This week I want to share with you an excellent article about the movie, “The Passion of the Christ” by T.A. McMahon with the very generous permission of The Berean Call staff. There is not one word that I would add or omit. It is essential to any report that discusses The Passion of our Lord and wishes to correctly understand the events of that week and the horrors that occurred. For someone like me who was raised a Catholic and, therefore, suffered from many misconceptions about how the penalty for sin was paid, it was essential to finally hear the Truth. The other reason I include this article is because it presents the whole message of salvation. Salvation is not merely God’s love and mercy. It also requires acknowledging that we are sinners and that the blood of Jesus is our only means of salvation.
Miss any of our posts in the series? Click on the link to check them out.
- Week 1: The Passion
- Week 2: “Dolorous Passion” – Excerpts In Line With the “Passion of the Christ” Movie, But Not in the Bible
- Week 3: “The Dolorous Passion” Part II – Excerpts in Line with the “Passion of the Christ” Movie… but Not in the Bible”
There is one more reason why this next article is included. All those connected with the up-coming “Paul, Apostle of Christ” have stated that it will have a “clear redemption message” connected with it. The following article by T.A.McMahon represents a clear Biblical redemption message. It gives a ground of comparison for what will be presented in the “Paul” movie.
SHOWTIME FOR THE SHEEP by T.A.McMahon
Nationally known movie reviewer Roger Ebert (deceased), who gave The Passion his top rating, writes: “The movie is 126 minutes long, and I would guess that at least 100 of those minutes, maybe more, are concerned specifically and graphically with the details of the torture and death of Jesus. This is the most violent film I have ever seen.” 1 Ebert said in a final note: “It will probably be the most violent [film] you have ever seen. This is not a criticism but an observation…but [it] works powerfully for those who can endure it.” 2
In what way does the movie “work powerfully”? Movie magic and theology! Mel has ushered the viewer into his vision of the physical sufferings and death of Jesus, which he believes were necessary for a sinful humanity to be reconciled to God. As a gifted filmmaker, he put together everything that he knew to be effective in his medium to best convey (and convince others of) his theological understanding of what took place. Yet, sadly, this film misses the punishment for our sins that Christ endured from God and focuses exclusively on the physical sufferings inflicted by men—which could never save but only condemn us. This tragic misunderstanding is the very heart of the movie and must be corrected by anyone seeking to evangelize those who have been stirred to interest by viewing Gibson’s film.
All he sees and attempts to portray is human brutality vented upon Christ because Catholicism emphasizes physical suffering, whether in this life or in purgatory—but the physical cannot pay the penalty for sin.
Let’s consider only what the Bible says about the matter.…The first verse that most Christians commit to memory is John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
This verse raises some questions that need to be answered: 1) why does God love us—“the world” – and 2) why give His Son? The basic answer to number one is: It’s not because there’s anything lovely in us, but because of God’s infinite attribute: “God is love” (1John 4:8).
Question number two is answered partially within the verse itself. Believing in His Son is necessary to avoid perishing (i.e., being separated from God forever) and to gain everlasting life (i.e., being with Him forever).
But that leaves us with some other questions that are critical to a basic understanding of the gospel—the good news of why Jesus came: What’s the problem?! What was so serious that God had to send His Son to solve? Sin. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned” and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Everyone is a sinner; we’re all reaping the destruction that sin produces; and, left on our own, every sinner is presently separated from God and will be forever. Mankind has a hopeless problem that he cannot solve. Only God can provide the solution. But why send His Son? Why not just forgive everyone and start fresh? It has to do with God’s attributes. One is love, as we’ve seen, and another is justice: God is “a God of truth…just and right is he” (Deut 32:4). God declared to the first man that the penalty for sin is death (Genesis 2:17) The Creator of the universe set this penalty, and His perfect justice demands that this penalty—this infinite penalty—be paid.
Since every man is a sinner and is therefore under eternal condemnation, there is nothing he can do about the penalty except to pay the eternal consequences. Divine justice must be satisfied. However, God is also love, and in His perfect love He provided the solution for the justly condemned. That’s the good news! God became a Man (“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”—; (Jn 1:14) “…the man Christ Jesus”—(1Tim 2:5) in order to pay the penalty due all humanity. As the Scriptures clearly indicate, Jesus, who is very God and perfect Man, and who will never cease to be God and Man, needed both attributes to be our Savior. He had to become a Man to die physically, and He had to be God in order to pay the infinite penalty that God’s perfect justice required.
We can readily understand that Jesus had to die physically, “for without shedding of blood [there] is no remission [of sin]” (Heb 9:22). But since the full punishment includes spiritual separation from God forever, our finite minds cannot comprehend how Jesus could pay that penalty on the cross. Yet we know it must be so. (Hebrews 2:9) tells us that Christ “by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” He became sin for us (2Cor 5:21) and the wrath of God due every sinner was poured out on Him (Jn3:36).
