In one of the many riots stirred by the preaching of the Apostle Paul, the rabble-rousers said of him and his disciples: “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:6, NKJV)
The tyrannical Emperor Nero was so afraid of the Christians ‘turning the world upside down’ that he imprisoned and tortured countless believers – including the great early church leaders Paul and Peter.
Some Christians caught in Nero’s persecution were doused in oil and set on fire as torches to light the streets of Rome at night. Others were thrown to the wild beasts in what the Romans called “the Circus.”
The new movie, “Paul: Apostle of Christ,” opens in the midst of this reign of terror.
Paul (James Faulkner) is imprisoned by Nero in the infamous Mamertine Prison when Luke (Jim Caviezel), his faithful disciple and companion sneaks into the prison to give him comfort – risking his life and his freedom.
In addition to bringing comfort to Paul, Luke is also seeking to bring encouragement to the Christians of Rome facing either execution or exile. Luke shares with Paul his fear and anger after seeing a Christian woman entering a secret Christian compound covered in the blood of her child, killed along with her husband by the Romans.
“I feel no love for these Romans,” Luke cries out in frustration. “This evil makes no sense to me. I saw them burn one of our own” (as a human torch).
“We cannot repay evil for evil,” Paul responds. “Evil can only be overcome with good. Love is the only way.”
“This world doesn’t know a thing about love,” Luke responds angrily.
Speaking of his road to Damascus experience, Paul reminds Luke, “We cannot forget what it was like to be lost and found. I wanted vengeance … I hated these followers of Christ.”
“Where sin abounds, grace abounds more,” Paul concludes.
Luke urges Paul to send a message to their brothers and sisters suffering for their faith, but Paul doesn’t feel he has anything left to give. “I cannot fix their faith,” he declares.
“You can inspire their faith,” Luke responds. “The day I heard you preach I saw Christ in you. I gave up my life in response.”
Paul ponders the question, then replies there is to be no retribution: “As the Lord spoke from the cross, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’”
“They will know us by our love. This is the way.”
To encourage the suffering Christians in Rome and beyond, Paul and Luke decide to write about his life and ministry. That book would become the Acts of the Apostles.
Luke carries Paul’s message to the Christians hiding in fear in their compound. When some of the young men call for revenge and violence, Luke responds. “I have seen Paul flogged and stoned and he never raised a hand. Love is the only way.”
In our own age of increasing division, strife, and violence, “Paul: Apostle of Christ” is a reminder of the timeless message shared in First Corinthians 13:8 – “Love never fails.”
As I viewed the film, I thought of the peaceful resistance movements of Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States and of Mahatma Gandhi in India. In both instances, in the face of cruel persecution, these men held fast to the same teaching espoused by Paul – “Love is the only way. Love never fails.”
There are more Christian martyrs today around the world than at any other time in history. According to George Weigel, senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.: “More Christians died for the faith in the twentieth century than in the previous nineteen centuries of Christian history combined.”
As nations, religions, and philosophies clash around the globe, the message of love demonstrated in “Paul: Apostle of Christ” is as relevant today as it was in First Century Rome.
The writing in this movie is superb. The acting is stellar – with notable performances by one of the bright lights of Hollywood, Jim Caviezel as Luke; and also by James Faulkner in the role of Paul, and Olivier Martinez as the conflicted Roman Centurion, Mauritius. Special recognition should be given to Joanne Whalley, an underappreciated Hollywood veteran who always delivers a strong performance.
Scripture comes to life in dramatic fashion in the moving “Paul, Apostle of Christ.” I strongly recommend this film for your family, your church, and your community.
Opening in theaters March 23rd.
Learn more at www.paulmovie.com