Friday, March 11, 2016

The Young Messiah: A Pastor's Review

Following my last review of the movie Risen, I read a comment that the depiction of Jesus in that movie was the best portrayal of Jesus yet. (I didn't retaliate with, "No, [this movie] Jesus was definitely a better movie Jesus!")

Risen's portrayal of Jesus wasn't good. He was generic and non-specific. There was no gospel and no call to repent of sins -- not even when Jesus talked to the sinning and unbelieving Clavius. It was like Clavius needed a loan and was trying to figure out which bank to use, and Jesus said, "I know what you're looking for, and here are all the benefits I offer."

About the best praise I could give to Risen's Jesus was that he wasn't a blonde-haired white dude. They attempted to go with an actor who looked more like a Galilean (even though he's from New Zealand). But the next Jesus Movie of the Month, The Young Messiah, definitely goes back to the European standard of long-haired blonde Jesus.

That's not the only liberty taken by this story's author. And when I say "author," I don't mean the Author of the Bible, since all of the material in The Young Messiah is outside of Scripture. I mean the author of the sandbox novel this playground of a movie is built on.

The film is adapted from the book Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt written by Anne Rice. Yes, this is the same Anne Rice who wrote the Vampire Chronicles, the most famous of which being Interview With a Vampire. I understand that the former working-title of The Young Messiah was Young Messiah: Vampire Hunter. I may have just made that up.

Anne Rice left the Roman Catholic church and became a self-avowed atheist at 18. After a near-death experience in 1998, she returned to Roman Catholicism yet has still maintained outspoken support for abortion and gay rights. It should be no surprise then that on July 28, 2010, Anne Rice wrote on Facebook, "Today I quit being a Christian."

She claimed to be committed to Christ but not to being a Christian. That's like saying she's committed to her husband but not to family. Being married means you're also part of a family, just as being committed to Christ means that you're also part of his body. You can't be a Christ-follower and not be part of his followers.

Enmity with the Body is Enmity with Christ

As a pastor of my church and an evangelist to my city, I cannot tell you the number of times I have encountered individuals who tell me they're Christians, but they do not attend church. It is more common for me to encounter such a person than it is to cross paths with someone who says they do not believe in God.

In my own church have I experienced disloyalty from men and women who cannot remain committed to the body, treating the church as a high school girlfriend rather than the bride of Christ. The moment the doctrine makes them feel uncomfortable or someone looks at them the wrong way, they jump ship for something else, often without a word to anyone.

In both instances -- with the person I meet on the street and the person I don't see in church anymore -- my heart is fearful for the state of their eternal soul. I must be careful not to say neither is saved, but at the same time the church cannot vouch for their salvation either. If church membership, as Mark Dever has said and I agree with him, is an endorsement by a church of a person's saving faith, how can we know a person is saved if they are not committed to the saints?

We read in 1 John 2:10, "Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling." And in 1 John 3:10, "By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother." And verse 14, "We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death."

And in 1 John 4:20-21, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother."

The context of this word "brother" is brotherhood. It is specifically other brothers and sisters in the faith. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, he is saying love everyone. Neighbor applies to every single person. But when Jesus talks about loving other brothers as we love him, that is specifically talking about brothers and sisters in Christ.

The person who refuses to attend church, or the person that leaves a church because things are not going their way, have turned their backs on those they have claimed are their brothers and sisters in Christ. They might say, "Well I don't hate them though. I still love them!" Does a husband who abandons his wife kids still love them, even if he says he does?

The person who refuses the church doesn't understand the church. If they do not understand the church, how can they say they understand the words of the Lord Christ who built the church and by his sacrifice has reconciled us to be part of it?

Why am I investing so much on this tangent in a review about a silly movie? Because we need to be careful about where we get our messages about Jesus. Make no mistake: The Young Messiah is not mere entertainment. There is a message. Are you hearing about Jesus from a person who loves the brothers and sisters of Jesus, or are you hearing about Jesus from a person who hates those whom he has called to himself?

Anne Rice cares not for any follower of Jesus. Therefore, she does not care about him. She is of the devil (see 1 John 3:10 again). If you said you loved me but hated my family, that is the same as if you were to say you hated me. Likewise, we cannot claim we love God but not his children (1 John 5:2). The Young Messiah is blasphemy. Every mention of Jesus in this movie is taking the Lord's name in vain.

