Mel Gibson's, The Passion of the Christ, depicts the sufferings of Christ from a Catholic point of view. The film has stirred a great deal of interest, nationally and internationally, and also sparked some heated controversy. There should be no controversy, however, in the fact that what Mel Gibson's film endeavored to portray was the most important event which ever took place in the history of the world. The cross of Christ is the focal point of all history. What took place there nearly 2000 years ago and why it took place is crucially important. To learn of the significance of the Lord's passion and how this affects each one of us, we must go to the pages of the Holy Bible, God's infallible Word.
What Does the Term "Passion" Mean?
The term "passion," comes from a Latin word meaning "suffering." It is similar to the Greek word "pathema" which simply means "sufferings" (from the verb pascho, to suffer). This Greek term is used by Jesus Himself who predicted His own sufferings: "From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day" (Matthew 16:21 and see Matthew 17:12). In the final hours before He died, the Lord Jesus suffered in many ways, both before the cross and on the cross. May the God of truth give us understanding of these matters of great import.
Can We Really Believe the Gospel Accounts?
There are four Gospels which faithfully record the key events in the life of Christ. The sufferings and death of Christ are given particular attention. For example, in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, much more is said about the Lord's sufferings and death than about the Lord's birth in Bethlehem. The last week of our Lord's life is covered in great detail, especially the last twelve hours of His life.
There is overwhelming evidence to support the reliability of the four Gospel accounts, even though unbelieving critics are blind to these things. There is an expression which is commonly used when we want to emphasize the truthfulness of something: "That's the gospel truth!" In the four Gospels you will find true history which involves the accurate recounting of actual events and actual conversations exactly as they occurred. Simply stated, you will find the gospel truth! Notice how John ends his gospel: "This is the disciple who testifieth (bears witness) of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true" (John 21:24). God has seen fit to give us accurate records of the life of Christ (the four Gospels), using men, as His penmen, who were actually eyewitnesses of the things about which they wrote.
People who deny what the four gospels teach usually do so for reasons that can be traced to one simple fact: UNBELIEF. Since they don't like the message they seek to discredit the messengers! Don't be deceived by some intellectual professor or some scholarly cleric who tells people that the message of the Gospels cannot really be taken seriously. Thousands of people can testify of how the message of the Gospels, especially the message of the Lord's crucifixion and resurrection, has transformed their lives.
Before you reject the message of the Gospels, why not try reading one of them? Consider the following link for the Gospel of John Challenge.
What Specific Sufferings Did He Endure?
Consider the following (these are not necessarily in chronological order):
1. In the Garden of Gethsemane He was in agony, and His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling down to the ground (Luke 22:44).
2. He was betrayed with a kiss from one of His disciples (Luke 22:47-48).
3. He was arrested by an armed band of temple police (Luke 22:52).
4. He was hastily put through a series of illegal trials (all four gospels speak of this).
5. He was struck by an officer of the high priest who inflicted a severe blow with the palm of his hand (John 18:22); later, others struck Him in this way (Matthew 26:67).
6. He was spit upon (Matthew 26:67).
7. He was buffeted, or struck with closed fists (punched)--(Matthew 26:67).
8. He was blindfolded, struck on the face and mocked by a sadistic game of blind man's buff (Luke 22:64).
9. He was dressed in a robe and mocked (Luke 23:11).
10. He was brutally scourged by the Roman soldiers (John 19:1).
Nothing was more terrible than the Roman scourge, except for the Roman cross. Consider the following:
"Such scourging was hideous torture. The Roman scourge consisted of a short wooden handle to which several thongs were attached, the ends equipped with pieces of lead or brass and with sharply pointed bits of bone. The stripes were laid especially (not always exclusively) on the victims back, bared and bent. The body was at times torn and lacerated to such an extent that deep-seated veins and arteries--sometimes even entrails and inner organs--were exposed. Such flogging, from which Roman citizens were exempt, often resulted in death." --William Hendriksen, John, p. 414
