Today's post was written by and shared with permission from Rusty Wright.
Hollywood's Bible Power Couple is back – with a flourish – this time on prime-time network television.
They really take this spiritual stuff seriously. In 2012, my wife and I attended a dinner in Washington, DC, where actress Roma Downey (Touched by an Angel) announced that she and producer-husband Mark Burnett (Survivor, Shark Tank, The Voice) planned to devote the rest of their careers to creating works that honor God.
They were heading to Morocco to film a series on the Bible for the History Channel. After dinner, Burnett enthusiastically described his vision to present Jesus "as strong—powerful, impressive." 2013's The Bible series drew 100 million viewers. The couple's 2014 Son of God feature film garnered significant box-office success.
Angst and adventure
Now in 2015, they're bringing the story of Jesus' first followers to television. Their dramatic 12-part series, A.D. The Bible Continues, captures the personal angst and adventure of those tumultuous early years. It premieres Easter Sunday on NBC.
Episode 1, "The Tomb Is Open," is apt Easter fare. It begins with Peter, Jesus' disciple, breathlessly running to watch Jesus' appearance before Caiaphas, the high priest, who accuses Jesus of blasphemy deserving of death for claiming to be the Messiah. A woman says she recognizes Peter as one of the Nazarene's followers. Peter denies it vehemently, and realizes he's failed the leader he'd pledged to support.
The drama conveys conflicts – internal and external – well known to aficionados of the classic accounts, leavened with some speculative dialogue to develop the story for the screen. Peter struggles with the guilt of his denial, as does Judas with his betrayal. Roman governor Pontius Pilate and his wife argue over the wisdom of crucifying Jesus.
After the crucifixion and burial, Jesus' grieving followers wrestle among themselves with whether they should believe Jesus' prediction of his resurrection. He had told them, "The Son of Man must suffer many things … and be killed and be raised up on the third day." (Luke 9:22)
The high priest appeals to Pilate to seal and guard the tomb, lest the disciples steal the body and perpetrate a resurrection hoax. Pilate remarks that "Roman crucifixion really doesn't allow for [resurrections]." The screenwriters' deadpan worked for me.
The un-narrated presentation assumes a basic familiarity with the characters and story. A quick read of a biblical account before watching could enhance the viewing experience. For Episodes 1 and 2, I recommend the final three chapters of either, Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. And as you view Episode 1, watch for the angel. Way cool.
Episodes 3 through 12 portray stories from the first ten chapters of Acts. Viewer guides exist for those wanting to learn more.
As with their earlier biblical projects, Burnett and Downey and their team sought to be faithful to the spirit of the Bible. They take typical filmmaking liberties – combining events and condensing timelines – to represent the gist of the story without changing its basic message.
Racial and ethnic diversity
Producers took pains to involve a racially and ethnically diverse cast. "Christianity is among the most diverse movements in history," notes Downey, "so … it was important to us to find a cast as diverse and beautiful as the church is around the world. … We hope that people see themselves [in the performances]."
Cast members hail from ten nations. For example, Juan Pablo di Pace (Argentina) plays Jesus; Babou Ceesay (Gambia) is John; Chipo Chung (Zimbabwe) is Mary Magdalene.
Nothing and everything
Foreshadowing much to anticipate in the rest of the series, Episode 2 ("The Body Is Gone") highlights a key point. When Peter and John emerge from Jesus' empty tomb on Sunday morning, Mary Magdalene asks, "What did you find?"
"Nothing," John replies. "We found nothing. And everything."
Burnett, Downey, et al. are bringing timeless, inspiring stories about the "and everything" to millions of homes and hearts. May their tribe increase.
www.NBC.com/AD-The-Bible-Continues Series premieres Easter Sunday, April 5, 9 PM/8 PM Central on NBC-TV and runs for 12 consecutive Sundays.
Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively. www.RustyWright.com