The Bible—Episode Five: The Rest of the Story

April 2, 2013

My purpose for reviewing History Channel’s five-part The Bible has centered on the ongoing need for Christians, and my Presbyterian tribe especially, to tell the full and accurate story of God’s dealing with human beings through history. The question in my mind has been whether this television series has helped or hurt our efforts, whether there is anything of use in a Christian education setting, and whether it has been a faith-builder or a doubt-caster. To the last question, I would have to say that the episodes have steadily pointed toward a God with power, purpose, and goodness. Miracles have not been dismissed with alternative natural explanations. God has been shown to intervene benevolently. And I am happy to say, in Episode Five the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not nuanced in anyway: the tomb is empty upon Mary’s inspection and Jesus appears to the disciples as the Scriptures say. That fact alone, not to mention the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, propels the disciples into evangelistic ministry, as well it should!

Makes me wonder if anybody watching this came to their own inevitable conclusion: if Jesus rose from the dead, he must be Lord and Savior, worthy to be worshiped, obeyed, and proclaimed! But I get ahead of myself . . .

The second hour of part five begins with Jesus’ mother tending her son’s body in the place of burial while Nicodemus sings a blessing in Hebrew. When Mary is finished, the large rock is pulled with a thud in front of the tomb’s entry. Meanwhile, the disciples are desolate, and Peter is downcast in his own disappointment at having denied Jesus three times. Mary departs for Galilee (an interesting contradiction to Acts 1:14 which explicitly states that Mary waits for the Holy Spirit’s coming along with the rest of the disciples), and the disciples sit tight for—what? Life looks pretty bleak and depressing on that Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Mary Magdalene makes her way to the tomb early on Sunday morning and, generally faithful to the John account, discovers the great stone rolled away and split in two on the ground! As she inspects the tomb, a voice outside calls out, “Whom are you looking for?” and Mary joyfully encounters the Risen Lord.

As first witness, she rushes back to the Upper Room with the announcement, “The tomb is open! He is alive!” Peter checks things out for himself, finds the white linens, and John with him declares, “He is gone.” Peter, with a smile, counters, “No, he’s back!” Lovely.

The resurrection reality is reinforced with appearance to Thomas the twin breaking bread with the disciples. After forty days of appearances, teaching sessions, and the great commission, Jesus disappears from sight (a faithful rendering of Acts 1:9) with the promise to send his Spirit. The disciples are not sure how they are going to know Jesus’ promised Spirit has come to them. They need not have worried, nor should we. When the Holy Spirit comes upon people, they know it! The Pentecost scene was appropriately joyful; subtitles were used to interpret what the exuberant new preachers were saying in the Spirit—all proclamations of God’s blessing and salvation in Jesus Christ.

Once again, all this ruckus in Jerusalem raises the concern of the Jewish elites. I mean, what are you to do with these people who are healing cripples right there on the street! And five thousand converts to this new way? Caiaphas is seen shouting threats to the disciples, and forbidding them to speak any longer of this healed beggar or the dead heretic. Peter simply says, “We have to keep speaking, and we are not afraid of death.”

This declaration sets the stage for Stephen’s stoning (Acts 7), the Pharisee Saul’s zeal to wipe out the fledgling movement, and Saul’s dispatch to Damascus to persecute the Christians heard to be there. Saul’s encounter with the Living Christ on the road cuts him short, blinded, and sobered. The next scene captures the fear and skepticism of Ananias, who is visited by Jesus and instructed to go find this guy Saul and tell him he is going to proclaim Christ’s gospel to the world. I loved that meeting: Ananias has his guard up and a few words of recrimination toward Saul for making life unbearable for Christians. But then Saul says he was wrong and begs forgiveness, and Ananias’ face transforms in joy and belief, offering Baptism and healing of his blindness.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, persecution against the new Christians is heating up, and the fellowship must decide whether to go or stay. Again, it is the sort of extreme harassment that forces God’s people to move out into new areas, carrying the gospel with them. But please, in the gospels, Peter does not say, “Good luck!” to John as he departs (an anachronistic lapse if ever there was one).

The rest of the story from Acts is sampled by focusing on the three epistle-writers: 1) Peter, especially his encounter with Cornelius; 2) Paul and his mission around the Mediterranean without mention of the Gentile controversy; and 3) John, all the way to his exile on Patmos, where he received “the revelation” from Jesus personally, and the promise of “no more death, mourning, crying, or pain.” This is the nod to the last book of the Bible, and the rest of the story has been told.

There is so much to digest for the casual viewer. But one strong impression must be that it is costly to hold on to belief in Jesus, and people were willing to die rather than recant their faith. Christendom, on the wane in the United States at least, no longer protects Christian believers from social discomfort and demands for political correctness. I daresay the time is coming when we, too, will experience tribulation as we hold to a biblical faith, a way of life with Jesus as Lord and, yes, King. Some day the gospel will be considered so offensive to enlightened American life as to be completely marginalized.

One question The Bible repeatedly raises: How tightly do we want to hold our faith? Are we serious about the One in whom we believe, or are we doing this church thing for purposes of personal blessing, comfort, and power?  The Bible forces us to consider the possibility that saying Yes to Christ is accepting a difficult, narrow road of obedience and faithfulness even as this devotion rattles the powers that be. Presbyterians have been tested within the processes and politics of life together. It is not always easy, in a presbytery meeting, to stand and proclaim Jesus as the One Lord and only Savior, the Bible as the authoritative and sufficient Word of God, and the call to holy living according to that Word. But we are reminded once again by this five-part television series that it is a long road with only a prayer and a promise to comfort us, that God remains sovereign and purposeful, and that he is trustworthy and present to help us persevere to the end. Maranatha!


8 Responses to “The Bible—Episode Five: The Rest of the Story”

  1. RL McNabb Says:

    Pastor Mary has done a wonderful job reviewing this History Channel Series and a great service to the community of Christians. Thank You so much from a group I have forwarded the series to.

  2. Gwen Brown Says:

    Amen, Rev.Mary. I treasure your insights and will pass them on to my congregation.

  3. Linda Lee, mukilteo Says:

    Yes! Thank you for these summaries and observations, given out of your wisdom and knowledge. This is so helpful
    as we view the overall affect of this movie series.

  4. George McIlrath Says:

    Well done, again, Mart. WELL Done.
    Thnx. George McIlrath

  5. George McIlrath Says:

    Let’s spell check the above to:
    Well done, Mary. WELL done!

  6. Chas Jay Says:

    Thanks Mary, for the reviews and I’m thankful that Roma Downey and Mark Burnett for the production that started from prayer. Amen!
    I so appreciated the listing of what happened to each of the disciples. We’ve lived a very comfortable existence as His followers in this country and we are the exception to the rule. apostles were put to death for spreading the Gospel except John because he survived only to be exiled. I needed that reminder that we are to die to self, pick up our cross and follow Him. Our brothers and sisters in other countries are being put to death and we need to pray constrantly for them. We also need to be alert of what is happening within our own nation as I expect we are about to no longer be “comfortable”

  7. Jodie Says:

    “Some day the gospel will be considered so offensive to enlightened American life as to be completely marginalized.”

    See, now, that is not how the early Christians felt about the Gospel.

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