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.”
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