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Sovereign Grace Bible Church of Cebu

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Passion of the Christ movie

The Passion Movie: to see or not to see
by: Albert N. Martin

This is a minimally edited transcription of a message delivered in the Adult Bible Class of Trinity Baptist Church on Sunday, February 22, 2004. The full recording is available on the church’s website at www.tbcnj.org.

Ash Wednesday, one of the most important days in the Roman Catholic Church calendar, was chosen as the date for the premiere showing of Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ. For many weeks magazine articles, newspaper columns, TV interviews, and Internet websites discussed and debated both the virtues and the potential vices of this film. The movie itself is a two-hour, graphic, brutal, and shocking attempt to visually capture the last twelve hours of our Lord’s life, culminating in His death upon the cross.

Michael Medved, the nationally known film critic, columnist and radio broadcaster and a practicing Orthodox Jew, has stated regarding this film:

    It will draw eager audiences and become a box-office hit; due in part to prerelease controversy, the "must see" factor has reached an almost unprecedented level of intensity among both committed Christians and the cinematically curious. Mainstream Christian leaders of every denomination will embrace the film as the most artistically ambitious and accomplished treatment of the crucifixion ever committed to film. Some critics and scholars will criticize Gibson for his cinematic and theological choices in shaping the film. But any attempt to boycott or discredit the movie will, inevitably and unquestionably, fail.

    No one who has actually seen the movie, as I have, would seriously challenge these conclusions . . .

    Gibson financed the film on his own precisely due to his determination to realize his own traditionalist Catholic vision of the gospel story without compromise to the sensitivities of profit-oriented accountants or other religious perspectives. Jewish leaders feel wounded that he never consulted them on the script or historical details, but he also left out Protestant and Eastern Orthodox traditions.

Some of you have asked your pastors to give you guidance about seeing the film and whether you should encourage members of your family to view it. What I present to you is just that: it is your pastors’ attempt to set before you the biblical precepts and principles which ought to guide your conscience in making a well-informed and righteous decision for yourself and for your family. And so I have entitled my lecture, The Passion Movie: To See or Not to See.

First of all, let me address four things for which we ought to be thankful in connection with the production of, widespread interest in, and subsequent showing of this film.

FIRST, we can be thankful in our hearts and thankful to God that the historical events central to the gospel of Christ have become the subject of national awareness, widespread discourse, and public engagement. Since the cross of Christ is central to the Christian message — as Paul said, "I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2) — we as the people of God ought to be thankful that the historical events of His passion are now a subject of widespread discussion and public discourse. Frankly, this is much better than the discussion about Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl several weeks ago and about "A-Rod" coming to the Yankees. We should thank God that people are talking about something of worth.

SECONDLY, we can and ought to be thankful to God that Mel Gibson has determined to produce a film that for the most part seeks to reproduce the biblical narrative concerning the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus with a good measure of literary integrity. Note that my words are qualified. However, Mr. Gibson has resisted the pressures of political correctness and historical deconstructionism that would re-write the gospel records and completely alleviate any thought that the Jewish leaders had any special responsibility in the crucifixion of our Lord. I have watched his interview with Diane Sawyer, and his manly determination to do what he felt was right was refreshing in a wimpish age. In fact, I find myself drawn to a man who acts like a man. In his manliness Mr. Gibson has determined not to be bullied from his vision and desire and, as a result, for the most part there is a good measure of literary integrity in handling the gospel records.

THIRDLY, we can be thankful that this film has forced serious disciples of Christ to wrestle with critical issues that are central to an uncompromising, comprehensive obedience to the Word of God. A true disciple of Christ is determined that in every area of his life the Word of God will govern his steps. He gladly confesses, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my pathway." The fact that something has become a "must see" movie should count for nothing. The child of God should not be pressured by the "must see" climate created by clever marketing techniques, but he is pressured by his Bible to do what is pleasing to his Lord.

FINALLY, we can be thankful that this film will afford Christians some unusual opportunities to speak to unsaved associates regarding the Lord Jesus Christ and His saving work. For example, when I went to pick up some medication yesterday my pharmacist, who is a Middle Eastern man, asked, "Are you going to see the movie?" He did not even give the title to it, because it is so much the part of public discussion. I responded, "For good reasons I am not going. Tomorrow morning in our Bible class, I will be laying out some biblical perspectives which will indicate why I cannot in good conscience go. Perhaps some time we will have opportunity to talk about the matter." So the door is wide open for further opportunity to witness of my Christian faith to this man.

