June 7, 2006

The Passion of the Christ

1516 page8 caphat is the critical, non-negotiable, absolutely necessary, single element in the story of redemption that must be present to authenticate its message—the one thing that empowers grace to dig through the clay of our midnight grave, reclaiming you and me from definite death and restoring us unto eternal life?
If you had to identify the one thing that makes it happen—that makes it real, that makes it certain, that makes it enduring—what would it be?
It would be Jesus.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”1
Jesus is the star of the story.

Our Hero

He’s the hero—our knight in shining armor on a white horse, stretched out and in full gait kicking up stars as He races from Orion to trade places with people on a world toppling over the edge into the abyss.

He’s our ransom.
He took our place at the “lip” of the churning waterfalls, and was crushed by our sins, and was broken upon the rocks of our rebellion. He was innocent . . . without sin, faultless.
Wounded, bruised, crucified . . .
1516 page8Our hero, who could not die, sipped His last breath and then breathed no more. Not taking any chances, evil kicked Him to make sure He was dead, but a healing stream of water poured from His side and splashed upon heaven’s wayward children—and the stream became a river of life carrying them homeward toward the city of eternal grace with foundations, “whose architect and builder is God.”2
For those who were afar off were brought near by the blood of Christ.3
Melting in the welcoming embrace of their loving heavenly Father, they hear Him say, “This [child] of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”4
Found . . . what a precious word . . . such a beautiful experience.

His Story

If you’ve ever been in the unenviable position of being lost, but in the enviable position of being found, then you know what I mean.

And you have a story to tell. Because the story of redemption is your story of how Jesus Christ brought understanding and power and victory into your life—the day salvation graced your spirit with hope; the day you were ransomed, restored, and redeemed.
Redemption. Is there any story more worthy of being told?
But it’s not always an easy story to tell, and we don’t always tell it well, do we? But we can’t help telling it, can we?
We stumble through the details about what our existence was like in the days and years before our souls breathed in the deep, fresh draws of eternal life and hope. We do our best to explain what Jesus means. And even though we do our best, we don’t always get the details right. But God smiles as He listens. Because no golden-voiced angel could ever tell it better. 

Where Is the Passion?

It’s been two years since a certain man (whom we’ve all heard of) told his story of what Jesus means to him.5 And about 37 million people in the United States paid more than $370 million to hear his story, The Passion of the Christ. On the list of most successful films in the United States, it ranks tenth (twenty-seventh worldwide, grossing $604,370,943).

I was at Circuit City the other day and saw piles of The Passion of the Christ DVDs lying in discount bins collecting dust. Each for $9.99.
1516 page8 linkBut it’s not the first time I’ve seen the story cast off and lying dormant.
At every church I’ve pastored (and at every church my dad pastored) there were stacks of unwanted Bibles in the back room or on the freebie table.
I’ve seen this phenomenon elsewhere, too. In the early years of my pastoral ministry I regularly made more than 50 “home visits” a month. Usually, not always, I ended these visits by reading the person’s favorite verse from his or her Bible, and then closed with a prayer of blessing.
Sometimes the Bible was marked, tagged, and lined with scribbled notes like a cherished, time-weathered treasure map. But most often the pages of the TV Guide seemed more used, dog-eared, and worn.
And so here we are today. We’ve read, heard, and watched the story. But what really needs to happen (and I think you’ll agree) is that we need to experience the story. And no, knowing about the story is not experiencing it.
In an age when the church claims boldly that it’s in need of nothing,6 it’s time we admit that we need Jesus Christ formed within, and open the door so He can enter.
Instead of thinking we have the answers, and fooling ourselves that it’s the right answers that get us in the door (maybe the church door . . .), we must have a conversion experience. We must be baptized by the Holy Spirit—by water and by the blood that flowed from Christ’s side—and live lives that look every bit as transformed as we claim they are. 
As long as the story of redemption is a historical event portrayed on a reel of film, or a chunk of digital code on a disc, or words in a book—even if it’s the Holy Book—its power and purpose are utterly lost. Only when it becomes our most longed-for, hoped-for, fully realized desire will it have an enduring effect upon our lives and the lives of others.
It’s not about the aforementioned movie.
The story of redemption must be more than religious reference material—irrespective of whether it’s been recorded on film, audio, or paper.
It must become a dynamic, relevant, authentic experience in our hearts. If it isn’t, then it might as well be Hollywood fiction, because it certainly isn’t real to us.

