The Passion Implies Exclusivity

The Sufferings of Christ Make it Unthinkable that There Could Be Any Other Way to God

by David Lang (Posted: 2/23/04)


[Please Note: As with all Bully Pulpit articles, the views expressed in this opinion piece are completely my own, and are not necessarily representative of CMUG.]

Will Anyone Want to See This Movie Twice?

With all the anticipation surrounding The Passion of the Christ, I have no doubt that Mel Gibson's movie will shatter box-office records this weekend. I am quite confident that ticket sales will more than recoup the 25 to 30 million dollars Mr. Gibson spent out of his own pocket to produce the film. What I'm not so sure about is how well this movie will sell when it is eventually released on video and DVD. I mean, from what I hear about the emotional toll The Passion takes on its viewers, I wonder how many people are really going to want to see it a second time!

On the one hand, I want very much to see this movie. On the other hand, I'm dreading it. The Passion promises to help us experience something of what Christ suffered on our behalf, but we have to ask ourselves, is this something we really want to experience? Do we really want to sit through several hours of seeing Christ tempted, beaten, flogged, mocked, spit upon, and crucified? It's not a movie that will be fun to watch, but it's something that Christians and non-Christians alike would do well to see. Painful as it may be, we all need to be reminded of the raw reality of what Christ endured.

Why Did Christ Suffer?

As we view Christ's passion (a word which means "suffering") in all its graphic, gory detail, we need to ask ourselves why. Why did the Son of God suffer so much? Why didn't he defend himself? Why did he go willingly to the cross?

Christianity teaches us that Christ died the death that we deserved. The Bible says that "the soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4), and that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). The justice of a holy God demands that sin be punished rather than simply swept under the rug, and that thought ought to terrify every one of us. As John Piper put it in his book, The Passion of Jesus Christ: "There is a holy curse hanging over all sin. Not to punish would be unjust."

Yet Piper goes on to explain that Jesus Christ was sent to be a propitiation for our sins:

But the love of God does not rest with the curse that hangs over all sinful humanity. He is not content to show wrath, no matter how holy it is. Therefore God sends his own Son to absorb his wrath and bear the curse for all who trust him. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).

This is the meaning of the word “propitiation” in the text quoted above (Romans 3:25). It refers to the removal of God’s wrath by providing a substitute. The substitute is provided by God himself. The substitute, Jesus Christ, does not just cancel the wrath; he absorbs it and diverts it from us to himself. God’s wrath is just, and it was spent, not withdrawn.

Can There Be Any Other Way?

Christians are often criticized for the exclusivity of their message. Isn't it arrogance to claim that Jesus Christ is the only way to God and the only means of salvation? Isn't it reasonable to assume that God will accept sincere, well-meaning individuals of any and all faiths?

It certainly seems reasonable enough, until we consider the passion of Jesus Christ. If Christ really was who he claimed to be, and if he died to absorb the wrath which rightfully should have fallen upon us, it is unthinkable that there could be any other way of salvation. As you sit through hour after hour of seeing God's Son betrayed and abandoned, savaged and brutalized, mocked and scorned, ask yourself if God the Father would have allowed Jesus to endure all this if there were any other way to satisfy the demands of his justice.

If God will accept our best efforts to observe ten commandments, five pillars, or a four-fold path, the Passion of the Christ makes absolutely no sense. If all that is required to enter heaven is for our good deeds to outweigh our bad, why did Jesus Christ have to endure blow upon blow, lash after lash, the piercing of his hands and feet, and the endless, agonizing effort to take just one more shallow breath? If there were any other way to God, if the affront of human sin could be atoned for more easily, then Christ's passion would have been utterly in vain.

When Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6), was he being unnecessarily exclusive, or was he making it clear that God's holiness demands the satisfaction which only he could provide? When Christians do the unthinkable and attempt to "proselytize" the members of other faiths, are they arrogantly claiming to have a monopoly on truth, or are they merely trying to point others to the only remedy for sin which they believe to be effective? The message of Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection from the dead is that he is more than just another prophet trying to show us a better way to live. He is nothing less than the only begotten Son of God and the only hope for salvation from God's just and holy wrath.

As you experience the jarring cinematic portrayal of Christ's passion, ask yourself if there could be any other way. If you conclude that there could not, I pray that you will forever place your faith in this Suffering Savior and Risen Lord, depending on him to absorb the punishment which your sins deserve, so that you can experience the love and forgiveness of a holy God.

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The iPod and the End of Civility: Is There a Place for Silence?
History or Gospel? Can the Biblical accounts of Jesus' passion be trusted?
Who Killed the Christ? Who is ultimately responsible for the death of Jesus?

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