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Jesus: A Deaf Missions Film

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Jesus Deaf Missions film

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Reviewer

Kennedy Unthank

Movie Review

On the day of Pentecost, the apostles proclaim the good news of the Gospel to all who will receive the message. Filled with the Holy Spirit and in fulfillment of what was said by the prophet Joel, they communicate in countless languages that everyone who repents and believes in the Lord Jesus shall be saved.

Some, however, aren’t immediately convinced.

“They’re signing like they’re drunk,” one person says.

Wait … signing?

Yes, you read that right.

The disciples are communicating the Gospel in sign language. And that’s because Jesus hopes to convey the good news to the Deaf community in a way that’s easily accessible to them. Audiences will see a telling of the four Gospel accounts onscreen, entirely in American Sign Language.

We’ll watch as the film’s Jesus begins His ministry, teaching without a word from His mouth—and the same goes for the rest of the cast, too.

Positive Elements

Jesus was filmed and produced by Deaf Missions, a Christian ministry that seeks to evangelize to the “roughly 98% of the worldwide population of Deaf people have “never encountered the real Jesus,” according to the ministry’s website.

While a soundtrack and other sound effects accompany the movie, the entire watch is entirely in American Sign Language and stands as the first film in history to tell the life of Jesus in such a way. With a Deaf director, producer and cast, Jesus provides yet another way to share the Gospel.

It should be noted that the film also contains subtitles, so those watching who don’t know ASL will still be able to follow what’s happening.

Spiritual Elements

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus are on full display in this film—and in a way that is faithful to the original text. Jesus is never depicted as anyone other than God in the flesh, and the Gospel is clearly depicted throughout the movie.

The disciples are likewise revealed in their respective personalities: Peter makes great bounds in his faith but also often falls short. And Thomas’ famous doubts make the screen too, for instance. And as we watch the life of Jesus, we get to see as people around Him continuously grow in their understanding of faith and who He is.

As you might expect, Jesus is obviously full of spiritual content. While it doesn’t have time to cover every biblically recorded event, the brings to screen many of the things written in the four gospel accounts as well as the first two chapters of the book of Acts. We’ve compiled a list of the Scriptures referenced in this film at the bottom of this section.

Jesus performs many miracles. He heals the sick or lame. He walks on water and calms the sea. He forgives sins. And He endures the wrath of God upon the cross for sins and rises from the dead, bringing justification to many.

Jesus provides many proofs to show that He is God, such that the religious rulers of Jesus’ day eventually desire to kill Him for what they believe is blasphemy.

And we see a bit of their scheming under the leadership of the current high priest, Caiaphas. However, some of the Pharisees, like many of the common people, come to recognize that Jesus is the Messiah, including Nicodemus, who requests a visit with Him. And in a foreshadowing of Christ’s atonement, we see Caiaphas in the Most Holy Place of the Temple, approaching the altar with a cup full of blood.

In general, Jesus does a stellar job of following the text as closely as possible. However, there are some moments that differ a bit from the text, likely due to time constraints, translational issues between American Sign Language and English or other reasons.

For instance, when Jesus is confronted by the rich young ruler (from Luke 18:18-30), the film skips the ruler calling Jesus “good teacher” as well as Jesus’ response. And Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus seems an awkward translation of John 3:6, when (the film’s depiction of) Jesus says:

“It’s similar to you being born of flesh. Then, the spirit must be born as well to be in the flesh. With that, you may enter God’s Kingdom. In actuality, you must be born again to enter His Kingdom.”

While we take this to be the film speaking towards the Spirit indwelling in the flesh, the quote’s odd turn of phrase regarding the spirit being born to be in the flesh may raise a couple eyebrows.

As noted above, the following verses are reenacted in Jesus. In cases when the same event is recorded in multiple accounts, we chose the one that best matched the film’s immediate depiction:

Matthew 14:22-33; 21:1-11; 22:15-22, 34-40; 23:1-36; 24:14-16; 26:57-75; 27:3-10, 51 and 62-66; 28:2-4,16-20.

Mark 5:25-34; 14:34-36; 16:1-8.

Luke 1:26-38; 2:1-7; 5:1-32; sections of Luke 6; 8:1-3;10:38-42; 18:18-30; 22:14-23, 47-53; 23:6-25, 34; 24:9-12.

John 1:41-51; 2:13-22; 3:1-16; 4:1-26;11:17-50;12:1-8; 13:21-30, 36-38; 14:1-6; 18:28-40;19:1-11;19:26-27, 30, 40-42; 20:6-10, 15-29.

Acts 1:8-9; 2:5-21, 37-38.

Sexual Content

King Herod’s harem of women flirtatiously grab at his shoulders.

Violent Content

We watch the terrible suffering endured by Jesus as He is flogged and beaten by the Romans. The flagrum tears into Jesus’ skin with its hooks, and we see His front and back covered in open wounds and covered in blood. They force a crown of thorns onto His head. He’s likewise beaten and spit on by the Jewish Pharisees.

The crucifixion takes place onscreen, and we see the nails as they’re hammered through Jesus’ wrists. The Son of Man is then lifted up on the cross. Jesus dies on the cross. The overseeing guard pierces His side with a spear, and they break the legs of the two crucified criminals flanking Jesus to cause them to die faster.

When Jesus rises, we see the remnants of wounds on His wrists, which He uses to convince the doubting apostle, Thomas.

We watch as Judas regrets his decision to betray Jesus and hangs himself. And Peter cuts off a man’s ear, and the flesh falls to the ground before Jesus picks it up and heals it. The woman suffering from discharges of blood bleeds on herself and the ground as she attempts to receive healing from Jesus. Mary Magdalene, possessed by seven demons, shoves a piece of broken pottery into her mouth and chews on it. When Jesus rebukes the demons, Mary convulses briefly as they flee her body.

Crude or Profane Language

None.

Drug and Alcohol Content

We hear a reference to wine. People assume that Peter and the rest of the apostles, speaking via the Holy Spirit in various languages, are intoxicated.

Other Negative Elements

None.

Conclusion

Jesus provides a unique depiction of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—one that will hopefully take the gospel to many Deaf people for the first time.

The creation of the film didn’t come without its challenges. When translating the gospels into American Sign Language, Deaf director Joseph Josselyn had to find unique ways to express the same timeless truths found in the Bible—not only in ways that continue to align with Scripture but also in ways that carry the same emotional weight.

And that weight is shouldered by Josselyn’s Deaf cast, who effectively translate the gospel accounts’ most emotional moments not only with their hands but also with their facial expressions. And if I, someone who isn’t a part of Deaf community, can feel the weight of the emotional undertones in Jesus, I can only imagine the impact it can have on someone who is.

And that impact is the point of the movie’s creation.

“Deaf people, including myself, often watch movies where the actors are speaking and we have to rely on the captions,” Josselyn signed in a YouTube video about the project. “Because of this, we don’t have that same connection with the film that a hearing person would. If the deaf community sees a film that’s done entirely in sign language, they’re captivated, regardless of the topic of the film.”

And when that topic is Jesus, in our eyes, it’s all the better.

[Jesus is out in select movie theaters June 20 and 23rd, 2024.]

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Kennedy Unthank

Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics. He thinks the ending of Lost “wasn’t that bad.”