So, since we believe that this is God’s world, governed by His providence, we must look upon the reality of this movie as an outworking of the sovereign decree of God by which He governs all men and their actions according to His sovereign will.

But beyond the things for which we can give thanks, we must address the foundational biblical issues which ought to be seriously considered in deciding whether or not to see this movie, or to encourage others to see it. We are not to consider emotional, psychological, or societal issues, but the biblical issues which lay claim to your conscience as a Christian. And I trust that your prayer would be that threefold prayer that I mentioned last Lord’s Day:

    Where I am ignorant, Lord, teach me.
    Where I am wrong, Lord, correct me.
    Where I am right, Lord, confirm me.
I am not so naive as to think that everyone sits here with a neutral attitude. Some of you are waiting for me to be your "champ" because you have already been persuaded that you shouldn’t go and no one else should. Others of you are fearful that I am going to be your "chump" because I may discourage you from attending this movie. Dear friends, I have no desire to be champion or chump. I am a minister of the Word of God and you are professed disciples of Christ. My one desire is to set before you principles which I trust will help you better to determine the will of your Master as revealed in the Scriptures.

Many man-hours have been spent by your pastors in bringing these things together. We believe that the following concerns are the foundational biblical issues which ought to be seriously considered by any child of God before he views this movie now or fifty years from now.

1. The film’s dominant preoccupation with the physical brutality and the physical sufferings of Jesus is inconsistent with the Bible’s emphasis upon the reality and dominant nature of his spiritual sufferings. Mr. Gibson has said in a number of interviews that this film is meant to shock. It is intentionally, unabashedly brutal. Not only are the biblical narratives carried out in visual representations, but even additional acts of brutality are shown that are not at all mentioned in the Scriptures. This assertion could be documented.

W hen we open our Bibles, however, there is a modest restraint with respect to the details of Jesus’ physical suffering. For example, in Matthew’s account we read these words, "Then he released Barabbas to them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified" (Matthew 27:26). As the Holy Spirit has embalmed in ink from the pen of Matthew what He wants us to know about the sufferings of Christ, He says, "When he had scourged Jesus." That’s all! There are no gruesome details, no gory specifics, no attempt to create a mental image of lash after lash after lash, and the blood spurting from His back. "When he had scourged Jesus." Then verse 35 says, "Then they crucified Him, and divided his garments, casting lots." There is a modest restraint with respect to the depiction of His physical sufferings on the cross.

But when we turn to the biblical record with regards to the suffering of the soul of Jesus, beginning in Gethsemane, God gives us unusual details in three different gospel accounts. Jesus begins to be sorely troubled and says to His disciples, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death" (Mark 14:34), and he falls upon the ground. He comes back to the disciples, and says, "Could you not watch one hour?" and He staggers again. Luke gives us this unusual detail of His continuing agony in Luke 22:44: "Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground." The first mention of His blood in an explicit way does not have anything to do with any physical sufferings. No one has laid a hand on Him. No wound has been opened. It is the suffering of His soul. "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death."

Likewise with the ongoing account of the crucifixion, there is no record that our Lord cries out under any of the horrors of physical abuse. But it is at the end of the three hours, when He is plunged into darkness and in His soul is drinking in the dereliction, abandonment and forsakenness of God, that He cries out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?" (Matt. 27:46). The soul of His suffering was the transaction between Jesus and his Father, and not that which was laid upon Jesus by men. An older writer stated it accurately when he affirmed, "the soul of His suffering was the suffering of His soul."

I am not discounting the horror and the brutality of Jesus’ physical sufferings. What I am saying is that this film gives undue emphasis upon the physical sufferings of Christ. It is inconsistent with the Bible’s emphasis upon the reality and dominant nature of His spiritual sufferings. Those sufferings are described for us in the language of 2 Cor. 5:21, "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us," or Gal 3:13, "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us." In the language of the hymn we sing, "But the deepest stroke that pierced Him was the stroke that justice gave."

Any Christian jealous for God’s emphasis with regard to the suffering of his Lord must ask the question, "Do I want to subject my mind and the walls of memory to a film which has an emph asis inconsistent with the emphasis of my Bible?" That is a question you need to ask.

