THE PASSION OF CHRIST
By John R. Funk
The Passion of the Christ is played out every Easter in churches throughout the world. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a depiction of ultimate sacrifice and several years ago became not just the Easter story but a matter of controversy. Mel Gibson directed and produced a very powerful epic saga that Pope John Paul described as “It is as it was.” Criticism flowed claiming that the movie was too violent and encouraged intolerance. It was said that his career was dead because of the Passion. While we think of the last week of Jesus’ life as the Passion, the true passion of the life of Christ was love. The love of Christ was the motivating factor for the Passion of Christ. That love still motivates us today.
One of the most overwhelming topics of sincere conversation amongst Christians has to be the concept of the love of Christ. We can fathom many of the teachings of the Bible and we can appreciate the lives of the individuals depicted in those pages. The stories of Biblical heroes and heroines make for a good read and the moral and legal knowledge/wisdom contained in the Bible provided the foundation for our society. However, the love of Christ as evidenced in the pages of scripture is truly beyond comprehension.
Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Creator of all, God incarnate, became man for the principal purpose of providing the avenue to salvation for all of mankind. Seated at the right hand of the Father in glory, surrounded by millions of angelic beings who literally adore, cherish and worship Him, lacking nothing but rather having all at His command and call, He gave it up for a season to identify with creation as the Son of Man. He voluntarily chose to endure the trials and tribulations of human existence knowing what would happen and what the end result would be. Despite that knowledge, Jesus Christ decided to give up the divine in order to experience the sinful, fallen world.
We cannot even begin to compare any aspect of the human existence to the existence of Jesus Christ prior to His birth. The wealthiest, most powerful person who has ever lived was a destitute pauper when compared to Christ. There is absolutely no way imaginable to draw an analogy that would suffice for comparison. Any description would stand in stark contrast to the reality of the heavenly realm and the position of Jesus.
The reason always offered as explanation is the love of Christ. That reason is absolutely correct. The only reason that Jesus Christ came as the Son of Man was because of the love of God. Stop for a moment and think about that statement. God loved us so much that He was willing to become man and die a horrible, shameful death after living a life filled with its everyday experiences, burdens and trials. We always cite to the following for the declaration of God’s love.
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (KJV)
An inadequate illustration that I use for trying to demonstrate the depth of this love is asking my students to close their eyes and imagine the most loved person in their life. This person could be anyone such as a wife, husband, child, mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, boyfriend or girlfriend but it needs to be someone that you would willingly give up your life for without hesitation if the need arose. Now, imagine that you have been told that all mankind could, not would, be saved if you would just give this person over whom you desperately love; the decision would not hinge upon whether you could give up your life but rather whether you are willing to give up the life of your loved one. When you give this person over, it is to be killed after being tortured by beatings and scourging almost beyond endurance. After the beatings, this person would be forced to drag the instrument of their death through the streets of your city while everyone along the day would heap torment upon his/her head. Thereafter, and only after your loved one had collapsed from pain and exhaustion, they would then have nails driven through their wrists and feet to a cross where they would be lifted into the air and left hanging for all to see until they had succumbed. Death would be a welcome relief. Additionally, this person would be shamed and ridiculed for who they were and for what they stood for. But if you were willing to give up your loved one, then it would possible for people to go to heaven if they would just accept this sacrificial gift. You would also need to know that despite this gift of the life of the one you love, most people would not only fail to accept the gift of your loved one’s life but in fact, they would despise you and especially your loved one who died. They would revile this person’s name and would actually use it as an epithet in everyday conversation. They would demonstrate ingratitude for your loved one’s life and would curse you and your loved one for who you were and for what you did. Despite all of this, you would still want them to be forgiven and to walk one day with you. That is where God’s love and the sacrifice of Christ began.
In all but one of the verses of the New Testament where the words “love” or “loved” is used in association with the love of Jesus, the root word comes from the word “agapao” meaning much love. (See Strong’s Greek-Hebrew Dictionary, NT:25). Similarly, the word used also comes from the word “agape” meaning love, i.e. affection or benevolence; specially (plural) a love-feast. (See Strong’s Greek-Hebrew Dictionary, NT:26). We typically refer to it as “agape” or unconditional love.
