Jesus Christ Superstar

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Jesus Christ SuperstarAndrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar is a really great musical. I am aware that it was a successful stage play before it was a movie, but the 1973 movie version is what I’ve loved and seen at least once a year for most of my life. (Although I believe that the CD my family has was made with the 1996 London cast) As in all of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals, the music is incredible. Besides that, there’s something fascinating and powerful about the anachronistic setting and the opening and closing scenes that show the actors arriving at and departing from the setting. The casting is great, too. Still, it is the music that really makes Jesus Christ Superstar excellent.

But Jesus Christ Superstar is not a Christian musical. It technically is about Jesus, and the characters and events are relatively closely based on the Bible, but that’s about as much as can be said for its religious value. It is my understanding that neither Andrew Lloyd Webber nor Tim Rice consider themselves to be Christians or claim that Jesus Christ Superstar is a specifically religious movie. Although there isn’t anything that directly denies Jesus’ divinity, there certainly isn’t anything that affirms it, either, and there is no discussion of His salvific work. Very few of the lyrics even come from the Bible.

 

"Every time I look at you I don't understand why you let the things you did get so out of hand."

“Every time I look at you I don’t understand why you let the things you did get so out of hand.”

Much of the musical is shown from Judas’ point of view, and his frustration with Jesus is the main theme. After the introduction that shows the cast arriving in the desert and setting up, the movie opens with a musical soliloquy by Judas in which he rants and rails about how things have gone too far. Over the course of the movie, we see Jesus ride into Jerusalem, get betrayed and arrested, appear before Pilate and Herod, and get sentenced to crucifixion. Throughout all of this, we see Jesus’ other followers’ devotion to him, his apprehension concerning his upcoming death, and Judas’ confusion and conflict as he decides to hand Jesus over and then regrets it. In the end, Judas hangs himself, Jesus is sentenced to death, and, before the crucifixion scene, there is a concluding song and dance number in which Judas and a group of scantily clad female backup singers sing the title song, asking questions about Jesus’ identity and mission that the movie never answers. At least this movie shows the crucifixion as being the most significant aspect of Jesus’ life, which is more than some movies about Jesus do. But Jesus Christ Superstar completely leaves out the resurrection. It’s almost as if Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice didn’t know what to do with it, so they ignored it.

At any rate, ending the movie with the resurrection would have detracted from the emphasis that the movie puts on Judas’ questions to and about Jesus. It’s actually really sad that the movie ends the way it does. To quote 1 Corinthians 15:17, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” And anyway, the questions that are asked in Jesus Christ Superstar would not be left unanswered if this was a Christian movie that portrayed the resurrection. Okay, I get that the line “Who are you, what have you sacrificed?” is there because “sacrificed” rhymes with “Christ”, and that it’s completely obvious what Jesus sacrificed. But the song asks other questions, including “Do you think you’re what they say you are?” and “Did you mean to die like that; was that a mistake?” At that point in the movie, Jesus is done talking. There is no final song in which Jesus responds to Judas and to agnostic viewers who share Judas’ questions. This portrayal of Jesus never explains that he is to die to atone for the sins of humanity and to bring salvation and eternal life. He just dies and disappears, and the rest of the actors break character and climb back onto the bus and leave without him. The end.

 

It's harder to see in a still image than the video, but you can still sort of see the shepherd dude near the left hand side.

It’s harder to see in a still image than the video, but you can still sort of see the shepherd dude near the left hand side.

But then, in the last couple seconds of the movie, something cool happens. We get a view of the sun setting behind the cross that the actors have left behind, and the faint image of a human figure walks across the frame. This was actually a blooper; when they were shooting the movie, they accidentally caught a random local shepherd on film, but they thought it was a cool visual effect, so they used it. I don’t know whether or not they even realized that it really looks as if the shepherd is Jesus Himself. That final image almost seems as if it is an acknowledgement of the resurrection after all. I’m not going to claim that this was divine intervention; God doesn’t need to miraculously show His hand by speaking through secular art when He already communicates with us via the Bible. But it’s pretty satisfying to see that, despite their efforts, the moviemakers were incapable of totally ignoring the resurrection.

Happy Easter! He is risen!

