This is a commentary based on the 1959 movie, Ben Hur; a movie about sin, what it does, and how it is absolutely nothing in the light of Christ.
“It goes on. It goes on, Judah. The race is not over.”
Those were the final words of Messala; one-time friend of Judah Ben Hur and his family, one who had come to epitomize evil and sin in the world.
Judah defeated his enemy in a great chariot race, and Messala lay on a surgeon’s table, barely recognizable as a man; his outward appearance finally reflecting his heart. Messala was crushed and defeated, but his last words threw a sword into Judah’s heart.
Over five years prior to that death bed, Messala had sentenced Judah Ben Hur to serve the rest of his days in the galleys of Roman warships and he condemned Judah’s mother and sister to rot in prison. From the beginning of Judah’s sentence, he desired only to be free, in order that he might save his family. When he eventually gained his freedom and searched for his mother and sister, his search was cut short. He was told that they were dead. With his loved ones gone, there was nothing he wanted more than to exact vengeance on Messala.
Messala was dying, bleeding, broken, and writhing in pain from being crushed by chariots and horses; that should have been the moment when Judah reveled in his victory. But it was not Judah’s will to butcher Messala. It was Messala’s own recklessness and evil spirit that brought him to that place, and his heart was proven just as evil, even when suffering pangs of death. His last words revealed that Judah’s mother and sister lived; they were lepers, a fate worse than death. Those words left Judah writhing in pain, and when Messala breathed his last, something switched in Judah’s heart. His anger and vengeance turned against Rome. But he could not outrun the truth of what happened to his family. No act of war could save his family or make things right; this was not a race Judah could win.
What Judah did not understand was that Rome, and what happened to his mother and sister, were the fruits of sin. It is impossible to defeat sin by simply annihilating the sinner. You defeat sin by saving the sinner, by cutting off the problem at the root, but Judah had neither the will nor the power to save his enemies.
Esther, the love interest in this story, heard Judah’s cry for bloodshed, and spoke peace to him: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God… Love your enemy. Do good to those who despitefully use you.” She told Judah how those words came from a wise and powerful man, Jesus of Nazareth, whom she believed spoke the words of God. The words she shared did have power and weight, but Judah would hear none of them, spewing forth more words of hatred and desire for war. When Esther noticed Judah’s reaction, she backed away, and hot tears welled up in her eyes as she said, “It is as if you have become Messala!”
The very thing Judah hated most had made its home in him. Though he hated sin and its fruit, that hatred had planted sin in his own heart.
That thought must have haunted him, because, against his plan, he followed Esther as they sought after Jesus in Jerusalem. They hoped that Jesus would heal Judah’s mother and sister. Jesus was the only hope for Judah’s family, and though Judah did not realize it yet, Jesus was also the only hope for Judah’s life.
When they came to Jerusalem, they found the streets emptied; all the people had gone to Jesus’ trial. Though Jesus had done nothing worthy of trial or punishment, yet He was taken before the ruling powers, and the people were stirred up to cry for Jesus’ crucifixion. He suffered wrongs at the hands of men, yet offered no angry reply. Judah and his family came upon the scene as Jesus was being led to his death, and when Jesus passed by where they were, Judah saw his face and recognized Him. Once before, Judah had met Jesus; he had been exhausted, broken, and near death. He was in chains and ready to give up right there, but Jesus gave him water to drink, and it was that water that kept Judah living and gave him a heart to live.
In the moment of seeing Jesus’ agony, Judah only wished to help Him and alleviate His suffering, but there was nothing he could do. He simply followed the masses, while his mother, sister, and Esther left Jerusalem, being confused and sorrowful over what was happening to Jesus.
As Judah saw Jesus hanging on the cross, he tried to make sense of the pain; why would Jesus suffer such a terrible death? A friend standing next to him shown light into Judah’s sorrow when he said; “For this cause, He came into the world.” Judah said, “For this death?” And his friend replied; “For this beginning.” A decision was made at that time; the sword of anger was removed from Judah’s heart. He finally saw who he was and he saw the face of his Creator, broken on his behalf.
In the wake of the death of the Creator, darkness covered the world, a storm rose up, and the earth shook and trembled. But Jesus’ blood that flowed onto the earth testified that the price for sin and death had been paid; and God granted healing to Judah’s mother and sister.
Ben Hur is a fictional story, having mostly fictional characters, but Jesus is real. He lived, He died, and He rose again. The movie version of Ben Hur did not tell the Resurrection part of the story, but it did share the truth that God heals the broken and turns the hateful heart to love. And such miraculous things are just the beginning, because, on this day, in this hour, Jesus is alive! He breathes life into the hearts of sinful men and women and He lives in all those who call upon His name.
Messala said, “It goes on. It goes on, Judah. The race is not over.”
But Jesus said, “It is finished!”
The race is won!