Welcome to my supplemental guide to The Chosen. I absolutely love this show and the way it portrays Jesus and His earliest followers. Dallas Jenkins and his team have done a phenomenal job bringing the gospels to life in this epic TV series. As I write this, Season 3 is about to launch, and millions of fans all over the world are actively working to fund Season 4. I hope you’re one of them. To contribute financially to the development of this totally fresh, totally free, totally new thing that God is doing, pay it forward! Also, feel free to join the Facebook “global army” page and get involved. Lastly, feel free to comment below if this page is helpful or if you have other ideas for content.
- The Chosen: Series Index
- Season 1
- 2021 Christmas Special
- Season 2
- The Chosen: Back Story
- The Chosen: Character Guide
- The Chosen: Episode Companion Guides
- Season 1, Episode 1 — I Have Called You By Name
- Season 1, Episode 2 — Shabbat
- Season 1, Episode 3 — Jesus Loves The Little Children
- Season 1, Episode 4 — The Rock on Which it is Built
- Season 1, Episode 5 — The Wedding Gift
- Season 1, Episode 6 — Indescribable Compassion
- Season 1, Episode 7 — Invitations
- Season 1, Episode 8 — I Am He
The Chosen: Series Index
Episode 0.1: The Shepherds
Watch The Shepherds | Episode Guide coming soon
Episode 1: I Have Called You by Name
Episode 2: Shabbat
Matthew validates Simon’s claims with Praetor Quintus, Nicodemus investigates the miracle reported in the Red Quarter, and Mary receives surprise guests at her Shabbat dinner. Watch Season 1, Episode 2 | Episode Guide
Episode 3: Jesus Loves the Little Children
Episode 4: The Rock on Which it is Built
With his life and family under threat from Rome, Simon spends one last night fishing in a desperate attempt to square his debts. Andrew spots a familiar face waiting for them on the shores of Galilee. Watch Season 1, Episode 4 | Episode Guide
Episode 5: The Wedding Gift
Nicodemus interrogates John the Baptizer while Jesus and his students make their way to a wedding celebration in Cana. When the wine runs low, Mary asks her son to intervene on behalf of the bridegroom’s family. Watch Season 1, Episode 5 | Episode Guide
Episode 6: Indescribable Compassion
Episode 7: Invitations
Episode 8: I Am He
Jesus and His students complete their preparations and leave Capernaum for Samaria. Jesus meets with a suffering woman at Jacob’s Well and announces that He is the Messiah. Watch Season 1, Episode 8 (season finale) | Episode Guide
2021 Christmas Special
Episode 0.2: The Messengers
Episode 1: Thunder
Tension builds among the disciples as they wrestle with the increasing fame of Jesus in Samaria. Jesus rebukes Big James and John for their prejudice and, after a near-violent encounter, gives them a new nickname. Watch Season 2, Episode 1 | Episode Guide coming soon
Episode 2: I Saw You
A mysterious visitor seeks to meet Jesus, but the disciples are hesitant. Tension builds between Simon and Matthew. As the group heads to a new city, word arrives that Jesus’ fame is growing. Watch Season 2, Episode 2 | Episode Guide coming soon
Episode 3: Matthew 4:24
A long, exhausting day turns into night as the disciples help Jesus deal with a large crowd hoping to be healed. Around the campfire, over dinner, the group tried to get to know each other better. But tensions erupt. Watch Season 2, Episode 3 | Episode Guide coming soon
Episode 4: The Perfect Opportunity
As Jesus and the disciples head to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, a new enemy follows them, while a familiar enemy awaits. Watch Season 2, Episode 4 | Episode Guide coming soon
Episode 5: Spirit
After stirring the water, Jesus is now pursued by Simon the Zealot, Atticus, and Shmuel. John the Baptizer visits the group and tells Jesus his dangerous mission. Meanwhile, back at the camp, Mary Magdalene is devastated by an encounter with a mysterious and dangerous stranger. Watch Season 2, Episode 5 | Episode Guide coming soon
Episode 6: Unlawful
Matthew and Simon try to get along as they search for Mary in dark places. The group fears for Mary as they struggle with lack of food and bad news about John the Baptist. Meanwhile, Jesus continues to upset Pharisees across multiple regions. Watch Season 2, Episode 6 | Episode Guide coming soon
Episode 7: Reckoning
After learning of Jesus’ whereabouts, Quintus sends Gaius to arrest him. The disciples lose control as they argue about how to respond. While seeking information about where Jesus has been taken, Andrew and Philip encounter old friends. Watch Season 2, Episode 7 | Episode Guide coming soon
Episode 8: Beyond Mountains
While Jesus and Matthew prepare the content of the big sermon, the disciples spread the word while fighting amongst themselves. A high-ranking Sanhedrin member is shocked by Shmuel’s reports on Jesus. Thousands arrive for the sermon, including familiar faces. Watch Season 2, Episode 8 (season finale) | Episode Guide coming soon
The Chosen: Back Story
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He made a beautiful world, perfectly suited to our needs, and He called it “good.” God’s final act of creation was to make human beings who are enough like Him that we could have a relationship with Him. This means we were given free will – the power to choose right or wrong, good or evil. But we used this power to rebel against God, shattering our relationship with Him and making a total mess of God’s good world. Now we live with the consequences: war, famine, disease, natural disasters, broken hearts, and even death. But worst of all, our sin separates us from the Father who made us and loves us. None of this is the way it was meant to be.
But God didn’t write us off. Instead, He set in motion a plan to restore everything that human beings had destroyed. God was (and still is!) determined to dwell with us and bring us peace, joy, goodness, and love. All these things are found in Him, in His presence. That’s the life He created us to experience. And it lasts forever!
