By Colton Corter
It’s nearly Easter time and with Easter comes movies about Jesus. From the infamous Passion of the Christ to last Sunday’s Tyler Perry’s semi-live The Passion, many people have tried to retell or portray the greatest story of all time – the best news about what God has done in Christ to save sinners.
But most of these renditions are blasphemous at worst and unhelpful at best. There has long been the discussion about visual representations of Jesus. The larger Reformed tradition has avoided pictures and statues of Jesus, citing the 2nd Commandment and the incident of the Golden Calf in the book of Exodus. Calvin and those who have followed in that stream saw the idolatry of Rome and wanted no part in it. Reformed Evangelicals today normally avoid such representations today if not simply for the fact that they can take away from the spiritual sight of Christ’s glory found in this age only in the gospel. For whatever good could come from such movies or television programs, there are a few major things that I think should cause us to steer clear from enjoying such programs.
1.They tempt us to undermine the sufficiency of Scripture.
Behind the impulse to make such movies is often the desire make the story of Jesus relevant. It is thought that if people could just see what happened then they would reconsider their previous notions about the Second Person of the Trinity. But the cross has always been foolishness to those who are perishing (1 Cor 1:18). Our job isn’t to make the gospel more palatable. We cannot improve upon its sweetness. The Holy Spirit takes the objective facts of the gospel and gives us the eyes and the hearts to see them and savor them as our only hope and our highest good.
How does the Spirit do this? Over and over again, God tells us that He brings new life through His Spirit by the written Word of God. It may seem like a far-fetched strategy but we need to remember that it has worked for thousands of years. It was the Word of God that created everything that we see and it is with that same creative power that God creates light in dark hearts (2 Cor 4:6).
Brothers and sisters, it is not a healthy impulse to want to improve upon the words of Scripture. Creating good music and art is a wonderful and biblical thing! However, our main source of life and the hope of the world is found in the Book. God wrote a book! And that Book is able to do all that we need for life and godliness (2 Tim 3:16, 2 Peter 1:3). Do you want the Bible to come alive? The answer is not to go to Israel and walked where Jesus walked. Neither is the answer to make a movie about it. We must throw ourselves on the mercy of God in Christ and ask that as a consequence of being clothed in the righteousness of Christ, he would by His Spirit open our eyes to see the beauty of Christ. Faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17). This is an age of faith, not sight. One day, beloved, we will see Him as He is with our sinless eyes! But that day is yet to come is and our greatest longing. Until then let’s seek Christ where He is to be found: the gospel as found in the Bible.
2. It misses the point of the gospel.
The physical sufferings of the cross were so gruesome that they are hard to imagine. Jesus Christ never, ever sinned. He alone can say that He has loved His Father with all of His heart, soul, mind and strength (Luke 10:27). His heart was so incredibly sensitive to the sin that was around Him. His very meat and drink was to do the Father’s will of displaying His glory by enjoying it as His highest good! Never was there a least deserving man to die.
But Jesus was not a victim, primarily. When we only focus on the physical death of Jesus then we lose the entire importance of the cross. We lose the gospel. Truth is, a lot of people had died on Roman crosses. It was kind of standard fare. If all that happened in Jesus’ case was that an innocent man was put to death by a corrupt government then we are most to be pitied. But infinitely more happened. Isaiah 53 happened! This innocent One, who fulfilled the Law perfectly on behalf our His people, was executed by His Father according to His predetermined plan (Acts 2:23). The Son of Man came with the express purpose to purchase a people for Himself by paying the penalty for their sin (Mark 10:45). Jesus was not slaughtered on accident or by force but in an act of unfathomably free mercy He gave up the life that no one could take from Him (John 10:18). He died for our sins. “In our place condemned He stood.” Jesus is not some revolutionary who died because he tried to overcome social structures by a code of ethics. Jesus earned a righteousness for His people to be received through faith and satisfied the just wrath of God in His body. Jesus is God.
But you miss all of that with these movies. They leave us with a less glorious gospel, not a more glorious one. The cross and the resurrection make no sense apart from the character, worth and value of God. They make no sense without explaining the cosmic treason that is sin and how the whole world sits under the judgement of a good God because He alone is worthy of our affections. Without the clear call to repent from lesser joys and run to the finished work of Christ to save and satisfy, you don’t have a gospel. Without explaining that God is the prize of the gospel then you leave the world with something less than the end for which God created the world.
I only say this out of a concern to see the real glory of Christ hallowed among the nations. To that end, I work for our joy – both yours and mine. The gospel of the Bible, found in the Bible, is far better. The power of God for salvation is found here! This is the Word of God that has given us the greatest gift imaginable – being enabled to glorify the Triune God of the universe by enjoying Him forever. We must stand against error, even sometimes error that is well intended. But we only do so because the light of the glory of Christ is eclipsed by such attempts to make Jesus “cool again.” Jesus is far better than cool, far better than anything that could be shown on a screen!
Jesus is infinitely glorious and beautiful.
Let’s all do the work of an evangelist as we strive together with our local embassy of Christ’s Kingdom to reflect the glories of God in Christ to the world by our words and deeds.