A Fanatic for the Cross
By Greg Stier Posted on October 03 2009
|Passion movie-related stuff|
Not too long ago I had the opportunity of seeingThe Passion of The Christ at Icon Studios in California. I was excited to see an early screening of this movie, but to be honest, I was just as excited to meet my favorite actor—Mel Gibson. Before the movie began he came into the room of 15 or so ministry leaders, and the once loud room went quiet. He said a few words, joked around with us, and set up the movie. He then left the room and the film began. I was not prepared for what happened next.
For two hours I was shocked and rocked by stuff I already knew. As a matter of fact, I would estimate that I have preached at least 100 sermons about the crucifixion of Christ. For years I have detailed the physiological aspects of Christ's torture and execution in gruesome detail to sobbing teen audiences. But if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a good movie is worth a million.
The Passion of The Christ was so meticulously detailed and unblushingly graphic in its depiction of the flogging, beating, and crucifixion of Christ it was like being transported to the actual time and place. You could almost feel the cold of the granite stump that Jesus was chained to. While Roman soldiers wore themselves out stripping the flesh from his body with twin cat-o'-nine-tails, I winced, cringed, and found myself closing my eyes. I have a high violence threshold in movies, but this was too much for even me. It made me sick . . . like it should have.
Every aspect of Christ's torture and death was sickening. Each of us would have turned away and closed our eyes if we had been in the gawking crowd in Jerusalem that day. The cross is a symbol of sheer brutality and unimaginable pain. There is a time to turn away and cringe.
Now is not the time.
The Relevance of the Cross
In today's fast, hip, progressive world of youth ministry, it's easy to turn away from the blood-stained bark of the Cross for a whole different reason: It seems irrelevant to a postmodern culture. Nobody gets crucified today. And what teens in their right minds give credence to some story about a Jewish carpenter-turned teacher-turned-prophet-turned-savior who turned his world upside down. He may have been all that back then, but who cares today? Millennials consumed with MP3s, DVDs, and MTV don't have time for history let alone religious history. Right? Wrong!
Youth ministries that truly transform teenagers today have the Cross as the epicenter of their ministry efforts. The same has been true for spiritual awakenings since the beginning of the church. Great preachers whom God used to spark revival and awakening in church history were fanatics for the Cross. Preachers like George Whitefield, John Wesley, D. L. Moody, and Billy Graham testify to the simple fact that the proclamation of the Cross is what changes lives. "It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). Spurgeon once said, "The key to great preaching is great subjects." And there is no greater subject than Christ and his death, burial, and resurrection.
Winston Churchill declared, "A fanatic is somebody who won't change his mind and won't change the subject." Paul was a fanatic for the Cross, so much so that he proclaimed to the Corinthians, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Sometimes in a youth ministry culture that seems to bow before the gods of the next new thing (and now the new thing is ancient), it's easy to relegate the Cross to the place of an irrelevant icon that can't make the connection to this post-Pepsi generation in and of itself. But the Cross is cross-cultural in its sweeping impact. Its mystical power is not diminished by time, technology, age, race, creed, or fads.
How can you unleash the power of the Cross in your youth group? You can sing about it. You can talk about it. You can take your entire youth group to see The Passion of the Christ and then spend some time recovering together in healthy discussion. But the best way to unleash the power of the Cross is to preach it, to tie it in to every talk in every way possible all the time. Sound fanatical?
In the shadow of the Cross, life issues make sense to teenagers. The swelling surge of hormones in adolescents will never be stemmed by sex talks alone. Stats and facts about potential pregnancies and STDs are not enough to scare teens into sexual purity. But what threats can't do through fear, the blood of Christ can compel in love. In the shadow of the Cross, the choice to enter into the battle to stay sexually pure suddenly makes sense. In view of what Jesus did for us back then, it's the least we can do for him right now.
Any and every issue you can talk to teenagers about can be impacted by the Cross. Dating (or courtship if that's your thing) in the shadow of the Cross brings a hallowed perspective to the opposite sex. What kind of music our teens listen to, the movies they watch, the conversations they have can all be affected by the Cross of Jesus. It sanctifies their view of life, helps them relate to others in love, enables them to live holy lives, gives them the motivation they need to be the best at sports and school.