This amazing plan was nothing short of miraculous. First, God selected a man named Israel to be the father of a nation set apart for God. Israel’s descendants are the Jewish people. Then, God sent prophets throughout history to proclaim to the world that someday a Savior-King – the very Son of God, called the “Messiah” (which means “chosen one”) – would come to rescue anyone who would turn away from sin and allow Him to restore their relationship with God … and give them the life with Him God intended us to have. The Messiah wasn’t just a man, but the eternal God Himself who became a man to rescue us out of rebellion and its consequences, and to restore the world. This man was born in Palestine over 2,000 years ago in the backwater town of Nazareth. His name is Jesus. He was born miraculously, lived a perfectly sinless life (which nobody else has ever done), and sacrificed Himself for. Because He is fully human, He is qualified to die in our place, to pay the debt we owed because we rebelled against an infinitely perfect God. And because He is also fully God, His infinite goodness is enough to pay that infinite debt for everyone who comes to Him and allows Him to pay the bill for them.
Having defeated sin and conquered death by rising from the grave, Jesus has established Himself as the rightful King over creation. The way the world was meant to be is that we would be pure and good, loving and strong, and would be ruled by God Himself (specifically, by Jesus!), who is the perfect embodiment of these qualities. And that’s exactly what Jesus is doing even today: establishing His Kingdom … rescuing hopeless sinners and turning them into a new community of those who love and follow Him, and who demonstrate that they belong to Him by loving others in the same way.
That’s where “The Chosen” comes in.
This show is about Jesus’ earliest followers – what they experienced, how they interacted with Jesus, and how He changed their lives as the earliest citizens of God’s Kingdom. Their story informs the story of anyone who wants to be fully human… sins erased, new life granted, and living under the rule and reign of a perfect and powerful Savior-King.
The Chosen: Character Guide
Jesus of Nazareth
(Played by Jonathan Roumie)
God Himself became a man named Jesus, from the town of Nazareth. He is “the Messiah,” the unique both-God-and-man, who came to earth (was born as a human) specifically to die as a sacrifice that would rescue us from sin and death. Because He, having died, rose from the dead, He has inaugurated the Kingdom of God – a new community in which we are free to live the way we were meant to when God created us, free from sin and culminating in eternal life with Him.
(Played by Erick Avari)
Nicodemus is a respected leader of the Pharisees, a group of highly religious types who are experts in the Scriptures and considered themselves the leaders of the Jewish people. With rare exception, the Pharisees had become so proficient at looking good that they’d forgotten how to love people the way God would want them too, and were totally closed to new ideas. But Nicodemus is the exception. When He encounters Jesus, He is willing to consider that He just might be who He says He is.
(Played by Elizabeth Tabish)
Mary grew up believing in God, but by the time we she meets Jesus, she is demon possessed and has become a prostitute put food on the table. She has left the name “Mary” behind and goes by “Lilith.” But Jesus, because He is God, has known her even from childhood. He didn’t create her to be helpless in the face of evil and brutally used by men, but rather to be a beautiful and strong child of God. He calls her by her real name, drives out the demons, and gives her a new life of purity and dignity.
(Played by Shahar Isaac)
Simon is a hot-headed, impulsive fisherman until Jesus calls him to follow Him. Jesus promises to teach Simon how to “fish for people” (to introduce them to Jesus), and later renames him “Peter,” which means “rock.” Peter becomes the first leader of the church after Jesus returns to heaven. In the show, we see Peter trying desperately (but failing) to make his life work, until Jesus miraculously pulls him out of his self-made mess and gives him a new life … one that even includes leading God’s people.
(Played by Noah James)
Andrew is Simon’s brother and also a fisherman. He is a follower of a prophet sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus (his cousin “John the Baptizer”) until John introduces Andrew to Jesus. Andrew is also one of the earliest to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and traditionally considered to be the first person Jesus calls to follow Him. Andrew is friendly and hospitable. He is known for bringing people, including his brother Simon, to Jesus.
James “the Greater” Zebedee
(Played by Abe Martell)
James is called “Big James” in the show because of his size. He, John, and their father Zebedee are all fisherman, earning a living catching fish in the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, just like Andrew and Simon.
(Played by George Xanthis)
James’ brother, who refers to himself in the Scripture as “the one Jesus loved.” John and his brother are also nicknamed the “sons of thunder,” because of their quick tempers. Both men are changed dramatically by their relationship with Jesus, and John goes on to write the gospel of John in the Bible.
(Played by Paras Patel)
Matthew is a tax collector for Rome, so his people consider him to be a traitor. God had given the land of Israel to the Jews 2,000 years before Matthew was born. But Rome invaded Israel 100 years ago and are oppressing the people with high taxes. Plus, many tax collectors also skim off the top of what they collect. So, tax collectors were hated! But Jesus loves Matthew anyway and changes his life, so much that he goes on to write the gospel of Matthew in the Bible.
(Played by Joey Vahedi)
Thomas is a man who is always planning and calculating, always trying to figure out how to make things work. He thinks pretty highly of his own abilities until he meets Jesus, who turns his life on its head. Jesus teaches Thomas how to trust God’s work and ways, rather than his own calculations, and Thomas ultimately goes on to bring the good news of God’s Kingdom into Asia, helping untold millions over the centuries come to know God for who He really is.
For more cast information, check out IMDB.
How did Jesus’ 12 Apostles Die?
