Almost 2,000 years ago, the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul could well have written those words today.
After the release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in 2004, movie critics pounced on the film, condemning it for its violence, telling parents they should never take their children to see it. One critic said, “No level-headed parent should ever allow children to see it.”
Another critic, an avowed atheist, labeled the film a “mainstream snuff film.” Still another critic said that the film “arises less from love than from wrath, and succeeds more in assaulting the spirit than in uplifting it.” Yet another critic said the film should have been named the “Jesus Chainsaw Massacre.” And still another critic castigated Gibson for focusing upon the brutality of Jesus’ death rather than upon his teachings.
Clearly, these people have no understanding of the cross, its power to save or the plan of God before time began. Indeed, they have contempt for the cross. They are those of whom Paul writes, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent” (1 Corinthians 1:19). In this, Paul echoes the word of God through the prophet Isaiah (29:14) hundreds of years earlier.
As a young boy, one of our students at India Bible College & Seminary was allowed (and probably encouraged) by his parents to see The Passion of the Christ. Instead of being traumatized, his life was permanently and positively transformed by the cross of Jesus Christ. To him, even as Paul wrote, the cross is not gratuitous violence, but it is “the power of God.”
Even as a 12-year-old, this young man wanted to tell others of the saving power of the cross. Even as a child, he saw the horror and violence to Jesus as the result of God’s love for him and his unsaved Hindu friends. To the sophisticates of our day, his decision to follow Christ is just a poor boy’s traumatic response to seeing a horror movie. We should not be surprised.
In The Message, Eugene Peterson contrasts the offense and beauty of the cross:
“Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse. This is a terrific responsibility. Is anyone competent to take it on?” (2 Corinthians 2:15:16)
The cross of Jesus Christ will always be an offense and a thing of infinite beauty. Jonathan Edwards wrote of the smug men and women who find the cross an absurdity:
“The reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of, in the word of God, is undoubtedly because they are blind; if they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things.”
As we approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, let us thank God for His wonderful gift, and help to spread its fragrance to those He is preparing to receive it.