This week, on December 13, the DVD released for a new movie adaptation of an old favorite: Ben-Hur, best known from the classic 1959 rendition with Charlton Heston as the young Judah Ben-Hur.
While some viewers miss seeing Heston’s familiar face in the role, the story holds up still today – not just because of the drama and cinematic caliber but because it successfully captures and portrays truths that are amazing and even startlingly unique about Christianity. In the midst of the drama and action of the film, the gospel is subtly and compellingly presented.
- We are destined to die:
In Ben-Hur, the protagonist, Judah, is on a path toward death. He escapes death, again and again, only to find himself in a living death of bondage, anger, and fear. And he pits himself against one also determined to kill him. By one way or another, he is sure to die.
- We have a choice to make:
A chance encounter with a strange carpenter on the street exposes Judah to a different way of life.
“Hate and fear make us slaves,” the man tells him – only love is strong enough to conquer it and bring peace.
“If love is so strong, then why are we still slaves?” Judah angrily demands.
We must choose whom and what we will serve, for we will all serve something. We can seek to serve what promises to bestow power or what enables us to give up all rights to ourselves and choose a place of service and devotion.
- Someone has to take our place:
A young zealot causes no end of trouble for Judah and his family, but Judah shows mercy by voluntarily taking the blame off his shoulders. That same zealot finds himself, years later, still guilty and under the same punishment that he rightfully should have received all that time ago. Even though the innocent Judah once bore the punishment on his behalf, it is not enough to make the boy completely free. He is still as much broken, as much law breaking, and as much in need of salvation as ever.
We might commit murder, and get away with it. But someone has to pay for the consequences. Whether in this life or the next, no sin goes unpunished. If we are ever to be freed from the charge of guilt, atonement is going to have to be made by someone, somewhere, sometime.
- There is a cup we cannot drink:
When Judah sees the carpenter dragged through the streets, he is unable to get past the guards to offer him a drink of water. But the man grips his arm, with strength unexpected from one horribly beaten, and tells him, “I do it willingly.”
Then Judah witnesses him, a man he does not know, dying a death that had once been meant for him. In that time and place, he is freed from the demand of death that has trailed him. He becomes free – not because his death sentence was done away with but because another took it and fulfilled it.