Easter

A Good Friday Blog Post with Greek Words in It

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Jesus' arrestI noticed something fascinating and awesome during the Good Friday service today. It was in the Passion reading from John 18 and 19, and the particular verse was John 18:8, when the chief priests and officers have arrived in the garden of Gethsemane to arrest Jesus. Twice, Jesus asks them who they are seeking and they say, “Jesus of Nazareth.” John 18:8 is Jesus’ response the second time. In the ESV, the verse reads, “Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.’” The bit that made me notice something fascinating and awesome was the “let these men go” bit. I remembered hearing on Worldview Everlasting, my favorite youtube addiction, that there’s a certain Greek word that is often translated “forgiven” that can also be translated as something along the lines of “sent away” or “separated”, among other things. (Which is really interesting, because it means that the phrase “your sins are forgiven” is equivalent to “your sins have been sent away”)

Even after much searching, I have failed to find the Worldview Everlasting video in question, and I actually don’t remember exactly what it said or which verse it quoted. (Although I think it may have been Matthew 9:2) I did, however, find the Greek word in question.  It is αφίημι and the various forms thereof. For example, the last phrase of Matthew 9:2, “Your sins have been forgiven” in the ESV, is “αφίενταί σου αί αμαρτίαι”in Greek.  αφίενταί, according to a certain library book, is the present passive third-person form of αφίημι.  And the beginning of Matthew 6:12, “And forgive us our sins/debts/trespasses” (in the Lord’s Prayer) is “καί άφες ημίν τά οφειλήματα ημων.”  άφες  is the second-person imperative active form of αφίημι. I have here in front of me a book that has approximately a bajillion examples of places where forms of αφίημι are found in the Bible, with a variety of different English translations depending upon the context. The point is that it is indeed a word that means forgive/ let go of/send away, etc.

The other point is that John 18:8 is in that list. (Or at least, it’s presumably there somewhere; I can’t actually find it at the moment, and I am hereby acknowledging that, just in case I’m wrong that it’s a form of the same word.) According to the internet, in the Greek, John 18:8 reads, “απεκριθη Ιησους, Ειπον υμιν οτι εγω ειμι. ει ουν εμε ζητειτε, αφετε τουτους υπαγειν”, except that I left out all of the accent marks and stuff because I’m too lazy to deal with them. (Also, some things, like the breathing marks over leading vowels, don’t appear to exist on Microsoft Word. That’s annoying.) The part that the ESV translates “Let these men go away” is the part that says “αφετε τουτους υπαγειν” in Greek. (Incidentally, τουτους is a pronoun, not a noun, so wouldn’t it make more sense for the English translation to be “Let them go away”?) αφετε is evidently the second-person imperative form of αφίημι. That’s not speculation; I looked it up to be sure, and that is indeed what the plural second-person imperative of a Greek verb is supposed to look like.

So, to make a long story short, I have spent the last few hours using various books and internet resources to verify that the Greek word used in John 18:8 was indeed the word I thought and hoped it was. A better and much quicker way to verify this would have been to ask Pastor before I left church, because the fact that I don’t actually know Greek rather holds me back from knowing what stuff means in Greek. But, y’know, on Good Friday we’re supposed to leave church in silence, so that’s what I did.

crucifixThe interesting point that I have thus far failed to make is that it’s cool that the word used in John 18:8 is the same as the word translated “forgive” because of the reason Jesus was being arrested, and then crucified. At the moment of his arrest, Jesus told his captors to forgive/let go his disciples, rather than arresting them too, just as, through his death on the cross, Jesus forgave/let go us from our sins, rather than condemning us for them.

The point of all this, in summary, is that forgiveness and salvation come through Christ’s sacrifice. Yeah, that’s basically what I was getting at here.

Happy Good Friday!

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Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53: 4-5)

 This may seem strange, but I absolutely love Good Friday. Even though it’s a sad and somber holiday, I enjoy it, look forward to it ahead of time, and consider it one of my favorite days of the church year. For one thing, some of my favorite hymns are Good Friday hymns, such as O Sacred Head Now Wounded and Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted.

Of course, another part of the appeal of Good Friday is the fact that it’s just two days before Easter. When one is sitting in church singing something like O Sacred Head Now Wounded, one knows that Jesus Christ is Risen Today and Awake, My Heart, with Gladness are just around the corner. Nothing can negate the atrocity of Jesus’ crucifixion and of the sin that made it necessary, but the salvation that comes from Good Friday and the Resurrection make it an occasion that can be observed with gladness as well as with sorrow.

Basically, Good Friday and Easter each imply the significance of the other. The Gospel is not absent from Good Friday because salvation comes from the cross, and the Law is not absent from Easter because Jesus’ death and resurrection were necessitated by sin. Really, every church service has both Good Friday and Easter in it.  (‘Tis good to be Lutheran)

That’s what makes the aforementioned Good Friday hymns so awesome. They’re about sin and death, but they’re also about grace and salvation.

Here we have a firm foundation, Here the refuge of the lost; Christ’s the Rock of our salvation, His the  name of which we boast. Lamb of God, for sinners wounded, Sacrificed to cancel guilt! None shall ever be confounded Who on Him their hope have built. (Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted, verse 4)