The Suffering of Yeshua

by Sue Towne


I am going to take a break this week from our series on contemplative prayer to make some comments and observations on something that is overflowing in our media here in the US—the reactions to the Movie.

You know what movie I’m going to address. It’s The Passion of the Christ.

I saw the movie on the night it opened last week. I have to admit that from the time I first heard about it last summer, I had mixed feelings about going to see it.

For one thing, it’s R-rated. I don’t go to see R-rated movies, because they are too intense for me. I have never seen Braveheart, for example, even though many of my Christian friends said it had wonderful Christian themes in it, and that I ought to view it.

From time to time I meditate verse by verse in the gospels accounts of what the church calls the Passion of Christ. (The word “passion” here comes from a Latin word meaning “suffering.” )

What I have found is that the longer I have known Yeshua, the more I love Him (no surprise, right?). And the more I love Him, the more painful it is to meditate on His Passion from scripture.

Yet each time I meditate even for a few seconds on His Passion from scripture, I come away from the experience with greater love for Him and greater capacity to receive His love for me and for others. It’s as thought meditating on His suffering removes something from my heart, making room for more love.

I prayed for months before I heard clearly that the Lord did want me to view the Movie. So early in February I bought tickets for opening night, because that would be Ash Wednesday.

Even though I am not presently a member of a liturgical church, I have found that doing some kind of special reading, prayer and fasting during Lent or during Advent makes the major Christian holidays a much deeper spiritual experience, even in the midst of cultural hype.

So I thought that going to this film would be a good way to begin Lent. But I was not really prepared for what I experienced that night.

Earlier in the day I had taken communion, and at that time I sensed the Lord speaking several things to me, one of a very personal nature that is still resounding within me as I write this, and the other, that the viewing of this movie that evening would be a “sacramental experience.”

I have to admit some skepticism at these words about “sacramental experience” when I received them. But I responded, “Yes, Lord.”

I went into the theater around 5 pm and sat down to wait, watching the darkened screen. At the thought of what I was about to view, the tears began rolling silently down my cheeks. Then the opening frame came: the quotation from Isaiah 53:10—and the sacramental experience began.

I won’t go through every scene here, especially for those who have not seen the film. But I wanted to make just a few observations.

One is that though the depictions of the brutality of the Romans to Yeshua were graphic indeed and heart-rending, what the director did show was not every last thing that was done to Him. Though we hear every scourge, we don't see… (you understand.)

The episodes of violence are interspersed with some of the tenderest vignettes about Yeshua’s life and ministry. I especially liked the scenes with Miriam (Mary), His mother.

But for me two of the most powerful scenes occurred when Yeshua was first speaking to Pilate and then later on the cross when John remembers the Passover seder of the night before.

In the encounter with Pilate, the Roman addresses Yeshua privately in Aramaic, asking Him if He is indeed a king. Yeshua asks Pilate why he is asking the question, and when Pilate answers, Yeshua begins to speak to Pilate in Latin about the concept of truth.

It’s a very subtle change, but when I heard the shift in language, my heart thrilled. Here is our Lord ministering to Pilate! He is not only speaks to the man in his native tongue, but the manner in which He addresses the subject is much more Roman than Jewish.

He is speaking the man’s cultural language! He really cares for this man’s soul.

At the scene on the cross, the apostle John, who was there with Yeshua’s mother Miriam, has a flashback to the night before when Yeshua breaks the bread at the seder and tells them, “This is My body.” Then taking the cup, He offers it to all at the table, saying that this is His blood.

At that moment in the film, I was experiencing my morning communion with the Lord all over again, even through my tears (which were just about non-stop during the film). Truly this was sacramental.

Now it has been almost a week since I have seen the film. Something has changed in me. I feel as though my heart has been “circumcised” anew—as if experiencing His sufferings in this way has cut away a layer of flesh from my heart.

I come to my times of prayer, and the tears just come.

And something more. As I pondered the film the other evening in the company of some friends and new acquaintances at church, I realized that scripture says that the apostles viewed the crucifixion from a distance. So they saw what we see in the film: the body of our Lord marred beyond any man, the evidence of His ordeal of suffering—blood flowing from His body from head to toe.

The thieves hanging on either side of Him literally pale in comparison. Clearly the Romans wanted to make an example of this man, and the disciples were well aware of that.

Now hear this: if Yeshua had not been raised from the dead on the third day, do you think that even one of those disciples would ever preach publicly about Him—or would ever admit even to knowing Him? They would think that the same fate would meet them—not just death, but such a death!

The severity of Yeshua’s suffering depicted in this film is some of the strongest evidence we could have outside of scripture itself that the Resurrection really happened! Think about it.

No one would risk the same kind of death for the sake of a dead man who was only a kind person and a good teacher. Yet 10 of the original 12 apostles were martyred for their faith.

Well, I DON’T recommend that every Christian see this film. I know that young children and adults who have special sensitivities to violence should NOT see this film. It is not an ordinary movie-going experience, especially for a believer. This is an intense, heart-rending film.

BUT if you are an adult, especially if you are a believer, please pray and ask the Lord whether you too should not see this film. I believe that this film is already beginning to change our culture. It is having an impact on the media, on Hollywood, etc.

Yet even more—it is having an impact right now on millions of people who have already seen it. Come and see the measure of Yeshua’s love. Let it pierce your heart (Zechariah 12:10) and cut away the flesh that keeps us from walking in the measure of holiness and commitment that He is calling you and I to.


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