Down to Earth

Of all of the various “Life of Christ” films that have been made over the years, I think one of my favourites has to be The Miracle Maker. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s an older film, an animated production that’s mostly claymation with some traditional cartoon-style animation, designed (I guess) mostly for kids.

So how does an evident kids’ film rate so highly on my personal ranking of “Lives of Christ”?

One of the unique and refreshing things about the film is its portrayal of the interactions between Jesus and the disciples (and others). It’s not all tingly music and light-of-glory, it’s a bunch of guys hanging out. Jesus isn’t some kind of demigod or unearthly figure; He laughs, He shares a joke, He gets hungry and tired. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in any other film about Jesus, and it really earths the character of Christ in a way nothing else seems to even attempt.

As an example, there’s a scene that takes place at the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus shortly after Jesus’ baptism. Jesus has evidently been telling His friends about His ministry just beginning. Lazarus says something like “It’s a big change, Jesus. I mean, last time You were here You were just fixing the door!”

Jesus’ response is perfect: “And it still works, doesn’t it?” And it suddenly becomes fully real, that oh yeah, Jesus had a “real” job for at least twelve years (assuming He started His carpentry at age 18), working with His hands to do something as mundane as fixing doors and making tables.

Just like one of us.

Or again, when He’s calling the Twelve. He walks through the crowd of His disciples, choosing those who will become the Apostles, renaming some to alternating wonder and hilarity. Peter’s new name (“I’m going to build on this rock”) provokes a kind of awe, like Thomas’ calling (“You really want… me?”), while the nickname He gives to James and John ā€“ the Sons of Thunder ā€“ provokes a general laughing agreement: “Aye, that’s them alright!”.

And it suddenly becomes fully real that Jesus was with these guys all the time for three years of travel and togetherness. Undoubtedly it wasn’t all seriousness and solemnity; there would have been lighter moments, sitting round the campfire laughing at one of the Twelve’s silly stories (because there is always one like that in any group of people).

And The Miracle Maker manages to achieve all of this without ever crossing the line into irreverence. It’s the film version of the life of Christ which really seems to “get” more than any other the idea that Jesus is Immanuel.

Part of the way it achieves this is it’s smaller scale. Many “Life of Christ” films take place on a much bigger canvas. Jerusalem of the First Century is reimagined on the scale of a modern city, even if not a megacity like New York or Tokyo. The Miracle Maker sets most of the story in its proper Galilean context, and it happens on the scale of a village, not a city. Everyone knows, or knows of, everyone else. Mary Magdalene prior to Jesus’ casting out of her demons appears in the background every so often as “crazy Mary”. Jairus and Cleopas rub shoulders as colleagues and friends. Matthew is introduced as Peter and Andrew’s local tax collector.

The deliberately small scale of the film’s clay canvas brings Jesus, appropriately, down to earth. The Son of God becomes a being of clay, in this case literal clay; though in actuality as well in His taking on of Adam’s flesh.

And yet it’s reverently done. The respect with which the Son of God is treated may be earthy and humble, the more lowly honour a man pays his friend rather than the high homage and obesiance due a king, but it is no less real for all that.

It’s an expression of an important truth. Jesus, our Immanuel. As the book of Hebrews puts it, “We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathise with our weakness, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet was without sin.”

And if Jesus really was one of us, then righteousness really is possible. Jesus walked the road we walk, faced the struggles we face, the temptations to bend the truth, justify ourselves, get proud or boastful, get greedy or lustful. He did it as a real live human, a being of clay, yet didn’t sin once.

And it’s His Spirit that lives in each one of us, if we are trusting and following Him. Righteousness isn’t just required; it’s possible.

Not that living a righteous life is what saves us and brings us into right relationship with God, but that righteousness is a consequence of being saved. I do righteousness because I am a follower of Christ, not in order to be one.

But if I am a follower of Christ, God requires that I act like one. And while it may not be possible in my own strength and power, we have the Spirit of Jesus living within.

He did it, therefore so can we. The truth of Immanuel is God coming among us in a body of clay like ours, to show us what the Father is like in terms we can see and feel and touch.

There’s a relatively new hymn that expresses it well:

King of Heaven now the Friend of sinners

Humble servant in the Father’s hand

Filled with power and the Holy Spirit

Filled with mercy for the broken man

Yes, He walked my road and He felt my pain

Joys and sorrows that I know so well

Yet His righteous steps give me hope again

I will follow my Immanuel.

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