I was recently asked this, and realized that I didn’t have adequate answers. We know that Judas, who betrayed Jesus, killed himself. A disciple named Mathias replaced Judas (see Acts 1:15-26). The Scriptures record that James the Greater was martyred (which just means “to be killed because you bore witness to something,” in this case, who Jesus is) by beheading (see Acts 12:1-2). But that’s all the Bible has to say about how Jesus’ closest followers died. Alternatively, church tradition has a lot to say, but that has to be taken with a grain of salt. In any event, check out Foxe’s Book of Martyrs for more info, or this excellent GotAnswers.org article answering the question: How did the Jesus’ disciples die? Ultimately, if tradition is to be believed, every one of the 12 (plus Paul, the “13th apostle”) was violently murdered for his faith, except for John, who died of old age after his exile to the Island of Patmos.
The Chosen: Episode Companion Guides
Season 1, Episode 1 — I Have Called You By Name
Season 1, Episode 2 — Shabbat
The Bible begins by telling the story of how the universe was made. By the unparalleled power of His very words, God created light and dirt and plants and buffalo from absolutely nothing. And after that, He created human beings, who are His masterpieces. But that wasn’t the last act of creation. The last thing God did “on the seventh day” was rest.
What’s that about? Was God tired? Worn out from a grueling hard work of making the world? Hardly! But although an infinitely powerful God doesn’t get tired, He knew that the created beings He loves (us!) do get tired. So, as He often does in Scripture, God gives Himself human characteristics to teach us about Him and about ourselves … He “rests.” He stops working. He spends the 7th day much differently from the other six … and He commands us to do the same. He even gives this 7th day a special name: “Shabbat” (transliterated from Hebrew, it means “rest”).
This is why there’s a 7-day work week anywhere Judaism or Christianity have had historic influence. It’s because the God who made us commands us in Scripture, “Remember the Sabbath day (Shabbat!), to set it apart as special: You have six days to labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work—you or anyone in your household, your guests, or even your animals. For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it to be set apart as special” (Exodus 20:8-11).
So, from early days, the Jewish people (who counted a “day” from 6pm to 6pm) would stop all work at 6pm every Friday night, have a special sacred dinner together, and then rest until 6pm Saturday night. No work was done during this time, only rest and family gathering and worship. They would even prepare meals in advance, so they wouldn’t have to cook on the Sabbath. And cleanup waited until Saturday night after Shabbat ended. Christians, the first of whom were Jews, moved this special holy day to Sunday because that was the day Jesus rose from the dead.
God issued this command about Shabbat many centuries before Jesus was born. In fact, it’s the 4th of the famous “ten commandments.” By Jesus’ day, however, the Pharisees – Remember them? They were the religious leaders of the day – had created literally hundreds of rules about what you could and could not do if you wanted to honor God’s command to follow His example and rest every 7 days. God’s idea seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? Well, not to the Pharisees! They made up so many rules about it that it took 39 categories to organize them all. I’m exhausted just thinking about it … and the people in Jesus’ day were way more exhausted trying to live it out. They wanted to honor God, and they were an oppressed people who needed regular times of rest and worship, just as God predicted. (That’s why He made the rule in the first place!) But the Pharisees were so caught up in trying to be perfect, and show off how perfect they were, that they made life harder not easier for the people, especially on Shabbat. This greatly troubled Jesus, who knew that God created Shabbat for people, rather than creating people to jump through endless legal hoops for the sake of Shabbat!
The 2nd episode of The Chosen is all about Shabbat and the struggle that surrounded it. In the first scene, before the credits, we see a simple Jewish family celebrating Shabbat together 1,000 years before Jesus’ day. The scene emphasizes how simple and deeply meaningful the event was – “a time for rest and time to honor 3 things: family, our people and God.” Later in the episode, this simple tradition is contrasted with an extravagant party thrown by the Pharisees, where people show off their wealth and jockey for political position. There, we see Nicodemus expressing a growing tiredness with the pomp and circumstance of religion. But most importantly, we see Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus rescued in the last episode from demonic possession, celebrating her first Shabbat dinner in many, many years. Again, she sets a simple table, invites the blind and the crippled, and ultimately dines with Jesus Himself. The King of the Universe, the God who created us all, comes to dine with a former prostitute and her friends, not with the Pharisees who think they deserve God’s favor.
Also in this episode, we continue to see Simon’s story unfold (along with Andrew, James and John). Remember, they are fishing on Shabbat to avoid paying taxes. Rome is trying to catch fishermen doing this, and Simon has been granted special tax breaks for helping Rome do so, which means he is preparing to betray his people. And we see Matthew the tax collector, rejected by his family because they consider him a traitor to his people, celebrating Shabbat alone.
Lastly, about 22 minutes into the episode, Nicodemus questions Mary about being healed. Remember, Nicodemus tried to drive out Mary’s demons, but failed. And now, here she is, totally restored. Nico’s astounded, and he wants to know who did this miracle and how. But Mary doesn’t know any more than he does. She just knows she’s a new person. And in trying to describe what happened, she makes perhaps the most powerful statement in this episode. Speaking of Jesus, she says, “Here is what I can tell you: I was one way and now I am completely different, and the thing that happened in between was Him. So, yes, I will know Him for the rest of my life.” This is how every follower of Jesus feels, and I love how beautifully it’s captured here.
Season 1, Episode 3 — Jesus Loves The Little Children
Jesus Loves The Little Children
“Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Do you know that classic Sunday School song? It’s a timeless truth: children and welcomed and cherished by Jesus.
