I watched the new movie Jesus Revolution last night, starring Kelsey Grammer, and to begin with I want to harken back to something I preached on in my sermon on Sunday. In the book of Revelation Jesus rebukes the faithful and strong Ephesian Church, who had defended their doctrine, with this incredible statement, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev. 2:4). Other translations say, “you have abandoned your first love.”
What is this first love that they have abandoned? That initial love and exuberance for Christ that flows out of a believer and infects others around them. That love for knowing Jesus, sharing Jesus, learning about Jesus, studying his word and letting this overflow into every aspect of your life. The excitement about worship, the joy at seeing others getting to know Christ. That first love is a powerful time in the life of every believer, and it is sad when people let it die down and especially if they let this go too long.
If you are in this bracket, if the joy of your salvation is not what you remember it being, then go see Jesus Revolution. This movie is tailor-made to reignite that passion in your heart for who Jesus is, what Jesus can do, and who Jesus can save. And it does it all in a way that can be summed up as beautiful.
Without going into too much of the plot or story, the movie tells the true story of how revival came to a small church in California that was dying. The movie follows the intersecting stories of the Christian hippie Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie, from Chosen), pastor Church Smith (Kelsey Grammer), and youth pastor Chuck Laurie (Joel Courtney).
As a pastor here are the things in this movie that really struck me.
When the pastor is reminded of his need to be a light to the world, not just a manager of people, this really resonated with me. It is easy in ministry to forget what everything is about, and the movie conveys this very well from the perspective of the pastor. You never want to forget this first love, and seeing it rekindled in a man fans the flame of passion in your own heart.
The reality of drugs, both the highs and lows, is presented very accurately. Drugs have an allure for a reason, as one person I know puts it, sin is tempting because sin is often fun, or at least feels good…for a time. It then turns towards serious destruction and the movie conveys this in a way that is realistic and not corny at all. Though this does mean that you might not want to take children who are too young.
The presentation of the characters is realistic, inspirational, challenging, and most importantly, interesting. It helps a lot that the acting from everyone in the movie was top-shelf. Especially Kelsey Grammer, who is a veteran in the craft. But each character arc is authentic, realistic and engaging. You wanted to see them succeed, you feel for them when they fail, you resonate with them when you see the struggles of their lives, and you laugh when they do something to make you laugh. The movie really does make good use of natural humour.
The story was also very well told. The movie is based on a book by the same name, I have not read the book, so I can’t speak to it. But the movie focuses on story not agenda. Don’t get me wrong, there is no doubt the movie makers want you to know about Jesus, to be inspired by Jesus, to want to seek to know Jesus more. But the movie focuses on its characters and allows their stories to be told in an authentic and genuine way to do all the heavy lifting for inspiring you to look for Jesus. It uses the subtle art of storytelling to achieve this rather than the blunt tool of preaching. If you are a pastor you want to be revitalized like Chuck Smith. If you are a believer, you want to be able to engage with the broken like Lonnie Frisbee. You want to see Greg Laurie’s character overcome his challenges. A good way to describe this movie is refreshing. It is powerful, entertaining, interesting, and humorous all at the same time, in the way that so many movies at the theatres are not any more. It is also unique because it tells the story of unique characters.
It’s not just one of the best Christian movies I have seen in a while, it is one of the best movies I have seen in a while. It reminds me of the inspiring tale in Amazing Grace about William Wilberforce, and of the highs and lows of many redemption stories I have seen over the years of various kinds.
Some people might quibble with the doctrine of some of the main characters, or with how the gospel is presented more subtly rather than in a straight-up sermon style. But this movie is not a sermon, it is a story, a well-told story, and I would like to see more movies like this. I encourage you to go and see it, you will be inspired and encouraged because you will be reminded about how God saves flawed people through flawed people. One of the best lines in the movie that really stuck with me, which I will paraphrase is this: “Don’t be so arrogant as to think your mistakes can get in the way of God working.” Such is the grace of our God, is it not?
Jesus Revolution is a reminder of what the cinemas can be at their best. Not just Christian movies, but movies in general. They can be heart-warming and inspiring tales of our fellow human beings, flaws and all, overcoming their circumstances. And for Christians, this movie especially reminds us of the transcendent cause we are called to: the witness of Jesus Christ, our first love. Don’t you want this first love to be kindled and inspired again?
The movie is out in cinemas on April 20th 2023.