As Christ's Passion Becomes Ours

By Francis Frangipane
    
What is it about The Passion of the Christ that stirs people so deeply?  After all, it is just a movie, isn't it?  Yet, Mel Gibson's portrait of Christ and His sufferings, for many, has awakened emotions people never knew they had; it resurrects longings many thought were dead.

The power of this movie is that it speaks to the very DNA of our spiritual identity as Christians. It does not matter whether we are Lutherans or Catholics, Baptists or Pentecostals, something fundamental about ourselves is being unearthed from antiquity and restored to our souls.

Let me explain.

There is a reason why societies memorialize those who, through their sacrifice or courage, were instrumental in shaping their cultural identity.  To forget the legacy of one's forefathers is to actually lose some essence of who we are as a unique people. Thus, we honor our founders and heros by creating memorials to them. We erect statues, name airports and cities after them and even have national holidays in remembrance of their sacrifices and accomplishments.

Yet, the power of our memorials goes beyond the tribute they offer to the past; they actually connect us to our heritage.  For what we truly memorialize, we internalize and make a living part of our souls.  Thus, each time a succeeding generation honors a national hero, as they appreciate what made their leaders great, the essence of those values is transferred to them.

As our technology advances, our ability to memorialize has taken modern expressions. For African Americans, the book and movie Roots helped define the uniqueness of the black journey in America.  While the movie touched and taught people in general, for those of African American descent, it went much deeper: for many, it was a summary season that connected them with the genesis of their own souls.  The movie communicated more than information; it brought with it impartation from the generations of Africans who suffered and died in slavery.  It said: Here is the great price our forebears paid. We owe it to them to prosper in this land of our affliction.

Roots was not just a movie; it became a memorial.

The Jewish people also have their unique memorials.  Established in a number of different cities around the world are Holocaust museums, which are memorials to Jewish suffering.  For those of us who are Gentiles, we visit, we are touched and we come away with a better understanding and love for the Jewish people.  Seeing the history of their persecution helps us appreciate the passion Jews have for their homeland, Israel. Yet, the images of mass open graves and ovens, of people standing in lines before gas chambers, penetrate much deeper into the soul of a Jew.  They see the sufferings of the Holocaust generation and it adds something to their soul, a mandate which rises in their hearts: Never again; never forget!

Such is the nature of memorials: they compel us to remember the sacrifice; they command us to never forget.

Yet, strangely, Christians have not had a memorial dedicated to the sufferings of Christ.  Our "Passion plays" and gospel movies are carefully scripted to inspire, but not to offend.  We memorialize His life, but not the passions of His death.  We know theologically of His sufferings, but we have not truly seen them.  In fact, because we know the outcome of the story, even before the scourging and crucifixion scenes are over, our focus shifts ahead to His resurrection. 

But in failing to linger, in refusing to gaze steadfastly upon the sorrow and assimilate its staggering cost, we unconsciously cheapen His sacrifice.  As we detach ourselves from the price, its impact in us is proportionally diminished. 

Just as memorializing the Holocaust continues to serve, even to this day, in defining modern Israel, so The Passion of the Christ brings Christians face-to-face with the cost of our redemption. It cuts us deeply.  We, too, are wounded as we see the degree of His wounding; we also are broken by the depth of His brokenness.  Sobs can be heard in the theater.  Why are we crying? Didn't we know the story? Yes.  We knew the facts, but not the ongoing torture, the abandonment and rejection, the injustice or unspeakable pain. The cost is being transferred to us.

The movie rescues Christ's sacrifice from the realm of cerebral information and secures its power in the holy place of our hearts.  Yes, the movie wounds us, but it also heals us by letting us see the demonstration of Christ's love for us.

Must we have the violent images?  Yes, the unrelenting torture and the merciless cruelty are the backdrop of darkness that contrasts the brightness of Christ's sacrifice for mankind.  To leave them out or minimize the account is to subtract from the totality of His gift. 

The word holocaust, legitimately used by Jews to describe their sufferings in Nazi death camps, means "a sacrificial offering entirely consumed."  It is a biblical term.  Christ's sacrifice was exactly this -- a sacrifice entirely consumed for us.

