Updated: Jun 4
Christmas with The Chosen: The Messengers is an interesting mixture of old and new. On the one hand, The Messengers brings The Chosen back to where it began - the "pilot" for The Chosen, "The Shepherd" was a short film exploring the Christmas story. On the other hand, the Messengers also bears witness to how far The Chosen has come over the past few years. What began as a low-budget film shot by a few friends for their church is now a record-breaking, best-seller being viewed in movie theaters across the country, with over $8 million sales through Fathom Events. More importantly, Christmas with The Chosen: The Messengers is worlds away from The Shepherd with regard to its scale, production value, and complexity. We're treated to far more impressive scenery than The Shepherd every could have pulled off on its meager budget and we're also given a multi-timeline story arc that takes us back and forth between the birth of Jesus and the composition of the Gospel of Luke. And, of course, there's the extended musical concert that the episode itself is embedded within, featuring top-tier worship bands like Phil Wickam, For King and Country, Maverick City Music, and many others.
Over the course of the past year, I wrote a series of blogs providing guidance on how to explore The Chosen Season 1 and Season 2 with your youth group. If you've already taken your youth ministry through season 2 of The Chosen, then Christmas with The Chosen: The Messengers might be a nice way to revisit and create a little hype for Season 3. On the other hand, if you haven't introduced your youth group to The Chosen yet, The Messengers might be a good, low-barrier introduction that you could use to gauge whether watching through the entire show would be fruitful.
If you haven't read through one of my guides before, here's what you can expect: rather than trying to pick apart the episode line by line, I usually focus on 1-2 main themes or characters. The discussion will begin with an introduction, before viewing the episode, in which students read a relevant Scriptural passage tied to the main theme and begin to discuss their thoughts. Next, you'll let your students watch the episode, with relatively little commentary. Finally, you'll follow up on watching the episode by asking your students questions that will get them to reflect more deeply on how these themes showed up in the episode.
Christmas with The Chosen: The Messengers Intro Questions
To begin your discussion, ask your students:
How many versions of the Christmas story do we get in the Gospels?
What are the main differences between these versions of the Christmas story?
Depending on how much Bible background your students have, they may or may not know that there are multiple versions of the earthly Christmas story (Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2) as well as a more abstract/cosmic description of the Incarnation (John 1). Mark is the only Gospel that doesn't really spend any time reflecting on how God came to earth as a human being. I would explain to your students:
Each of the 4 Gospels was written by a different author who had access to different eye-witness accounts and wanted to explore a unique aspect of who Jesus was. As a result, the different gospels gives us a unique picture of Jesus' incarnation and birth.
The Gospel of Mark was the earliest gospel and doesn't contain a Christmas story because it is focused primarily on the testimony of Simon Peter, who wasn't around during Jesus' birth. Instead, the Gospel of Mark begins with the start of Jesus' ministry, when he first called his disciples.
The Gospel of Matthew begins by tracing Jesus' genealogy, highlighting some of the significant figures in Jesus' family story like Abraham and King David as well as several marginalized Gentile women - Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth. Matthew goes on to tell us a version of the Christmas story that primarily focuses on the perspective of Jesus' adoptive father, Joseph. This version of the Christmas story is also the one that describes the coming of the wise men from the east and King Herod's attempt to kill the baby messiah.
The Gospel of Luke begins with two angelic birth announcements: the first predicting the birth of John the Baptist to Elizabeth, the elderly cousin of Mary; the second predicting the virgin birth of Jesus to Mary. This story follows multiple characters, but all of them are a part of Mary's side of the family - Zechariah (her cousin-in-law), Elizabeth (her cousin), and Mary herself. This is also the version of the Christmas story that describes how baby Jesus was laid in a manger and visited by shepherds who had encountered angels while watching their sheep in the fields. This version of the Christmas story also stands out because of all the songs/poetry; it's almost like a miniature musical.
The Gospel of John contains a unique Christmas "story." Instead of describing the physical events that happened on earth, it gives an abstract, divine perspective on what happened, describing how the Word of God became flesh.
Christmas with The Chosen: The Messengers focuses primarily on elements from the earthly Christmas stories given in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke, and so that's what we'll be looking at right now.
