Part of a 2010 package curriculum by BluefishTV.com. Thanks to our customer service representative for the preview.
DISC 1: What’s the Big Deal About Jesus?
The graphics and production values are very high, and for that, I’m thankful. Mac Powell opens up with the statement,
[We're going to]… cut through our own cultural clutter and find the real Jesus of the Bible.
I sure hope that is true. The philosopher within me, however, is raising his hand asking whether or not that objective is even possible. Nevertheless, I appreciate the attempted approach, and look forward to how much “cultural clutter” this presentation can actually cut through. He then says,
This series will focus on the real Jesus, so you can easily spot the differences between other faiths and other beliefs.
Again, the popular notion of the “real Jesus” has the potential of being a deceptive and misleading attempt at authenticity.
Next, David Nasser gives his testimony as a native Iranian having to deal with the challenge of religion, and the story of his ‘conversion.’ I really appreciate his transparency, and the “story,” as it tells itself.
BETHLEHEM (בית לחם)
At the Church of the Nativity, the caption reads, “dedicated site of the manger.” Nasser makes the disclaimer that this isn’t a “barn” as we know it because “wood was an expensive commodity in those days,” that Jesus was most likely born in a cave, and that Micah 5:3 foretells of Jesus’ birth.
There are “supposed” sites, and then there are “exact sites.” This happens to be one of them. We know that Jesus was here on these very steps. (Luke 2:21f.) He mentions the unevenness of the stairs, designed to “slow people down,” with reverence. He also points out the baths, the mikveh’s (מקוה), but makes no reference to Acts 2. He then makes the reference to John 7:38 and Luke 2:21, Jesus as the “living water” and the one who will “ultimately set us apart.” The main question is essentially, did the contemporaries of Jesus know that He was the “fulfillment” of all these rituals?
Then we go to Simeon in Luke 2:25-35. “A prophecy is a promise from God.” A prophecy is not a prediction; a prophet tells the truth. There are over 400 prophecies about Jesus, one of them (Micah 4:1) is about Jesus entering the Temple. Prophecies serve as the evidence of Scripture, but then also the boldness we need to say that Jesus is the Messiah.
— VIA —
Unfortunately, I’m not so sure we cut through much cultural clutter. Much of the tenor of the theology has a twinge of “everything didn’t make sense until Jesus shows up,” which sounds a lot like standard Christian fare. It’s kinda like teenage-level replacement theology (all the prophecies only foretold about Jesus). Now, I hope that doesn’t sound too negatively critical. Again, the production is great, and the site choices are good (really looking forward to Caesarea Philippi, Meggido, etc.). However, if we’re going to really cut through the cultural clutter and get to the “real Jesus,” I suggest that that includes cutting through the “Christian cultural clutter,” and little to that end was accomplished on this first installment.
At Bethlehem, there is no mention of the meaning of the location, no contradistinction with Herod and the Herodium (which is only 3 miles away), no discussion of a manger, or the fleshing out of the shepherd nature of the cave, or even the proximity of shepherds showing up there, the Magi, the star, or the name Immanuel. At the Southern Steps, no mention of Acts 2, the tradition of Shavuot (Pentecost), the giving of the Covenant on Mt. Sinai, or the baptism of 3,000. Now, I do recognize it’s easy to criticize that which is absent, so my mention of these items here is just simply to say, there was little content that challenged the common Western Christian ideas of Jesus; a paradigmatic shift that ought to happen when one travels in and through Israel, and especially if one wants to get to strive for the “real Jesus.”
DISC 2: Was Jesus God, or Just a Good Man?
Mac Powell does another introduction, and asks the question of who is really right when it comes to Jesus, asking even if we are right. Again I appreciate that line of inquiry, but am anxious to see, especially at this next site, whether or not we truly address this question.
Nasser vamps on the question of Who was this Jesus? And, the best person to ask, is Jesus Himself. Which is why we are here.
Nasser mentions “idol” worship and “pagan worship,” referring to Pan as the focus of that worship. In the middle of all this, Jesus asks of his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Peter speaks up (Matthew 16:16). Nasser then gives a homiletic question of us, “who do you say He is.”
We awkwardly shift sites to JERUSALEM where Nasser talks through the “I am” statements of Jesus. Mentioning the passage of Jesus in the Temple saying he must be in His father’s house, Nasser strings together a series of statements, in summary,
“I am in my father’s house” are fighting words in those days. You have to understand that when people said, “I am the Son of God,” they got stoned. No one made those kinds of claims. Jesus made that claim because in its original language He’s saying the Father, the Son, the Spirit, we are a tri-unity, the trinity; we are God. God, one, I am God. Jesus makes the claim that He is God. There is no way around it.”
