My wife and I took a few days off last week and drove to Branson, Missouri, for a short vacation. It was our third trip to Branson. Our last trip there was more than 15 years ago. One of the reasons we wanted to go to Branson was because we had heard about a Broadway-quality musical show about the life of Jesus that was playing at one of the theaters. The title of the show was Jesus.
The show was sponsored by Sight and Sound Theatres, which is an entertainment company that produces live musical stage shows. Sight and Sound Theatres owns and operates two theaters, one in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and one in Branson, Missouri. Previous Sight and Sound productions have included Noah, The Miracle of Christmas, In the Beginning, Behold The Lamb, Jonah, Moses, and Sampson.
The tagline for Sight and Sound Theatres is “Where the Bible Comes to Life!” That’s exactly what happened during the show — the Bible came to life. Several of the scenes had trained animals on stage with the actors, including horses, pigs, sheep, dogs, donkeys, goats, birds, and a camel.
There is only one word that can describe what we saw — Magnificent! The show was performed in a state-of-the-art, 2000-seat auditorium, on a 300-foot-long panoramic stage that wrapped around both sides of the auditorium. If we had stayed in Branson for a couple more days, we would have gone to the show a second time so we could see all the things that we missed the first time around.
My favorite scene in the show occurred after Jesus was taken down from the cross and carried to the right side of the stage where he was laid on a stone table that was next to the tomb where he was going to be buried. After the body of Jesus was laid on the stone, Joseph of Arimathea walked over to the Blessed Mother and showed her the cloth that was going to be used to wrap her son’s body. He then told her, “We have oil and fresh swaddling cloth from Bethlehem to wrap his body.” The Blessed Mother looked at him with sad, loving eyes and said, “Thank you, Joseph.”
A couple of men then began wrapping the body of Jesus. At the opposite end of the stage, the lights went up and on the stage was the stable where Jesus was born. Inside the stable was the young Virgin Mary holding her baby. Her husband walked into the stable with a cloth in his hands and said, “Mary, some shepherds gave me this swaddling cloth. It’s what they wrap their lambs in — the ones they use for sacrifice.” The young Mary looked at him with her beautiful, joyful eyes and said, “Thank you, Joseph.”
After that, the young Mary began singing a love song in Hebrew. Then the older Mary, who was in the center of the stage, sang a song in English, which included these lyrics:
Seeing you now, I can’t help but remember wrapping you up, just to rock by the embers. On a night, much like this, only different in every way, I knew one day my heart would break, but I wasn’t prepared for this, for this ache. Was this always the plan for the Son of God and man?
Then she walked over to the dead body of Jesus, knelt down, and put her hands on his head. At that moment, she and the young Mary both sang a song together in Hebrew.
The scene was so touching that it brought tears to my eyes. I could feel the sorrow and suffering of the older Mary. She didn’t know what to do and had nowhere to go. As any good mother would do, she couldn’t help but reflect back to when her child was born and the happiness and joy she felt. But the memory of the birth of her Son only magnified her intense suffering.
My second favorite scene occurred shortly after the storm that almost capsized the boat that Peter and the other apostles were in. The special effects that were used during the storm made it appear as though Jesus really did walk on water, and then rescued Peter when Peter failed in his attempt to maintain his faith while he walked across the water to meet Jesus.
After the storm, Peter did what Jesus asked by steering the boat to an unfriendly village that was populated by Gentiles who hated Jews. When one of the apostles challenged Jesus’s decision to travel to an area where they were in danger, Jesus told them the story of the shepherd who left 99 sheep to save the one sheep that was lost. Jesus then stepped off the boat and walked toward a desolate area where a man who was possessed by demons was yelling and thrashing around.
As Jesus walked over to the man, the apostles began singing and described their experiences of when Jesus sought them out and called them by name. Here is what they sang:
Judas: “He leads us across the sea, through a storm that nearly drowns us, to help some lunatic in chains? We’re not supposed to be here.”
John: “You’ve already forgotten.”
Judas: “Forgotten what?”
John: “When you were the one. He called me by name. I was under a tree. He came just to find me, and he told me who I am.”
Peter: “He called me by name. Like my net, I was empty. He calmed the storm inside me, and life began.”
John: “He left the 99 when you were the one, when you were the one. Yes, he left the 99 when I was the one. Now that man is the one.”
Another Apostle: “He is the one.”
Judas: “Fine, we get it. But at what point is it not worth the risk?”
Peter: “Not worth the risk?”
John: “That woman at the well.”
Another Apostle: “That small man.”
Peter: “Hiding in the tree.”
Another Apostle: “The lame man lowered through the roof.”
James: “The bleeding woman in the street.”
John: “The leper, the blind man, the deaf and the lame, the sick and the broken, he knows their name.”
After the apostles finished their song, Jesus called out to the man who was possessed. When the man answered, there were several voices that came out of him. Here’s the exchange that took place between Jesus and the possessed man:
Jesus: “Dorian! Come to me.”
Dorian: “My name is Legion, for there are many of us within him.”
Jesus: “That is a lie. That’s not who you are.”
Dorian: “Son of God, do not bother us!”
Jesus: “You are Dorian, a child of God, and he loves you.”
Dorian: “No. No! We beg you. If you’re going to cast us out, then send us into that herd of pigs. Anywhere but to the distant place!”
Jesus: “Dorian, be free!”
On the stage, in back, was a floor-to-ceiling electronic screen that blended in with the set. When Jesus cast out the demons, the screen showed hundreds of pigs running off a mountain and falling into the sea. The screen blended in so well with the rest of the set that it felt as though what we were seeing was actually occurring in real time.
After Jesus performed the miracle, several women ran over to the man who had been possessed, one of whom was his mother. She ran over and hugged him. Here’s what was said between the mother and her son:
Mother: “You’re back! I can see your eyes again. What happened?”
Dorian answered in song: “He knew me by name. He called out in the night, like a piercing light. He saw me. I won’t be the same. He pulled me from the ground. I was lost, now I’m found. He saved me. And oh, he came to save the one, to save this one and oh, he crossed the sea and climbed the mountain, to save this one, to save this one.”
Like the other scene that I described to you, this scene brought tears to my eyes because I couldn’t help but think about the numerous times throughout my life when Jesus sought me out and called me by name.
It is my belief that at the moment each of us dies, we will instantly be shown the hundreds of times throughout our lifetimes when our Lord called us by name. We will also be shown all the times we responded to his call with open arms, and the times we ignored his call and turned away from him.
If you have a chance to see the Sight and Sound Theatre production of Jesus in Branson, it is scheduled to continue until the end of the year. It’s well worth the trip to experience in real time the significant impact that Jesus has had and continues to have on the lives of those who believe that he is the one true Savior.