The Passion as Witness
In the book of Acts we read repeatedly about the power of the Holy Spirit being displayed in mighty ways. Men spoke unknown languages by His power (Acts 2:1-4) and others were struck dead for daring to lie to the Holy One without fear (Acts 5:1-11). In our teaching on the topic of spiritual gifts, we also speak of the end of the age of miracles at the close of the apostolic era and in so doing deprive ourselves of the witness that the Spirit continues to make in other contexts.
Most discussions concerning "miracles" usually devolve into a semantics exercise wherein the exact nature of what a miracle is becomes foremost and the idea of power is left aside. And yet the two are inseparable since the miracle and the power behind it are one.
I am persuaded that from what we can see in the New Testament, the period of time where God's power was directly or directly mediated by human beings in order to produce supernatural results has ceased. The witness requiring these displays and the manner in which they were distributed have been superceded by the more powerful and effective witness and transferring ability of the New Testament record. This said, however, does not mean that the powerful witness of the Holy Spirit is not still in evidence in great and small ways today continuing to testify about the wonder of God and the person of Christ.
We are amazed that a few Jewish men received the power to speak languages unknown to them in order to preach the gospel to several thousand people in Jerusalem after the resurrection of Christ. And so we should be since this witness of God's power is unmistakable.
But we should also be amazed at more recent demonstrations of that same power. Take, for instance, the current witness of power displayed in the incredible rise of actor Mel Gibson's recent movie, The Passion of Christ. This event does not qualify as a miracle (in the end it is a movie, not a healing) but the fact that a fairly Biblical account of Jesus' death and resurrection is told from a true believer's perspective without a trace of irony or condescension is simply amazing. That it was crafted using the very best artists and expertise money could buy and released to similar levels of interest as any Hollywood blockbuster is even more amazing. And if this isn't enough to amaze one in these cynical times, that this movie continues to generate editorials, commentaries, debates, front page stories in newspapers and magazines all over the world is almost unbelievable granting that everyone already knows the ending and the movie is in languages that few if any movie goers speak. Now, for those of us who get our religion from the Bible and not movie houses, this event can be seen as a witness of the Holy Spirit's power in our day and we should rejoice in it.
Let's be straight about this. Mel Gibson was not the subject of divine or direct inspiration. But his use of God's divinely inspired text unleashed a witness of the Spirit's power not seen at the international level since the sudden and total fall of communism around the world.
We deprive ourselves of great joy and encouragement when we refuse to acknowledge the Holy Spirit's witness in our lives today. The Passion movie is a good example of God's power making something happen – something that mere men couldn't make happen no matter how hard they tried. It doesn't have to be a miracle to be powerful, it doesn't have to be supernatural to create an effective witness.
In the end, Mel Gibson's movie is, at best, a phenomenon for the one that does not believe. But for those whose personal sins caused that horrific death recreated on film, it should be remembered as a powerful modern witness from the Spirit that our faith in Him is not in vain.