It comes without glitz. It comes without sex. It comes without computer generated imagery (CGI) — oh my! What? A biblical movie without Hollywood’s gruesome graphics or DeMille’s epic grandeur? Without these bells and whistles how will the movie “Paul, Apostle of Christ” captivate moviegoers?
Answer: through the power of faith, love and grace. Now before you yawn at that list, let me assure you the movie is anything but ho-hum!
The power of faith
Most of us today don’t equate faith with power. And by most accounts it would appear in this movie that Paul and the Christian faith are all but doomed. Set in Rome during the notorious reign of Nero, we find old man Paul in a prison cell awaiting execution and other Christians being tortured in despicable ways – if not exiled or executed then hiding from Roman authorities. Yes, it seems The Way has lost its way.
But in reality it is because of the faith of the Christians — largely due to Paul’s magical ministry tour – that makes for a Nervous Nero. The emperor is so frightened by these Christ followers and their belief system that he uses them as a scapegoat for the fire he set to Rome.
Though much of the cruelty is inferred rather than graphically portrayed, we still experience what the horrific political climate must have been like for our ancestral believers. With their leader in prison, the Christians wrestle with their own faith and wonder which path to take. Is it one of revolution, of escaping? They look to Paul for the answer – to inspire and lead like he has always done — but just to reach him in the prison cell could mean sudden death.
The power of love
Without giving away too many of the details, Luke and Paul are reunited even at great risk. The friendship, the love, the playful banter is a joy to watch between these two men who, despite their difference in ages, have endured much together. Paul recounts many of these past trials while some are detailed in flashbacks. His story is truly amazing, adventurous, heroic and humbling.
As we know, Luke (as in the ‘Gospel of…’) also transcribed some of Paul’s words. Those who know their New Testament will find themselves smiling at familiar verses entwined in their dialogue: a true treasure trove. Not only was Luke a missionary, a meticulous historian, but he was also a great physician. Obviously an intellect and possibly wealthy at one time, he gave up that life to work alongside Paul in spreading the Gospel. He remained his faithful companion to the end.
We see the Bible come to life in Paul’s words, which are the core of Christ’s teaching. Love is the answer. It becomes paramount when anxieties are running high in the Christian hideout. Here we meet Aquila and Priscilla, who were real life husband and wife missionaries. We see the heartache they experience, also searching for answers. Factions start to develop as hope seems to have been extinguished. We are enveloped in the scene and find ourselves wandering, too, what we would do. To have faith and overcome evil with love seems radical and maybe even reckless — especially given their pagan-serving, diabolical leader.
Yet, even in the midst of this literal circus of heinous crimes, Paul and Luke speak of the joy that is set before us in Christ Jesus. It is this message that helps us “endure all things.”
The power of grace
But perhaps the greatest message of the movie is one of God’s unfathomable grace. Though many today have disagreed in what Paul’s thorn in the flesh might be, the filmmakers do a brilliant job in depicting what a “messenger of Satan, to torment me” may look like. As we know Paul, who used to be known as Saul of Tarsus, was a zealous Pharisee devoted to killing the “blasphemous” Christ followers. At his command many were killed, thus leaving him with these blood stains that haunted him after his miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus. Though we may not have murder on our hands, many of us have sins that make us shudder in shame. And though we know Christ died for our sins and it is through his grace that we are saved, there may be a moment — as with Paul in the movie — where we truly see that his grace is sufficient.
This is a wonderful film that will strengthen your faith. Rarely do we see this period of the Bible depicted much less how the Christian faith and the Roman Empire impacted each other historically. For those unfamiliar with Paul’s story and the early church, it may be beneficial to be given a backdrop to what was happening during that time prior to seeing the film. They, too, will benefit from this movie and perhaps come to know God’s great grace.
And, as with all faith-based films, it is imperative to buy tickets in advance for opening weekend to ensure these films have a secured and ongoing presence in theaters.
*March 23 – In theaters. Rated PG-13. Starring Jim Caviezel, Oliver Martinez, and James Faulkner. Presented by Affirm Films. Directed by Andrew Hyatt. Go to PaulMovie.com @PaulMovie.
Chris Alexander is a freelance writer and an aspiring humble servant of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Contact her at [email protected] .