2. The film’s detailed depiction of the death of Jesus on the movie screen is an unwarranted re-enactment and representation of His death. On the eve of His crucifixion Jesus himself gave us a physical and visible means of representing His death: "This is My body which is given for you" (Luke 22:19). At the supper He took the cup saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you" (Luke 22:20). Jesus did not give any directive that someone should go with a charcoal pencil and capture visually the details of His death. He said that He would give His followers the means of remembering Him as their crucified Savior. The Lord Jesus gave one physical, visual representation of His death.

As the Synod of Constantinople in 753 decreed, "The only admissible figure of the humanity of Christ, however, is bread and wine in the holy Supper. This and no other form, this and no other type, has He chosen to represent His incarnation."[2] It is not without significance that this detailed depiction of the re-enactment and representation of our Lord’s death is in the mind of its very devout Catholic director, Mr. Gibson, a parallel to the re-enactment of the death of Christ in the blasphemous action of the Mass. A current article comments, "It is crucial to realize that the images and language of The Passion of the Christ flow directly out of Gibson’s personal dedication to Catholicism in one of its most traditional and mysterious forms "the l6th century Latin Mass."[3]

Listen to Mr. Gibson’s own words: "'I don’t go to any other services,’ the director told the Eternal Word television network [that is the Roman Catholic conservative television network]. ‘I go to the old Tridentine Rite. That’s the way that I first saw it when I was a kid. So I think that that informs one’s understanding of how to transcend language. Now, initially, I didn’t understand the Latin" But I understood the meaning and the message and what they were doing.’" According to Tridentine theology, when the priest with his back to the laity holds up the host, he is offering Jesus Christ afresh. Hence, so often the priest faces a crucifix above the altar in which there is an organic connection between Christ upon a cross and Christ offered up in the consecration of the host. There is an intimate, conscious connection. Quoting again from the article, "The goal of the movie is to shake modern audiences by brashly juxtaposing the ‘sacrifice of the cross with the sacrifice of the altar — which is the same thing,’ said Gibson. [4] As a devout Catholic of the old school, Mr. Gibson is accomplishing his goal.

So I say that the detailed depiction of the death of Jesus on the movie screen is an unwarranted re-enactment and representation of His death and leaves people open to be sympathetic to the blasphemy of the Roman Mass.

3. The film’s visual re-enactment of Christ crucified, as a medium of conveying the message of the gospel, is a radical and arrogant substitute for the God-ordained medium of presenting Christ crucified to a sinful world. How is Christ crucified to be presented to a sinful world? Listen to this quote from Mr. Gibson that is on a flyer from nearby Clearview Cinema: "This is a movie about love, hope, faith, and forgiveness. He [Jesus] died for all mankind, suffered for all of us. It’s time to get back to that basic message. The world has gone nuts. We could all use a little more love, faith, hope, and forgiveness."[5]

According to Mr. Gibson, it is time to get back to the message of Christ suffering for us. And what is his medium of getting that message out? His film. That is his passion, and that is his purpose. In Mel Gibson’s own experience he was fascinated as a boy with the mystery of the Mass. It wasn’t anything conveyed by language to the understanding, it was the mystery and subjective mystical experience of the Mass. He acknowledges that he departed from that practice for years and went into a horrible lifestyle of addictions of one kind and another. In his own words, speaking to Diane Sawyer, he said, "I stuck my proboscis into every pool of that which the world had to offer, and it left me empty." It was moving. But do you know what brought him back and rescued him? It was coming back to the Mass, coming back to the experience of his childhood, with a fascination and pre-occupation with a crucified Christ.

Many Protestants also view this movie as an effective means of communicating the gospel. Listen to one pastor who says, "This is a window of opportunity we have. Here’s a guy who’s putting his money into a movie that has everything to do with what we do. Churches used to communicate by having a little lecture time on Sunday morning. People don’t interact that way anymore. Here’s a chance for us to use a modern-day technique to communicate the truth of the Bible."[6] Everywhere we hear that evangelicals are buying up seats in local theaters, encouraging their people to go and bring their seeker friends to it. This movie, they say, is a marvelous tool of evangelization.

But I ask the question, my dear fellow believer: is this the God-ordained medium of conveying to a lost world the knowledge of Christ crucified as the way of salvation? The Scriptures answer unequivocally, no.

