At our church we’re starting a preaching series called “Summer at the Movies” in which we allow recent movies to prompt us to discuss questions of faith. We begin the series by exploring the question of doubt, with the movie Risen as a backdrop.

I grew up attending First Presbyterian Church in Ashland, Kentucky. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t believe. Most everyone said they believed back then; the question was where you went to church. My doubts centered on the way other Christians acted. Some people seemed to insist that they had a corner on the truth; that if you didn’t believe exactly the way they did, you were going to hell. I wasn’t sure I wanted anything to do with the Christian faith if believing meant being like them.

Surveys continue to say that one of the main reasons people stay away from church is the behavior of other Christians. If the Christian faith is true, it should make you humble and confident, not arrogant and condescending. .

In Risen, Joseph Fiennes plays a Roman Tribune named Clavius who is ordered by Pontius Pilate to investigate what happened to the body of Jesus after the crucifixion.
Nothing in Clavius’ worldview allowed him to believe that a person could come back from the dead. But Clavius kept an open mind. He followed the evidence.

It is really, really sad that some Christians are an obstacle to faith for many people. But the thing is, while other Christians may be obstacles at times to people with doubts, Jesus isn’t.

In Risen, Jesus, played by actor Cliff Curtis, is gracious and understanding to Clavius. He doesn’t try to browbeat Clavius into believing. He sits with Clavius and lets him wrestle with his doubts.

The real Jesus is like that too.


It always amazes me that we celebrate the resurrection only one day a year.

We go on and about Christmas, but without the resurrection, there would be no Christian faith. Without the resurrection, Jesus would be remembered as a teacher who said some wise things, if he was remembered at all. More likely he would be forgotten, like all the other leaders of messianic movements, (there were lots of them) whose movements died with them.

In his book, Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life, Eugene Peterson examines how the risen Jesus comes alive in us. Peterson begins by noticing the sense of wonder that’s common to the resurrection accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This wonder is expressed in five ways:

First, the resurrection caught everyone totally unawares. Jesus repeatedly said he would die and be raised on the third day, but nobody believed him. Resurrection is not something we master. We have to let God continue to surprise us.

Second, no one did anything to prepare for the resurrection. No one’s worldview in the first century allowed for a person to be raised from the dead in the middle of history. So Peterson says, “Everyone is a beginner in this business. There are no experts.”

Third, marginal people played a prominent role in the story. In the same way, it will be the poor, minorities, the suffering, the rejected, poets, and children who have the most to teach us about resurrection.

Fourth, the resurrection took place quietly, without publicity or spectators. The changes the risen Jesus wants to make in us will come quietly.

Finally, the most common response to the resurrection was fear. It’s still true with us. We’re afraid when we don’t know what will happen to us, or what God wants to do in us.

Will you allow the risen Jesus to come alive in you?


In the movie Risen, Joseph Fiennes plays a Roman Tribune named Clavius who is ordered by Pontius Pilate to investigate what happened to the body of Jesus after the crucifixion. Clavius is portrayed as a good soldier, albeit ambitious. He doesn’t want to be in Jerusalem, but does his duty while he waits for better assignments to come along. He certainly doesn’t care for this current assignment, going around the city digging up dead bodies.

But a funny thing starts to happen to Clavius. Being a good soldier, he follows the evidence. Slowly he starts to realize that the person he’s looking for might actually have risen from the dead.

Christians who demand that movies stick strictly to the Biblical text will find parts of Risen not to their liking. And of course Clavius is a completely fictional character. But there is something powerful about the way he deals with the new reality he’s confronted with. Clavius could be any thoughtful person who allows his own ideas to be challenged by the facts.

In the first century, nobody believed that a person could rise from the dead. It was totally outside the worldview of both Jews and Greeks. Yet within a few hundred years, Christianity went from a small, marginalized sect to being the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.

Clavius discovered, as billions of people have since, once the evidence begins to sink in, your worldview has to change.