By Eric Metaxas at: http://www.breakpoint.org (February 19, 2016)
“Ben Hur,” “The Robe,” “The Ten Commandments,” “Quo Vadis?”—who can forget the golden age of biblical films? But that was the 1950s, and this is 2016.
Biblically based movies these days often comes across as, well, less than inspired. Writers and directors sometimes play fast and loose with the source material, leaving out crucial details and inventing some bizarre stuff. Worse, portrayals of God often come across as flippant or even blasphemous. And that’s just not something I enjoy watching.
Well, I want to urge you to give the genre another chance. Because a film hitting theaters this weekend proves that swords-and-sandals productions based on the Bible can still hold their own against “Ben Hur.”
“Risen,” directed by Kevin Reynolds and starring Joseph Fiennes, is the story of the manhunt for the corpse of Jesus Christ. Spoiler alert: They don’t find it.
Fiennes plays a Roman tribune named Clavius. He’s tasked by Pontius Pilate with crucifying the latest batch of Jewish rabble and self-proclaimed messiahs. The only catch? One of them really is the Messiah.
Of course Clavius, a good Roman military man, doesn’t think anything of Jesus. When the centurion at Golgotha admits, “Surely this Man was the Son of God,” Clavius lets him have it. Clavius is tough, and he’s immune to Jewish superstition— that is, until Sunday morning. For Clavius, that’s when all ‘Heaven’ breaks loose.
The tomb is empty, the guards aren’t talking, and the Disciples of Jesus are spreading the news that He’s come back to life. The high priest warns Pilate that they’ll have an uprising on their hands if he doesn’t put the resurrection story to rest. So Pilate sends Clavius on a grisly, CSI-style hunt for the body of Christ.
That’s when our tribune has an encounter that shakes his pagan worldview to the core. “I have seen two things which cannot reconcile,” he says. “A man dead without question, and that same man alive again.”
Everyone on our BreakPoint team who’s seen the film loves it, not just because it’s a respectful and riveting portrayal of the gospel accounts, but because it shows an unbeliever’s crisis of faith when confronted by the Risen Lord.
In anticipation of Easter, I cannot think of a better reminder of how Christianity, as Tim Keller puts it, forces us to “doubt our doubts.” The empty tomb is the most startling fact of history— something two millennia of skeptics have tried to explain away. But the evidence is just too strong. And “Risen,” like a good detective novel, follows that evidence where it leads.
For instance, the Roman officials and Jewish leaders had every motive to produce a body. Yet they couldn’t. And Jesus’ Disciples had nothing to gain and everything to lose from lying about the Resurrection. But their transformation from cowards to spiritual conquerors testifies that they, like Fiennes’ fictional character, saw something— or Someone— who rocked their worlds.
Joe Fiennes told BreakPoint that he expects this movie to touch audiences in a unique way precisely because it invites them to examine these events through the eyes of a non-believer.
I think “Risen” has the potential to spark a renaissance of solidly biblical movies. But more importantly, I think it will challenge audiences to confront, with Clavius, the question that defies doubters to this day: If Jesus is dead, then where is the body?
Go see “Risen.” And take some unbelieving friends with you.
The Risen official movie site:
Luke 24:1-6a…9-12 — On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!… When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.
Matthew 28:11-15 — While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor,we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
I Corinthians 15:3-8a — For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also.
II Peter 1:16 — For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
Thine is the Glory (v. 3):
No more we doubt Thee,
Glorious Prince of life;
Life is naught without Thee;
Aid us in our strife;
Make us more than conquerors,
Through Thy deathless love:
Bring us safe through Jordan
To Thy home above.
Thine is the glory,
Risen conquering Son,
Endless is the victory,
Thou o’er death hast won.
–Edmond Budry (1854-1932); music by George F. Handel (1685-1759)