We read in 1 Cor. 1:18 that "The word" (that is, the logos, or 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." Is the power of God to be seen in the cross as presented visually? No, the power of God comes in the cross presented as a word, a word defined by God. Paul continues in verse 21, "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe." Here Paul uses the Greek word "kerugma" - the "thing preached" - which means both the message, and the method. Verse 22 continues, "For Jews request a sign" - they say, "W e are visual people; bring your gospel to us with visual validation." God says, "No, I have chosen a message, and a method, and I won’t capitulate to your demands."

Galatians 3:1 says, "O foolish Galatians...before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified." Paul said that the Galatians had Christ set before their eyes as crucified. How did he do it? Did he come to Galatia with a traveling "passion play" troupe? No! Read on: "This only I want to learn from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" Christ was set forth crucified by a message that they heard. It was by apostolic proclamation, by "the word of the cross."

Dear people, you and I must have the spiritual fortitude to stand with God’s method. We must refuse to allow men, however sincere they may be, to replace the wisdom of God. "In the wisdom of God it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe."

4. The film’s graphic and extended portrayal of the physical brutality involved in the sufferings of Jesus, culminating in His crucifixion, has produced and will continue to produce a plethora of spurious spiritual experience. Certainly you are aware of the fact that we live in a day of the resurgence of ubiquitous spirituality - New Age spirituality, another dimension beyond the physical, stroking rocks to stimulate your spirituality. People are always prone to false religious experiences, but in such a climate of heightened spirituality how much more are people vulnerable to spurious spiritual experiences. Our forefathers were very conscious in times of revival, when there was heightened contagion of emotion, that people were vulnerable to spurious experience. They wrote essays and preached sermons on how to distinguish between true and spurious spiritual experience. Jonathan Edwards’s Religious Affections was his effort to sort this out. He recognized that the devil can come, as Paul says, as an angel of light and a minister of righteousness. No more wide an avenue does he have than when emotions are highly agitated. And when emotions are highly agitated in a religious context, people are most vulnerable to having a spurious religious experience.

Now, what is going to happen? People are going to sit in theaters and react emotionally. If they were all alone it would be bad enough, but human emotion is contagious. And even if you were seeing all the same things done to one of those malefactors who were crucified to the left and right of Jesus, unless you were dead as a human being you could not help to be moved to tears that a fellow human being would be so brutalized. But because the one being brutalized is this central religious figure, this innocent man, there will be multitudes that will experience a spurious religious experience. I say it will be spurious because there will be no biblical conviction of sin; there will be no biblical understanding of the gospel; there will be no repentance; there will be no saving faith; there will be no new creation in Christ; there will be no baptism leading to involvement in evangelical, Bible-believing churches. People will return to Rome by the droves. Then they will go back to the Super Bowls and to their salacious movies on Sunday afternoons. But they will say that they have had an experience, and surely all must be well.

Jesus said in Luke 23:28 to those who were seeing Him being brutalized and were weeping, "Do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves." My blessed Lord does not need your sympathy, nor mine or anyone else’s in a movie theater. He demands that we weep for ourselves - our sin, our alienation from God, our wretched pride and rebellion. Then we would we fall at His feet, not with human sympathy but with adoration and worship because the Holy Spirit has shown us who Jesus really is in His person and in His work.

5. The film undermines the biblical doctrine of the absolute sufficiency of Scripture. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." God gave a complete Bible to make complete men. Or read the last words of the Book of the Revelation where the curse of God is pronounced upon any who subtract from the words of the book or add to it (Rev. 22:18-19).

I said in my opening positive statement that there are things for which we can give thanks, that there was a "good measure" of literary integrity and "for the most part" a reproduction of the text of Scripture. But Mary has a place in this film that she does not have in the Word of God. There are incidents in an attempt to depict the devil that are totally unfounded in the Word of God. In fact, they have their roots in a visionary nun who claims to have the stigmata - the marks of Christ - upon her. I quote from a recent article, "The Passion of Mel Gibson: Why Evangelicals are Cheering a Movie with Profoundly Catholic Sensibilities," in the March 2004 edition of Christianity Today by the editor, David Neff: "Mel Gibson in many ways is a pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic. He prefers the Tridentine Latin Mass and calls Mary co- redemptrix" - and may I add, he does so without shame. "Gibson told Christianity Today: ‘I’ve been actually amazed at the way I would say the evangelical audience has - hands down - responded to this film more than any other Christian group.’ What makes it so amazing he says is that ‘the film is so Marian.’ Gibson knows Protestants don’t regard Mary in the way Catholics do, and Gibson goes beyond many Catholics when he calls her ‘a tremendous co-redemptrix and mediatrix.’"[7]

