From Bill Sutter’s Desk Jul/Aug 2004

‘Submerged in the Discussion’

The release of The Passion of the Christ earlier this year evoked much discussion and controversy within both Christian and Jewish communities. For the most part, Christians responded to the representation of Christ’s suffering and crucifixion with a deep, personal gratitude to the true Christ for all that He endured for them.

However, many Jewish people have viewed the Mel Gibson film with apprehension and even fear.

For centuries, passion performances in Europe have provided an excuse for anti-Semites to instigate hatred and violence toward Jewish communities. “Christ Killers” was an epithet frequently hurled at Jewish people to intimidate them and encourage violence against them.

With the record-breaking box-office success of The Passion of the Christ, it is hardly surprising that Jewish people are afraid of the possible repercussions. In recent years anti-Semitism has been surging worldwide, especially in Europe; and it is even overtaking college and university campuses in the United States. Jewish agencies are now documenting the fact that it is dangerous to be openly Jewish in many areas of the world, including in some democratic countries.

In conversations and interviews with Jewish leaders, audiences, and media, we have tried to give assurances that Christians of biblical faith will be found standing with their Jewish friends if people attempt to use this film or any other issue as an excuse to fan the flames of anti-Semitism and direct hatred against them and their communities.

Jesus endured tremendous physical suffering. His humiliation was beyond our limits of comprehension. The brutalities He experienced at the hands of the Roman soldiers prior to and during His crucifixion represented a worst-case scenario of man’s barbarism. As the Sinless One, Jesus Christ’s violent physical death was infinitely more unjust than the death of an ordinary man. The Bible teaches that all men are sinners and therefore deserve death (Eccl. 7:20; Ezek. 18:4; Rom. 6:23). But the Messiah was God Himself—perfect and undeserving of death.

Submerged in the discussions of the physical cruelties Jesus suffered, however, is the fact that something even more agonizing happened: He “who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21) suffered God’s wrath for our sin. As the Father turned from Him, the Savior endured the full penalty that we deserve (Isa. 53). He was forsaken of God. Thus He tasted spiritual as well as physical death to guarantee that all who come to Him in faith would never have to suffer separation from God. Abandoned by the Father, Jesus, quoting Psalm 22:1, cried out,

Eli, Eli, la’ma sabach’ thani? that is
to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Mt. 27:46).

God forsook His only Son so that He would not have to forsake us. Jesus endured the punishment of separation from God that should have been ours. He felt the full burden and shame of our sin as if it were His own. He who dearly loved his Father was rejected by Him. He suffered spiritual darkness so that we would have spiritual life. This was God’s plan from the beginning, and Jesus was totally obedient to it. Can there be a greater love than His?

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (Jn. 15:13).

He was made sin for us. And on Him alone fell the sin of the entire world:

For he hath made him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:21).

God, in His righteousness, turned away from His sinless Son, who was covered with the sins of the world. The spotless Lamb paid the ultimate price for my sin and yours:

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us (Gal. 3:13).

The implications of Jesus’ spiritual death for us are profound. We can expect to die physically unless our death is preceded by the Rapture of the church. But as believers in Him and in His death on our behalf, we will never experience what He suffered—spiritual death—separation from God. This is the answer to Jesus’ famous agonizing cry to His Father (Mt. 27:46). By utterly forsaking His Son, our righteous God extracted from Jesus the full price of our redemption.

May we respond in heartfelt gratitude and life-changing dedication to our wonderful Savior who accomplished so much on our behalf!

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