I will tell you from the get go that my knowledge of Mel Gibson's soon to be released movie entitled The Passion of the Christ is limited to viewing two brief trailers, watching an interview of Mel Gibson, reading about a dozen articles regarding the movie's production, reception and release and wading through a handful of e-mails of various ilk. However, if this movie will be seen by as many people as I think will view it and if it has the emotional power and effect on as many as I think it will have, I would be amiss as a Christian minister to not be somewhat engaged with it. I plan to see it; probably more than once.

For as a Christian I always seek to ever remain aware and sensitive to the major stirrings and shapings of our culture's psyche. And to help someone become shaped more fully in spirit and life into the image of Christ, it is of immense help to be aware of what preceding factors have helped shape that person's grasp of God and what a life that follows God should look like.

I say all that to say this — since this movie has been so frequently discussed in public already, no small number of people have asked me two questions: "Are you going to see this movie?" and "Should I go see this movie?" There is an implied question contained within both of those questions: "Would it be good for me?" So let me take this moment to answer the two questions verbalized by offering an answer directly to the question implied. And my answer is: "Yes, it has the potential to be very good for you - if you prepare yourself for viewing it in a healthy way." And let me venture further and offer some advice as to what would make for a healthy way to see it.

First, read and re-read the gospel accounts of the passion of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 27:36-28:10;  Mark 14:32- 16:8;  Luke 22:39-24:12 &  John 18:1-20:18) You can simply do nothing better to prepare yourself to see Christ's passion depicted than to hear it described perfectly in the original source materials.

Second, research the practice of crucifixion in the culture and time of Jesus. Twenty-first century Americans simply cannot imagine what this every-day sight for many in the ancient world was like. It will still probably be some time before Martin Hengel's brief work, simply entitled Crucifixion will be surpassed — it would make a fine place to start. If that work is not readily accessible, an article on "crucifixion" in a quality Bible dictionary or encyclopedia would be of great help. I would point you toward two such works: Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels by InterVarsity Press and The Anchor Bible Dictionary by Doubleday. Either, or both, of these works is probably available in your local public library.

Works there are aplenty discussing the spiritual and doctrinal dimensions of Christ's crucifixion. Two classic works are Leon Morris' brief, clear work entitled The Cross of Jesus and John R. W. Stott's more thorough and suggestive work entitled The Cross of Christ. And an outstanding work to share with someone yet to believe discussing the spiritual dimensions of Christ's cross is Max Lucado's small, inexpensive, heart-felt work entitled He Did This Just for You.

Third, weigh with care anything you hear about this movie before you pass along what you've heard. It may or may not be true. Gossip is never good. Christians check their sources before repeating a matter lest they wound their credibility and needlessly hobble their Christian witness and influence.

Fourth, do not take pre-teens to see this movie. This movie is a very vivid depiction of one of the most horrific ways a person can die, all the more horrific that that person is the very Son of God. Just as you would exercise care and discretion in the recounting of a wide variety of stories inside or outside of the Bible on a variety of subjects with children, (sexuality, violence, etc.), use discretion here, too. Much of the Bible, if honestly and wholly depicted in cinema, would rightly receive an "R" rating. Not all of the Bible's message need be shared with minds still too young to grasp it properly and not yet mature enough to process it in a healthy way.

Fifth, exercise your imagination and prepare for it to be stretched by this visual depiction of Jesus' crucifixion. The Gospel accounts speak ever so briefly of it. "They crucified him there." (Luke 23:33). No doubt the lion's share of the reason for their silence is because of the familiarity of the original audience with the act of crucifixion, a subject virtually alien (and if not "alien," almost certainly "sanitized") to modern Americans.

If your mind is at first offended because what is presented on screen differs from what your mind's eye first imagined, be not surprised, for interpretation and imagination are at work. And if the mind tilts simply at the thought of depicting the crucifixion, consider again that the crucified one is the Christ of the living, loving God and stand in awe!

Sixth, pray for God's use of this movie as a tool of blessing in the opening up of your heart and the hearts of others to the indescribable gift of the sacrifice of his Son for our sins. As you view this movie, recall and thank God in prayer again and again that Jesus took on all this in your place; he willingly substituted his life on that cross for your life that you need not suffer such fate, spiritually-speaking.

Silently, speechlessly praise and adore God in prayer as you see the Lamb of God represented as laid on the altar for our atonement with God. Sit in awe at what was done for you and recall that this is not merely a movie, but a re-telling of the heart and soul of the ultimate message of our Maker to us. And so confess your sins to God in prayer over and over and rejoice in his forgiveness, though purchased at such awful cost.

Look for ways you can use this movie as a tool to discuss faith with friends who are yet to believe.
Seventh, look for ways you can use this movie as a tool to discuss faith with friends who are yet to believe. I know of entire churches who are booking seats for themselves to view it. That's fine. I know of ministers already making plans as to how to use video clips in the future in Bible classes. That's fine, too. But don't allow this golden opportunity to discuss Jesus Christ with non-Christian friends and family to pass by unseized.

More people than you know are hungry to hear about Jesus Christ who will not readily enter a church house door, sit in a Bible class or go on a church outing. Many of them will see this movie - some out of curiosity, some out of controversy and some because of earnest inquiry. The presentation of this movie silently pleads: "Just ask me why Christians have such hope within them." As a person who has hope because of your submissive response to Jesus Christ's death, burial and resurrection, eagerly, actively ready yourself to give answer to anyone who asks the reason for the hope within you (cf. 1 Peter 3:15) — and ask others if they have this same, living hope. You may just be the one God can use to tell them how to embrace this Christ, crucified and raised for us all.

In it all, let me just say, thanks be to God that:

"... God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8 TNIV)