever seen. It made me tremble and feel that all that I was depended upon my next step with Christ up to and through that cross. This movie is not to be watched, it is to be experienced. You are actually there. It was like Mel Gibson provided a time-machine that took me back to the events, and I have a small ear-piece that gave me the English translation from the Aramaic. I became a direct participant in the Gospel Passion Narrative.
Franklin Graham, Dr. Billy Graham's son, said, "There is a lifetime of sermons in this movie." Billy Graham said that he could not read, teach, or preach the Passion of Christ after seeing this movie without the images from the show being foremost in his mind.
Mel Gibson was asked why he put up $25 million dollars of his own money to make this film with no guarantee that anyone in 2004 would ever come out to see a religious movie, full of violence, with subtitles, spoken in two dead languages. He said he had this burden placed on his heart for the last 10 years. When a reporter jeered at him, asking him if God told him to make this movie, Mel said, "No, God didn't tell me to make it, the Gospels did!"
Please go see this film. Take your friends, family, anyone who needs a touch from the Savior. I think you will be glad you did. This movie has great power to touch lives for Christ, and for the sake of the Gospel. It is definitely needed at this time.