When the Jesus film is screened in cultures that have never heard of Jesus, the viewers often love the movie and get completely wrapped up in the story. But the crucifixion comes as an utter shock. Many audiences jump up and cry out in protest. This can't be. This is not how the story should end.
The crucifixion of Jesus has always been profoundly disturbing.
For me, what's most troubling is not the unjust trial, how the crowd turns against Jesus, or how his disciples abandon him. The most troubling part is one line. Mark 15, verse 34: "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?")
This line horrifies me. It calls into question the very nature of God. Is God the kind of God that turns his back on his Son? Does God abandon those who cry out to him? How could God forsake the perfect God-man, the only one who has ever served him perfectly? Because if Jesus was truly forsaken by God, what's preventing God from forsaking any of us? How could we ever trust him to be good?
The Apologetic Challenge
These have always been important questions, addressed at various lengths since the early church. But now it has become a serious apologetic emergency. In a more rationalist era, people believed in Christianity on the basis of truth. We proved the reliability of the Gospels, gave evidence for the resurrection, argued that Christianity was historically verifiable. Believe in Jesus, we said, because Christianity is true.
But then culture shifted. Many people didn't accept absolute truth claims anymore. So we turned to pragmatic appeals. Believe in Jesus, we said, because Christianity works. Come to Jesus because he'll change your life. The proof is in the pudding. Christians are happier, healthier, live longer, and ...