Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
Starring Jack Huston, Morgan Freeman, Toby Kebbell

By Ben McEachen

Does Jesus have the starring role in your life? Or is he more of a sidelined superstar only brought onto the centre stage of our everyday lives – when it suits us?

Ben-Hur is one of cinema’s gigantic-est movies. Winner of 11 Oscars and well known by movie lovers even if they’ve never seen it, the 1959 epic is back in the spotlight. Released this month, a new version of Ben-Hur remakes this legendary tale of forced slavery, revenge and forgiveness in the Roman Empire.

Starring Morgan Freeman and some rising stars, the new Ben-Hur is produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. Married movie-making couple Burnett and Downey were behind that surprisingly successful The Bible TV mini-series. Christians who deliberately create screen works related to their faith, Burnett and Downey have promoted Ben-Hur directly to American churches and their leaders. Why? Jesus has a prominent role in, and influence upon, Ben-Hur.

This shouldn’t be as unexpected as it is, though. As author Lew Wallace conceived for his Ben-Hur novel, first published in 1880, Jesus is a poignant parallel to hero Judah Ben-Hur – a Roman prince who is enslaved and then battles his way to freedom and retaliation. Indeed, the book’s full title is Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Lewis wrote it as a novel way of exploring Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

“Ben-Hur is an exciting story of action and adventure,” Burnett recently told a Catholic parenting site. “At its centre is the story of a man looking for revenge but because of an encounter with Jesus, his life is totally transformed. We believe this film has the potential to inspire a whole new generation to influence their world through Christ with its message of redemption, transformation, forgiveness and salvation.”

Visit to find videos and resources which promote Jesus’s teachings and impact upon Judah Ben-Hur. But whether Jesus will actually become bigger than the Ben-Hur remake he’s being proclaimed through remains to be seen. Even if the Ben-Hur remake sidelines Jesus more than Burnett and Downey suggest, though, what about us?

Has Jesus’s offer of “redemption, transformation, forgiveness and salvation” captivated us – only for it to fade into the background of our busy lives?

Jesus’s role in Ben-Hur reminds me of how easy it is for my own life story to not be the tale of the Christ. Instead, I can exemplify the vivid warning in James 1:22-25: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

The word is The Word, God’s all-important son Jesus. While my life should be a loving reflection of The Word that has graciously saved it, I can too often go away and forget what I look like. Ben-Hur prompts me to go back to God’s mirror and strive for Jesus to be at its centre. To be star of the show of my life; not a side character who occasionally gets to share my spotlight.


This article was originally published in Eternity newspaper, August 2016. Click here for more Eternity culture articles.