Following my review of Risen, I received criticism that I'm just a fuddy-duddy who can't enjoy a good faith-movie. On the contrary, I have given positive reviews in the past to faith-based films (here and here). I thought the most recent adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was wonderfully done. (How can you disagree with casting Liam Neeson as Aslan?)

But I cannot abide a deliberate misrepresentation of my Savior and my God, especially for the purposes of entertainment. It is a false message perpetuated by the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). Every pastor and minister who has given their endorsement of this blasphemy, written by a woman who by her own admission hates everything they stand for, will have to give an account of themselves before God.

(Focus On the Family endorses everything under the sun that has even the faintest connection with the Bible. Its president Jim Daly endorsed Noah, a gnostic film made by an atheist, and I wrote a letter to Focus asking Daly to recant. The person from his office who wrote back insisted Daly's comments were not an endorsement. Really? Because neither Paramount nor other media outlets received Daly's comments as anything other than praise. Focus had Anne Rice on the air reading experts from Christ the Lord, so of course they endorse the movie.)

Some have argued that because The Young Messiah touches on a period of Jesus's life that the Bible tells us nothing about, the Bible is not at risk of being misused and we're free to use our imaginations. No, my friends. The Young Messiah definitely abuses Scripture.

My Brief Review

The movie begins by telling the audience that many Jews fled Egypt during the time of King Herod because he was a shill for the Romans. From the very start, two things are made apparent: the writer didn't care for the biblical narrative nor did she pay attention to world history. It would make no sense to flee to Egypt to get away from the Romans since Egypt was under Roman rule!

Herod the Great was appointed king by the Roman government, but that doesn't mean they liked one another. The Jews and Romans had a tumultuous relationship which is why Luke 23:12 is such a significant passage. When Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great) sent Jesus back to Pilate to be sentenced, the Scriptures tell us that Herod and Pilate became friends. These two men forged a bond of friendship in their mutual enmity toward God.

What movies adapted from novels often don't capture is the tone of the source material from which they are taken. Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, a portion of which I've read, is written in first person -- from the perspective of a 7-year-old Jesus. It's like it's from the same vein (vain?) as Sarah Young's Jesus Calling, writing down what she thought were the thoughts of God.

There's a scene where the devil, who haunts the young Jesus throughout he film, causes a boy to fall and die. A girl tells Jesus he can raise this boy from the dead just as he raised a bird back to life. This anecdote definitely comes from Rice's Roman Catholic influence, as this story shares similarities with apocryphal texts like the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

Another scene has the devil hanging around Jesus while he's sick with a fever. Jesus tells him he is not to touch him, and also says that he does not know what is going to happen. Throughout the film we get suggestions that Jesus doesn't actually know he's God, and he picks this up from other people.

I also have a problem with this thing of the devil following boy-Jesus around, which neglects the presence of the Holy Spirit. In Matthew 4, immediately following Jesus's baptism by John the Baptist, the Scriptures tell us, "Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." There was an ordained purpose behind each one of the devil's three temptations (1 John 2:16) which is devoid of meaning in Rice's made-up universe.

The Romans are continuing to pursue the boy whose family fled Bethlehem several years before, still trying to kill him. But the Romans wouldn't have cared. They didn't get mixed up with anything concerning Jesus's sentencing until he was arrested. It wasn't Roman soldiers Herod sent to kill every baby boy two-and-under in Bethlehem. But this device allows The Young Messiah to use a similar trope as Risen: a Roman soldier's change-of-heart.

Sean Bean plays the role of Severus, one of the soldiers pursuing Jesus. He's really a hollow and empty character. What could have made the movie better was if it was told not from the perspective of Jesus, but from the perspective of Severus. However, reports World Magazine, the film's creators "had to be careful not to let [Severus' story] dominate. His story is only pertinent in relation to the family and the boy."

There's a Superman moment when Mary tells Jesus to keep his power inside him until his heavenly Father tells him that it's time to use it. Really, it was like the scene in Man of Steel where Jonathan Kent told Clark not to use his powers until the right time. And who told Clark when it was the right time? His "heavenly father" (there were lots of forced messianic parallels in that movie, too).

The film concludes with the 7-year-old Jesus talking about what he doesn't know but he thinks he's figured out what his purpose in life is but right now he's just going to live life and experience it all and take it all in even when it hurts.

Oh, brother.