The story of our Savior's death, burial, and resurrection should be the red thread throughout every talk we give. We should fanatically find ways to turn every Bible study, every small group discussion, every youth group talk to Jesus and what he endured for us and how that should motivate us to live.
Why should we have this kind of temerity, this brazen boldness to preach Christ and him crucified consistently to our teens? Because that same subject is the red thread that is woven throughout the entire Bible. The Holy Spirit moving through the hearts and pens of men made Jesus and his passion the central theme of all Scripture. He left clues about it throughout the Old Testament and yells it from the rooftops in the New Testament.
The Centrality of the Cross
I'll never forget the first time I saw The Sixth Sense. Along with 99 percent of the rest of America, I was duped by the movie until that climactic scene where the wedding ring drops and rolls across the floor and Bruce Willis's character (congruently with the rest of the audience) realizes that he was dead the whole time. A whole series of flashbacks follow the hints left throughout the entire movie that Bruce Willis's character was dead for most of the film. I remember the ah-ha experience and the audible gasp of the audience as we were shocked at being so blindsided. As the director M. Night Shyamalan flashes back to the scene where Bruce Willis is shot—at dinner in the restaurant alone with his wife—and in scene after scene where he's in the same clothes, the entire audience got it. Movie watchers across the globe have never been tricked by a director like that.
If the story of the Bible were ever turned into a 21st-century movie, my vote would be for M. Night Shyamalan to direct. The Old Testament provides the mystery, plot elements, and tension that would build up to the revealing of Christ in the Gospels. Like The Sixth Sense audiences, most of the Jews didn't get it. They were looking for a living Messiah that would conquer the Romans and reign in power. But the King of kings and Director of directors was taking the plot somewhere nobody expected. It wasn't a ring that rolls across the floor, but a stone that rolls away from a tomb that provides the ah-ha experience for the early disciples. When Jesus rose from the dead, suddenly everything made sense—all the teachings of Jesus and all the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.
As Paul preached to the Jews in synagogue after synagogue all over the ancient world, he showed them the flashback scenes and plot elements (prophecies and promises) of the Old Testament that pointed toward the coming, crucifixion, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul was a fanatic for the Cross.
The Old Testament points towards the Cross. The Gospels tell the story of it. The Epistles explain the ramifications of it. And Revelation shows the final results of it. The patriarchs, the prophets, and the apostles—all fanatics.
It's interesting how much one sees the Cross of Christ throughout the book of Revelation. This book is about the future judgment of God upon the world and the final establishment of his kingdom. But it also goes back to the theme of Christ and him crucified over and over again. From the first chapter of Revelation John writes about it: "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood" (Revelation 1:6).
When John has his first glimpse of the future, God demonstrates to him the centrality of the Cross in heaven. John writes, "Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders" (Revelation 5:6). Most chapters in the book of Revelation make some elusion to the passion of Christ.
The book of Revelation runs red with the blood of Christ and the blood of men who rejected it. Throughout the entire book Jesus is consistently referred to as the Lamb, a constant reminder of the blood sacrifice that was made once and for all at Calvary. Is your youth ministry constantly reminding your teenagers of the Lamb who was slain? Is the Cross of Christ a theme throughout your life and your talks?
The Climax of the Cross
In The Passion of the Christ I was struck by how long the walk to the Cross actually took. It was so long, so torturous, so harrowing that by the time Jesus actually was crucified on the top of Golgotha I was actually relieved. Life-changing youth ministry is like a walk to the Cross, a painful, step-by-step stumbling toward the Cross. Everything Jesus did in his life was leading to the culmination of the Cross. If everything we do in our youth ministries doesn't climax at the Cross, it's a waste of time.
In Icon Studios that day after The Passion of the Christ was over, a deafening silence encompassed each of us. Every ministry leader sitting next to me was accosted by the Cross all over again. Finally a door opened, and in came Mel Gibson again. But I saw him differently now. As he talked I realized that he was more than an actor or an award-winning director. He was a fellow fanatic of the Cross and of Christ.
Call me a fanatic. Then come and be one with me…and bring your students.