Several years ago, while I was a student at BYU and involved with local theatre groups, I had the amazing opportunity to be a part of the LDS Church’s Bible Videos project, where they were filming scenes from the New Testament and the life of Christ. I was an extra, a background character, or “movable scenery” as we lovingly referred to ourselves. But, still, it was great to be a part of this great work. The Church built a vast set in the desert south of Provo, UT that replicated the ancient city of Jerusalem and surrounding areas. A lot of the stones and bricks were fake, but looked authentic and the attention to detail, not just with the sets but with costuming was remarkable. Most of the dialog in the videos is taken directly from the King James Version of the New Testament and the direction and acting created a wonderful resource for bringing these stories alive and making them real for many.
I was fortunate to be a part of two different scenes – the first as part of the angry mob, led by Judas Iscariot, come to arrest Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, and the second as part of the crowd lining the streets of Jerusalem as Jesus walked through carrying his cross on his way to Calvary. Right after the films were released I eagerly watched them, looking for myself to see if I could be recognized. As it as come up in conversation that I was a part of these videos I have also shown friends and family where I am in the scenes.
With Easter coming next Sunday I was watching these New Testament films again and I realized something. Though I have seen these videos many times, I have not really watched them. I have spent most of my time viewing these videos looking for myself, focusing on me and what I am doing in the background, but I have missed the central point, the purpose behind these videos – Jesus Christ, his atoning sacrifice in Gethsemane, his crucifixion on the cross, and his resurrection on that first Easter Sunday. I have been too focused on myself, that I have not been looking to my Savior. That realization this week has hit me pretty hard, as I am also realizing just how, in so many other aspects of my life, I have been too focused on myself that I have not noticed my Lord in my life.
Another point that I was reminded of when I watched these videos is actually something that was not included. I remember during filming that the director spoke to all of us in the mob coming to arrest Jesus and he explained the scene and the importance of it and what his vision was for how the scene would play out. He actually opened his scriptures and read to us out of the Gospel of John, chapter 18. As the mob approaches, Jesus steps forward and asks, “Whom seek ye?” and they answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus responded simply, “I am he”. And then the director pointed out verse 6, “As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.”
The director had us film that, but it is not included in the final cut of the video, probably because it did not work out as he had intended. But, I remember his explanation of this event. Here was Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, and he was about to be apprehended by a band of mortal men seeking his life. They asked for Jesus of Nazareth and he calmly stepped forward and identified himself, but they “went backward, and fell to the ground.” The director interpreted this as Jesus Christ showing his godly power, demonstrating that he had power and authority given him from the Father and, if he so chose, he could have withstood even the large group of armed men. Yet, he did not. He humbly submitted himself to the will of the Father, he drank the bitter cup, he partook and finished his preparations unto the children of men. In Matthew it is recorded that Peter leapt to his Lord’s defense and attacked one of the men with a sword, to which Jesus responded, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?”
Jesus knew exactly what was required of him and he willingly submitted himself to the plan of the Father out of his eternal love for all of us. Another passage that I find particularly touching is in John chapter 19 when Jesus is hanging on the cross. Throughout that chapter John points out the many ways in which Jesus, in the midst of all the physical torture and suffering he was subjected to, continued to be mindful of fulfilling of prophecy, especially those given in the Psalms. In the LDS version of the Bible there are extensive footnotes which refer to specific passages of the Psalms that are fulfilled as Jesus is taken and nailed to the cross.
In verse 29 we read, “Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.” This verse refers to Psalms 69:21, “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. ” If we continue reading in John, verse 30 says, “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.” Jesus did not say, It is finished, until after he had received the vinegar. And why did they give him vinegar to drink? We read in verse 28, “After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.”
They gave Jesus vinegar to drink because he asked for it. He said, I thirst. And he said this, according to John, “That the scripture might be fulfilled”. Here was Jesus, having already suffered unimaginably in the garden of Gethsemane, and then he was taken and tried before different groups of the leadership of the Jews and then taken to Pilate to be condemned, he was beaten and mocked and forced to carry his own cross through the streets, he was nailed to this cross and hung there for the space of several hours, and yet he was still somehow keeping a mental checklist of all of the prophecies that had been given of him, making sure that he fulfilled each one. He it was who spoke to those ancient prophets as Jehovah and gave them the words they should prophesy and he it was who fulfilled those prophecies, every whit. And only after he had received the vinegar, only after he had fulfilled every prophecy given of him, did he say, “It is finished.”
I am in awe of my Savior, and His Father, who love us so fully, so eternally, so completely that the Father sent his Son, and the Son subjected himself to all that the Father commanded him. Jesus understood so exactly what was required of him, and he did not shrink from it. Jesus suffered, paying the eternal price for the consequences of sin for every soul that is or was or will ever be. He stands at the Father’s side, pleading our case before Him, saying “Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.” (Doctrine and Covenants 45:4-5)
Jesus Christ died, he freely gave up his life as none had power over him to take it from him. He died and was buried in a tomb and rose again the third day bringing a glorious hope to the whole earth, for “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22)
I am looking forward to Easter, a time of remembering the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is also a time of remembering that death has no sting, the grave has no victory. All who have ever lived on this earth will one day live again, resurrected with their bodies and spirit reunited. All who have ever lost a loved one to death have hope of reunion through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the beautiful Plan of Happiness our Father has prepared for his children. I miss my brother, Gabe, I wish I had more time in this life to get to know him better, as adults – for we did not get along as children. But, I know that he will be resurrected one day, as will I, and we will be able to know each other again.
This Easter I will be trying to focus less on myself and instead I will be looking to my Savior, to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who lived and died and lives again. I believe in Christ, I know that my Redeemer lives, Families can be together forever.