by Josh Eby
The Bible and Hollywood share a long, varied and complex history. From Cecil DeMille’s classic The Ten Commandments, to Mel Gibson’s moving The Passion of the Christ to Darren Aronofsky’s controversial Noah, faith and film have been constant companions. Sometimes their relationship flops artistically. Other times it fails theologically. Rarely does a film do justice to both truth and beauty.
The Young Messiah is such a film. Its artistry and theology are compelling, creative, enchanting. The story, acting, scenes and cinematography flow gracefully. The script is imaginative, but true to the person, life and ministry of Christ.
The Young Messiah details the Holy Family’s departure from Egypt and their return to Israel, highlighting the ways that Jesus grew in wisdom, knowledge and understanding of his origin, life and mission. The script is taken from the Anne Rice novel, Christ the Lord, but the screenwriters have nuanced and adapted her work for greater artistic subtlety and theological accuracy.
The New Testament gospels have little to say about the early years of Christ. The creeds of the church say even less. The Apostle’s Creed, for example, jumps from “born of the Virgin Mary” to “suffered under Pontus Pilate” without any reference to the life of Christ. Christians have lots to say about the birth of Jesus and lots to say about the death and resurrection of Jesus, but are almost mute when it comes to talking about the life of Jesus, especially his early life.
Portraying the early life of Christ must be done carefully and cautiously. The Young Messiah is imaginative and speculative. But, there’s a difference between reckless imagination and speculation and responsible imagination and speculation. The Young Messiah is the latter. The New Testament tells us that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The gospels describe Jesus as kind, loving, gracious, compassionate, forgiving, etc. in his public ministry. As a child, Jesus was kind, loving, gracious, compassionate, forgiving, etc. He grew in these. He embodied these differently as an adult than as a child. But he was the same person, faithfully fulfilling the law of God his entire life. The Young Messiah captures this beautifully.
The early church fought long and hard to accurately define the nature of Christ. Some found it absurd to say that the eternal God bound himself to a human body. Others thought it puzzling that this one who was very God of very God grew, matured, learned, listened. But the mysterious and maddening conviction of Christianity is that both are true. Jesus is truly God and truly man.
And, that man aged, like every other man. That man questioned. That man cried. That man observed. That man discovered.
He learned who Mary was. He learned who Joseph was. He learned who God was. He searched the scriptures. He studied Israel’s story. He sung her Psalms. He walked her paths. He ascended her mountains. He celebrated her feasts. He swam her rivers. He crossed her seas.
As he embodied this story- as the child of Promise, as the son of David, as the Good Shepherd, as the Pascal Lamb- he eventually stood before Pontus Pilate and ascended a Roman cross.
But first, he played. First, he laughed. First, he felt. First, he prayed. First, he asked. First, he trusted. “He increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).
Imagine what that might have looked like. Explore how that may have happened. Contemplate what might have been. Envision the dreams and desires of Israel. Ponder the power and pomp of Rome. Go see The Young Messiah.
Reverend Josh Eby is the Associate Pastor at All Saints PCA in Austin, Texas. He is the long-time friend of, and minister who baptized Cyrus Nowrasteh, Director of “The Young Messiah.”
by Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, OFM, Cap.
I had the opportunity to preview Cyrus andBetsy Nowrasteh’s new filmThe YoungMessiah, which is scheduled for release this coming March, just before Easter. Through the Nowrasteh’s filmmaking skills and the superior performances of the cast, notably Adam Greaves-Neal as Jesus and Sara Lazzaro as his mother, Mary, the film provides viewers a unique experience of the life of the Holy Family and the young Jesus.
The film is set in the context of Mary, Joseph and Jesus returning to Nazareth and establishing family life there, after having fled to Egypt to escape Herod’s persecution. It allows us to see Mary and Joseph in their lives as parents and disciples and to figuratively walk with Jesus as he comes to understand that he is the son of God, set apart from all others to fulfill the promise of salvation for mankind. People often comment that we do not know too much about Jesus’ youth and what life would have been like for him during those years.The YoungMessiahtakes us to that time and place, and with great faith and cinematic skill brings forth Jesus’ humanity and divinity as he grows in years and wisdom.
I am happy to highly recommendThe YoungMessiahit is captivating, inspiring and deeply moving. People of all faiths and all ages who would enjoy a very well-made film that offers new insights to Christian history will benefit from attending a showing ofThe YoungMessiah. It is my hope that it will be on your “must see” list this coming spring.
