Risen is an interesting take on the Gospel. It is the story of the 40 days after Christ’s resurrection told through the eyes of Roman tribune Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), whose job it is to track down the missing body of Jesus before Pilate has a revolt on his hands. The first 3/4 of the movie plays like an ancient Roman version of Without a Trace, until Clavius meets the resurrected Jesus and joins his disciples to meet Him again in Galilee for His ascension, when it really becomes a personal conversion story.
The film was well acted and well directed, even on a relatively small budget for a biblical epic. Some of the smaller roles were particularly meaningful. Mary Magdalene (Maria Botto) was authentic and strong, and I love how the story brought out her leadership role among the disciples. One of the guards of the tomb gave a gripping performance, as he drunkenly tells Clavius what really happened, drowning himself in wine because he just cannot handle what he experienced. Fiennes and Peter Firth (Pilate) were both superb, bringing a level of excellence to Risen that is head and shoulders above the typical faith-based film.
The unique perspective made it interesting and stretched my thinking in new ways. Due to the focus on Clavius, it strayed a bit from biblical accuracy, really in just one major point. During the credits, the girl behind me asked her friends, “Wait … did the Roman tribune really go with the disciples to meet Jesus in Galilee? Like, did that really happen in the Bible?” That probably says a whole lot more about the biblical illiteracy of our culture, even Christians in our culture, than it does about writer/director Kevin Reynold’s storytelling.
All of that aside, though, what struck me the most about Risen was the emphasis on the person of Jesus. Clavius spent the first 3/4 of the film looking for Jesus and the last 1/4 of it looking at Jesus. Watching Him, discovering who He was, and what He was all about. Clavius came to faith not because someone convinced him with a perfect argument for it, but because he met Jesus. The turning point for Clavius, the moment that everything changed for him was when he saw a man he knew to be dead alive again. That is the Gospel. Period.
I think many of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, can get bogged down with the theology, the questions, the intricacies of the arguments and biblical interpretation and evangelistic strategies and forget that the Gospel is about a person. It’s not the law that saves us, it’s not our works that save us, it’s not our theology that saves us, it’s Jesus who saves us. His death and resurrection. What Risen did well was remind us that our faith is about the resurrection of Jesus.
If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, and your faith is also vain. 1 Corinthians 15:14
This is my prayer for you and for me this Easter. That we meet Jesus. For the first time or the thousandth time. That we meet the risen Jesus and that knowing Him and the power of His resurrection changes our lives.