Well, first, because God has a thing for anyone who is weak or vulnerable. The children in this episode are entirely fictional. Neither they nor this scene explicitly appears in the Bible. But the scene is totally believable. Not only do we catch our first glimpse of Jesus’ fun side (more on that later), but we also experience His unusual love for kids. I say “unusual,” because in Jesus’ day children were considered less valuable than adults. They were limited in their ability to contribute to society, so they were considered to be non-persons. They were the property of their parents and often sold into slavery to pay the bills. It was even legal in Rome to simply discard an unwanted child. In fact, the early church was known for the families who rescued discarded infants off the garbage heaps and raised them as their own. This reflects the heart of God so well, because it’s exactly what He does for us, broken messed-up sinners as we are. And God teaches His people to love one another in that same way. He instructs us over and over in Scripture to take care of widows and orphans, explicitly because that makes us like Him – a thing for the vulnerable. So, yes, Jesus loved the little children, and they in turn found it easy to trust and be around Him.
Second, Jesus says there’s something special about the way children understand things. Their simplicity gives them access to God in ways adults find much more difficult. In Matthew 18:3-4, Jesus says, “Unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
This is because “children are uncomplicated. They’re appropriately awestruck by the world around them. They’re cute and innocent and vulnerable and unvarnished. They’re wide-eyed, expectant, moldable, and trusting – unlike us. They’re not jaded or judgmental, self-reliant, self-promoting, or stained by a lifetime of sinful choices. All that means that it’s much easier for a child to believe they are cherished by God it is for us adults” (from The Chosen study guide, p63). I love watching Jesus patiently answer the kids’ questions and how deeply meaningful it is to Him when they say the Shema (a traditional Hebrew prayer from Deuteronomy 6). The children take these things seriously in a way many adults have forgotten.
About this Episode
In the beginning of episode 3, we see Jesus struggling in prayer in the wilderness. This was common for Jesus. He knew that He was born to die and was determined to be the sacrifice for our sins, but the weight of such a calling must have been extremely heavy. The Scriptures say that, as a man (who was also God), Jesus wrestled with everything all of us do, but never chose to sin. In the face of every struggle common to all people, He lived a perfect life. But that doesn’t mean He didn’t spend His own dark nights of the soul wrestling with His God, just like we do. He had to humble Himself before His Father while they were alone together in the wilderness in order to have the strength to obey the Father perfectly as He did every day. So here we peek behind the curtain at Jesus bowing before His Father, submitting to His will, and asking the Father to work through Him in the world. It’s fitting that we see here in Jesus the same humility He describes in little children in Matthew 18. Likely Jesus is thinking about when and how to reveal Himself to the world and begin His march toward being executed on a cross someday for the sins of the world. (We’ll learn more about that struggle in future episodes.)
Two additional things it may help you to note…
First, when one of the kids asked Jesus, “Where were you yesterday?” (index 23:07), Jesus says that He had to help a woman in town, He is referring to the closing scene of Episode 1, when He sought out Mary Magdalene and freed her from demonic oppression.
Second, a few minutes later (index 23:54), Abigail asks Jesus, “What is your reason for being here?” Jesus responds by quoting Isaiah 61. This is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture, and it is what Jesus will later read in the synagogue in His hometown to inaugurate His public ministry. It describes the reason God sent His Son to earth…
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because He has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me
to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
In other words, God became a man (and died and rose again) in order to set us free from sin, to bring peace between us and God, and to renew and restore the entire world, healing us from the inside out.
Season 1, Episode 4 — The Rock on Which it is Built
The Rock on Which it is Built
Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah,
for this was not revealed to you by [other people], but by my Father in heaven.
And I tell you that you are Peter (which means “rock” – Jesus’ new name for Simon),
and on this rock I will build my church,
and the [power of death] will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:15-180
You may remember that in episode 3, Simon made a deal with the Romans to betray his fellow Jews,
in order to escape the crushing weight of tax debt threatening him, his wife and his brother Andrew. Andrew has come to Simon, excitedly claiming to have met the Messiah (the Savior that God has promised for millennia), but Simon is done waiting for God to save Him. He feels that his fate is in his own hands and that he must get himself out of his problems … by making a deal with the enemy, Rome.
But lest we lather up too much judgment for Simon, aren’t we just like that ourselves? As good Americans, it’s tempting to believe that “the good life” has to come from within ourselves … our brains, our hard work, our goodness, our capabilities, our wealth. Us, us, us. We make our own fate, right?
But where is the Lord in all that? Does God not sovereignly rule over the universe He created? Yes, in fact He does. Does He not care for us? Has He not created us for a purpose? Yes, He did. And so, what if real life — the life God lovingly and carefully designed us to experience – comes from Him and not from all our self-promotion, self-sufficiency and self-determination? What if our lives are in fact all about Him, Him, Him?
Simon learns this lesson in our episode today. Or at least, he begins to.
Episode 4 begins with Simon in a Roman boat on the Sea of Galilee. Simon’s hometown of Capernaum is little more than a fishing village on the coast of that enormous lake. Remember, Simon has promised to help the Romans catch whoever has been fishing on Shabbat (and therefore avoiding Roman taxes). He assumes it’s some nameless merchant guild, but he is surprised to discover that he’s betraying people who are a lot closer to home (Zebedee and his sons, James and John), and is faced with a difficult decision.
Meanwhile, Quintus, the local Roman political leader, sends Matthew the tax collector to spy on Simon and write down everything he sees. Don’t miss the foreshadowing and irony in this, since about 50 years after this episode, Matthew will compile these notes (and many others) into the first book of the New Testament.
And then there’s the Pharisees – the religious leaders of the day. They see themselves as the religious purity police, so they are deeply concerned by anyone they don’t authorize who teaches the people anything they haven’t authorized. So, John the Baptizer (Jesus’ cousin, whom Andrew has also met) is a major problem for them. Matthew would later write it down this way: In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent [turn away from disobeying God], for the kingdom of heaven [a new way of life, both now and eternally, in which Jesus is King] has come near.” This is the one spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord!'” (Matthew 3:1-3)
But not all the Pharisees are upset and scared. Nicodemus is much more thoughtful, sensing that the events unfolding before him might just be from God. We’ll follow his investigation more closely in future episodes. In fact, this episode ends with Nicodemus visiting John (“the baptizer”) in a Roman prison.
