Last Friday, my father and I had a chance to see Director Andrew Hyatt’s “Paul, Apostle of Christ.” If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, then you know that I don’t often write movie reviews and if I do, it’s usually because the movie was a depraved piece of soul-melting, mind-numbing garbage. In other words, I’m usually trying to warn you to steer clear of most of what Hollywood excretes these days. Just visit my “Entertainment” category tag and see for yourself.
Thankfully, this is not the case for “Paul, Apostle of Christ.” The movie is arguably one of the most powerful and inspiring biblical films to date, right behind Mel Gibson’s 2004 blockbuster “The Passion of the Christ.” It’s also helpful that fans of “The Passion” are reintroduced to beloved actor Jim Caviezel, who steals the show, this time as the physician and apostle Luke. Indeed the movie could have very well been titled “Luke” or even “Luke and Paul: Apostles of Christ.” The latter title certainly would’ve made more sense, given that much of the story revolves around Luke writing down a historical account of Paul’s life and ministry, which will eventually become the Acts of the Apostles, known to Christians today as the Book of Acts. Luke also visits with many persecuted Christians, treating their wounds and offering encouragement.
Actor James Faulkner brilliantly portrays the sick and aging apostle Paul, who spends most of the film locked in a dank, dark Roman prison, where he awaits his forthcoming execution for preaching the “The Way” — the Gospel of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
The film certainly isn’t perfect by any stretch. Viewers interested in seeing Paul’s detailed story and background are only given brief flashback sequences. However, it is still quite an exceptional addition to the genre. Of course, it will undoubtedly be nitpicked by elitist Hollywood critics, most of whom have no understanding of biblical history, much less a personal love of the source material.
In other words, this is a movie that will resonate predominantly with Christ-followers. If you’re not a believer, you may find it to be slow or boring. There is very little action or edge-of-your-seat intensity. It’s not “The Avengers” or “Pirates of the Caribbean.” You might appreciate its cinematic artistry and musical score, but don’t expect this one to win any Oscars. Much of the spoken dialogue in the film is taken straight from the Book of Romans and other various excerpts of Scripture. The depth of these lines will likely only impact those who have a deep relationship with the Bible’s indescribable significance, eternal value and ongoing relevancy.
Speaking of relevancy, that’s what makes this film — and the story of Paul and Luke — so beautiful for Christian viewers in particular: It’s relatable and engaging. When you see how intensely Paul regrets his former life as Saul of Tarsus — the prominent persecutor and murderer of Christians — you can’t help but be moved by the immeasurable grace and forgiveness that God poured out upon him on the Damascus road. (Acts 9) Although this conversion moment in Paul’s life is only shown briefly in the film, it still reminds us that no Christ-follower is perfect. We all have a past. We all sin and fail. (Romans 3:23) But, when we repent from our wickedness and seek Christ, we can be forgiven through His work on the Cross. (Romans 3:24-26)
Paul is often theorized by many scholars and theologians to be the anonymous author of the Book of Hebrews. In the latter verses of chapter 10, he exhorts us to “…stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together….” Later in the movie, we meet Priscilla and Aquila — the First Century missionary couple who were close friends with Paul. They graciously open up their home and allow small groups of Christian brothers and sisters to huddle together for prayer, encouragement and support, doing precisely what the text from Hebrews commands us to do today. I was moved by the passion with which these men and women clung to their faith. These were some of the earliest church Sunday school classes and Growth Groups. And they managed to meet together without using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, text-messages, websites or Starbucks. Moreover, they did it all while risking certain death if discovered by Roman guards.
I mentioned earlier that there was little action and intensity. This is only true to an extent, as the film’s PG-13 rating reflects the graphic persecution and torture many Christ-followers endured while in Rome. For me, this was perhaps the most relevant and important aspect of the movie. As the maniacal Emperor Nero is ordering the city reduced to ashes, Christians are crucified and their lifeless corpses are burned on crosses to be used as torches to light the streets at night. Some are shackled and drug into the Roman coliseums where they’ll be devoured by lions and killed for sport (not actually shown.) Another scene depicts the slaughtering of a woman’s family off-camera. However, viewers do later see this mother covered in the blood of her dead children.
While the film certainly isn’t as violent or gory as “The Passion of the Christ,” it is still shocking enough to make its ultimate point: Christians were brutally persecuted and murdered for their faith in Jesus Christ and for preaching the Gospel. It’s no wonder that many of them spend most of the movie panicking in fear, debating whether or not they should remain in Rome as a light in the darkness or flee to another city where they could avoid oppression.
Here, the movie certainly begs the question: What would you do in the face of persecution for your faith? As American Christians, I don’t think we confront this question as often as we should. And that’s what I left this movie pondering. Would I be willing to lay down my life for my faith just like Paul, Luke and those early Christians? If I'm being honest, I have to answer: "I don’t know." I would hope so.
But, I do know this: We have no concept of true persecution. Most of us are hardly willing to taint our reputation at work or amongst our friends by revealing that we believe in Jesus. Would we really endure physical pain or even death for our Savior? Would we sacrifice our own lives so that Christianity could endure? The lives of our children? Our loved ones?
Ask yourself these deep questions. Reflect. Pray. Then go see this movie.
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