My Take on the Movie Risen

I have had a very mixed relationship with religious movies. I often find the acting or the story lines lacking compared to other movies. So I was a bit unsure how I would feel about the new movie Risen.

I wrote the following about the improbable rise of these early Jesus followers in my book “When Bad Christians Happen to Good People” a few years ago.

History records that several alleged messianic figures were running around during the time of Christ. It is possible that some of them had followers as impressive as the twelve selected by Jesus. Jesus took twelve guys of questionable attributes and built the largest faith in the world.

Not one of the other would-be messiahs’ influence made it into the second century, let alone the twenty-first. So our calendar is dated by the birth of Christ. Does it not pique your curiosity that such a band of men could have such a global impact? No other man in history has had a greater effect, yet His ministry lasted only three years and ended in betrayal and a criminal execution. His blue-collar band of disciples led a religion that turned the world upside down. His disciples scattered and, on the way out the door, denied Him. And yet something transformed them, and they later had the courage to stand against persecution and even death to proclaim His truth. Somehow these men were persuasive enough to influence people to spread His gospel all over the globe.

Does it not seem odd that the leaders of that day who possessed absolute power could not stamp out this modest little faith? Why did they not produce the body of Jesus and put an end to the craziness once and for all? It was certainly in the best interests of Rome and the comfortable “Religious Right” of the day to quell this peasant uprising. Or, if they couldn’t produce the body, why didn’t they simply discredit the Resurrection account in such a way that no one would believe it? The resurrection of Christ is a pretty outrageous claim, and it would seem easy to refute.

That was why the story line of  Risen was intriguing to me. Historically, there was a Nazarene who was crucified. There were two groups that had a tremendous interest in making sure that was the end of his story. The Romans wanted no movement to grow that would cause political unrest. The Jewish leaders wanted to stamp out the heresy that they believed this teacher was spreading and also keep their power intact. It was a win-win for the religious leaders and Rome to eliminate this messianic hope of the people.

The story is told through the eyes of Roman soldier and Tribune Clavius. He is tasked by Herod to make sure the crazy followers of this man did not steal the body. A myth had been circulating that the Nazarene would rise again in three days so Clavius makes sure the stone is rolled into place and the tomb is sealed. Roman guards are put in place knowing they will be killed if they fail to keep the body securely in the tomb.

Three days later the body is gone and Clavius begins a desperate hunt to find the body. The battle hardened soldier cannot accept that this Nazarene named Jesus could have somehow come back to life. That is a step of faith that people are still wrestling with 2,000 years later. But it is the most important question of all if you are to put your faith in Jesus. Pastor/Author Tim Keller sums it up.

“If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said? The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”

The movie explores the imagined lengths that the Romans and religious leaders go to to quell the rumor that Jesus has risen. They try to find the body or any body that could be displayed to stop the rumors. They did not.

I struggled with these same questions forty years ago.

  • How could the body disappear?
  • How did a bunch of cowards like the Apostles become heroes of the faith and become willing to die a martyr’s death? Simply because they stole the body out of a tomb?That made no sense to me.
  • And could they have kept a lie of such massive implications secret?

I love the honest evaluation of former Watergate principle Chuck Colson.

“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”

Risen tells a familiar story with a new perspective. It is not a perfect movie. But the production values, acting and overall writing are worthy of the story. Joseph Fiennes is powerful and effective in the role of Clavius.

Honest people can view the same evidence and come up with completely different opinions. I wrestled with the claims of Jesus Christ for a long time before I decided to believe that He was who He claimed to be. And I remember feeling exactly what the fictional character Clavius felt when asked what he feared most.

“Being wrong. Wagering eternity on it.”

Author Dave Burchett's latest book is Stay: Lessons My Dogs Taught Me about Life, Loss, and Grace. You can follow him on Twitter @directordb

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