But the climax of the story today is when Simon makes a desperate bid to catch enough fish to pay his debts before Rome comes for him. As Matthew points out, this is “mathematically impossible,” but all Simon can think to do is to keep slamming himself and his abilities against the problems of his life. So, “I’m still going fishing,” he says. But Jesus has other plans for the trajectory of Simon’s life, and we’ll see the turning point in the climax of this episode. Matthew will later record that Jesus has selected Simon for a purpose no one could have imagined… Jesus, the Messiah, who rules this world, will someday give Simon a new name (“Peter,” which means “rock”) and build His church on the faith Simon (Peter) begins to develop right here in a little fishing boat on the Galilean Sea.
You’re watching miraculous history in the making! Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.
Season 1, Episode 5 — The Wedding Gift
The Wedding Gift
We are officially halfway into season 1, and we arrive tonight at one of the most popular moments in the gospels. In this episode, Jesus performs his first public miracle. This moment is considered the “launch” of His ministry, because it’s the first time He gets Himself “on the radar,” so to speak. But The Chosen does a great job at weaving back story and depth (one possible way of interpreting events) into this well-known scene.
The gospel of John is sometimes said to have two parts: the “Book of Signs,” depicting a series of seven miraculous signs Jesus performed during his earthly ministry, and the “Book of Glory,” recalling Jesus’ final day on earth, His crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension. We will see in this episode “the first sign.”
God has long been considered by many and is often portrayed as a cosmic killjoy, the great Rule Maker who sits grumpily on His throne in heaven waiting for us to step out of line by having even the tiniest bit of fun, at which point He has to (gets to?) judge us harshly and (sigh!) do all the hard work of saving us from ourselves.
But “sin” and “fun” are not the same thing. In fact, we were made for joy. It was God Himself who gave us deep wells of passion and a propensity to merriment, because it reflects His own nature. God loves to laugh. God loves to dance. God rejoices over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17). Yes, sin can be fun, but that “fun” is always a shadow of what it could have been if it had been with the grain of God’s character (righteousness) instead of against it (sin). And the “fun” of sin always lasts only for a moment before it is eclipsed by shame and other devastating consequences. It would take a few minutes for poisoned Kool-Aid to kill you too, but who would ingest it because of its brief sugary goodness without considering that searing pain and death would quickly follow?
The problem isn’t that we seek too much joy. It’s that we don’t seek enough. “We are far too easily pleased,” CS Lewis declares. “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.” How true that is! We were made to swim in God’s joy. We were made to have capital-F-fun in Him. God Himself perfectly fulfills all the desires He wired into the human heart, and from that position of rightness and security and identity, the world is our playground. Christians need to be less grumpy and more fun. Christians should throw the best parties. Christians need to re-learn how to separate “fun” and “sin,” as Jesus well demonstrated.
Because the fact is that Jesus loves to party. He loves to laugh. He loves the joyous simplicity of children. He loves to tell jokes and engaging stories. He loves to dance. Jesus was a FUN guy. He was serious too, of course, but not all the time. And I love the way this episode portrays that balance.
Episode 5 opens with Mary (Jesus’ mother) searching for Him in Jerusalem. God required His people to come to Jerusalem annually for the Passover festival, to commemorate His saving them from slavery in Egypt centuries before. Jesus came with His parents every year, but when He was 12, He stayed behind in the temple (the huge building to which Joseph gestures in the episode) to pray, teach and “be with His Father in His house.” Here, Jesus’ mother has to wrestle with the fact that Jesus is both God and human. And so does Jesus. They will have to do so again before the espiode is over. It’s a beautiful portrayal of their relationship and the weight and complexity of Jesus’ unique identity as fully God and fully man.
Many years later, Mary’s childhood friend Dina is hosting the wedding feast of her son Ashur in the nearby town of Cana. Weddings were a really big deal in Jesus’ day. They were rochus parties that lasted for days. And hospitality was one of the highest, most important cultural values in their world. Hence their focus on the arrangements, the food and, particularly in this episode, the wine. Jesus comes to the party with His disciples, and His mother ultimately asks Him to perform His first public miracle (the “first sign” in the gospel of John) to rescue the party from calamity and her friend’s family from disgrace. You can read this story in John 2:1-12.
But what you can’t read in the Scriptures is the background Dallas and his team weave into this familiar story. The conversation between Mary and Thaddeus is of particular importance. Thaddeus is a stone mason by trade, and he describes the process of carving stone. He emphasizes how permanent the changes are when they are being made by the craftsman – how once you start chisseling a block of stone, you are committed to its transformation. Overlayed on this dialogue, we see Jesus wrestling with the commitment to begin publically performing miracles, because He knows that once He starts down that road, it will lead inexorably to the cross and horrific suffering for the sake of the world. “Once He makes that first cut into the stone,” Thaddeous says, “it can’t be undone. It sets in motion a series of choices … and it will never be the same.” And so for Jesus, this moment does not simply represent a miraculous act of kindness to protect the honor of a family friend, it represents His entire “long journey” toward the redemption of the world, which will come at great personal cost to Him. And even in the midst of all the gravity of the situation, note that we also again see how Jesus throws the best parties! Jesus is the One who bled and died and conquered death for us … AND who tells jokes, dances and rejoices over us with singing. Truly this man is the Son of God, the Savior of the world!
