The Bible. Just the phrase sends messages, signals, and feelings to our hearts and minds, and around the world. It’s the best-selling book in human history, and one that the majority of humanity (including me), believes to have been inspired by God, with myriad interpretations of what that means.
I grew up on Bible stories, some of the best stories in human and divine history. We learned them as kids, were amazed at the images and lessons, and they were ingrained into our thinking and acting. So I watched with great delight as my sons, Luke and Jack, saw the first episode of “The Bible,” a History Channel special series that began this past Sunday and runs the five weeks through Easter. Film and television personalities Mark Burnett and Roma Downey are behind this, with a legion of others. They expect it to eventually be seen by 1 billion people.
The first Sunday show was a very dramatic depiction of the creation story, Noah’s Ark, Abraham’s call to come out to a new land, the birth of Ishmael and Isaac, the almost sacrifice of Isaac, Hebrew slavery in Egypt, Moses' call at the burning bush, and the Exodus through the Red Sea — all in two hours! I loved watching my 9-year-old Jack watch the stories with such excitement. “I know this story!” he would say and tell us what was about to happen. “I don’t know this one,” he would then comment, and we would discuss it. We had a conversation about the scary sacrifice of Isaac before bedtime, trying to figure that one out. I told him I couldn’t have been as obedient as Abraham was.
The producers, Mark and Roma, asked me and a number of other theologians and pastors to view some of the clips ahead of time and do commentaries on them for “The Bible” website. I am including the clips I commented on at the end of this column. What won me over to the whole series was the clip about Jesus meeting Peter, the fisherman.
In my favorite clip of the series, Jesus sees Peter out on the Sea of Galilee, and boldly walks out into the water to Peter’s fishing boat. The incredulous young fisherman asks this guy what he is doing! Jesus responds by asking Peter to help him into his boat, and then tells him to cast his net into the sea again to catch some fish. Peter cynically says there are no fish today, but Jesus persists. Something about Jesus makes Peter decide to throw his net back into the water and, you know the story, the net is filled with fish! Over and over again.
Astonished now, Peter asks Jesus how this happened. Jesus doesn’t really answer the question but instead, gives his famous invitation to Peter — come with me and I will make you a fisher of men. “What are we going to do,” Peter asks Jesus, which is a wonderful question. And I love the answer Jesus gives, which is in all the promotions of “The Bible” series, “Change the world.”
That’s what we are going to do: change the world. Not just to save a few people from hell and get them to heaven, not to judge all the non-Christians, not to abandon the earth for mansions in the hereafter, not to make sure we all believe the right doctrinal things … No, Jesus came to change the world and us with it. To join him is to join the changing of the world with the in-breaking of a new order called the kingdom of God.
In a Washington, D.C., premiere of “The Bible” series a few weeks ago, I had wonderful conversations with Mark and Roma. Mark asked me if they were right to have Jesus say that he wanted to change the world. Those words are not literally in the scriptures, but it seemed to him and Roma that’s exactly what Jesus was talking about. Absolutely correct, I told them both. And we went through the first few chapters of Mathew which demonstrate that truth. I love the clarity and courage of the statement from Jesus in “The Bible.”
Ananias and Paul
David and Goliath
Peter Fishing with Jesus
The Burning Bush
The Last Supper