Where does Gibson get some of this fill-in stuff? According to the article by David Neff:

    Gibson told how actor Jim Caviezel, the film’s Jesus, insisted on beginning each day of filming with the celebration of the Mass on the set. He also recounted a series of divine coincidences that led him to read the works of Ann Catherine Emmerich, a late-18th, early-19th - century Westphalian nun who had visions of the events of the Passion. Many of the details needed to fill out the Gospel accounts he drew from her book, Dolorous Passion of Our Lord.

    Here is one such detail from Emmerich: [A]fter the flagellation, I saw Claudia Procles, the wife of Pilate, send some large pieces of linen to the Mother of God. I know not whether she thought that Jesus would be set free, and that his Mother would then require linen to dress his wounds, or whether this compassionate lady was aware of the use which would be made of her present... I soon after saw Mary and Magdalen approach the pillar where Jesus had been scourged;...they knelt down on the ground near the pillar, and wiped up the sacred blood with the linen which Claudia Procles had sent."[8]

Neff continues,
    Gibson does not follow Dolorous Passion slavishly, and at many points he chooses details that conflict with Emmerich’s account. But the sight of Pilate’s wife handing a stack of linen cloths to Jesus’ mother allows Gibson to capture a moment of sympathy and compassion between the two women, and the act of the two Marys wiping up Jesus’ blood gives Gibson the opportunity to pull back for a dramatic shot of the bloody pavement.

    Another detail picked up from Dolorous Passion is just as dramatically powerful, but much more significant theologically. Emmerich writes that during Jesus’ agony in the garden, Satan presented Jesus with a vision of all the sins of the human race. "Satan brought forward innumerable temptations, as he had formerly done in the desert, even daring to adduce various accusations against him." Satan, writes Emmerich, addressed Jesus "in words such as these: ‘Takest thou even this sin upon thyself? Art thou willing to bear its penalty? Art thou prepared to satisfy for all these sins?’"

    Gibson shows Jesus being tempted by a pale, hooded female figure, who whispers to him just such words, suggesting that bearing the sins of the world is too much for Jesus, that he should turn back. And from under the tempter’s robe there slithers a snake. In a moment of metaphorical violence drawn straight from Genesis 3:15, Jesus crushes the serpent’s head beneath his sandaled feet.

    These details from the film's opening sequence announce Gibson's acute consciousness of the cosmic battle between good and evil - between God and the devil - that is played out behind earthly scenes of violence against the innocent Jesus.[9]

But where does the Bible say that the devil was tempting our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane? There is not a word! To me it is incomprehensible to think that Christians who claim to believe in the absolute sufficiency of Scripture can sit passively and allow words to be put into the mouth of our blessed Lord, and actions to be portrayed by an actor representing our Lord, and not rise up in holy anger. Our forefathers spilled blood for the absolute sufficiency of this blessed Book. The reason we can come here this morning with an open Bible because of their blood which was shed in martyr doom against those who would add to Scripture such visions and phantasms and the decrees and counsels of men. This movie, I say, denies the absolute sufficiency of the Word of God.

One author says in another Christianity Today article concerning prior films that portrayed Jesus too humanly:

    Where those films failed, partly because they demystified Jesus so thoroughly that he seemed to lose his divine authority, Gibson succeeds, by shooting much of the film from Jesus' own point of view and by using flashbacks to create the impression that we are being drawn into the flow of Jesus' own memories. When Jesus sees a man with carpentry tools, he thinks of his days as a carpenter; when he sees the street filled with people shouting at him, he thinks of his Triumphal Entry a few days before; when he sees Golgotha, he thinks of the sermon he gave on another mountain in which he told his followers to love their enemies."[10]
But who is Mel Gibson to get into the head of my blessed Lord, and tell me what He thought? Has he become God? Do you feel this, dear people? Here is a man who professes to get into the mind of my sovereign, omniscient, divine savior and wrongly represents those thoughts as "fact" to multitudes who will never read their Bibles. As far as they are concerned, the Jesus on the celluloid is the Jesus that is. but that is not the Jesus of Holy Scriptures.

