Because the Bible is silent about so much of Jesus’ life, people have always speculated about what His childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood might have been like. The new film “The Young Messiah” offers an imaginative, insightful take on part of those missing years.
Based on a book by bestselling novelist Anne Rice, “The Young Messiah” shows us Jesus (Adam Greaves-Neal) as a child, leaving Egypt with His family to travel to Nazareth, and then traveling to Jerusalem. Though these journeys do have a factual basis in Scripture, this is one of those areas where the Bible gives us few details. So we have the opportunity to come up with a story about what might have happened along the way—including what might have happened to show Jesus His true identity and abilities.
What “The Young Messiah” gives us is a story full of intrigue and danger, but also beauty and hope. At the same time the child Jesus is discovering who He is and what He can do, King Herod (Jonathan Bailey) is plotting to destroy Him and sending Roman soldiers after Him. The story is well told and very well acted, espeically by Sara Lazzaro as Jesus’ proud but anxious young mother. Though the pacing slows a little too much in the middle, the plot is compelling. And the production values are excellent.
But hang on a minute, you might be thinking. Is it really okay to imagine or speculate about Jesus’ life, or about any event that isn’t explicitly spelled out in Scripture? Many Christians are wary of such an idea. And in this particular case, observes blogger and author JC Lamont, there are some “condemning the movie as outright heretical and blasphemous for suggesting Jesus had to be told of His divinity and who He was.”
But we can’t have it both ways. If the Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us that Jesus knew all about who He was and what His destiny was from the very beginning of His life on earth, then we can’t just condemn a film that suggests that He might not have. We can’t say our theories are valid and orthodox and that someone else’s aren’t. And as Lamont reminds us, “Speculation is not the same as heresy. There is nothing inherently wrong with speculation.” As long as we’re true to what we do know from the Bible, God gives us room to ask questions, to explore, and to imagine.
Critic Steven D. Greydanus puts it this way: “Art can help us to imaginatively grapple with mystery, to approach it through the faculty of imagination. Artistic interpretations may not depict Jesus as he really was, but even exploring different ideas of what he might have been like can be rewarding and enriching, as long as the results aren’t clearly at odds with important truths.”
And exploring those ideas can actually help strengthen our faith. “The Young Messiah,” for instance, does us a great service by offering us a picture of Jesus’ goodness and innocence, in stark contrast to those who hate Him out of envy, selfishness, or pride. Through skillful writing and acting, the movie destroys the old cliché that portrayals of evil are more interesting and exciting than portrayals of goodness.
In this film, the heart of the viewer is irresistibly drawn to the young Jesus, as well as to His loving and protecting family. Jesus’ heart already overflows with kindness, compassion, and the desire to heal and help, even when it might put Him at risk. It’s clear that HIs family has always practiced and reinforced these virtues; we see them in action when His parents rescue and take in a young slave who was brutally attacked (Isabelle Adriani).
By contrast, those who hate Jesus, and who persecute Him and His family, are shown as the small and petty people that they are. Even the Roman centurion Severus (Sean Bean), who has been sent to kill Him, can’t help but feel admiration and awe when they finally confront each other.
In this light, the decision to have Jesus learn slowly about His true identity actually serves the story well. If He were all-knowing as well as all-good at the beginning, He would have no development or growth at all, and come across as a completely static character. His unawareness of the burden He will one day bear, even as He gradually becomes ready to bear it, draws us to Him all the more.
This Easter season is a good time to ask ourselves the question, how do we respond to Jesus? Does His goodness draw us, or do we fear His interference in our plans? “The Young Messiah” raises these questions in a powerful way, and shows us how imagination can help faith take flight.
Image copyright Focus Features. “The Young Messiah” is rated PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements.
Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog.
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