Excruciating Love [v61]

MARCH 2004

EXCRUCIATING LOVE—A few days ago I saw “The Passion of the Christ” movie—and as I write this, I am still ‘experiencing’ it—it is that powerful.

As I settled back into my seat as the lights came up after the final scene, many emotions overcame me. I was moved to tears, while having a sense of profound ‘joy’; I was disturbed by the memory of the graphic ‘brutality’, while remembering the ‘compassion’ Jesus had shown throughout this anguish; and I was also ‘compelled’ to reconsider the ‘message’ of His love to me, once again, in a new and very profound ‘light’.

Though there has been much controversy surrounding the release of the film, noted movie critic and radio host Michael Medved (a Jew) has called this movie, “by far the most moving, substantive and artistically successful adaptation of the biblical material ever attempted by Hollywood.”

The movie is designed to provide an authentic representation of the events surrounding Jesus’ death. Being a very accurate portrayal of the Biblical account, it is excruciatingly violent in its depiction of Jesus’ scourging and crucifixion. However, the violence is not intended to titillate or entertain, but to emphasize the reality of the unspeakable suffering that Jesus endured.

One of the earliest accounts of execution via the ‘cross’ was Darius I’s crucifixion of 3,000 political enemies in Babylon in 519 BC However, the Romans are given ‘credit’ for perfecting it into a heinous means of inflicting an agonizing death. Cicero termed it “the cruelest and most hideous punishment” possible, and was never inflicted on a Roman citizen. The Romans ‘appreciated’ the cruelty of crucifixion because it demonstrated three clear advantages over other means of execution: it was incredibly painful for the victim; it provided a lingering death (for others to see); and it afforded a horrific deterrent for anyone contemplating a similar offense (the reason why they put the criminal’s offense on a ‘plaque’ above their head or hanging around their neck).

All this being said, I don’t want us to get ‘bogged’ down with the characterization of the overwhelming emotional and physical pain, because, as was said, there have been many people that were crucified in similar ways, especially for the few hundred years the Romans used this method of ‘keeping the peace’ in the “backwater” providence of Judea. (Note: One of the last acts of Constantine was to outlaw crucifixion throughout the empire, in respect for Christ, sometime in 336-337 AD).

The thing is, there is a ‘danger’ in being overcome by the physical awfulness of Jesus’ death. The danger comes in focusing too much on the physical, while ignoring the spiritual. Yes, Jesus’ execution was horrendous—to the extreme. But His even greater sacrifice can’t be filmed. It’s the ‘burden’ of all of everyone’s sins—and the first, and only time that He was ‘separated’ from God the Father since ‘before’ eternity. From a spiritual point of view, this is even more terrible than anything Jesus experienced in the ‘flesh’.

So, to put this into a Biblical perspective, at the moment when Jesus carried the sin of us all on His ‘shoulders’ and cried out on the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?—which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'” [Mark 15:34], God the Father could not ‘look’ at Him—since He was ‘unholy’. Not until Jesus died as the perfect ‘atonement’ for our sins and was resurrected by the Father, was He ‘washed’ clean, and able, once again, to ‘fellowship’ with God the Father.

Similar to my ‘contrasting’ feelings after the movie ended, at the same time, this ‘sacrifice’ is also really ‘wonderful’. What Jesus endured, He did out of love for you and me. He became as if He were sin, “so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” That is, so that we might have a right relationship with God, both now and forever. Thus, the cross, as horrible as it was, becomes “good news” for us. The instrument of Roman cruelty becomes, ironically, a symbol of love, forgiveness, and new life.

The central issue of Jesus’ death is not the cause, but the purpose—the meaning. Man may have his reasons for wanting Jesus “out of the way,” but God ‘designed’ this act of love for the good of the whole world. To me, God’s purposes for the world through the death of Jesus are ‘unfathomable’.

One of the most stunning statements Jesus ever made was about His own death and resurrection: “I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father” [John 10:17-18]. The current controversy ‘swirling’ around about ‘who’ killed Jesus, to me, is ‘marginal’. Jesus ‘chose’ to die. God the Father ordained it. Jesus embraced it.

Because of this unparalleled passion, God raised Jesus from the dead. It happened three days later. Early Sunday morning Jesus rose from the dead. He had finished the work His Father gave Him to do, and the resurrection was the ‘proof’ that God was satisfied with His ‘sacrifice’. This movie is really about what Jesus’ “passion” accomplished for the world—for every one of us!

Hopefully, your response to the ‘cross’ of Christ—and therefore to the film—will be one of gratitude and self-giving commitment. Perhaps no one has put it better than Isaac Watts in his classic hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Here are the last two stanzas:

“See from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.”

When I add to this thought to the consideration of the horrific death by crucifixion that Christ endured, it becomes clear to me that the sacrifice the Father and the Son made was indescribably great—even infinite—when I consider the distance between the divine and the human. But God chose to make this sacrifice to save us. The measure of His love for me increases still more when I consider my ‘unworthiness’.

Personally, there is only one explanation I can come up with for God’s sacrifice for me. As I had learned in the “Purpose-Driven Life” book…it’s not about me! It is “the riches of His grace” [Ephesians 1:7]—and, to ‘boot’, it is a FREE ‘gift’ available to anyone who wants it! It’s also not a response to ‘my’ worth—it ‘s the overflow of God’s infinite worth. In fact, for me, what divine ‘love’ is, in the end, is a passion to enthrall an undeserving sinner like me, at great cost, with what will make me supremely ‘content’ forever—namely, His infinite ‘beauty’.