Lastly, in this episode we also see an important conversation between Nicodemus and John the Baptizer while John is in prison in Capernaum. We see Nico’s curiosity deepen as John questions his assumptions about the Lord. Nico “is searching for an explanation for things he cannot unsee,” to use his words. This too is beautiful and should give us pause as we consider how we too might have blinders on – so very sure of what we know to be true about God. Like the Pharisees, are we at risk of missing the Lord even when He comes to stand in our midst? As John quotes “the Oracle of Agur” (known to us as Proverbs 30; he’s quoting v4), Nicodemus simply can’t get his head around the idea that God’s Son might be an actual human being rather than a metaphor for the nation of Israel. But he’s about to come face-to-face with his presuppositions and find them wanting. (Stay tuned for episode 7!)
Season 1, Episode 6 — Indescribable Compassion
(Download the companion PDF)
Episode 6 features several classes of people who were social outcasts in Jesus’ day, or who, at the very least, desperately needed help that no one knew how or cared to provide. Instead of love and nurturing care, these people were used to judgment and scorn. This episode brings to life the divine compassion of Jesus – how counter-cultural He truly was and how He regularly turned aside to care for the people around Him, especially those nobody else could or would help. The people everyone else feared or rejected or walked by without noticing… these are the very people Jesus was drawn to and loved really well. More than that, thoughout Israel’s history (before Jesus), God’s people had focused on remaining clean – avoiding the infection of sin or disease. But as the God-man Jesus brought God’s infinite goodness and perfection into the messiness of our sin-broken world, He overwelmed sin and disease (instead of the other way around). He waded into the horrors of a broken world, and instead of being infected by them, Jesus “infected” sin and disease and even death with wholeness and cleanness and everlasting life.
First, in episode 6, we meet a leper whose life is changed by Jesus. Leprosy is an aggressive infection that mainly affects the skin and peripheral nerves. Though treatable today, in Jesus’ time, it was almost worse than death. Leprosy caused red spotches on the skin and created numbness and weakness in a persons extremidies (fingers, hands, feet, ears, nose, etc) until they even started falling off. Because of the fear of this awful, uncurable disease, lepers were outcast from society. They were legally forbidden from coming with 12 cubits (~16 feet) of another person and were required by law to shout out “unclean!” as anyone approached them. To discover you were leperous meant to have your whole life taken away from you. You were cast out of society, forced to live in the wilderness (likely with other lepers at a camp of some kind), and would never be touched again. No work. No money. Subsisting entirely on charity or foraging for food in the wild. You couldn’t even beg on a street corner.
Next, we pick of the thread of Matthew’s story. Remember that Matthew is a tax collector, which were considered traitors to Israel, because they worked for Rome (the enemy) and on Rome’s behalf exacted punishing taxes on the Jewish people. And if that weren’t bad enough, tax collectors were authorized by Rome to charge the people whatever fees they wanted for themselves on top of the tax, which served as the tax collector’s salary. This effectively let the tax collector set his own wages, and most took full advantage of this opportunity to line their pockets … at the expense of their own people. Thus, tax collectors were utterly despised in 1st century Israel. We see a small glimpse of this when Matthew comes to Simon and Andrew asking if he was deceived by the catch of fish. Simon views Jesus, the Messiah, as a future military leader who will free Israel from Roman oppression, and so he views Matthew as a traitor … fearing that his telling Quintos about the miracle will bring Rome’s wrath down on Jesus and His Messianic “rebellion” before it even gets started. Matthew is seeking the truth, no matter how improbable, but Simon is still blinded by his fears and presuppositions. He doesn’t yet understand that Jesus is bringing a totally different kind of revolution into the world – not a war against Rome, but a war against sin and death, as evidenced by His healing, restoration power, on display throughout this episode.
One of the most amazing things about watching Jesus’ life is experiencing His absolute authority over the natural world. As I said, His power and purity (being fully God, in addition to being fully man) overturn sickness and sin and even death. So, everwhere He goes, restoration goes with Him. He makes the world around Him “right” and whole. We see in Jesus glimpse after glimpse of how the world was designed by God to be, before human beings chose to rebel and wrecked the world with sin. In this episode, we see Jesus doing in a limited way what His death and resurrection will ultimately accomplish fully and permanently: to roll back the staggering effects of sin in this world, cure disease and heartbreak forever, and destroy even death.
Jesus is ultimate power and purity motivated by ultimate compassion!
Later in the episode, Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law. An elderly widow, she would have been incredibly vulnerable, relying entirely on her children for care. But Jesus has compassion, not only on her, but on Simon and his wife Eden as well. Again, He’s restoring life to the way it is meant to be: free of disease.
And ultimately, we meet a paralytic – one who is paralyzed and has had no capacity to care for himself for many years. He and his friends have heard about Jesus’ healing power, and they are desperate to get to Him. Led by the Egyptian woman who saw Jesus heal the leper, they bring the paralytic to Jesus at James and John’s home to be healed. This is an incredible scene. First, we see Jesus teaching the crowds. We see how the common people are drawn in by His concern for them and His totally new, counter-cultural teaching. And we see how the Pharisees are extremely threatened by it. We also see the faith of the people bringing Jesus the paralytic – they will not be deterred from getting to Jesus. (Would that we were all so determined!) And finally, we hear Jesus asking, “Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?” (Mark 2:9). This summarizes the incredible power of God. It’s easy for the God who made this man’s legs to fix them so that he can walk again, but to forgive sins will cost Jesus His life and separation from His Father. Jesus will have to drink the cup of all the wickedness of every person in all of history, and absorb the wrath of Almighty God on our behalf. So great is God’s love for us! So Jesus is making the point that the bigger problem (and therefore the more difficult solution) is spiritual wholeness, not physical wholeness … and Jesus comes to bring both!