11. He was crowned with thorns and subjected to further mocking (Mark 15:17-30).
12. He was compelled to carry His own cross to the place of execution (Luke 23:26).
13. He was crucified, that is, nailed to a wooden cross (Luke 23:33).
14. He was pierced through with a sword (John 19:34; however, this was post-mortem, see v.33).
15. He bore the penalty for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2; John 1:29).
This last point is the most significant and is the reason His other acts of suffering were allowed to happen. This is the crux of the whole matter. Failure to understand this leads to many and varied opinions which keep the heart from receiving its needed help. All the other sufferings which Christ endured become as nothing compared to the wrath and judgment which He endured as the Sin-bearer, and as the Substitute for the guilty ones. "Christ hath once suffered for sins, the Just (the Righteous One) for the unjust (the unrighteous ones) that He might bring us to God" (1 Peter. 3:18). "Who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). Since this point is so important, we will speak more about it later.
Was He Deserving of These Sufferings?
The Lord Jesus was totally undeserving of His sufferings. One of the tragedies of the criminal justice system is that sometimes innocent men are punished and even executed. Innocent men sometimes suffer without cause.
There was never a man as innocent as Jesus Christ. He was guilty of no crimes. He had broken no laws. He had kept God's commandments perfectly and had always done those things that were pleasing in God's sight (John 8:29). He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21). In Him was no sin (1 John 3:5). He did no sin (1 Pet. 2:22). He is described as a Lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:19).
Even the Lord's enemies recognized the Lord's sinlessness. Pilate, the Roman governor, found no fault in Him (John 19:4). Judas said, "I have betrayed innocent blood" (Matthew 27:3). One of the criminals who died next to Jesus said, "This man hath done nothing amiss" (Luke 23:41). The most perfect Man who ever lived on this earth was executed as a criminal!
What a contrast there is between our lives and that of the sinless Saviour. He was innocent; we are guilty (Romans 3:19). He kept God's law perfectly; we have failed to obey God's law and we have broken His Ten Commandments. He was sinless; we have sinned repeatedly for the space of a lifetime: "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). He was righteous; we are unrighteous: "For there is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10). He was undeserving of the death that He died; we deserve the death penalty: "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).
Notice the following catalog of sins which begin to make public our heart. If we are honest we must admit that these things are found in our own heart in some form, active or inactive, open or covert: "Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death" (Romans 1:29-32). As we stand before a holy God, we are condemned, guilty and worthy of death.
His Sufferings Were Voluntary!
It is very important to understand that Jesus Christ voluntarily went to the cross. He was not forced to do it. He was not taken there against His will. He chose to lay down His life for us. It was His love for us that impelled Him to die for us.
The Lord Jesus said this: "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again" (John 10:17-18). Notice that no man could take His life from Him, but He voluntarily chose to lay down His life. "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).
There were other times when the Lord's enemies tried to kill him, but it was impossible for them to do so. On one occasion in Nazareth they tried to throw Him off the edge of a cliff: "And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went his way" (Luke 4:29-30). On other occasions they tried to stone him to death, but they were totally unsuccessful (see John 8:59 for one instance of this).
Finally, when His time to die was at hand, the Lord allowed Himself to be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. A band of men came with lanterns and torches and weapons, all of this in order to seize one unarmed man! When Simon Peter took a sword and tried to use force, the Lord told him to put away his sword. He then said, "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?" Jesus could have prayed and asked God to send a huge army of thousands of angels to deliver Him from His enemies, but the Lord never prayed this prayer (see Matthew 26:52-53). He knew that it was God's will for Him to continue His march to the cross.
