Here I go, stating the obvious again. I seem to have a knack for doing that in my titles. Certainly nothing will draw readers in like telling them something that everyone and their dog already knows. Assuming that their dogs read or watch movies, that is. And it would also be helpful if they had a basic grasp on theology.
Anyway. The point.
I don’t really take issue with drawing theological parallels to movies. I’ve sat under a number of sermons that referenced a movie, or even played a clip from it, to illustrate a pastor’s point. I’ve seen/heard references to Lord of the Rings (particularly The Return of the King), Gladiator, The Patriot… and even Jurassic Park. No, I’m not kidding about that last one. I wish I could remember what point it was supposed to convey. Probably had something to do with spiritual warfare.
At any rate, Braveheart may well be the most-referenced movie in sermons and books ever (although I imagine LOTR has given it a run for its money). And to a point, I can understand that. I can appreciate the imagery of the unspeakable doom which befalls any evildoer stupid enough to touch the bride of the Warrior-King. I can understand the visual of what a difference faith/hope makes in winning a battle. I can see the heroism of the martyr who will cry out for justice with his dying breath.
But in all of our parallels, we have to remember… Jesus is not Braveheart. Not even close.
In our good ol’ American paradigm, we revere the freedom fighter. We kind of have to. Our nation was founded on it. We love the picture of the hero who finally has the nerve to go toe to toe with injustice, spit in the face of the corrupt authority, and overthrow the evil overlords. As the arrows fly and the body count climbs, we cheer and root for the underdog. Go, freedom! Stick it to the man!
However, we run into a slight issue. We know that our country was founded on rebellion to oppressive government. But we also hear that our country was founded on Biblical principles. Too often we get those confused, thinking that rebellion to oppressive government is therefore a Biblical principle. It’s not.
Jesus Himself lived under an oppressive government. And unlike any other public figure in history, He had the power to singlehandedly overthrow aforementioned government, slay all His enemies with a look, and summon legions of angels to defend His cause. But He didn’t. He instead told His disciples to go above and beyond in service to the people who seemed to deserve it least — the oppressors who were ruling them. (That whole “go the extra mile” in the Sermon on the Mount? That is a specific reference to how soldiers could force a civilian to carry their armor a mile for them.) Jesus overthrew tables in the Temple, but He didn’t so much as throw a spitwad at the Roman outpost. He healed a centurion’s servant and often had dinner with tax collectors. What kind of freedom fighter is this?
When the apostle Paul said to pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-2), the man in authority at that time was Nero. That’s right, good old Rome-burning,* Christians-to-the-lions-feeding Nero. Braveheart would have had at him with a battle axe. But Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, said to actually pray for him.
But we might then wonder, what about the End Times? Isn’t Jesus coming back to make war? Isn’t He going to kill a lot of people? Won’t all the bad guys get their just deserts? Yes. Yes. And yes. But Jesus is still not Braveheart.
Consider these differences: Braveheart was initiating a rebellion, fighting tooth and nail for the freedom of his home country, attempting to shake off the oppressive regime over him. Jesus, on the other hand, is coming back to quash the rebellion that has been raging since the dawn of creation. While He is liberating the earth from the grip of sin and death, He is anything but the underdog. Seriously. This isn’t even going to be a contest. He will decidedly, firmly, and yes, meekly, lay waste to the powers of darkness — along with all human beings who sign their lives away to it. He’s not fighting so that every man can determine his own destiny. He’s crushing His adversaries to seize full, total, unchallenged rulership over the planet. He won’t run a democracy of checks and balances. He will run the most solid monarchy history has ever seen.
The main reason I care so much about this is that it’s crucial to see Jesus rightly. If we view Him through the lens of Hollywood, our image of Him (no matter how heroic) will be immensely distorted. While it’s fine to notice parallels from the silver screen, it’s dangerous to let those parallels then shape our theology. Knowing Jesus may change how we watch Braveheart, but Braveheart should not change how we know Jesus. The last thing we want is to be enamored with a fictional protagonist that bears little resemblance to our actual Lord.
This has implications to how we worship, but this also has implications to how we live. If our image of Jesus is the image of the movie hero, we will misinterpret His heart and follow in our self-created path of arrogance and rebellion. We will read Jesus’ rebukes to the Pharisees with a snicker, instead of with pain in our hearts — and then have no qualms about loosing our own tirades against religious leades in whom we perceive error. We will freely take potshots at our governmental leaders, mocking their intelligence, demeaning their character, and cheering at their failures. We will rip into other members of the Body in the name of justice. Even if the other people are completely in the wrong in all those circumstances (which is doubtful), we will have ceased to emulate Christ and begun emulating our favorite smug movie personalities.
We are not called to beat the world at its own game of malice. We are called to transcend it. Following Jesus in that “crucified life” — walking out the Sermon on the Mount — looks foolish to worldly eyes, but it is pure, unmitigated wisdom. It takes justice out of our own hands, where we would only make a mess of it anyway, with hurt people hurting people and the oppressed becoming the oppressors. It frees our heart from the pit of self-preservation. It commits our cause to the only One who has power to vindicate. If vengeance belongs to the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35), we would be wise to back way off and leave the recompense to Him. Embrace humility. Serve and pray. And let the Lord triumph in His time and in His way.
Jesus is the most profoundly meek, kind, and honoring Person we have ever known. He is also the only One able to deliver swift, untarnished justice and do exactly what is right for the maximum good of His people. He is also the almighty King of all creation who will rule with a rod of iron in perfect gentleness and righteousness.
Jesus is not Braveheart. Praise the Lord.
*Yes, there is historical debate about whether or not Nero deserves that whole “Fiddling while Rome burns” reputation, but you get my drift.