This movie reinforced to me, in a very personal way, that my sins put Christ on the cross. I should even go beyond this to say that, honestly, I feel my ‘sinfulness’ would have eagerly ‘participated’ in rejecting Christ and calling for His execution—just as the crowds did as recorded in the Gospels. My sinfulness not only made it necessary for Christ to die—but it would have willingly participated in the His crucifixion. It is very easy to condemn the ‘fickle’ crowds, who, a few days before, hailed Jesus as the “King,” and then cried out for Pilate to crucify Him—and to release Barrabas, a murderer, instead. Had I been there, I am sure (sadly) I would have called for His crucifixion too.

At the end of “The Passion” movie, there is a ‘snippet’ of what happen after Jesus’ death on the cross—on the third day, He rose from the dead. This is what the entire Christian faith is ‘built’ on, and the most important thing for one to decide about. Did this really happen? And if it did, how would this fact change your thoughts about Jesus?

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most significant events in history. I pray that you and I, like those in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2) and like Saul (Acts chapter 9), will come to recognize the seriousness of our sinful condition, the holiness and awesome majesty of God, and will come to trust in Him as your Savior and Lord. I urge you to trust in Him, in His death, burial, and resurrection, not only in an intellectual and academic way, but also in a very personal way, as God’s only provision for your salvation.

There are many people for whom Jesus in no more than a great moral teacher, a great prophet, a good man, or a good ‘example’. To them He was all those things, but certainly not the God who came in the flesh, the very Son of God, the one and only way to Heaven.

Author C. S. Lewis made it clear that the “great moral teacher” position is really not an option, by saying:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”  [C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity]

I hope you go and ‘experience’ this movie—and also hope that it will ‘pique’ your interest to investigate this ‘story’, to get answers to your ‘tough’ questions, and to discover, for yourself, how this ‘message’ will affect the rest of your life.

I started with ‘newsletter’ with the overwhelming ‘feelings’ I experienced after this movie. Intellectually, though, maybe like many of you, nothing in the movie ‘surprised’ me—I ‘know’ the story. But, I can say that, it most powerfully led me into a more HEARTFELT experience of what I had known in my head.

Now, 2000+ years after His earthly life—in the age of impressive visual effects in the movies and instantaneous world-wide communications—Jesus still ‘beckons’ to all of us still—offering the promise of grace, forgiveness, restoration, and a glorious eternity. ‘Excruciating’ (Latin for “out of the cross”) love that is Good News, indeed!

[Excerpts from: John Piper; Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts; Robert Deffinbaugh]

[NOTE: My church is offering a “private showing” of the movie on Saturday, 6 MAR 04 at 10:00 AM at the E-magine theater located in the “Fountainwalk” shopping center in Novi (near Twelve Oaks mall). Childcare will be provided during the movie, as well as lunch and discussion groups after the movie. Contact me if you interested in attending so I can get you the tickets].

Blessings…Mark

LIFE’S DEEP THOUGHTS (v61) for MARCH 2004
If you have a ‘neat’ story or some thoughts about an issue or current event that you would like me to try to respond to, I would be glad to give it a try…so, send them to me at: mbesh@comcast.net

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If there had been any other way to save you, God would have found it. If living a good moral life would save you, Jesus would never have had to die. But He did—because there was no other way for you to be forgiven of your sin. God sacrificed His Son for you because He loves you. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” [John 3:16].

So how do we respond? It’s as easy as A, B, C.

1. Admit your sin.
2. Believe that Jesus died on that cross for your sins.
3. Confess and repent of your sins and receive Jesus Christ into your heart.

Maybe you’re reading this today and you’ve never committed your life to Jesus Christ. You don’t know His forgiveness. You don’t know that you would go to heaven if you died right now. Why don’t you ask Jesus to come into your life and forgive you? Take a moment right now and say a prayer like this one:

Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I am sorry for my sin. I repent of it and I turn to You by faith right now. I thank You for dying on the cross for me and paying the price for all of my sins. I ask You to come into my life right now and be my Savior, my Lord, and my Friend. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Help me to be Your disciple from this moment forward. Thank You, Lord. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.  [Greg Laurie]

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If you are interested, the Gospel accounts from which this movie was derived are as follows (in no particular order):

– Matthew 26:35 – 27:66
– Mark 14:32 – 15:47
– Luke 22:1 – 23:56
– John 18:1 – 19:42

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DEEP THOUGHT:
Christ forgave even as He was tortured and killed. That’s the ultimate example of love.
[Mel Gibson]

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Hope you enjoyed some of these insights—share them with your friends and colleagues—so we can have a larger ‘pool’ to receive from, and more to share with!  Also, remember to include your name as the “source,” if some of this wisdom is of your doing—I would like to give credit where credit is due!

“Greater love has no on than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
[John 15:13].

Mark

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Disclaimer: All the above jokes & inspirations are obtained from various sources and copyright are used when known. Other than our name and headers, we do not own the copyright to any of the materials sent to this list. We just want to spread the ministry of God’s love and cheerfulness throughout the world.

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