No man could take Jesus' life from Him. He voluntarily decided to go to the cross. "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). One writer, commenting on Christ's voluntary sacrifice, explained it this way:
Christ's death was not murder because a murdered man is a helpless man. His life is taken from him against his will. But Christ's life was not taken from Him in this manner. Speaking of His death Jesus said, "No man taketh my life from me, but I lay it down of myself." Thus our Lord's death was a voluntary one. He came down from heaven to earth in order to die. But I hear someone say, "A voluntary death is suicide." Was Christ then a suicide? A thousand times no! A voluntary death is indeed suicide unless (and this is important) it be for the life of another! And in Christ's case it was for the life and salvation of many poor lost souls. If you see a woman rushing into a burning house without any reason for it, and perishing in the flames, you say she committed suicide. But if you know there was a child there, whom she vainly sought to rescue, you call her a sacrifice! You say, "She gave her life for the one she loved." Christ's death then, being voluntary, on behalf of those He came to save, was not murder, nor suicide, but a blessed SACRIFICE!
'Twas not a martyr's death He died, the Christ of Calvary,
It was the willing sacrifice He made for you, for me.
Though wicked hands with force laid hold upon this Savior dear,
Though mockery filled heart and lip without a surge of fear,
He died a death before ordained...According to God's plan.
He hung not there on Calvary's hill to please the will of man!
He could have summoned angel hosts the wicked hands to stay,
But well He knew salvation's plan was founded on that day.
Nay! Not a martyr, but instead A SACRIFICE FOR ME...
He died the death on Calvary's cross to set a lost world free!
--Georgia B. Adams
What Made the Sufferings of Christ Unique?
Many men died on Roman crosses. Following Spartacus's unsuccessful slave revolt against Rome in 71 B.C., six thousand of his followers were fastened to crosses along the Appian way (Grant, History of Rome, Charles Scribner's Sons). Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian, said at least five hundred Jews a day were crucified during the Roman siege of Jerusalem under Titus in A.D. 70 (The Wars of the Jews 5.11.1). What then made the crucifixion of Christ so unique?
Jesus was on the cross for six hours, from 9:00a.m. to 3:00p.m. But many criminals suffered on crosses for a much longer duration, perhaps as long as two or three days. Some criminals were scourged or whipped so severely that they died from the scourging and never made it to the cross. Jesus was not scourged to this extent.
Other people have been tortured in ways just as painful or even more so than crucifixion. Many Christian martyrs were put to death in ways that were horrible and merciless and gruesome. Anyone familiar with the book, Foxe's Book of Martyrs, knows something of the horrors of certain forms of torture that were used against people down through the centuries. What then made the death of Christ so unique in light of the fact that so many others have had to endure unimaginable sufferings which have led to their deaths?
It is interesting that the gospel writers give us very few details about the crucifixion of Christ. We might have expected them to describe all the gory and grim details of what Christ had to endure during those hours of torture, but they did not. For example, Luke's concise account describes the event in few words: "And when they were come to the place which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him" (Luke 23:33).
God the Holy Spirit (the Divine Author of Scripture) had a reason for not over-emphasizing the physical sufferings of Christ. The physical sufferings were not what made the death of Christ so terrible. The death Christ died involved far more agony and suffering than the deaths that other men have died. No man will ever be able to say, "Christ’s death was nothing compared to what I had to go through." No, Christ’s death was unique.
If we see only the physical aspect of the crucifixion, then we have really missed the whole point. What made the sufferings and the death of Christ so significant was not what the Jews did to Jesus and it was not what the Romans did to Jesus. The real significance of the sufferings and death of Christ involved what God the Father did to Jesus as He bore the punishment for our sins. God must punish sin, and if God were to punish us for our sins, we would all be doomed to hell forever. But the Saviour, in love, was willing to die in our place, as our Substitute, in order to take upon Himself the punishment that we deserved.
Don't blame the Jews for the death of Christ. Don't blame the Romans. If you want to blame someone, look in the mirror and see the sinner for whom Christ died. The wrath and anger and judgment of God against sin, which should have fallen upon you, fell upon Christ instead. "Christ hath once suffered for sins (for your sins!), the Just for the unjust" (1 Peter 3:18).
