My wife and I enjoyed a special blessing yesterday. We sat in the front row at Saddleback Church in SoCal where Pastor Rick Warren played host to Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, husband and wife producers of the new ten-part miniseries, “The Bible,” which premiers tonight on the History Channel.
Mark has brought such well-known reality shows to television as “Survivor,” “Celebrity Apprentice,” “The Voice,” “The Job” and “Shark Tank.” Roma is best known for her role as Monica, on the popular television series “Touched by an Angel.”
Many, I imagine, had an inkling that Roma might be a Christian. After all, she played an angel – lovingly and joyfully so – for the better part of a decade. But hardly anyone suspected Mark of being a Christ follower. I know I didn’t.
Mark and Roma told the Saddleback faithful yesterday that they believe they were called by the Lord to bring “The Bible” to the small screen. To shine a light in dark places, said Mark. To share the Good News of Jesus Christ, said Roma.
Pastor Rick is convinced that the miniseries, two parts of which will air every Sunday between now and Easter, will prove as epic as “Roots,” the eight-part miniseries that aired in 1977, that won nine Emmy Awards and remains today the third-highest rated television program in U.S. history.
“The Bible” is, arguably, the most ambitious cinematic adoption of the Good Book in Hollywood history.
More so than “The Ten Commandments,” Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 retelling of the book of Exodus, in which the estimable Charlton Heston starred as Moses (and also happened to provide the voice of the Burning Bush).
More than “Ben Hur,” the 1959 epic directed by William Wyler and also starring Charlton Heston, which won a record 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture (an achievement unmatched until “Titanic” in 2007).
More than “King of Kings,” “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” “Jesus of Nazareth” and “The Passion of the Christ,” all of which painted, in their own way, powerful cinematic portraits of the Messiah.
That’s because Mark and Roma’s labor of love does not cover a single period of Bible history, but brings to the small screen the stories of both the Old Testament and New Testament, from Genesis to Revelation.
The husband and wife producers do not retell all 66 books of the Bible. (I’m sure they would lose much of their audience if they devoted, say, an hour to the retelling of the book of Numbers).
Instead, their narrative was driven by the stories of the Bible’s major figures, showing how the arc of Biblical history ultimately led to the arrival of Christ the Lord, whose life, death and resurrection gave meaning to everything that came before Him and everything that has followed.
Mark and Roma caution that their miniseries is not a documentary. It takes some artistic license. For instance, it refers to Simon Peter simply as Peter. And to Saul of Tarsus as Paul, before his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.
Those minor details in no way detract from “The Bible.” In fact, it probably makes the ten-parter more accessible to those who do as yet count themselves as Christians, who are not intimately familiar with Scripture.
Among the many stories Mark and Roma shared yesterday about the making of “The Bible,” the one that filled me with the Spirit concerned their filming of a scene involving the actors playing Jesus and Nicodemus. It occurred on a still night in the Morocco desert, without a breath of wind.
Jesus, played by actor Diego Morgado, explains to Nicodemus, played by actor Simon Kunz, that he must be “born again.” By that, says Jesus, He is not speaking of physical rebirth, but spiritual. And he likens the Holy Spirit to the wind. It blows where it pleases. No one knows where it comes from or where it is going.
At that very moment in the filming, a sustained wind blue through the set, as if on cue. Mark and Roma felt it was supernatural.
Roma said that it brought to mind some of the occurrences that took place during the nine seasons she appeared on “Touched by an Angel.” She and her fellow cast members used to say “Coincidences are God’s way of staying anonymous.”
Well, I think it no coincidence that Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, Hollywood’s leading Christian couple, have brought “The Bible” to television. I believe God chose them for this Kingdom building work for such a time as this.