a sermon on the Passion of Christ
engaging Mel Gibson's "Passion..." by Rev. Thomas Hall
I know a minister who rented out his local cinema and
purchased all the tickets for the first eight showings of Mel Gibsons, The
Passion of the Christ. He anticipated that the film could be an extraordinary
evangelism tool and so purchased the tickets to give them away to people in his community.
(Caution: dont try this at home; a $10,000 withdrawal from your missions budget on
short notice may create a passion not of the Christ that could result in a pastoral
After every showing my friend would hand out Bibles to those who didnt have one
and invite anyone who wished to discuss further what they had seen to join one of their
small groups. I asked this very weary pastor after the eighth showing how well the
outreach had gone. "Was it successful?" I asked. "Well, we gave two hundred
Bibles away by the first three showings and a lot of people have signed up for our small
group discussions. Not only that, but I can now speak Aramaic and read a phrase or two in
Greek and Latin."
Can you imagine watching that film for eight times? The violence forced many
viewers to glance down to avoid the lashings. So front and center was the violence and
suffering in the film that one viewing was more than enough for me-perhaps more than I had
bargained for. As one viewer commented, "In other portrayals of Jesus, the director
usually shows you a few seconds of Jesus being whipped, a hammer being lifted, the
clinking sounds of hammer and nail, and then the cross is hoisted up for the drop. The
director figures, You know the story, you get the idea, lets move
"Were not moving on," Gibson says. "Im going to make
you watch this." And so we watch as if were sitting ring side near the guard
who monitors the scourging that the two seasoned thugs give to Jesus. We feel the splatter
of blood and sweat, feel the exhaustion of the soldiers who can barely lift their
cat-of-nine tails so tired are they from doing the dirty work. So we watch and then think,
"I get it, Jesus suffered horribly; Jesus suffered tissue-tearing, nerve-ripping
pain. Now for the love of God, lets move on!" "No," says the
director, "You have to watch it all."
So we come to this day-Palm/Passion Sunday. This is the day that we revere as the week
of our Lords passion and specifically the terrible final hours that Jesus suffered
and agony. We have to watch it all. This is no day for Easter Christians. Today Good
Friday Christians come out in mourning. People who have their own stories of anguish and
deep sorrow identify on this day with Jesus more than at any other time in the year.
People who have felt abandoned by parents-or their children-recognize the Jesus that we
meet on this Sunday.
As one writer has said, "the power of the gospel is that it calls us to tarry at
the cross and then return home beating our breasts with those whose hopes seemed to have
died there." 
Today we stand with those whose hopes seemed to have died there. This is the Jesus that
Isaac Watts Jesus, wrote about in 1707:
Alas! And did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign
Would he devote that sacred head for sinners such as I?
Well might the sun in darkness hide, and shut its glories in,
When God, the mighty maker, died for his own creatures sin.
What is interesting with this hymn is the "why" question that we sing out.
Why the death? Why me? Why suffering? So difficult was it for later "Easter"
Christians to warm up to the sufferings of Christ that a refrain was finally tacked
on-nearly two hundred years later in 1885-to bring "resolution" to the suffering
theology that Watts had raised:
At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away;
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day.
Happy all the day? Not for Passion Sunday Christians.
Notice the remarkable, bold shift in focus? We go from reflections on the sufferings of
Christ to confident "outputs"-us! Watts had been transfixed by the unutterable
suffering and wanted to ask why. His only conclusion at the end of his words was to give
his life to Christ . . .
But drops of tears can neer repay the debt of love I owe.
Here, Lord, I give myself away; tis all that I can do.
The other lyricist skips right pass the MelGibsonThePassionoftheChrist thing and jumps
right into the benefits, instead of the suffering.
Nevertheless, only those who have experienced profound pain and suffering own this
Sunday. Only those who have experienced loneliness or abandonment or shame or humiliation
can most intimately stand with the Jesus of this Sunday-a man full of suffering and
acquainted with grief.
"It is said of God," said Nicholas Wolterstorff, who knew the pain of losing
a son, "that no one can behold Gods face and live. I always thought this meant
that no one could see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps it means that no one
could see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is his splendor." 
His sorrow is his splendor. That brings us back to Isaac Watts and the questions of
why. Stupid suffering-suffering for no purpose-turns to redemptive suffering-purposeful
suffering-when we hear the good news. Not that we have the suffering resolved, nor the
questions replaced by hallelujahs. But interlaced in Passion Sunday is also a dim light in
the darkness. Without this shaft of light, life doesnt make sense. Suffering can
only be stupid, not redemptive. Without the gospel, a mindless Good Friday in varying
degrees of complexity will be condemned to be repeated in every human life that has ever
or will ever be born.
Early Christians understood-even on and especially on this day-that in some way,
Jesus suffering-the real thing; off-screen and in real life and time-grounded their
brokenness and rebellion and abandonment in himself.
Christ carried all of our sins in his body . . . 
Thats what Max Lucado writes about as he thinks about this day . . .
See Christ on the cross? Thats a gossiper
hanging there. See Jesus? Embezzler. Liar. Bigot. See the crucifried carpenter? Hes
a wife beater. Porn addict and murderer. See Bethlehems boy? Call him by his other
names-Adolf Hitler, Osama bin Laden, and Jeffrey Dahmer.
Hold it Max. Dont you lump Christ with those evildoers. Dont you place
his name in the same sentence with theirs!
I didnt. He did. Indeed he did more. More than place his name in the same
sentence, he placed himself in their place. And yours.
With hands nailed open, he invited God, "Treat me as you would treat
them!" And God did. 
"My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"
Why did Christ scream those words? Thats the splendid sorrow. It is the deepest
sorrow. But it is also splendid-for that scream gathers up all of our sorrows and
abandonment and grounds them in Christ. And so we wait with him in splendid sorrow.
"My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?"
Only by witnessing the darkness of his death and the despair of the loss of hope can we
fully appreciate the joy of the resurrection. Gods purposes for Jesus will not be
defeated by the power of darkness. Nor will darkness be our defeat. So we join with that
faith which can see the light-even though but a dim and flickering glimmer-in the
darkness. Though we beat our breasts in grief and abandonment on this day, we will later
join others as we bear witness to Gods saving and redeeming love. Amen.
 The New Interpreters Bible IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), page
 Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans,
1987), page 81.
 1 Peter ; but see also Isaiah 53:1-9.
 Max Lucado, Next Door Savior (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), page 142.