The critics rage, not merely because they are angry, but because they are afraid. The truth of Christ's love is too powerful to allow back into the mainstream of secular life.  For years a vocal, but small minority has sought to remove all but the memory of God from society, but even the memory of what Christ did for us is powerful enough to transform the world.

For many Christians, The Passion of the Christ is not just another movie; it is a memorial to His suffering for our sins.  In seeing, we remember, and the power of His sacrifice restores our souls.

"Thy Face, Oh Lord, I Shall Seek"

By Francis Frangipane

There are some things in life that cannot be attained cheaply or superficially.  Scores of scriptures call us to something much more consuming and fulfilling than just having a religion about Jesus Christ.  Yet, the challenge is to focus and centralize our efforts to appropriate what Jesus came to give.

He warns, "For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be" (Matt 24:37-39).

The biggest battle we each might fight is to stay focused on God long enough to learn how to abide in His presence.   Before we can redeem the world, we must redeem our time.  And we would think that with all the time saving conveniences we have in life, that this would be easy, but it is not.

The real test at the end of the age is: can we live in a place of focused renewal?  Those whom I have known who have fallen into sin, never were taken in suddenly by the enemy. Their failure was always precipitated by an earlier erosion of their focus; their time with God was incrementally replaced with non-spiritual things.  Left without the help of God, Satan's temptation came to a heart vulnerable and without strength to resist. 

"But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into" ( Matt 24:43).

Speaking of the devil, Jesus warned that the "thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy" (Jn 10:10).  Beloved,  the first thing the devil steals is time.  Once we surrender our devotional time with God to non-spiritual things; once this world becomes more important to us than the next, the enemy has easy access to "kill, and destroy" our virtue and spiritual strength.

Again, Jesus taught a parable about a certain man who was having a banquet and "sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, 'Come; for everything is ready now.' But they all alike began to make excuses" (Lk:14:17-18). 

When the Lord calls us to Himself, do we make excuses?  I'm tired.  Hungry. Busy.  Jesus tells us that the reasons for avoiding Him will seem legitimate: "I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused"; "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused"; "I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come" (Lk 14:19-20). 

I know it seems radical, but Jesus' final point is so contrary to the image we have of Him that His next admonition seems almost non-Christian.  Let me also remind you that He wasn't only talking to His apostles or other "higher ups" in His staff; He turned and spoke to the "great  multitudes [which] were going along with Him" (Lk 14:25).

"If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple" (LK 14:-26-27).

Here's how His words strike my heart.  To me, He is saying that I must not let any relationship challenge His love and call upon my life.  And, if there is a decision to be made about doing His will, I must always choose Him above everyone else's interests, even my own.  By comparison, every other relationship I have could appear like hate when measured by my love and obedience to Jesus. 

Of course, loving Jesus brings the very best of heaven into all my other relationships; I possess something of Christ's life that brings greater love back to my family and friends, and even my own soul. 

But above all, the choice must be made for Christ.

You say, "This doesn't sound like the Jesus I know; He loves everyone." Yes, but He also knows the battle for our souls will be fierce and that to be successful in our spiritual journey, He must be first.

A Time To Seek God
There are many seasons in life.  Proverbs tells us there is a time for every purpose under heaven.  Beloved, I believe it is time to draw near to God, to prepare our hearts for His presence.  There simply is no substitute for the presence of God.

David was a king. His life was filled with many responsibilities and he was clearly very passionate about many things.  Yet he wrote, "When Thou didst say, 'Seek My face,' my heart said to Thee, 'Thy face, O LORD, I shall seek' " (Ps 27:8).

If the Holy Spirit were to whisper to your heart that He wants more of your time, when the Lord says, "Seek My face," what do you say?  Oh beloved, here is the true battle for your soul.  Your victory is not in getting more counseling, but in your answer to the Lord's call. 

The result of seeking God is that He guides us into an absolutely fearless life (see Psalm 27:1-4).  David says, "For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; in the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock" (Ps 27:5).

Today, with so many distractions, what place does the Lord have in your life?  If He called you to deepen your walk, to seek His face, how would you respond?  When He says, "Seek My face," what does your heart say to Him?