As we approach Easter, Hollywood has again released new movies about the life of Jesus. This year, The Young Messiah, the story of Jesus as a child wrestling with the dawning discovery of his identity as the Son of God.
We don’t know much about Jesus’ childhood. For the most part, the Bible is silent regarding these years. We do know that Joseph took his family to Egypt following Jesus’ birth in order to protect the child from King Herod’s paranoid wrath. After their departure from Bethlehem, Herod’s soldiers fell upon the small village slaughtering all the male children under the age of two.
Joseph made a home for the family in Egypt and waited. When Herod died, they returned to their childhood home of Nazareth. Matthew points out that this was a fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” (Matthew 2:15). The movie focuses on this event, when Jesus was a child returning with his family to Nazareth.
The movie is based on a book written by Anne Rice, Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt. The book and the movie try to imagine what Jesus would have been like as a child, how He and His family would have wrestled with the growing awareness of His identity. The Bible only tells us that “He grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.”
Almost as interesting as the movie’s plot is the journey of the author who wrote the book upon which it is based. Anne Rice grew to fame writing the Vampire Chronicles while professing to be an atheist.
She shocked the secular world when, in 2002, she announced she was done with vampires. After thirty-eight years as a professed atheist, she said she had found faith in Christ and returned to the Catholic Church. Eight years later, she rocked the Christian world by proclaiming she was renouncing Christianity. She stated, "For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity.” She went on to say, “My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me.”
Anne represents many who continue to believe in Christ but have left organized Christian churches. George Barna, the leading researcher on faith in America, reported in 2008 that “a majority of adults now believe that there are various biblically legitimate alternatives to participation in a conventional church.” It appears that there is a growing number of people who claim faith in Jesus but want little or nothing to do with the institutional church.
Worldwide, we are witnessing the largest growth in the number of Jesus followers in history. In China, some estimate that more than 30,000 new believers are baptized every day. The number of believers in Africa grew from 9 million to 360 million in the last century. More Muslims have come to faith in Christ in the last two decades than at any other time in history. Churches, what they look like and how they function, are changing while the number of Jesus followers is growing.