Our Story

The story of redemption is our story of how Jesus Christ saved us. But it’s not what we think about His death. Or about our technical understanding of certain events such as where Mary was or wasn’t on the day she saw her child sliced, slapped, and shamed in ways no mother should ever have to see. Nor should our confidence rest in our theological training or religious tradition, because the Pharisees had that, and yet they still rejected Christ—the very Messiah upon which their traditions, prophecies, and training were based.

Redemption is an organic story that’s being played out in the theater of our hearts—a story that our lives tell every day about Christ’s passionate grace—a grace that’s empowered by the Holy Spirit and that’s being demonstrated in our lives. Demonstrated how? In our loving words and actions for God and people, even the people who wound us—especially the people who wound and offend us. Christ offered us His example with the words “Father, forgive them.”7 
If it’s not about the movie, then what’s it about? It’s about our undying passion for Christ—and our eternal gratitude. It’s about His abiding presence in our lives that we enjoy every moment of every day, and our willingness to be tossed to the lions or shoved into the furnace or hammered upside down to a tree because we love Him too much to trade eternity for anything this world offers.
If we die, we die. If we live, we live. But if we die, we won’t stay dead long because Christ, our Forever Friend, conquered death on the cross. And the same Spirit that raised Him from His tomb will raise us from ours.
Have you ever heard better news?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to experience Jesus Christ so often and so regularly, and to be so engaged in helping people find and experience Him, that we wouldn’t have time to argue about our beliefs, because we’d be too busy living them?

A Film in the Works

Do you know what film I can’t wait to see? Yours. The story of how Christ found you and held you and healed you—how His passionate grace transformed your world from darkness to light, your soul from death to life, and your status from slave to child.

The greatest motion picture yet to premiere is the one you’re starring in. And it’s still being made.
Each of our lives is a scene about a loving Savior who enters the creepy tunnel where angels fear to tread, to rescue God’s children and bring them home.
The Passion of the Christ.
Is it a Hollywood film that’s based on faulty theology?
Is it a seldom-read, written narrative in a Holy Book on a dusty table?
And, which one is more enduring?
Jesus alone is enduring. He can’t be captured on film or be bound in a book. It’s about Jesus. At least that’s what the apostle Paul concluded in Philippians 1:15-18: “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
It’s about Jesus. And it’s about Jesus in you.
Live the Story, Be the Story
If you’re a writer, then write about redemption. If you’re a filmmaker, make films about it. If you’re a singer, sing your lungs out, baby! If you’re a teacher, preacher, lawyer, clerk, teller, nanny, manager, mechanic, salesperson, rocket scientist, garbage collector, student, professor, administrator, Webmaster, firefighter, police officer, or a retired senior citizen—whatever you are, LIVE IT! Tell it! Be the story of redemption.
Share the passion and spread the flames.
Let’s light this planet up with the enduringly magnetic love of God, and raise Jesus high in all that we say, do, and believe.
And while we’re at it, can we support one another as we share our stories about what Jesus did for us, means to us, and is doing for us? Because your story, my story (or that Hollywood guy’s story), might be the story that some man, woman, or young person needed to hear, and be the vehicle through which they received Jesus Christ.
This calls for celebration, not controversy, because our family just got bigger. One more for Jesus! And one day closer to seeing our Father’s smile and hearing Him say: “Well done. Welcome home.”
Bible texts in this article are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Acts 16:31.
2 Heb. 11:10.
3 Eph. 2:13.
4 Luke 15:24.
5 Mel Gibson directed and produced the film The Passion of the Christ. It was released in theaters in 2004.
6 Rev. 3:17.
7 Luke 23:34.
 Lynell LaMountain and his wife, Jennifer, live in Jacksonville, Florida. He is a writer, Christian motivational speaker and trainer, and founder of the international ministry Life Ignited: Igniting People With Life, Laughter & Love: www.LifeIgnited.com.