MOUNT OF BEATITUDES (Monastery)
This is where many believe Jesus preached the greatest sermon of all times. I brought you here to talk about all of Jesus’ teachings and claims. It’s crystal clear that Jesus claims to be God; God made flesh, the Messiah, the Anointed One. The ones he was teaching were his disciples. They had seen him live out everything He claimed. But there were also onlookers.
Nasser mentions the “Lewis trilemma,” famously coining the “Lord, liar, or lunatic” dilemma. There is no way to call Jesus just “a good teacher.”
— VIA —
As with disc one, disc two misses a great opportunity. NO mention of the “rock” in Matthew 16, nor “the gates of Hades,” nor the “crowds” or the “building of his ‘church’ (ekklesia).” No mention of the distance it took to travel by foot, or the graphic nature of that location. I’m quite perplexed, actually, why one would film there without mentioning these things.
When jumping to Jerusalem, and the “claims” of Jesus, there is no mention of the “Son of God” being a Pagan/Imperial term. Yes, Jesus was threatened with stoning because of blasphemy (John 10:33), but I’m really perplexed how the Imperial statement, “Son of God” equals “trinity.” That would be, I suggest, the “cultural clutter” jump that was claimed to have been filtered in this series. I concur that Jesus claims to be God, but making that statement equal the doctrine of the Trinity is a jump that I do not believe ought to be levied on Jesus.
Regarding the Mount of Beatitudes, NO mention of Moses and the giving of the teachings or the parallel that the author is making to the Covenant in the Torah (which would help cut through the Western Christian cultural clutter). Also, invoking Lewis’ “trilemma” here is like jumping to a philosophy of breakfast while reading Dr.Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. You can do it, but it is neither coherent nor the point of the writing.
Again, I want to clarify that I appreciate what is being taught (though I have minor theological quibbles). My main point in mentioning these critiques is simply because of the kind of production (on site, cultural context) they were attempting, and the attempt at getting at the “real Jesus” is so far falling quite short of any truly helpful discoveries. The land, and the historical contexts, thus far, are mere backdrops to the same theology, same philosophy, same Christology, and same Christianity. While Jerome said that the land is the 5th gospel (giving testimony and teaching to Jesus), the land in this production is more novelty. I’m disappointed.
DISC 3: Were Jesus’ Miracles Just an Illusion?
Again, introduction by Mac Powell.
Did you ever wonder if Jesus walking on water was real or not?
SEA OF GALILEE (ים כנרת)
Nasser is in the middle of the lake, and mentions several “Galilee” events (walking on water, calming the storm, etc.). While this is 14 miles long, and 8 miles wide, we’re here to talk about miracles.
A miracle is an uncommon act of God where God gets attention brought to Himself to help us believe more in Him by bringing something that brings us to awe and worship. … Why did Jesus perform miracles? So that we would believe.
Nasser then mentions that some believe Jesus was on the shallow ends, which is why He could walk “on water.” But that doesn’t work out in the middle of the sea. Those are real miracles, and we can contest them all we want, but they happened.
CAPERNAUM (כפר נחום)
Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John, so many people met Jesus, face to face, in this small fishing village, Capernaum. Jesus called this city, “his own.” Many miracles happened here (healing Centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, raising the dead, casting out demons, etc.) Here in this space, Jesus told them the truth. Jesus’ claims were undeniable because they saw His claims first hand. We have to ask ourselves, are we repentant or not.
BETHSAIDA (בית סידה)
Here he talks about the feeding of the 5,000 (men; many believe up to 15,000 with women and children). There are no video shots of the actual city, only the field next to it. Conclusion: We are not called to be the person who performs the miracle, but to be obedient, to bring what we can. He mentions the “buffet” Jesus provides, and the 12 baskets leftover. Ultimately, that leaves the people incapable of denying the claims of Jesus. Showing His power brings validity to the claims of Jesus.
— VIA —
This disc leaves out millstones, the sea being the “abyss,” and the size of Bethsaida, (meaning “house of fishing”).
DISC 4: Is Jesus the Only Want To Heaven?
This disc opens with various musicians citing various verses, John, Jeremiah, Psalms, Hebrews, etc. “READ IT.” Then Mac Powell.
