Bruce Marchiano is an actor, author and international speaker best known for his portrayal of Jesus as a man of joy and passion in the film The Gospel According to Matthew. This year he released a 15th Anniversary edition of the beloved film and talked about filming the movie and people's reaction to the joyful Jesus.
Why did you decide to do a re-release after 15 years?
Bruce: When we were filming The Gospel According to Matthew, I could see the reactions of the crew, extras and other actors (most being unsaved), who were all "blown away" by what they were seeing. I could hear their discussions over lunch, "Is that really in the Bible?" Did Jesus truly say that?" Is this really what Jesus is like?" Every day there were cast/crew testimonies.
Then, following the film's release, not one day has gone by in fifteen years that I haven't received a letter/email from some corner of this country/the world. And the testimony therein is always (wonderfully!) the same, "My life is changed!" All to say, I'm very acquainted with the "power" of The Gospel According to Matthew to draw people to the heart of Jesus, and also how many precious hearts have yet to encounter it. So we are releasing it afresh in celebration of its legacy - and in hopes of introducing it to a whole new audience, an entirely new generation.
What kind of feedback have you had over the years?
Bruce: I could fill volumes with the testimonies I've heard. Almost always they center on the person of Jesus - "I never knew who Jesus truly was until now." Yes, that is a highly common testimony, often following the phrase, "I've been a Christian for many years, but..." That is such a deeply humbling thing to hear. And along those same lines, "I always knew [in my head] that Jesus loved me, but now I know it deep in my heart."
When we filmed The Gospel According to Matthew, we inadvertently did something very different from other Jesus films, and it was an entirely uncalculated thing. Where films generally focus on the events of Jesus' life, we focused on His person, the revealing of His heart so to speak; the revealing of who He is. And so the film flows with compassion, care, tenderness, faithfulness, mercy, loving kindness, authority, intimate understanding... all the aspects of His nature. And the result has been countless touched and changed lives. I am always very humbled to consider such things.
I am sure you have some incredible stories of lives changed…. Share a few of those.
Bruce: So many flood into my mind... There have been many lives that were imprisoned in legalistic kinds of Christian systems just totally set free and introduced to God's grace through the film. There have been countless lives imprisoned by past hurts and betrayals, angry at life, angry at God... just set free in realization of His love. Yes, I've heard many of those stories.
I've had letters from satanists (well, EX-satanists, ha ha!). In fact I recall one high school girl who was practicing satanism told me that every time she looked at the screen she would feel a pressure in her chest like her heart was going to explode, which would stop when she turned her eyes away. She told me (in a church parking lot) that because of that she realized it was the devil who wanted to destroy her (not Jesus, as she had believed) and so gave her life to Jesus.
I remember a mother telling me she had a "wayward" daughter who would bring boys home from nightclubs. They would do what kids do, sit on the sofa with the TV on and end up fooling around. Well, they turned on the TV and The Gospel According to Matthew just happened to be on. The boy didn't care and went about his dirty business, but the girl was watching over his shoulder. She became overwhelmed with conviction, broke down in tears, threw the guy out the door, and gave her life to Jesus that very night. The mother said she's been walking strongly with the Lord ever since, a radical life-turnaround. And we can only imagine that guy still walking around wondering what on earth happened that night!
What is your favorite scene in the film?
Bruce: There are several scenes where the heart of Jesus is displayed so vulnerably, so "naked" and unguarded in care, compassion and impassioned hope for His precious children. I think of the Matthew 23 sequence, where Jesus confronts the Pharisees. As filmed in The Gospel According to Matthew, it is like His heart is bleeding in love and compassion for these men, reaching to them with such desperation. So often we read Jesus' words and, on the surface, presume them to be spoken in anger.
But the revelation is that even His anger was born in desperate love. And in this scene, that love and heartbreak for them is breathtakingly revealed. Yes, I've heard many testimonies based on that one sequence alone. The crucifixion scenes are also quite a thing for me to watch, just remembering the personal horror of the day, remembering how every moment of filming, it was like the Lord whispering, "I told you I loved you, Bruce... I did this for you." So that scene holds a very deep place in my heart.
What scene was hardest for you to film?
Bruce: You must keep in mind that the film was literally Word for Word, so just in the sense that I had zero freedom to make even one syllable mistake, there wasn't one scene that wasn't hard! But beyond the practical aspects that made every scene a tremendous effort, the crucifixion was obviously intensely challenging. As much as I was "acting" it, I can't describe to you the depth of personal horror, trauma, physical/emotional pain. Getting knocked about like I was (we didn't set up stunts but just "went for it"), hanging from two leather straps literally for hours, flies crawling on my face and not being able to do anything about it, the cold, the nakedness, the spit being hurled at me... Yes, that was quite the day.
But you know which one was the absolute hardest? The agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Why? Because no actor in the world could come close to portraying that depth of agony, so I had zero confidence that I could pull it off. And on top of that, it was the last scene we shot after three months of eighteen hour days, so I was entirely depleted. And as we set up for the scene, I told the director I just didn't have any emotion in me. He said, "All we can do is pray," and as you can see from what was captured on film in those scenes, the Lord "did His thing."
To this day I can't tell you how, but I broke down completely, only to rise in strength on the words, "Not My will but Yours be done!" I get lots of testimonies based on that scene also - the scene I most feared to do. So I guess it's a testimony to His promise that "In your weakness My strength is perfected." Yes, when the Lord does a thing, He really does a thing. Glory to Jesus!
Why film straight from the Bible and not a script?
Bruce: I actually get asked this question a lot, and when it comes from a Christian I confess that I kind of don't get why they don't get it, if you know what I mean. It all comes down to Romans 1:16, "The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation." In other words, the life-change potential is not in any film-maker's skill, but in God's Word!
I mean, if a guy is going to make a Jesus movie with the intention of changing lives, how can he possibly expect to improve on God's Word? He would be silly to even let it cross his mind. "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword..." (Hebrews 4:12). It's God's Word that is "alive" and brings life, not fancy film-making.
Even as I am currently producing a new Gospel film that will also be Word for Word (this time, The Book of John), I am often told that I need to cut this/that section of the Gospel, add this/that transition... Well, forgive me for being so hard-line but "there ain't no way." As long as I'm in the driver's seat on Jesus... No Greater Love (the film's title, see www.newjesusmovie.com), you can be assured that not one "jot or tittle" will be added or deleted.
Again, the "power" is in Him and His Word, and thus the excitement to bring it all to life on film again - that excitement being the potential to see lives changed, souls come to Jesus, Christian hearts renewed in His love and reality, young people rise in personal passion for Jesus... Glory to the name of Jesus!
Bruce Marchiano is an actor, author and international speaker best known for his portrayal of Jesus as a man of joy and passion in the film The Gospel According to Matthew. He is also the founder and president of Marchiano Ministries, a non-profit organization reaching out to people both spiritually and practically in the USA and across the world. Marchiano Ministries is principally focused on ministering to the needs of South Africa, where Marchiano frequently speaks, sponsors crusades, builds churches, has established a Bible School and provides entrepreneurial opportunities for the unemployed.