The much anticipated film, “The Passion of the Christ,” has been making the screening rounds. Even renowned evangelist Billy Graham gave good reviews to Mel Gibson’s portrayal of Jesus’ last 12 hours of his life. The acclamation of the film from religious leaders continues to heat up through Southern Baptist leaders after they attended a screening on Dec. 8. They say that even the most uninterested, unbelieving viewer cannot leave without being affected by the film.
"I have been unable to erase from my mind the scene of the beating given Jesus by Roman guards," Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee. "It was gruesome. It jarred my sensibilities. The sight of Jesus' back after the cat of nine tails had torn bit by bit into His flesh was almost unbearable. It was so real I was almost certain the audience around me had given a collective gasp, sinking into their seats, shrinking from the horror of such excruciating pain."
The audience who attended the Dec. 8th screening held at First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, TN, was mostly artists and executives from the local music industry. The event was hosted by Ricky Skaggs.
The screening left Chapman with such a deep impression that he told Gibson that he hoped “The Passion of the Christ” would become the next JESUS film for the United States. The JESUS film has reached almost six million viewers as of October 1 and has been translated into 812 languages. Chapman supports the movie’s successful future.
"In my opinion, God may well transform this film into a mighty witnessing tool for reaching people in America who may never have been reached in any other way," Chapman said. "All Christians in this nation should be praying for the movie to be a huge commercial success because it will be difficult for a person to see it and walk away unaffected by what has been seen and heard."
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said “The Passion of Christ” was the most powerful and moving experience he has ever witnessed in all his years as a moviegoer.
"The graphic portrayal of the brutal death of our Lord and Savior is an unforgettable and indelible reminder of the horrendously high cost Jesus paid to deliver us from sin's terrible penalty," he said. "The Passion is not only a work of artistic brilliance but also the product of deep devotion of a man whose life has been profoundly changed and influenced by Jesus."
After the screening, Gibson testified that it was only through God that this film was possible. What began as a calling from God led to 12 years of dreaming and working where Gibson intently wanted to bring the Gospel to the big screen, aiming to deliver his testimony of Jesus’ impact on his life even to average person.
James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, said it is obvious that the film is Gibson's passion, and he does a remarkable job with it.
"For viewers of The Passion of the Christ, it is a journey into inexpressible reality," Draper said. "Few Christians today have any real sense of what took place when Jesus Christ was crucified. The brutality, anger, hatred and arrogance of His enemies and the genuineness of His mission, His passion, grip the viewer in a visceral way.
"No one can help but be affected by the sacrifice He made. It is precise, vividly honest and graphic in portraying the sufferings of our Lord," Draper continued. "This is a movie that Christians need to see to be reminded of the price paid for our salvation, and it is a movie that Christians need to use to introduce these truths to those who have not yet met Jesus Christ."
Chapman, Land, and Draper urge everyone to see The Passion of the Christ. Chapman believes the film will serve to edify the church by increasing its spiritual awarenss.
"The production of this highly professional film is evidence, I believe, that God is empowering others to kneel beside us and pray that He will awaken the sleeping giant in America -- the church -- and draw all men to Himself."
"The Passion of the Christ" depicts the last 12 hours of Jesus' life. The film is scheduled to open on Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.