Now you'll have your students read through excerpts from the Christmas stories given in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. If you have a small group of students, you could do this sequentially, having the whole group look at Matthew and then the whole group look at Luke. If you have a larger group and it would help to split them up, I'd suggest having some groups look at Matthew and some groups look at Luke and then have them share their insights with one another. [Note: the Luke passage is longer, so I would give it to your stronger readers and give Matthew to students who might not be able to read as quickly or fluently]
As you have your students read through the passages below, ask them to be thinking through these questions:
What did the angel reveal about who Jesus is?
What did the angel tell the character to do?
How did the character respond?
The excerpt from the Gospel of Matthew that you'll have your students look at is:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25 ESV)
The excerpt from the Gospel of Luke that your students will look at is:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:26-45, ESV)
After you've looked about both passages and answered the questions above, ask your students to compare what the angel shared with Mary to what the angel shared with Joseph:
What things did the angel tell to both Joseph and Mary?
What did the angel only share with Joseph?
What did the angel only share with Mary?
Why do you think the angel shared a message with similarities but that wasn't exactly the same?
Now explain to your students:
We won't get to see the angel appear to Mary or Joseph. Instead, we'll see Mary and Joseph comparing notes on the messages they received.
In the language of the time, the word "angel" didn't always refer to a spiritual messenger sent by God from heaven. It was just a generic word for any "messenger." So when you hear Mary or Joseph refer to their "messengers," what they're talking about is an angel.
Viewing Christmas with The Chosen: The Messengers
Christmas with The Chosen: The Messengers can be viewed on YouTube here or using The Chosen App (Google / Apple). While watching, I would suggest keeping commentary to a minimum. The only thing that might be helpful would be for you to identify who characters are - particularly if your students haven't watched through the rest of The Chosen and they don't recognize Mary Magdalene or the older mother Mary.
My guess is that, for most youth groups, it's not realistic to discuss and watch through the entire event, including all of the commentary from Dallas Jenkins and the actors and all the musical performances. If you want, you could include maybe 1 or 2 of your favorite performances and then skip to the episode and encourage your youth to check out the rest of the special on their own time. The monologue immediately following the episode is also worth a watch, since it helps draw out some of the significance for us today. [As I note below, you could also consider dividing this lesson into two discussions. In that case, you could play selections of the music for each part of the discussion]
Christmas with The Chosen: The Messengers Discussion Questions
I typically like to follow the viewing of an episode of The Chosen by asking a couple general questions to allow the youth to share their immediate response:
In general, what stuck out to you about this episode? Were there any scenes that you found interesting or moving?
Did you have any questions about what happened?
Because this episode included a little more complex structure than a typical episode of The Chosen, I'd separate out your discussion of the two timelines. Below are a variety of questions you might want to discuss. As I noted above, there may actually be enough here to do 2 discussions - perhaps 1 focusing on the birth storyline and another focused on the Gospel of Luke storyline.
This episode jumped back and forth between two timelines - the main story, which led up to the birth of Jesus, and the frame narrative, which took place several decades later, after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension, near the end of his mother Mary's life.
Let's talk first about the main story, which followed Mary and Joseph and led up to Jesus' birth
Can someone give us a brief summary what happened?
This story focused a lot on the relationship between Mary and Joseph. Was there anything about how their relationship was depicted that stuck out to you or that you found surprising? Why did that stick out to you?
We didn't see the appearance of the angels but we heard both Mary and Joseph tell each other about what they heard from their "messenger." Sometimes God speaks to each of us in unique ways as well. Why is it important for people to share with one another the messages that they've received from God?
The fact that there was no space for Mary and Joseph in the inn and they had to stay in a stable is a detail that shows up in many books and adaptations of the Christmas story. This gets treated in a lot of different ways. What are some ways you've seen it depicted in the past? How did that compare to how this episode depicted it?
It's one thing to hear that Jesus was a baby who was born. It's another thing to see it depicted. Now that you've seen a depiction of Jesus being born as a little baby, how does that affect the way you think about Jesus or God?
We'll spend less time talking about the second timeline, which followed Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, several decades later, when the Gospels were being written.
Can someone give me a summary of what happened in this storyline?
This storyline also focused on a relationship - the relationship between Mary, Jesus' mother, and the disciples of Jesus (especially Mary Magdalene). Was there anything about how this relationship was depicted that stuck out to you?
