The Passion of the Christ

EMBELLISH AND MARKET

Paul long ago wrote, ‘For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God, but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ’, 2 Cor. 2. 17. The Greek word, kapeleuo, is ‘to make a trade,’ or ‘to peddle’. The noun form is translated a ‘huckster’. Paul warned of those who make merchandise of the gospel. If that warning was needed 2, 000 years ago it is doubly needed today!

Time magazine recently had a column headed ‘A Passion for Profits’. The column stated, ‘Mel Gibson’s controversial film The Passion of the Christ has earned $250 million in the box office in just three weeks. Reverent Hollywood moguls are now combing through the Scriptures for other projects with religious themes’, Time, March 22, 2004, p. 19. Ah, yes, money talks in Hollywood. The Left Behind series of books and films has made millions also for the authors and publishers. Prophecy with its speculations is a big seller in the religious world. Religion is big business in the world today.

So what is wrong with making a few shekels if you get out the word too? The truth is that the gospel is just as unpalatable to the world today as it was in Paul’s day. ‘But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them because they are spiritually discerned’, 1 Cor. 2. 14. Some would take away the need for repentance from sin and the reality of eternal hell for the lost. They would say, ‘Preach a positive message; stop being so negative. Bolster up their sense of self-esteem. Do not tell people they are sinners!’ The rich man in hell pleaded with Abraham to send someone to warn his brothers, ‘lest they also come to this place of torment’, Luke 16. 28. Those in hell have no delusions about its reality. The truth is that these religious films that Hollywood puts out are a mixture of truth and fiction. Now in a law court if you mix truth and fiction you are guilty of perjury. Your word can no longer be trusted.

Hollywood in its religious films spices up the narrative with much more sex and more violence than the original ever held. This is what excites the audience and will bring them back. Films, with their vivid imagery leave lasting impressions. These scenes are etched into the files of your memory and are not forgotten readily. Hence the need to focus on what is true and beautiful, Phil. 4. 8. Films are a powerful tool for use in teaching. James warns us to be careful of what we teach; God will judge us for what we communicate to others, Jas. 3. 1. The teacher becomes responsible not only for himself but for those he teaches. It is to be feared that the only knowledge of the Bible some have has been gained from Hollywood.

There has been tremendous excitement generated in the evangelical community over the movie The Passion of the Christ. From Billy Graham down, the film has been praised. Some say it is the greatest film on Christ that has ever been produced. There is a tremendous lack of discernment on the issue among Christians. Is the film moving, emotionally gripping? Yes! You will probably weep. It is fearfully violent in its portrayal. Is it true? No! It is a mixture of truth and fiction.

The movie has been called the most Roman Catholic film ever produced by Hollywood. Mel Gibson is a devout Catholic. They celebrated the Mass before beginning the filming each day. It has been pointed out that the movie is based more on the Stations of the Cross in Catholic liturgy than on the restrained accounts in the gospels. A vivid imagination embellishes the simple gospel narrative. Was Jesus beaten and abused after His arrest while on His way to the high priest’s house? No. Did Mary, Jesus’ mother, have a prominent role in the gospel accounts of the crucifixion? No – only John mentions her, when Jesus commits her to his care. Did she wipe up Christ’s blood with cloths after the scourging? No. Did Pilate’s wife give her the cloths to use? No. Was she close to Him as He carried the cross? No. Did she kiss His feet on the cross, smearing His blood over her face? No. Did she help Joseph and Nicodemus take His body down from the cross and hold His cold, dead body in her arms? No. These are all myths from Catholic tradition that glorify Mary. Does the film emphasize the resurrection? No, but it’s good to note that the apostles did.

So what is the harm? It makes a good story, right? Does not the end justify the means? To which we say, ‘NO!’ They should put a disclaimer on the film. ‘This film is a mixture of truth and fiction. For the true story read the Gospels!‘ But millions go away and do believe this is the true story of the crucifixion of the Christ.

Is the Bible inspired of God? Is its message true? Is it adequate or must we add to it? ‘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’, 2 Tim. 3. 16-17. Paul affirms that the Scripture is adequate to lead us to salvation and then to nourish that newborn faith into maturity. There is no other book in the universe like it. Do we believe that the Gospel accounts of His life are enough or must they be embellished? Is the holy restraint about the details of the death of Christ what God wants? Is not some of that terrible scene when the Son of God suffered an agonizing death for our sins veiled from our mortal eyes by the Spirit of God? Let us go no further than what the word states. To add to it is to falsify the message. This is also true of those who speculate in the realm of prophecy. John warns us solemnly at the end of his life concerning Scripture, ‘For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book. If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book’, Rev. 22. 18. God is warning men, ‘Do not tamper with My book!’ We need to reverence the Scripture, exegete it carefully and proclaim it faithfully. ‘He who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully’, Jer. 23. 28. In his last words to Timothy, Paul exhorted, ‘Preach the word!’, 2 Tim. 4. 2. Today that exhortation is needed more than ever!