There’s one more thing to which I would call your attention. Early in the episode, we see Simon and Little James talking at their camp. James says something incredibly profound that I don’t want you to miss. Simon (who still judges the way the world does) is impressed by James’ singing and comments that it’s easy to understand why Jesus would call James to follow Him, given his talents. He thinks Jesus will have James sing, because he’s so good at it. But James replies, “Maybe I’ll sing; maybe not. [Jesus is] the only one who knows who I’ll become. More than anything, He is our Teacher, and we are His students.” This was true of James, who followed Jesus 2,000 years ago, and it’s true of Jesus’ followers today. Think about the profound implications of such an attitude if applied to your life!
Then, let’s dive in to episode 6.
Season 1, Episode 7 — Invitations
Episode 7 begins with a flashback to the Old Testament. Even after God had used Moses (and his apprentice Joshua) to lead His people out of Egypt and miraculously provided for them repeatedly in the wilderness, the people continually grumbled against Moses and even the Lord. They complained and were generally rebellious about pretty much everything. Recorded in Numbers 21, eventually God had had enough. He sent poisonous snakes into the camp, and anyone bitten by the snakes died. As the carnage spread, the people begged God (through Moses) for mercy. In response, God gave what must have been an extremely bizarre command: “Make a snake of bronze and put it up on a pole. Anyone who is bitten can look at it and live” (Numbers 21:8). Over 1,000 years later, Jesus would compare Himself to this serpent, saying, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up [on a cross], so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him. For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:14-18). Just as the bronze snake was God’s miraculous provision for His people to save their lives from poisonous snake bites in the wilderness, so Jesus’ death on the cross is God’s miraculous provision for us to save us from the poison and death of sin.
One additional note about the opening flashback: Moses mentions “what happened at Meribah.” This is a reference to Numbers 20 (just one chapter before the incident with the bronze serpent), when Moses disobeyed the Lord by striking a rock (to miraculously draw forth water from it). As a result of His rebellion, Moses was forbidden by the Lord to enter the land God had promised to His people.
After the credits, we are returned to “the present” (during Jesus’ earthly ministry). The episode picks up immediately after Jesus had forgiven the sins and miraculously healed a lame man lowered through the roof of James’ and Johns’ family home. This caused quite a stir among the Pharisees, who know it is blasphemous for anyone but God Himself to claim to forgive sins. Jesus, being both fully God and fully man, completely shatters their categories … especially for Nicodemus, who is beginning to suspect something new and amazing is happening in their midst. In this scene, the Roman governor, Quintus, visits Nicodemus, a religious leader of the Jewish people, and demands that he find out who Jesus is and set a trap for Him. Nicodemus does meet with Jesus, but not to trap Him; rather, Nicodemus wants to learn who He is. This conversation containing the most famous words in all of the Scriptures: John 3:16. (See above; also, notice that John sits outside Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus feverishly writing what will someday become the gospel of John.) In this scene, Nicodemus’ suspicions are confirmed: this miracle-working preacher, Jesus of Nazareth, is in fact Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. At the very end of their encounter, Nicodemus quotes one of the most well-known Messianic psalms, Psalm 2 (specifically verses 11-12), and Jesus responds with another line in the psalm.
Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way (Nicodemus), for His wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in Him. (Jesus)
This interaction beautifully portrays the seismic shift Nicodemus is undergoing in his understanding of the Scriptures. He now understands who God’s Son really is – not Israel, but this amazing God-man, Jesus, who defies all the old religious categories, overturns sin and death, and makes reunion with God possible in a new eternal kingdom. Jesus describes this Kingdom as an invisible, spiritual Kingdom that is invading this world. It is a Kingdom you cannot see unless you are “born again.”
We were made for God, to walk with Him and be ruled by Him and to enjoy Him forever. All the desires of our hearts are fulfilled in Him. All the things we long for – justice, peace, love, wholeness, goodness, and so much more – are found in Him. He made us for Himself, and we will never rest until our rest is found IN HIM. Jesus came to make possible the kingdom where all these dreams would be realized. His death destroys sin and its power to enslave us and separate us from God. His resurrection establishes an entirely new humanity, free from sin, able to live with God and for God and in God. His life can become our life, if only – like the Israelites in the desert looking up at Moses’ bronze serpent – we look to Jesus to give us a new spiritual rebirth, leading to eternal life. He offers all this freely, if we will just let go of our old lives, centered in self and rooted in the desire to make our lives work on our own … to act as if we were God.
And finally, Matthew (who will someday write the first of the four gospels in the New Testament) also continues to struggle with who Jesus is and the miracles he’s seen Jesus do. And I absolutely love the culmination of that journey at the very end of this episode. Don’t miss the moment when Simon and Matthew are both questioning Jesus’ decision to invite Matthew to follow Him … when Jesus answers both their questions at once with a simple, “Yes.”
May we all be as Matthew is in this scene, finding the life they’ve always wanted in Jesus. And may we all, with Simon, “get used to different.”
Season 1, Episode 8 — I Am He
I Am He
The Season 1 finale opens with another flashback (I love these). This one takes some explaining. The Bible explains that, thousands of years ago out of all the peoples of the earth, God chose a man named Abram (then renamed him Abraham) to be the father of a great nation. These were to be God’s people, the Jews. Abraham lived around the turn of 2nd millennium B.C., something like 2056-1881 BC (yes, he lived 175 years; see Genesis 25:7). A thousand years later, God would promise Abraham’s descendent David that his kingdom would be established forever through one of his descendents, who is the Messiah Jesus. So, God’s plan to rescue the world from sin and death shoots like an arrow through the lives of Abraham and his family.
