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.
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.