Part of what the show may be trying to show us is how, when we follow Jesus, we become a part of a new family, with many more mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. In your experience, does your church community feel like family?
This storyline also followed the way that the Gospel of Luke was written. It's easy to think that God just zapped the writers of the Gospels and they magically wrote everything down, but as the show depicted and the Bible tells us, that isn't how things actually happened. Was there anything about the process of the writing of the Gospel of Luke that you found interesting or surprising?
Mary felt that people must know about the events of Jesus' birth and the song she was inspired to sing. Is there anything about the gospel message that you feel compelled to share with others?
Hopefully that helps! Sorry for not getting this to you before Christmas, but just because Christmas Day is past doesn't mean you can't continue to explore Christmas - after all, traditionally Christmas season lasted twelve days! You could also pull this discussion out as a 1-off discussion at any point in the year when you need to fill some space - or, like I said, if you want to test the waters to see if your group would benefit from going through an extended series on The Chosen.
An adaptation like The Chosen isn't meant to replace the Bible; it's meant to drive us deeper into the Bible and spiritual reflection. The 40 Days with Jesus series helps readers connect what they watch in The Chosen with the Gospel stories that they're based on and then engage in spiritual reflection.
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Contributing to The Bible Artist
Have my posts about Bible adaptation helped you learn more about the Bible and explore it with your ministry or family? I offer my work for free and rely on the generous support of readers like you. Your contributions mean so much. Thank you!
If you liked this post, you might want to check out some of my other posts on The Chosen and Bible adaptation. I have Bible studies/discussion guides for each episode of The Chosen Seasons 1-3, blogs exploring how The Chosen adapts key biblical figures, and articles exploring the controversial nature of adaptation. I hope you enjoy them!
The Chosen Season 4
The Chosen Season 3
Adapting Biblical Characters Series
Thomas & Ramah in The Chosen & Scripture ***Season 3***
Yussif, Jairus, & Shmuel in The Chosen ***Season 3***
Quintus, Gaius, Atticus, and the Romans in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Little James in The Chosen & Scripture ***Season 3***
Pontius Pilate & his Wife in The Chosen ***Season 3***
Judas in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Matthew in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Simon and Andrew in The Chosen ***Season 3 Update***
Exploring The Chosen with Youth or Small Group [Discussion Guides]
How to Discuss The Chosen - and Why
Episode 1 Guide: Homecoming
Episode 2 Guide: Two by Two
Episode 3 Guide: Physician, Heal Thyself
Episode 4 Guide: Clean Part 1
Episode 5 Guide: Clean Part 2
Episode 6 Guide: Intensity in Tent City
Episode 7 Guide: Ears to Hear
Episode 8 Guide: The Feeding of the 5,000
Season 2 Reflection P1: What is The Chosen Season 2 about?
Season 2 Reflection P2: What was The Chosen Season 2 about? (Plots & Theme)
Episode 1 Guide: The Beloved Disciple
Episode 2 Guide: Philip, Nathanael, & Matthew
Episode 3 Guide: Life Among the Disciples of Jesus
Episode 4 Guide: Simon the Zealot & the Man at the Bethesda Pool
Episode 5 Guide: Mary's Demons & the Destiny of John the Baptist
Episode 6 Guide: Mercy and Not Sacrifice
Episode 7 Guide: Quintus Returns
Episode 8 Guide: Judas, Matthew, & the Sermon on the Mount
Episode 1 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Lilith, and the Redeemer
Episode 2 Guide: Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, and Shabbat
Episode 3 Guide: Depicting Jesus in Art, Film, and TV
Episode 4 Guide: When Jesus Met Simon (Peter)
Episode 5 Guide: Mary, Mother of Jesus
Episode 6 Guide: Jesus, Shmuel, & the Pharisees
Episode 7 Guide: Did Nicodemus Follow Jesus?
Episode 8 Guide: The Woman at the Well, Eden, & Zohara
The Chosen Controversies Series
Themes & Theology of The Chosen [Exclusive for BMC Members]
Episode 1: What do we do when we are scared?
Episode 2: What is Shabbat for?
Episode 3: Who is Jesus?
Episode 4: What kind of man are you?
Beyond The Chosen
The Chosen: 9 Good Friday & Easter Episodes ***Season 3 Update***
Other Bible Adaptations
Recap & Review: His Only Son