6. The film promoted and will continue an undiscerning ecumenical climate. Whether Mel Gibson is a true Christian through all of his Catholicism, that is, whether he has come to cast his soul in naked faith upon the Son of God revealed in Scripture, I am of no position to answer. But that question and its answer are totally irrelevant with regard to evaluating the film. As a devout Catholic, Mr. Gibson is seeking to promote a film that even the front page of Christianity Today acknowledges to be a catholic film. Subtle and not-so-subtle nuances of Rome percolate through this fil. And because we live in an age of pragmatism people say, ":Oh, it did so much good, I know that this person was concerted as a result," and so on.

What are we doing? We are saying that the issues that were brought into focus in the Reformation are merely a tempest in a teapot. The issues for which men died at stake are really irrelevant. The real issues is, "Does it work?" But you see that the Apostle Paul did not have that disposition. In Galatians 1:8 he wrote, "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed." Let him be accursed of God. The decrees and the pronouncements of the Roman Catholic Church place the curse upon you and me for believing that we are justified by faith alone in Jesus Christ. By contrast, the apostle Paul pronounces the curse upon those who propagate a gospel at variance with the true, biblical gospel of salvation by faith alone. With this wholesale jumping into bed with Romanism, this film has and will continue to promote an undiscerning ecumenical climate. It will more and more marginalize those of us who do believe that the issues of reformation theology are still vital issues.

7. This film gives unquestioned approval to the arrogant and blasphemous activity of a sinful man attempting to portray the sinless God-Man. "Blasphemy" means to speak irreverently or profanely of or to God. the Jesus of the gospel records was true man, but He was equally true God. He was the Word made flesh. Jesus said, "He who has seen Me has seen the father" (John 14:9). deity is mirrored in and through His sacred and holy humanity. He is truly human, yes, and no one emphasizes that more than I do. But He is true God! The compassionate look in His eyes was not mere human compassion, but was divine compassion. When anger reflected in His eyes, it was divine anger.

Yet of this actor it is said, and here I quote Lorenza Munoz of the Los Angeles Times with regard to Jim Caviezel:

    Unlike Willem Dafoe's conflicted Jesus in "The Last Temptation of Christ" (1988) or Jeffrey Hunter's sweet-natured Jesus in "King of Kings" (1961), Caviezel's Jesus could be a character in a silent film. He evokes emotion mainly through his eyes and through haunting visuals that could have served as paintings than scenes from a motion picture.

    In fact, Caviezel's ability to stir emotion with a glance has become his trademark. "You look into his eyes and there is a whole lot going on," says Rowdy Herrington, director of "Stroke of Genius," in which Caviezel plays golf great Bobby Jones... "It makes you imagine a lot of things."

    In the brief moments during the two-hour Passion in which Caviezel in not drenched in blood, he emits sincerity with a smile and tenderness with a glimmer in his eyes (which were colored brown in post-production for the part). But it is hard to say whether the average moviegoer will notice him over the unrelenting violence. More than launch his career as a mainstream star, The Passion may ignite a fire for him among evangelical Christians and Conservative Catholics.

    And perhaps it was a role Caviezel, a devout Catholic active in the religious community, was raised to play . . . Caviezel has no qualms about letting the world know he is religious. He is proud of his faith and relishes talking about it - even though Hollywood publicists have asked him to refrain from proselytizing in interviews . . . He has raised eyebrows among journalists for talking about visions of the Virgin Mary, and for not wanting to do nude scenes with Jennifer Lopez in "Angel Eyes" or Ashley Judd in "High Crimes" for fear of offending his wife of eight years, Kerri, a schoolteacher.

    He waves away a question about where he worships. he said he attends mass in both Latin Tridentine and in English.

    How did he prepare for the role of Jesus? "I walked on my pool twice a day - it's hard to do," he says, smiling.[11]

For this man to be placed on the screen and for any Christian to go and sit and watch him without objecting, I cannot imagine. For it then gives unquestioned approval to the arrogant and blasphemous activity of this sinful man attempting to portray the sinless God-Man.

8. The film constitutes a blatant violation of the Second Commandment. This is the capstone issue, and one that I trust you will wrestle with before God. Some would rest the whole case on this, I have tried to build up to it, rather that work down from it. But when the Lord God spoke from heaven and wrote with His own finger upon tablets of stone He said, Exodus 20:4, "You shall not make unto thee a graven image nor any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down yourself unto them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God." God would have no visual representations made of Himself as God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit.

