"The Chosen" and more deeply experiencing the love and grace of Jesus, Part 1

Have you ever been reluctant to watch a show people are raving about because it sounded hokey? Or, maybe it just sounded too good to be true?

I've certainly been there, and frankly, I initially felt that way about the series called "The Chosen."

If you haven't heard of the show though, you are likely in the minority.  Based on some quick web-research, “The Chosen” is the first multi-season series about the life of Jesus, and season one was the top crowd-funded series project of all time.  Not only that, apparently to this point the series has been viewed by more than 200 million viewers. Yes, 200 million viewers!

So, there must be something worth watching here…the bigger question though is it good for Christians, or especially Christian leaders, to watch it?  I hope this blog (and future ones) will begin to give you a clear sense about some of the reasons it so worth watching again and again.

My wife was the one who convinced me to watch it, and actually, it took a while for my passion for the series to begin to border on obsession, or at least that's what my kids are inclined to say.

What makes it so very powerful, and how might watching it deepen your experience of the transforming love of Jesus?

The best way to answer that question of course is by watching the series, but let me start by hitting on one of the most powerful elements of the series, to ideally give you a greater motivation to watch it yourself.

Our brokenness and powerful back stories

While this is a painful reality, what can unite us more than anything else, is our common brokenness.  Our personal brokenness, those areas where know we have fallen short, and what we wish we could just dream away, is what we most love to hide, and yet it is also the area that can provide the avenue to our deepest connections with God and others.

It can be incredibly tempting for us to avoid our own brokenness, often due to a fear of feeling our own shame, or the nasty sense of helplessness and powerlessness that often come up if we even consider addressing it.

But, when we can be known and loved in our brokenness, it paves the way to remarkable freedom and healing.

And, when we (and especially Christian leaders), can talk in compelling ways about how Jesus has and is healing us from our brokenness, it creates deeper connections with those we love and serve, and gives greater hope for others to experience more of life to the full as well.

The thing is though, we often need examples of seeing someone else’s brokenness healed before we have hope for ourselves.

Gratefully, in “The Chosen” we have been really blessed by how series creator Dallas Jenkins and his writing team have created highly compelling backstories for some of the main characters; stories that provide an amazing opportunity to see how Jesus might have ministered to their substantial brokenness, in ways that can give us living hope for our own.

While Dallas and his team fully acknowledge these backstories are speculative, their goal in creating them is to help bring the massive, glorious love of Jesus to life in ways that hopefully most of us simply can’t miss.

In a future blog or two, I will explore other characters and their backstories to help the love and grace of Jesus come to life, but the one I have to start with is Mary Magdalene.  Her story brings great hope for our own.

Mary Magdalene, Jesus, and our brokenness

One of the most powerful illustrations of Jesus entering someone's brokenness comes through the very first episode.

We are introduced to Mary Magdalene as a precious young girl early in the first episode. In a tender scene, we see Mary's dad comforting her when she is afraid, patiently helping her memorize Isaiah 43:1–2.  She is a sharp girl, and faithfully repeats the famous words: “…Thus says the Lord who created you, and who formed you: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.’"

Later, we meet Mary in a dramatically different place.  She apparently lost her dad shortly after learning the above verse, and tragically, with losses that seem to have just multiplied, Mary is now a demon-possessed prostitute in her late 20s going by the name of "Lilith." She is far from her home town, living a broken, shame-ridden life.

Next we see a “customer” she was with running out of her room, screaming and bleeding after Mary’s demons took over when he started to get rough with her.  She is now filled with even more shame and hopelessness as she looks at her disheveled state in her ransacked room.

In looking around the destroyed room, she sees the primitive doll she kept from her childhood, that somehow has held a portion of the same Scripture her dad taught her when she was little.  Hoping against hope, she desperately reads it, hoping it will set her free.  But, no such luck.

Given how unbelievably awful her life is, and how incredibly powerless she feels to change her life, Mary decides to take her life.

Yet, through what appears to be divine intervention, she doesn’t kill herself and ends up back at a bar she regularly frequents.

In that very bar, Jesus shows up.  Yes, sir!

As she is desperately trying to drown her sorrows in alcohol, Jesus intervenes before she can take her first sip by placing his hand on hers and strongly saying, "That's not for you."

His loving presence appears to awaken the demons in her, leading her to clutch her head in pain.

She impulsively leaves the bar and Jesus follows her. She tells him to leave her alone and, completely unexpectedly, he calls her by her given name Mary.  She stops in her tracks. Then he even gets more precise and says: "Mary of Magdala."

She is so stunned she drops the drink she carried out of the bar.  It shatters on the ground.  She turns and asks who he is and how he knows her name. He slowly walks toward her, and with conviction begins reciting the very Scripture she had memorized as a little girl. "Thus says the Lord who created you, and who formed you: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.’" She is irresistibly drawn towards him, and after finishing citing the verse to her that he is literally fulfilling, he gently takes her head in his hands and heals her from her demonic possession.

It is one of the most stunning and moving things I've ever witnessed on screen.

Jesus has rescued her, and the demons are gone.  She has heard THE MESSIAH tell her not to fear, and then he tells by words and actions, even though she is riddled with shame and regrets, rejected and scorned in particular by the pastors of her time, that SHE IS HIS.

She is no longer defined by what she was, or by her losses, but by HIM and His pure and unbelievably redemptive love for her.  Darkness and shame have lost their massive grip on her and she is free like she hasn’t been since she was a little girl.

Dear reader, her story is at some level my story, and your story.

Just as Jesus rescued a woman so many had dismissed or exploited, a woman that seemed massively beyond hope or healing, he is willing to go the worst places in our stories and redeem them. His love is so big that he is delighted to declare us His own when we feel no one could possibly want us.

He is not afraid of our brokenness or shame or regrets.  He never thinks we are too far gone for his love.  His patience for our glacial-like transformation is beyond our comprehension.

While nearly all of us may know this intellectually, as we watch it on the screen in Mary’s life, it can become so much more real.

Potential action step

If you are compelled to put some potential legs on this, I encourage you to think about inviting Jesus into one of your tougher memories from your own backstory.  Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your prayer and reflection about the event, and see what the Lord may do to bring some healing into your story, as Jesus did in Mary’s.  That has been incredibly powerful for me in my own healing journey, and I am confident Jesus can do some very similar work in yours.  (I will likely write more about that method in the future.)

To watch the episode yourself, you can find the series, at least season one, on Amazon prime, or else on “The Chosen.tv”. You can also find it by looking up: Angelstudios.com/the chosen.

Wrapping up

I hope these words encourage you in and of themselves. But even more so I hope you watch these episodes yourself, so that you can experience first-hand how much of the love of Jesus comes through the screen.

May it help you receive more of his grace and love on levels you’ve never received before, and also equip you to extend the same to others, all for God’s wondrous glory.

Stay tuned for future posts about other powerful elements in “The Chosen!”