Episode 8 opens on Jacob, Abraham’s son and heir. Genesis 33:18-20 records, “After Jacob came from Paddan-aram, he arrived safely at Shechem in the land of Canaan and camped in front of the city. He purchased a section of the field where he had pitched his tent from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for a 100 qesitahs [pieces of silver]. And he set up an altar there and called it God, the God of Israel.” About 2,000 years later, Jesus is leading His disciples through the same area, and He intentionally meets a woman at a well Jacob dug in that area. This well is mentioned only once in Scripture, in John 4:6, but most historians agree that this location (still known today, where a Greek Orthodox church stands) is in the field Jacob purchased in Gen 33.
In the flashback, Jacob introduces us (and a native Canaanite) to two important concepts. First, he teaches us the Hebrew word “Shalom,” which describes a multi-faceted, wholistic state of peace and well-being. Then, even more importantly, he sums up the whole of the Scriptures in a single statement. He describes what makes Christianity not so much a religion (like all the religions of the world), but an acknowledgement of reality… Christianity is the only “major world religion” that isn’t teaching people how to find God or reach God or be good enough for God to love us. Christians understand that we can never accomplish these things. Instead, God reached down to us … He came to us in the person of Jesus, to cross the unfathomable gap of sin and rebellious independence that separated us from God. The mind-blowing, earth-shattering reality of the people of God is that “We didn’t choose Him, He chose us.”
Oh, and one last thing about the flashback: Jacob was a man of great faith in God … so much so that (recorded in Genesis 32) he wrestled with God and beligerently “would not let go unless you bless me” (v26). This is when God renamed him “Israel,” which means “he struggled with God.” And Jacob was left with a permanent limp as a result of the encounter. Incredible!
The woman Jesus meets at the well is a Samaritan woman named Photina – remember that Jewish men didn’t associate with women who weren’t their wives and they generally hated the Samaritans – who is also a serial adulterer – good Jewish men definitely didn’t associate with them! She’s been married five times, and is now living with yet another man. To say that she’s “a sinner” is a bit of an understatement. And the same goes for the people Jesus is having dinner with at Matthew’s house. At Jesus’ request, Matthew – remember that he is a traitor to the Jewish people and hated by everyone – hosts a lavish dinner party for Jesus, His followers, and some other folks who are considered outcasts by the religious leaders of the day – more tax collectors and the woman Rivka might be a prostitute as Mary was before she met Jesus. So, basically, this is an episode chalk full of Jesus’ breaking all the rules of polite Jewish society, and I love the way His interaction with the Pharisees at the door to Matthew’s house brings that to the foreground. Jesus makes three profound statements here:
- It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick (Luke 5:31). The Pharisees think they’re righteous because they’re good at obeying a bunch of rules, but Jesus knows that no one is perfectly righteous as God requires. Instead, everyone is sick, desperately in need of a Savior, and He has come for those who know that – the ones the Pharisees look down on. Sadly, the Pharisees are in no less need of healing and rescue, but they cannot see it. So in the end, the prostitutes and tax collectors are closer to the Kingdom of God than the “righteous” religious men who stand in judgment over them.
- I desire mercy more than sacrifice (Matthew 9:13b). Jesus knows that nobody can reach God by working harder. It’s God’s grace that reaches us, and He wants His followers to act like He does: gracious and merciful to those who need grace and mercy (we all do!), not standing in judgment over them because we think we’re better than they are.
- I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:14c; Luke 5:32). This reinforces that only repentant sinners will see the kingdom of God, not those who (though they are also sinners) wrongly believe they are good enough to reach God on their own merits.
Next, we encounter Nicodemus again. I love this guy. Watch how he wrestles in this episode. He perceives the cost of following Jesus to be astronomically high, and the decision weighs heavily on him. What will he give up? What are the implications of all the things Jesus said the night before when they met on that rooftop? He even compares himself to Hagar, who features prominently in Israel’s (and Islam’s) history. Hagar had a very hard life, but she knew God “saw” (remembered, noticed) her in her loneliness. And in response, she was the first person in the Bible to call God, “El Roi” (אֵל רֳאִי) or “the God who sees.” Nicodemus knows Jesus has “seen” him and called him into something greater than his life as a Pharisee, but will he be able to follow where Jesus is leading? We’ll find out in this episod. And I can’t wait to see where else they take Nicodemus’ character through the rest of the series, since most of his life is unknown to us in Scripture. He only appears in John 3:1-9 (which we saw in Episode 7) and then at the end of Jesus’ earthly life in John 7:50 and 19:39.
Jesus continues this theme into Simon’s and his wife Eden’s lives as well. He knows that Simon’s mother is very sick and that it ways heavily on the couple. So, in an absolutely beautiful scene, Jesus assures Eden that He sees her and He heals her mother-in-law to lighten the burden of Simon’s ministry on her life. Beautiful!
But the story of this episode really centers around Photina, the woman at the well. For sure, nobody sees her. The scene in the market demonstrates that clearly. She even tells a vendor, “to stop me, you’d have to look at me.” But he doesn’t “serve her kind,” so he does little more than ignore her completely. She feels desperately alone … until she meets Jesus, who knows every detail of all the sin and all the pain in her life, and loves her anyway … extends grace to her anyway … offers her the living water of eternal life (which is to know Him) anyway. Jesus is, in fact, the God who sees her … the God who sees all of us, if we’ll stop hiding from Him.
And in this scene we see Jesus send Photina on an amazing mission: to be the first Gentile (non-Jew) to believe in the Messiah who has come to save not just Israel, but the whole world, and reconcile people to God. This woman, whom nobody values and nobody sees, will become God’s first ambassador to the world beyond the borders of Israel. Because that’s what happens when we realize that God sees us and chooses us anyway…
We tell everyone!
People must know.