Why on Earth Did He Die Anyways?

-an article for the April 2004 Deep Cove Crier

Whatever newspaper, TV station, or radio I turn to, everyone is discussing Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’.  I have never seen anything quite like it.  But it does remind me of the youth revival in my last year of high school, popularly known as ‘the Jesus movement’. 

Godspell Being age 50 this year, I am old enough to have lived through the excitement over the 1970 movies ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Godspell’.  All of our friends knew how to sing the hit songs by heart like ‘Day by Day’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar, who in the world do you think you are?’.  Even thirty years later, those songs are still in my bones, and bring back powerful memories without even trying.

‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ was so popular that our own Winston Churchill School put on the production in the spring of 1972, just before I graduated.  My dear wife & songbird Janice sang in the JCSuperstar Choir.  Interestingly enough in our High School production, a resurrection was added!  The buzz in 1972 was palpable, much like the current buzz about ‘The Passion of the Christ’.

Our local youth group attended the JCSuperstar High School production and then handed out pamphlets on the way to an overflow crowd.  The colourful pamphlet was entitled: ‘Jesus Christ: Superstar or Lord!’.  Thirty years later, the question has not really changed.  Who on Earth is this inescapable Jesus fellow anyways?  Why does he keep turning up in movies, newspapers, and radio 2,000 years after he was supposed to be dead and buried?  Why are over two billion people convinced that he is alive and well? 

With Good Friday and Easter Sunday just around the corner, many people are once again asking themselves what Nicky Gumbel calls ‘first order questions’: “What’s it all about anyways?”, “Is there more to life than this?”,  “Is there a God?”, “Does my life have any purpose?”, and most important “Why on Earth did he die anyways?”.  Nicky Gumbel, in the Alpha Course attended by over 7 million people, has an fascinating video entitled: “Why did Jesus die?”  Nicky mentions that many people wear crosses around their neck or as earrings, but few people know what it means.  We are so used to seeing crosses that we have become deadened to it.  That is, until Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion’ came along and shocked us back into our senses.  Once again we are realizing that the cross is not just a nice piece of jewelry but rather a cruel form of execution that makes the guillotine, hangman’s noose, and electric chair look mild in comparison.  The Cross was so offensive that even the battle-hardened Romans abolished it in 315AD as too inhumane.

So why on Earth did he die anyways?  As I came out of the ‘Passion’ movie at the Park & Tilford Theatre, I felt that words could not begin to express what I had just experienced.  A phrase kept going through my head: “He did this for me, he did this for me’.  Every since I have been to the Passion movie, I have been delving into the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ last days.  I have been listening to songs that reflect on the mystery of his sacrifice.

I realize that there is no way that I can exhaust the depth of what Jesus did for me that fateful Good Friday.  As Nicky Gumbel puts it in the Alpha text ‘Questions of Life’, ‘like a beautiful diamond the cross has many facets.  On the cross, the powers of evil were disarmed.  Death and demonic powers were defeated.  On the cross, God revealed His love for us.  He showed that He is not a God aloof from suffering.  He is the crucified God.  He has entered our world and knows and understands all about suffering.  On the cross, Jesus sets an example of self-sacrificial love.” 

The second time that I attended the Passion of the Christ movie, I left the Park & Tilford Theatre deeply convicted.  I wept a lot more the second time.  This time I was struck by the realization that it was my sins that put Jesus on that vile cross.  I felt afresh the shame of my selfishness and a deep sense of gratitude for his taking my place on the tree, what Dr. John Stott calls ‘the self-substitution of God’ (2 Corinthians 5:21).

No one should ever blame someone else or some other race for the death of Jesus.  Each of us contributed to his death by our own callousness and our own self-centeredness.  And most significantly, Jesus chose the way of the cross intentionally because he knew that it was the only way for each of us to be forgiven.  (John 10:18)

This Easter season, I would encourage you, if you haven’t already, to go see ‘The Passion of Christ’ movie for yourself.  Don’t let the naysayers hold you back from making up your own mind about it.  Don’t let fear paralyze your curiosity.  And if you have already been to see the Passion and have unanswered questions, I strongly encourage you to join an Alpha Course near you.  You won’t regret it.

The Reverend Ed Hird

Rector, St. Simon’s North Vancouver

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