Though Jesus had yet to grow in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52), he was no less Christ as a boy than as a full-grown man (Luke 2:49).

I remember a song written by Rich Mullins called Boy Like Me, Man Like You, a much more beautiful consideration of the Christ-child. Mullins wondered what Jesus must have been like as a boy, how much like him would he have been, and asked such questions without diminishing Christology.

Two of my favorite lines from the song are these: "Did you grow up hungry, did you grow up fast? Did the little girls giggle when you walked past? Did you wonder what it was that made them laugh?" And, "Did you wrestle with a dog and lick his nose? Did you play beneath the spray of a water hose? Did you ever make angels in the winter snow?"

Such questions are innocent and fun. They are also deeply theological, pondering just how much did God incarnate experience the things as a boy that I experienced when I was a boy! I'd rather spend an afternoon with Mullins on loop than two hours sitting through this movie.

Better yet, I want to spend that time with my Bible. My friends, if you cannot devote that kind of time to Scripture -- if you spend more time in front of a screen watching things like The Bible mini-series than you spend in God's word -- your love of God will be swayed, not reinforced. It is being swayed by individuals who care not for his children and have no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:18).

The Young Messiah is yet another film in a long list of movies made by people who cannot endure sound teaching, but accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, turning away from listening to the truth and wandering off into myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Do not be edified by such things. Love Christ. Love his body. Go to church.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Cruz, Rubio, Trump, and the Moment of Truth

Now is the moment: Do these candidates actually care about doing what's best for the country, or do they only care about themselves running the country?

If Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio care about what's best for the United States of America, Marco Rubio should suspend his campaign this week, and Ted Cruz should extend to him a hand of fellowship. We would then have a Cruz/Rubio ticket 8 months before the election, plenty of time to go after Donald Trump and win the republican nomination for President.

To make the ticket even stronger, Cruz should also extend invitations to Dr. Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, and Mike Huckabee, and offer them cabinet positions (the obvious one for Carson would be Surgeon General). You would have a ticket with a plan for this country already in place before taking office. The people would witness a real sense of leadership.

It would also unify the GOP in a way it has not been unified in years. Right now it is massively fragmented. The biggest perpetrator is Trump. He's not solely at fault, but he's a major reason for the division. A person who is as into himself as Donald Trump is into Donald Trump cannot unify. He will only divide. He is dividing now. He will divide in office. He will divide this country. (Yes, it can get worse than it is.)

Trump has no loyalty to anyone, even his own constituents. Oh yes, Trump fans, he will throw you under his Trump bus and already has. He insults you constantly, but you think it's funny. When he says something like, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any votes," he thinks very little of you.

The ironic thing about that comment was that it came seconds after he said his voters were so smart and loyal. That's how his con-game works: he butters you up into buying his shtick. Listen to me: Do you really think it's "smart" to support a candidate who thinks that he could murder someone in broad daylight, even if it was a hypothetical, and not be held accountable for that? The mouth speaks what the heart is full of (Luke 6:45).

Donald Trump is a con-man. He's a Casino mogul, a foul-mouthed strip-club owner (that's not a metaphor -- he owns strip-clubs) who's on his third marriage and has boasted openly about his sexual conquests. He has been on the Howard Stern Show dozens of times as the billionaire and the shock-jock talked about who Donald Trump has had in his bed, and which women he'd like to get in his bed.

And don't say, "Yeah, but those were interviews back in the 90s!" First of all, they weren't. The Howard Stern tapes include interviews as recently as 2014 when Stern and Trump judged the bodies of celebrity women, listing body parts and gauging quality like they were walking through a meat-market. And secondly, it wouldn't matter if they were from the 80s or 70s. Donald Trump is not repentant about anything.

At the Family Leadership Summit last July, Trump was asked if he has ever asked forgiveness for his sins. "I am not sure I have," Trump said. "I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I think if I do something wrong, I think I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture." Jimmy Fallon asked Trump if he had ever been sorry for anything. Trump said he would be sorry if he could ever be shown he was wrong about something first.

This is godless talk. The apostle John said, "If we claim we have not sinned, we make [God] out to be a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 John 1:10). This isn't even the usual cliche of, "Hey, everybody sins, so we're all the same, right?" This is a man claiming that he has no reason to ask God forgiveness for anything.