MOUNT OF OLIVES (הר זיתים)
(the site is actually the Garden of Gethsemane). The ultimate reason Jesus came here was to glorify God, to die the sinner’s death, to save us from our sins. And yes, to raise Himself up from the grave 3 days later.
Some of these trees have been here for thousands of years. Jesus came here to be alone and pray. John 18, arrested, betrayed, taken in, trial (which was a mock trial). They mocked him, gave him his own cross to bear, and they began to crucify him, beat him, mock him…
Nasser reads Isaiah 53, saying this is “true” and is in the past tense because it is a prophecy. It wasn’t so much the cross, the nails, the piercing, the cat of nine tails, mockery, or all those things… No, it was the sin of the world that was crushing him. 2 Cor. 5:21. Nasser mentions the “imputation” of sin onto the Son of God, and that He is “crushed” because of the weight of the sins of the world. There is a cursory mention of the olives being taken from the tree and “crushed” so that the oil could be poured out.
(Via Dolorosa), “the path Jesus walked on the way to His crucifixion. There are shots of “Church of the Holy Sepulchre, “Golgotha” (in quotes because it is the bus stop quarry which is most likely not the place) and the “Garden Tomb.”
“We do not know where that tomb is, but some believe it is here.” (Garden Tomb) I think God didn’t tell us exactly where the tomb is, because He knows we would be distracted and worship the idols rather than Him. Nasser then describes the “mummification” of Jesus, with the spices, and that 3 days later it was empty. He mentions that the Persians invented crucifixion and that throughout history thousands had been crucified, so that is not extraordinary.
What sets Jesus apart is the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15). Without that, we are like every other religion in the world. Without it, we are like everyone else. But Jesus is alive, and that’s what sets us apart. We didn’t come here to celebrate stones and bones, but a living Savior. We can have eternal life because we have a risen savior who has conquered the grave.
MOUNT OF OLIVES (overlooking the Mosque of the Ascension).
“We don’t know exactly the place…” but the Bible tells us that it happened somewhere on this mountain top. Nasser mentions the various theories about the ascension, but the Bible mentions a real place called “heaven,” seated on the throne, and that is where He is today. Rest assured that He is coming back.
MEGIDDO (הר מגדו) (Valley of Armageddon)
Here Nasser gives the Hebrew translation: “Mountain of His proclamation.” This is also a perfect place for nations to collide. Napoleon said it is the perfect battle ground. Every nation will be represented here one day, soldiers and kings will be here one day. Most importantly, King Jesus will be here one day. Once He comes, the battle is over. This is why it is important for us to decide who Jesus is, because that will decide which side we will be on. If we’re on the wrong side, there is nothing but doom or destruction. The promise of this battle is something we need to be confronted with.
If you don’t believe He is the Messiah, you are on the wrong side of the battle.
— VIA —
I take a bit of an issue with the idea that without the resurrection, Christianity is like every other religion. When doing comparative religious studies, one would find a bunch of distinctions in theology, teachings, praxis, etc. When discussing the pressing, there is mention of the olives being pressed, without mentioning that “gethsemane” actually means “oil press,” (גת שמן), or showing a picture of one. There are the ‘hundred of prophecies,’ but none are mentioned or referred to when discussing the Mount of Olives (significant because it is on the East of Jerusalem). Megiddo is given a fair treatment, but the emphasis of it being the cross roads of the world is missed a bit. And, there is no mention of the pagan worship either.
Overall, the production is high quality, and I’m very jealous I don’t have the tools or money to produce such high quality product. I have appreciated David Nasser’s teachings over the years, listening to him in various settings (if David ever reads this, please know that I really am grateful for your ministry). However, the beautiful, amazing, and dynamic context of the land, the culture, the history, and Jesus’ Jewish setting are all just commodified fodder for creating a production platform for teaching a video series that is still Western, Christian, and conservative (theologically). There really is little attempt to get at the “real Jesus,” for it would require much more fundamental challenges to commonly held beliefs and teachings about Jesus. It pains me to humbly suggest that an opportunity was lost. And while I am certain this series will bless many people, I am urging anyone reading this to take serious stock of their spiritual education, and ask the question, “Am I simply substantiating my pre-existing beliefs about Jesus, and thereby commodifying everything else around to fit my a priori commitments? Or, am I willing to truly lay everything down, in love, including my biases and prejudices, to truly commit to the ‘real Jesus,’ no matter what I may find out about Him?”
To David and BlueFishTV, I apologize if any of this post came across attacking rather than loving critique. I’m thankful for your ministries, will continue to use your products, but will ultimately be committed to the truth beyond.