There is an excellent article by Professor John Murray called, "Pictures of Christ," and I urged every believer to read it. Its structure is relatively simple. He sets out the thesis that is anyone presents a picture of Christ it certainly must increase our understanding of who Christ was and to increase our love and devotion to Him. To present it for any other reason it would be blasphemous, would it not? To present a picture of Christ to make people ignorant of Him, and to think less of Him than they should, is blasphemous. Mr. Gibson would say yes, the purpose of his film is to accurately portray the Lord Jesus so that people may appreciate Him and love Him more.

Professor Murray then lays out the case for the use of pictures, and then he has three powerful arguments against them. I think they are unanswerable. The last two rest firmly down upon the Second Commandment. And then he summarizes:

    What is at stake in this question is the unique place which Jesus Christ as the God-man occupies in our faith and worship and the unique place which the Scripture occupies as the only revelation, the only medium of communication, respecting him whom we worship as Lord and Saviour. The incarnate Word and the written Word are correlative. We dare not use other media of impression or of sentiment but those of his institution and prescription. Every thought and impression of him should evoke worship. We worship him with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God. To use a likeness of Christ as an aid to worship is forbidden by the second commandment as much in his case as in that of the Father and Spirit." [12]
Furthermore, I would be grieved because of what I fear may happen should you view the movie. The next time that we come to the Lord's table and sing, "When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died," would there not be a great temptation to bring to mind the actor's face? Image worship would go on in this very building, as much as if you projected his face on the back wall and said, "Look, there is Christ." Idolatry begins in the image of the heart.

I have struggled for years to get out of my mind Warner Sallman's "Head of Christ" that was hung in a place of worship when I was a child. When I became a Christian and thought of my Lord at the right hand of my father as I directed my prayers to Jesus who has physical form in heaven, Sallman's "Head of Christ" kept coming into my mind. It took years to scrub it out, but with a little flip of the switch it could be there again. I am not to worship Jesus according to the half-effeminate artistic sensibilities of Mr. Sallman. I am to worship Him as He is revealed in the Word of God and in the full glory of His godhood and His manhood.

As we close, let me give some practical counsel in order to seize the opportunity to witness. First, don't attack the movie with uncoverted people or with Christian friends who go to see it. A servant of the Lord must not strive. Secondly, use the interest in this movie to direct conversation to the central issues of the gospel. The movie does not answer the two most important questions about the death of Christ: who was it that died, and why did He die?[13] Direct the conversation towards these topics. And thirdly, use the tools we are going to make available to you such as John Piper's book, "The Passion of Jesus Christ". Prayerfully distrubute such tools and seize this opportunity to witness.

  1. Michael Medved, "Gibson's Right to his 'Passion,'" Christian Sceince Monitor, February 2, 2004, page 9.
  2. Quoted by John Leith in Creeds of the Churches.
  3. Andrew J. Webb, "Five Reasons Not to Go See The Passion of Christ," posted at http://groups.yahoo.com/bbwarfield/message/16961.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Advertising Postcard, Clearview Cinemas.
  6. See note 3.
  7. David Neff, "The Passion of Mel Gibson" Why Evangelicals are Cheering a Movie with Profoundly Catholic Sensibilities," Christianity Today, Volume 48, Number 3, March 2004, page 30
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Peter T Chattaway, "Lethal Suffering," Christianity Today, March 2004, page 30.
  11. Lorenza Monuz, "In the Eye of the storm," Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2004, page E8.
  12. John Murray, "Pictures of Christ," posted at http://www.datarat.net/DR/pic.html as reprinted from the Reformed Herald, February 1961.
  13. Pastor Martin seeks to address these questions in a subsequent message titled, "The Passion: What the Movie Doesn't Tell You," Sermon #TE-178, available online at www.tbcnj.org.
This transcript is from a Sunday School class led by Pastor Albert N. Martin on Sunday, February 22, 2004 at the Trinity Baptist Church of Montville, New Jersey, USA. copyright 2004 Trinity Baptist Church of Montville, NJ. All rights reserved, www.tbcnj.org. With thanks for various contributions from other sources. Audio of this message is available on our website.

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