When Lew Wallace, author of the novel “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ,” set out to study the life of Christ, he was not a Christian. Writing a story such as Ben-Hur was the farthest thing from his mind. He was so anti-Christianity that he was determined to study the life of Christ so thoroughly and write so convincingly that he would be able to kill the story of Christ. He was hooked on proving that Jesus was not God, but merely a man that never rose from the dead. He believed Christianity was a hoax and wanted others to know it. However, as he began to study, the research he found was overwhelming and his heart began to turn. He eventually dropped to his knees and cried out to Jesus to be his Savior and Lord. Instead of writing a book to prove to the world that Jesus was not God, he wrote “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” to prove to the world that Jesus was God. Through this transformation comes a deeply moving and exquisite portrayal of the power, grace and love of Jesus.
Paramount/MGM’s “Ben-Hur” based on Lew Wallace’s timeless novel, is the epic story of Judah Ben-Hur, a prince falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother Messala, an officer of the Roman army. Stripped of his title, separated from his family and the woman he loves, he is forced into slavery. After years at sea, Judah returns to his homeland to seek revenge, but finds redemption. The story of Ben-Hur focuses on Judah’s unjust imprisonment to his self-imprisonment via the very vices he seeks to destroy to his personal redemption.
“Jack Huston [who plays Judah] gives the most extraordinary portrayal of a man on a journey,” said Executive Producer Roma Downey. “Through the course of the film, we see him change physically and emotionally. Physically, we see him go from this handsome, charming, debonair prince, to a man broken and brought to his knees. Through the years he spends on the galley ship, we see his body tighten and his heart harden. He knows that the only thing that will allow him to survive is to harness his lust for revenge.”
While revenge initially claims Judah’s heart, redemption ultimately turns it. In Christianity, redemption means the act of saving people from sin. Historically, redemption was used in reference to the purchase of a slave’s freedom – a slave was redeemed when the price for his freedom was paid. The use of redemption in the New Testament includes the same idea. Every person is a slave to sin; only through the price Jesus paid on the cross is a sinful person redeemed from sin and death.
In Scripture, it is clear every person stands in need of redemption because every person has sinned and falls short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The following verse in Romans reveals we are “justified by his grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant. Only through Judah’s encounters with Jesus is he able to find redemption. Judah discovers that even the biggest victories can sometimes feel empty and hollow. Judah’s thirst for revenge is ‘eye-for-an-eye’ justice, but Jesus’ revolutionary teaching transcends this concept of justice with mercy. This connects with the passage in Matthew 5:38-45 that says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” When Judah sees Jesus carrying the cross to His death, He learns from him that He is giving His life of His own free will. When Judah stands at the cross and the rain begins to fall, he no longer feels anger and hatred. Judah’s heart is opened and He is redeemed, transformed by God’s grace from a man of hate to a man of love. Mercy triumphs over justice because of love.
When we are redeemed, we become different people. When we are redeemed, we not only achieve forgiveness of sin, but also peace with God. In spite of the belief that we have power over ourselves, we don’t have the power to redeem ourselves. We live in a world that promotes sin, and we fall into it sometimes, especially when we hit our lowest points like Judah. We don’t always see God in a clear way, and sometimes we sin without even knowing it. While we can’t free ourselves, God can. This is what Judah discovers through his encounters with Jesus and this is what we ultimately see through Judah’s transformation. Jesus paid the ultimate prince on the cross, paying the ultimate price in blood for our sins. God provided us with the ultimate road to redemption through His Son. He offers us forgiveness. Redemption is there for us, no matter what.
Ben-Hur’s story of redemption will resonate to you, regardless of your faith background. “Ben-Hur” doesn’t give you a message of faith overtly, but it is there to give you something to think about, said Executive Producer Mark Burnett.
“It’s a message of hope that’s been part of this story since Lew Wallace wrote it in 1880,” Burnett said. “It’s a story worth telling again and again, for this generation and for generations to come.”