By Laura Viau
What might it have been like for Jesus to look up into the night sky and see the stars so very far away, when he had been the one to place them and name them? What must it have been like to hold such tremendous capacity for compassion and love in the mind and heart of a child? Did it overflow and reveal itself before the stories we are told in the gospel accounts?
Children are probably the most unfiltered bearers of the image of our Creator, who spoke the time and space and all that we experience into being. That same God stepped into time and space as a flesh and blood human, experiencing night and day, water and dry land, fish and birds and livestock through the curious eyes and ears of a child.
Children are constantly observing, learning, creating, exploring, and playing.
That is part of what I loved about The Young Messiah: seeing some of the untold story of Jesus’ childhood years imagined and brought to life. Watching Jesus play, get bored, challenge his parents, stand up against a bully, and even blunder into situations that put him in harm’s way. Seeing the fear mixed with pride in his eyes as the power to bring wholeness and healing into a broken world manifest itself through his own small grubby hands. Witnessing the classic parental struggle as Mary and Joseph fret over what to say and when, worried that he’ll grow up too fast.
The truth is that this holy family as imagined by writers, directors and actors is very much like families of faith across the ages. They struggle to make the best decisions they can make at any given time. They have been entrusted with a treasure and no instruction manual. They love each other and get annoyed with each other. They aren’t perfect. They are human beings who love God, but aren’t always sure they understand or hear him very well.
In the end, we know that this fully human young messiah must find his way from childhood to manhood. He will outgrow his sandals and tunic, as well as his toys. Games will give way to lessons in carpentry and conversations with rabbis. The protective boundaries set by mom and dad will expand and allow for exploring more of the world, more of the community. And eventually, he will take on the work for which he was sent into this world.
Until they are taught otherwise, children love and trust with gleeful abandon. We grown-ups can tend to take ourselves, our beliefs, and our rituals very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that our efforts to get it all “just right“ put us at risk of pushing the wonder, awe and joy right out of our relationship with God.
What a joy to imagine a young Jesus running with abandon, being tickled and giggling uncontrollably, crying out in fear from a nightmare, experiencing the world in all its beauty, messiness and imperfection -- and loving it all the same. That is the joyful, compassionate Christ whose saving grace is offered to all the beautiful, messy, imperfect people who call upon his name.
Reverend Laura Viau serves part time as interim pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Apopka, Florida and part time as the Communications Director for the campus ministry of Cru. She is a graduate of Texas A&M University and the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. When not writing and speaking, Laura enjoys exploring Central Florida on her motorcycle and catching up on the latest BBC shows.
By Dr. Ted Baehr
The debate over who is Jesus started in the very earliest years after his death and resurrection. One of the big issues is how could he possibly be fully God and fully man. If fully God, then he is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. If fully man, then he suffers pain, hunger and even fear.
The good news of the Gospel as resolved by the Council of Nicaea is that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man. Scripture supports this “both/and.”
On the one hand, as fully God, Jesus knew what the Pharisees and Sadducees were thinking (Matthew 22:15ff), could command a centurion’s servant to be healed at a distance (Matthew 8:5-13), and raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44). On the other hand, as fully man, Jesus wept (John 11:35); said, “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32), and Jesus asked his Father “if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Philippians 2:5-11 answers this in a very direct way by saying that, although Jesus was fully God he took upon himself and humbled himself to be fully man so he could be the sacrifice once given for our sins.
Pages and pages have been written and can be written about this subject. Like any human being who’s awakening to the spiritual, that person knows personally the presence of God and yet longs for the presence of God and feels his limitations.
These issues are resolved in the wonderful movie THE YOUNG MESSIAH in complete coherence with the Bible and the church and, in particular, the Nicene Creed.
By moving away from a historical Jesus movie, toward an allegorical Christ movie, the movie reveals to people who don’t know the story the very essence of being fully God and fully man and also the essence of the revelation of Jesus and all its ramifications.
Since the 1890s (and before that in literature), representations of Jesus can tend toward history as in a Jesus movie or fantasy, as in JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR where Jesus sings, or GODSPELL, which portrays Christ as part of a singing troupe of street clowns and mimes. In contrast to Jesus figures, Christ figures are often either redeemers or saviors. The redeemer figure represents Jesus taking on human burdens and sinfulness in suffering and even death. Movies may also portray Jesus Christ Himself as teacher, wonder worker, all-powerful Creator, monk, human, or Risen Lord.