It makes me think of the story of Ahaz, king of Judah, in Isaiah 7. Ahaz was being pursued by two kings from the north. God spoke to him and said, "Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights." Now what would you ask for? Anything you want, from the deepest depths to the highest heights!

Do you know what Ahaz asked for? Nothing.

"I will not ask," Ahaz said. "I will not put the Lord to the test."

Isaiah replied, "It is not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?" Ahaz thought so highly of himself that he didn't want God's help. Such arrogance. God was offering him anything he wanted, but Ahaz basically said, "Nah."

Surely you know what happened: all of Judah and Israel were conquered by their enemies and they ceased to be a nation. It was a dark, horrible period for Israel, all because of godless kings who didn't want to bring God into the picture.

Friends, Donald Trump is not a Christian. As I said in a sermon on September 13 of last year, I believe he's popular among "evangelicals" because he reflects the attitude of many Americans. He says the Bible is his favorite book but can't quote any of it. He says he goes to church on Christmas and Easter and always when there's a major occasion. Many professing Christians are going about their faith exactly the way Donald Trump says he does it.

Understand also that Trump is not pro-life. Don't listen to his claims; look at his record. This is a man who has given millions to liberal-democrat, abortion-loving campaigns and candidates for years, including the Clintons (and remember, he's not sorry for any of that). Now suddenly he can just say he's pro-life, and you believe him? His present rhetoric doesn't even sound pro-life. He said he would nominate his sister to the Supreme Court, Maryanne Trump Barry, who, as a judge, has upheld the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion. Trump doesn't care about our children.

There's not much difference between Trump, Hillary Clinton, or Bernie Sanders. All three of them are liberals who promise things they neither can nor intend to deliver (A 2,000 mile-long wall between the U.S. and Mexico that Mexico is going to pay for? Really?). All three are pro-abortion. All three are for socialized health-care. Both Trump and Bernie Sanders's economic plans are travesties that would raise taxes tremendously on the poor and working-class.

We should expect Clinton and Sanders to be liberal. They're democrats. Of course they're going to say things like Planned Parenthood should get more funding and their practices expanded to kill even more babies. What we should not expect is that kind of talk from the "conservative" candidate who calls himself a Christian (Trump says Planned Parenthood does good work and uses the same rhetoric to defend PP that the democrats use).

A vote for Donald Trump is a vote for adultery, porn, misogyny, divorce, fatherlessness, abortion, bankruptcy, gambling, racism, bullying, arrogance, obscenity, and overall godlessness. As a president, you can also throw in higher taxes, a tanking economy, liberal policies, partisanship (really it would just be a my-way-or-the-highway course of action), and severed relations with foreign governments.

He does not care about you. His only loyalty is to himself. He has said from the very first debate that if he did not win, he would run as an independent. He has no desire to unify. Only to exalt himself.

Donald Trump is presently the most popular individual GOP candidate. But he would not beat Hillary in November, or the combo of Cruz and Rubio right now. Both Cruz and Rubio must show they, unlike Trump, are selfless by putting aside their differences and personal ambitions. Rubio should suspend his campaign, and Cruz should bring him aboard. Men, show us how much you actually care about the American people.

I think it was completely fair to see how Super Tuesday would turn out before any candidate suspended their campaign. I've disagreed with those who have said Carson and Kasich were holding the GOP hostage and needed to pull out. I think Carson did it right. Dr. Carson, thank you for a clean campaign.

But now is the moment. I have not put myself behind a candidate yet, but I would vote for a Cruz/Rubio ticket. (Doctrinal and even some political differences aside,) I believe they are God-fearing, principled leaders who would be a fine fit for this nation's highest office.

Still, this needs to be said: Neither Cruz nor Rubio will save this country (nor will Trump, Hillary, or Sanders for those who think of them as some kind of savior). Only Jesus Christ saves souls. You must turn from your sins and follow Jesus. No matter who's president, we must continue to preach that message with boldness.

Also, this needs to be said: No candidate will send this country to hell either. It is God who will destroy a nation that burns with sexual immorality, promotes unnatural relationships, and continues to spill the innocent blood of countless babies every day the way we do through abortion. It is a judgment we deserve unless we repent.

The real Moment of Truth is found in the King of kings and Lord and lords, our Savior Jesus Christ. He is still on the throne. Today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). Now is the time to repent of your sins and follow Jesus. To Him be all the glory and the honor, now and forever. Amen!