The prophet Isaiah wrote about the coming Messiah and what He would accomplish on the cross. Ponder these words carefully:
"But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; 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 hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6).
Isaiah also says that He was "stricken" and "smitten by God" (Isaiah 53:4) and that He was "bruised" by God (Isaiah 53:10). True, the Jews and Romans struck Christ in many ways, but the blows which were infinitely more significant were inflicted by the hand of Almighty God as He was punishing our sinless Substitute for the sins which we committed. The hymnwriter said, "Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God should die for me!"
He Did Not Suffer For Himself
Daniel predicted that the Messiah would be "cut off (die a violent death), but not for himself" (Daniel 9:26). He died "for our sins" (1 Cor. 15:3). He "bore our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:22). He didn't deserve to be on that cross. We did. But He took our place.
Sir James Simpson, the inventor of Chloroform, wrote the following paragraphs in order to explain the meaning of Christ's death as our Substitute:
When I was a boy at home, I saw a sight I can never forget. I saw a man tied to a cart and dragged through the streets of town. His back was torn and bleeding from many lashes. It was a shameful punishment. For many offenses? No, for one offense. Did any of the townsmen offer to divide the lashes with him? No, he who committed the offense bore the penalty all alone. He was also the last person to bear that penalty, because the law soon changed.
When I was a student at the university, I saw another sight I can never forget. I saw a man delivered to die. His arms were tied up; his face was pale as death—thousands of eager eyes were upon him as he came from the jail. Did any man ask to die in his place? Did any friend come and loose the rope and say, "Put it around my neck; I will die instead"? No, he underwent the sentence of the law. For many offenses? No; for one offense of robbery. He broke the law at one point, and died for it. He also bore the punishment for a changing law. It was the last instance of capital punishment being inflicted for robbery.
Years later, I saw another sight I shall never forget. I saw my own soul torn and bleeding from years of sin. I felt the shame of all of my sins being seen by a Holy God. I saw myself a condemned sinner, standing on the brink of eternal punishment in the lake of fire. For one sin? No, for many, many sins committed against God. Did anyone offer to bear my sentence? Yes, I looked again and saw Jesus Christ offering to be my Substitute. He bore in His own body on the cross all the punishment for my sin (1 Pet. 2:24). He died so that I might live. He suffered—the Just for the unjust— that He might bring me to God (1 Peter 3:18). Then I confessed my sins to Christ and trusted my soul to Him for salvation (Romans 10:9). He redeemed me from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:113). I had sinned and was condemned to eternal punishment. He bore the punishment and now I am free.
The never-changing law of God requires a perfect righteousness I could never even hope to attain by myself. Again I looked unto Him and found that "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Romans 10:4). The law required spotless purity, and I was defiled with sin. Again I looked unto "Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood" (Revelation 1:5).
I was a child of disobedience, a child of wrath; "But as many as received Him, to them gave He power [the right] to become the sons [children] of God, even to them that believe on His Name" (John 1:12). I found in Him not only my Substitute, and my Saviour, but the full supply of every need of my life.
I long to tell you of this Saviour, "for there is none other Name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Have you received Christ as your Substitute? He alone is able to remove the guilt and condemnation of sin. "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).
Believe He died for you and rose again to provide the way for your salvation. Repent of your sins, and put your trust in Jesus Christ as your Substitute, and you will be eternally saved from all the consequences of sin (Acts 13:38,39). Then you can truly say, "Christ is My Substitute."
Who Really Killed Jesus?
There is no end to the debate over who killed Jesus. Historically there is no doubt that the Romans played a key role, as did the Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council). Judas was culpable because he betrayed Him. Pilate the governor was to be blamed also for allowing an innocent Man to be condemned to death and executed. But all of these questions fade away into insignificance when we realize that Christ died for each one of us, and it was for our sins that He suffered and bled and died. "Christ hath once suffered for sins, the Just (the Righteous One--Jesus Christ) for the unjust (the unrighteous ones--that's us!), that He might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18).