All of this is acceptable if the Christology is orthodox (which merely means right doctrine). An orthodox Christology requires at least:
Finally, different kinds of movies that focus on Jesus Christ or other religious themes, also embrace the following types: passion plays, spectacles, epics, experimental or avant-garde movies, drama, supernatural movies, apocalyptic movies, picaresque movies, and clerical movies.
To see the rest of the story, see THE YOUNG MESSIAH
Q: Does The Young Messiah effectively address the issue of spiritual warfare?
PJH: Absolutely. Spiritual warfare is real because we have an enemy, the devil. Oswald Chambers said of the devil, “…so long as he keeps firing at us you may depend he thinks that we are worth watching.” In the movie The Young Messiah, the devil is placed in real life, which to me, is a great reminder that there is a battle raging.
Q: What spiritual warfare example from The Young Messiah most resonated with you?
PJH: I deeply appreciated the part in the movie when Jesus said, “Don’t ever touch me” to Satan. This showed us that, as is what we are taught throughout the Bible, the sword of the Spirit – God’s Word – is the weapon of choice against all evil. It works every time when mixed with faith.
Q: How can believers apply what is exhibited in the character of the boy Jesus in The Young Messiah when they are battling spiritual warfare?
PJH: Although this film is historical fiction, what struck me was how the filmmakers stayed true to the character of Jesus as we know Him in New Testament Scripture. In The Young Messiah, the boy Jesus was relentlessly targeted by spiritual warfare in several forms. Yet, regardless of the way spiritual warfare revealed itself, He was consistent in His response: quietly confident in His Father, assertive, certain of His victorious outcome and without sin. Every believer should employ this response to any attack of the enemy.
Q: What can the un-churched learn about spiritual warfare from The Young Messiah?
PJH: That, whether or not it is acknowledged, no one is exempt from spiritual warfare and the best thing they can do is receive the finished works of Jesus Christ - which includes divine protection, healing, restoration and much more. The devil, while a defeated foe, does not discriminate, and he knows his time is running out. Eternal salvation is the ultimate gift, but Jesus also provided victory from spiritual warfare right here on earth.
Johnny M. Hunt is the former President of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the senior pastor of First Baptist Church Woodstock, in Woodstock, Georgia. He has earned degrees from Gardner-Webb College and the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and received honorary doctorates from Immanuel Baptist Theological Seminary, Covington Theological Seminary and Tennessee Temple University. Pastor Johnny was named the President of SBC Pastor’s Conference in 1996. The Johnny Hunt Chair of Biblical Preaching was established at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1997.
Often in life you discover what faith requires is great perseverance and a miracle to accomplish what you are called to do.
Many obstacles had to be overcome to bring this beautiful story of The Young Messiah to film. From book to script to screen it has taken nearly six years. Just getting here has truly been a miracle. An earlier incarnation of the movie failed miserably, enough to bury the project completely but somehow we overcame it and completed the film.
Here’s what happened.
We began pre-production initially in Italy in early 2013, all seemed to be going well and then our financing fell through shutting us down, devastating the production and everyone involved. It seemed as if we would be unable to resuscitate the project. My wife and co-writer, Betsy, became ill with acute bronchial pneumonia and we were stuck in Rome, advised by a doctor to not travel until she fully recovered. Everyone else had left, it was rainy and cold in Rome and I paced and wondered and worried about Betsy’s health, having plenty of time to contemplate what had happened, why the film fell through…
I couldn’t help wondering:
Was it my fault?
Was God telling me something?
Was I the right person to make this film?
Was I being tested?
Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be…maybe it would be better if I didn’t make this, perhaps someone else should.
Perhaps I’m unqualified. I wandered contemplating this dilemma, and then I spoke to my daughter-in-law who said to me: “God often chooses the unqualified. This is a test.”
This connected with me. I felt it was a test, certainly, a test of faith, belief and conviction. As Betsy recovered we started to rewrite the script seeking a deeper and more theologically correct approach to the story. This seemed to regenerate Betsy and she started to recover. It also regenerated me as I realized this was a better script than we had before, both dramatically and theologically.
Returning home we committed ourselves to pushing even harder to get the film back up. With support and faith and unity of purpose with our producers, the film came back to life in a better form than originally planned. It took a year-and-eight-months but the film was back up and completed in June 2015, well before its March 2016 release date.
Yes, we had been tested and the film was better for it. God had been watching over this film as we persevered. We were blessed by the experience.
It was truly a…miracle.
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