In the three hours on the cross, Christ somehow experienced the punishment due every sinner. Or did he? If He only suffered physically and died physically, then the “everlasting punishment” due for sin that Jesus spoke about (Mt 25:46) wasn’t covered. But the words that Jesus exclaimed from the cross tell us that He indeed covered everything: “It is finished!” That term in the Greek (tetelestai) was written on bills of sale during the time period of our Lord, and it translates, “Paid in full.” Through the full payment by Him, “all that believe are justified from all things” (Acts 13:39). We were “bought with a price” (1Cor:23) and through his eternal payment He “obtained eternal redemption for us” Only (Heb 9:12) an infinite God could pay that price.
The most important “scene” in the Scriptures (as far as revealing the divine penalty that Christ had to “suffer”) took place in the Garden of Gethsemane. In contrast to the terse and limited accounts (less than ten verses in all the gospels address His being scourged or crucified) and the scarcity of details regarding His physical suffering in the gospels, the description of what took place in the Garden is the only“up-close-and-personal” revelation of the suffering and internal agony of Jesus: “And he said Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mk 14:36); “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Lk 22:44).
Was Jesus agonizing over the physical suffering that He knew He was about to experience at the hands of men? No. Thousands of men before and after Him suffered scourging and crucifixion—some hanging on their crosses for days in prideful defiance. Were scourging and being nailed to a cross the worst possible tortures men could devise? Not even close. What Christian martyrs experienced during the inquisitions was unspeakably worse. All tortures were designed to cause the most horrific pain and suffering possible while managing to keep the victim alive. Martyrs in Islamic countries have had their bodies roasted and their skin peeled completely off their torsos. Whatever men did to torture Jesus only demonstrated the wickedness of the human heart. It contributed nothing toward satisfying divine justice.
Jesus offered the above prayer three times to “Abba, Father.” Abba is a very intimate term that is sometimes translated as “Daddy.” He knew the price He was about to pay: separation from His Father. Although we can’t fathom how great the love that exists between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we get an inkling of it in the reaction of Jesus. His heart agonized so intensely “that his sweat was as it were great drops of blood.” But it didn’t stop there. He became “sin for us!” It was for us that He suffered the wrath of His Father. It was for our sakes that “it pleased the LORD [Jehovah God] to bruise Him; he hath put him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10). Jehovah made “his soul an offering for sin” (emphasis added). To comprehend such love is beyond us, but having even a sense of it is enough to fill our hearts with profound gratitude for all eternity.
Between the sixth hour and the ninth hour, darkness descended over all the earth (Lk 23:44) and Jesus cried out (something He never did throughout the physical abuses of scourging and crucifixion!), “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46) This was when our “ransom” was paid (1Ti, 2:6). “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Lk 23:46). Charles Wesley wrote something wonderful to ponder, but steeped in the mystery of godliness: “Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God, shouldst die for me?”
It is clear from the Scriptures that man can have no part in his own redemption. Logic tells us the same. An evangelical friend of mine had a conversation with a nun. She told him they both had much in common, with this one difference: he believed that Jesus paid 100 percent of the penalty for sin. She believed that Jesus paid 99 percent, and, as a Catholic she needed to pay the remaining 1 percent. Is that possible? What is one percent of eternal separation from God? She and Mel (as did I, growing up Catholic) focus on a redemption that cannot save them or anyone else. It is a rejection of Christ’s unspeakable gift—something that only He could, and did, pay completely. Nevertheless, that’s the Gospel of Rome:
Every man has his own share in the Redemption….In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.
[Pope] John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, no, 19.
Is this the sort of teaching that an evangelical would want communicated in his church or Bible study? TBC
- Honeycutt, Kirt, The Hollywood Reporter, as quoted in the Santa Barbara News-Press, 3/25/04.
- Ebert, Roger, The Bend Bulletin, section B, 3/25/04.
TWO JESUS’ – TWO GOSPELS
Having read this, can you understand the difference between the two gospels and the two Jesus’ that have been presented? One of them is a Gospel of physical suffering that will never be enough to satisfy God, a Gospel of works. It is a Gospel of sinning and losing grace, confessing to a priest, saying penance, doing good deeds to atone for those sins, having indulgences said to atone for what the priest could not fully forgive and then going to purgatory to suffer some more. It is a Gospel of forever suffering – just like the movie. The other is a Gospel of total and forever grace, of eternal mercy, of Jesus having restored us fully into the Father’s eternal presence and love. Which Jesus, which Gospel would you present to people that they would have eternal life?
McMahon, T.A. “Showtime for the Sheep?” Thebereancall.org, The Berean Call , 1 May 2004, http://www.thebereancall.org/content/showtime-sheep-1.
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I would like to thank my fellow consultants for all their assistance in getting this blog published: Hannah Hall, Michelle Arrington, Ariel Mcgarry, Carol White, J.P.Wilhelm, and Tracy Yoder. Their encouragement and patience have been invaluable to me.