Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” presented Mel Gibson’s view on how Christ died, but said nothing about why He died. The film, though, was indeed meant to be about the physical suffering of Christ, and not about why he suffered physically – and spiritually. His spiritual suffering, Christians believe, was far greater than his physical suffering, which itself was unique in the history of a crucifixion. This was so was because of the appalling treatment he received before the crucifixion.
A non-Christian may think that here was a good man who went through much suffering with dignity and steadfastness. This description would appeal to a wider audience than if it were purely a Christian story. One member of such an audience would probably be the conductor of Bach’s “Passion,” whom I described in “The Passion of Bach: The Heart of Tragedy.” He believed that the person being crucified was nothing but a man, but it didn’t matter because he (the conductor) didn’t “have to be a Christian to feel the pain and the tragedy of such suffering.”
The conductor sees just a man, perhaps a very good man, crucified on a cross. Others see much more than an ordinary man; they see someone who sacrificed his life for us because he loved us. His sacrifice encourages us to love others. God will help us, change us, make us the people we really are deep down. When God sees the change in us, he forgives us. This view has some truth, but mixed with much error. It also misses the main point of the Passion of Christ. Here is the Biblical view:
We, in our natural state, are sinners standing under God’s divine judgement. God’s justice requires punishment. Instead of punishing sinners with eternal punishment, God the Father sent His Son into the world to suffer and die on their behalf. Whereas in the view (above), the most important point is the change Christ’s Passion has wrought in sinners, the more important point is what Christ’s Passion has wrought in His Father, namely, the Father’s wrath has been “propitiated” (expiated, satisfied). The effect was the overthrow of the powers of darkness (the devil and his angels) and the granting of God’s totally unmerited love. By dying on the cross, Jesus paid the price for the sins of his “sheep” (John 10:3), turning the Father’s ‘no’ into a ‘yes’. Jesus Christ became the sinner’s substitute for the punishment sinners deserved. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
“He grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53).
The Passion of Christ is not a human story about a good person being steadfast and dignified. The Bible (and other historical records) tell us why Jesus was crucified: He claimed to be God in the flesh. His claim to be God in the flesh is only one side of the story – man’s side of the story. The other side – the infinitely more important side, God’s side – is that God the Son came to shed His blood. He shed His blood to reconcile those from every race and tongue (that is, all the “world”) to the Father; those whom the Father chose before the creation of the world:
“Now all these things are from God, (who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).