What is often not know about this monumental film is that it is based on a novel, written in 1880 by an American Union general, Lew Wallace, entitled “Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ”. It is the “Tale of the Christ” post-script that catches me off guard. This post script seems ironic since the book is almost entirely about Judah ben Hur (played by Heston), and the ups and downs of his life in first century Roman Palestine.
And yet Judah’s life keeps intersecting with Jesus’ life. In one of the most moving scenes ever, Judah, who has been wrongfully arrested for a crime he did not commit, is being marched with a chain gang to row as a slave on a Roman warship. Exhausted, beaten, and thirsty, the gang collapses by a well in a village square. The village is none other than Nazareth. The local carpenter walks out, and Judah, who is denied water by the centurion guard, calls out, “God, help me”. A breath later a shadow falls over him, and it is that of Jesus. God answered his prayer, and in Jesus, God reaches down, lifts his head and gives him water. Powerful!
So, this Easter I have two Gospel truths for you to contemplate, which come to us from Scripture via the inimitable film Ben Hur. First, on the surface it appears that Judah’s life is going about its ups and downs and he keeps ‘bumping into Jesus’. But the dawning reality by the film’s end is not that Jesus’ life is intersecting with Judah’s, but rather the story of Judah’s life is being caught up in the much larger, grander story of Jesus’ life – The Tale of the Christ, that is, the Gospel. The message of Easter is not, “How can I fit God into my life?” but rather, “Through Christ my life is fit into God’s!”
And secondly, Easter tells us that God did not come to earth as a human just to make things out of wood (even if, according to Mel Gibson, they were new, trend-setting tables!). He came to heal a broken world. He came not just to give water to the thirsty, but to be a spring of living water, welling up to everlasting life (see John 4:13-14). And the Well of Everlasting Life is Jesus’ death on the Cross whose cleansing waters rinse away sin and guilt and fear. The Spring of Eternal Water bursting through the dry ground is his Resurrection from the Dead. So this Easter drink the Living Water of our Savior Jesus. And also watch Ben Hur.