The crucifixion of Jesus brought similar reactions when it was first preached in the first century. Many were profoundly touched by the story of the Cross. Others were offended and repulsed by it. The Cross has that kind of impact. God intended it to be so. The Cross leaves us with no neutral ground. It either draws us to the heart of a gracious God who surrenders his most precious gift to reclaim us, or else it seems like an absolutely absurd and violent waste.
The first hearers of the Gospel didn't need to have a movie to demonstrate the horrors of a scourging, to describe the masochistic brutality of executioners, or to explain the degradation and loss of humanity that occured with a crucifixion. They lived in that world. They knew it up close.
For many Jewish hearers, the Gospel didn't make sense — in fact, it seemed downright foolish. (1 Corinthians 1:18-23) A person crucified, or hung on a tree, was considered cursed by God. In their mind, no Messiah, no Christ of Israel, would ever face crucifixion. That's why the apostle Peter reacted so strongly at the thought when Jesus first suggested it (Mark 9:29-33; John 12:34) and why the apostle Paul said that Jesus took away the curse of the Law by becoming the curse for us. (Galatians 3:13)
For Gentile hearers, the Gospel just seemed absurd. (1 Corinthians 1:18-23) Crucifixion was a hideous, sub-human form of death by degradation that was only unleashed on the most vile of offenders from the lowest of classes. Crucifixion was such a gruesome and grotesque way to die, that even the mention of the words "crucify" and "crucifixion" were not acceptable in polite society. What world movement could ever begin with a hero who was so humiliated? The standard answer for most people would have been, "None!"
While the apostle Paul recognized the difficulty in proclaiming the Cross to both Jews and Gentiles, he also knew preaching the Cross had great power. For those the message reached, it was the power and wisdom of God even though many might see it as foolishness. (1 Corinthians 1:23-25)
So today as we hear the different reactions to the movie, we shouldn't be surprised. We shouldn't be deterred by many who find the movie repulsive or absurd. The time may not be right in their life to understand God's dramatic and sacrificial love demonstrated on the Cross. On the other hand, we must be ready to extend the hand of grace to those who are drawn to Jesus because of his loving sacrifice. Let's not get upset at those who are critical of faith, of the need for Jesus' atoning sacrifice for sins, or of the violent punishment of Jesus. Instead, let's pray that we will see the hearts around us that are opened to the message of the Cross and invite them to become one of Jesus' followers!
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