Each one of us needs to come to the place where we recognize our personal responsibility for the death of Christ. I must confess this truth: "The Lord Jesus died for me. I deserved death; I deserved God's judgment, but my Substitute died in my place. It was for my sins that He suffered and died." Someone once said, "Christ died---that's history; Christ died for me---that's salvation!" Your church cannot save you. Your religious observances and rituals cannot save you. Your good works cannot save you. Only Christ can save you, and you must trust in Him and in Him alone. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31). "Look unto Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else" (Isaiah 45:22).
Which Cross Represents You?
Three crosses stood on Golgotha's hill. On the center cross hung the Saviour of the world, suffering for our sins, accomplishing the great work of redemption. On the other two crosses were two criminals, both guilty of crimes worthy of death. Let us consider these three crosses:
1) The cross of REDEMPTION
The Lord Jesus is the great Redeemer, God's only Saviour. He accomplished the work of redemption when he paid the great redemption price: "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:17-18).
Jesus, in speaking of His death, said these words: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth (on the cross), will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32-33). All men are drawn to the center cross where they must decide what they are going to do with the crucified Christ. You can choose to receive Him or reject Him, but neutral you cannot be: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the Name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:17-18). "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36).
Every person has the choice of believing on Christ or rejecting the Saviour. The two criminals dying next to the Lord Jesus represent these two choices:
2) The cross of REJECTION
One of the evildoers blasphemed and spoke against Jesus, saying, "If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us" (Luke 23:39). This man died in unbelief. He died in his sins (John 8:42), with his sins unforgiven or retained. He died without hope and without God. The Saviour of the world was right next to him, but he refused to trust Him. He rejected the only remedy for sin, the only cure. We are reminded of Jesus' tragic words found in John 5:30--"And ye will not come to Me [you are not willing to come to Me], that ye might have life."
3) The cross of REPENTANCE and RECEPTION
The Thief (Robber) on the Cross who Turned to Jesus
39: And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
40: But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
41: And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
42: And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
43: And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise
There was another criminal dying next to Jesus. At first this man mocked Jesus as did the other criminal (Matthew 27:44). But then something happened. He changed. He thought differently about Jesus. He repented. He feared God. He knew that he was in a place of condemnation (Luke 23:40). He knew that he was a guilty sinner, a condemned criminal, and that he was getting exactly what he deserved (Luke 23:41). He also knew that the Man next to him on the center cross was innocent and had done nothing wrong (Luke 23:41).
This guilty man recognized that Jesus was the Solution to his problem and that Jesus was his only hope. He turned in faith to the Saviour and said, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." Somehow he knew that all the horrors of crucifixion would not defeat the Lord, but that ultimately He would be King and would have a kingdom, and he wanted to be part of it. The Lord honored his faith by promising him a glorious future that would begin before the day was over: "Verily (truly) I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise." His day began with crucifixion, but it ended in paradise, in the presence of his new-found Saviour!
Today we are told by many that to be saved you must live a good life, perform good works, attend church, be baptized, etc. All of these things have their place, but none of these things save a person. Keep in mind that the thief on the cross could do none of these things. He couldn't come down from the cross to be baptized or to join a church. He couldn't live a good life or perform good works because he had already lived a bad life and performed evil deeds and was being executed for his crimes! All he had was Jesus Christ and that was all he needed! Salvation is found in Christ, and in Him alone.
What about you? Have you received the Lord Jesus as your Saviour? "But as many as received Him, to them gave He power (the right ) to become the sons (children) of God, even to them that believe on His Name" (John 1:12). Your DECISION will determine your DESTINY. Will you be like the thief on the cross who rejected the Saviour or will you be like the thief on the cross who received Him and embraced Him by faith? He suffered for you. He died for you. He rose again for you. He asks only that you put you trust in Him and in Him alone.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
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 (John 3:14-16).
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