Unconditional love – now that is a something to give you pause. Unconditional in this instance means that there is nothing that a person can do or fail to do, that will destroy or diminish that love in any way. Could you say to another person, “No matter what you do, what you say, what you don’t do or what you don’t say, I will always love you. In fact, I will always love you to the point that I will willingly sacrifice my life for you. I will not just sacrifice my life but I will sacrifice my life in the most painful manner ever devised if that is what it takes to show you how much I love you.” How many people in your life have you known who exhibited unconditional love, not just to one or a few, but to all?
The word “love” is used 179 times in the New Testament while the word “loved” is used 42 times. In virtually every instance where either of these terms are used referring to the love of Christ, the root word is “agape.” The only time the word “phileo” love is used is in John 20:2 where John refers to himself as the disciple that Jesus loved. Phileo is defined as “to be a friend to (fond of [an individual or an object]), i.e. have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling (See Strong’s Greek-Hebrew Dictionary, NT:5368). Agape love “is wider, embracing especially the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety.”
The love of Christ is not the type of love depicted in books or in the movies; it is a love that is beyond our understanding. We can and should try to grasp the love that Christ demonstrated in His life and upon His death but a full appreciation of His love is beyond us. The Bible speaks of the impossibility to comprehend this love.
19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Eph 3:19 (KJV)
It is a love that manifested itself in the life and being of the only Perfect One to walk the earth. It is a love that consumed Him, every day of His life. It is a love that always put others and their needs first. It is a love that washed the feet of His disciples the evening before He knew He would die. It was a love that refused to call upon the legions of angels at His command as He willingly sacrificed Himself. It is a love that prayed for His murderers while He was on the cross.
Jesus, knowing the importance of love and how it played a critical role in His life, spoke of the duty to love and how it was considered a commandment upon which all of the other commandments hung.
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Matt 22:36-40 (KJV)
43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? Matt 5:43-46 (KJV)
34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. John 13:34-35 (KJV)
Abiding in the love of Christ is demonstrated by adherence to His commandments which basically consist of the duty to love. In other words, if you love Christ and desire to be like Him, you will love (agape) others.
15 If ye love me, keep my commandments. John 14:15 (KJV)
10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. 11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. 12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:10-13 (KJV)
As indicated hereinabove, the ultimate demonstration of Christ’s love is when one lay down his life for his friends. Laying down that life can go far beyond what typically comes to mind, i.e. dying for another such as in times of war or peril as we have witnessed in our own times. It can also involve laying down ones life by living a life of sacrifice for another. It can be giving up one’s desires for those of another. It can be living the life of a servant for others.
20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. Gal 2:20 (KJV)
Christ’s love did not come into being because we deserved His love or because we had given Him something that made Him feel obligated to love us. The fact of the matter is quite to the contrary; we are beings that do not deserve His love but rather, we desperately need His love.
19 We love him, because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19 (KJV)
10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 1 John 4:10-11 (KJV)
6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. Rom 5:6-9 (KJV)
The love of Christ is a magnet. It draws us to Him and we cannot be separated from that love.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 8:38-39 (KJV)
Ultimate sacrificial love is not a part of His character; it is His character. Truly, God is love.
7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8 (KJV)
This love flows from the Father to the Son to us with the idea that we should continue to demonstrate that love in our daily lives. Love kept to yourself is isolated and devoid of purpose. Unshared love is useless before God. Therefore, we are to give this gift of love to others when we have the opportunity. That opportunity arises virtually every day of our lives.
9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. John 15:9 (KJV)
Finally, I am persuaded that nothing in this life or the hereafter, the natural, the eternal or the supernatural, would have prevented Jesus Christ from making His love manifest in the form of sacrifice of His life on the cross for all who would claim His name. I also believe that the love of Christ is so great that if I were the only imperfect person who had ever lived and needed the sacrifice of Christ in order to join Him in the heavenly realm, He still would have gladly given up His life for me. Just me. And you.
Comments or questions may be directed to the author at email@example.com.