Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is Great; the Divine Service is Better

By Joel A. Hess

This past Sunday, our congregation hosted a viewing of The Passion of the Christ. I hadn’t seen it for a while and was once again in awe at how Mel Gibson accomplished both a work of art and a fairly orthodox and evangelical sermon; I was happy to see many members, especially younger ones, engrossed in the film as Gibson clearly preached Jesus as the substitute for our sins. Yes, I’m well aware there are other ways to talk of how Christ saved us.

Few modern artistic offerings deliver Jesus to their audience so effectively as Gibson’s. For a moment, I hoped that everyone could see this film and experience the power of the Gospel, even the person Jesus Christ and His glorious work on the cross.

As the director wonderfully tied in Jesus’ blood with our salvation, I remembered that Christ has already given us a medium through which we may experience him. While Gibson cleverly took his audience to the cross, Jesus composed a work of art that brings the cross to his audience: the preaching of the word and the eating and drinking of the Eucharist.

luther preaching

Far better than an expensive Hollywood production, Jesus steps through time and space, through spit and a red-faced preacher, exorcising demons and Satan himself, calling out specific deeply held sins of the people, exposing the devil’s work, and pronouncing “it is finished” into the ears of the sorrowful! Jesus speaks still in the flesh, opening ears and eyes, and freeing people from bondage!

It’s not something meant to be watched but experienced!

This is how we meet Jesus, not through pictures or films of Him, but through a Minnesotan farm boy or Californian surfer whose dad ran out on him when he was 10.

And then we dine. Jesus’ blood that Gibson shows exploding, dripping, and washing over everything is literally placed in our mouths. The blood of the new covenant, for you. If you thought Jesus died for those people, he puts it on your lips. You may have thought the preacher’s sermon was wonderful for those people, but if the preacher ever knew what you did, let alone Jesus, no way! Gibson’s movie is beautiful, but that Jesus up on that big screen doesn’t know how I left my wife ten years ago for another woman, or how I had an abortion at 22 just because I didn’t feel like stopping college.


In a good church, you are not allowed to be an audience member standing on the sides watching.

No, Jesus looks at you like he looked at Peter. Take and eat; this is my body. Take and drink; this is my blood of the new covenant.

I often tell the Lord’s people that other Christians are missing out. We want them to be Lutheran, but not simply because it’s loyal to Holy Scripture and the church fathers. Surely one can be wrong here and there and still die cling to Christ, but so many of my brothers and sisters are missing out on experience Jesus in 3D. They just have a show to watch. They can only watch the blood spill, the cross be raised, and the savior speak.

Jesus wants them to taste and see the Lord is good.