Book Review: The Man Born to be King

The Man Born to Be King by Dorothy L. Sayers

The Man Born to Be King: A Play-Cycle on the Life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ
by Dorothy L. Sayers

5 out of 5 stars

This collection of radio plays follows the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It tells the history of Christ from the perspective of the ordinary people around Him. The Three Wise Kings visit Bethlehem, John the Baptist preaches in the wilderness, and the twelve disciples are called to follow Jesus. Christ begins his ministry, performing miracles and healing people. Gradually Judas Iscariot is tempted into betraying Jesus. Caiaphas and Pilate and King Herod all try to manipulate the political situation at Jesus’ trial, ending with His crucifixion. The women find His tomb empty on the third day and Jesus visits his disciples after His resurrection.

These plays really capture the completely extraordinary experience of meeting God Himself in human form and shows how ordinary people were drawn to Christ. It’s really interesting to imagine more details around the actual history in the Bible. Some of the dialogue is straight from Scripture, and some of it is imagined or paraphrased.

I was especially interested to read about the gradual descent of Judas Iscariot into evil and hatred. The Bible doesn’t really explain why Judas betrayed Jesus, so these plays give an imagined scenario where Judas is angry with Jesus because Judas wants to be the one in control. Just like every sinner, his pride is his downfall. Judas wants to scheme and pull the strings. He’s clever and intelligent, so he thinks he knows more than Jesus. The other disciples have an innocent child-like faith in Jesus. They are humble enough to accept His teachings. But Judas is too proud to accept forgiveness. He would rather suffer in the depressing knowledge of his own evil than ask for mercy. It’s a very tragic character arc, and serves as a spiritual warning.

I loved exploring the imagined personality of John! He is sensitive and emotional. He is definitely a “son of thunder” with a quick temper whenever anyone threatens or disrespects the people he loves. Otherwise he is patient and humble. He is fiercely protective of Jesus, but also ready to submit to Christ’s lightest rebuke. There were some bits of dialogue that I felt as though John were speaking directly from my heart. I really connected with his perspective because he is a dreamer. He is almost disconnected from the world, because his focus is on higher spiritual things.

Peter is just what you would expect, a blustery hearty fisherman. Matthew is shrewd and practical, from his days of tax collecting. Phillip is entirely unselfconscious and innocent like a child; he performs a miracle in Jesus’ name and feels humble and a little frightened at the power of God.

James and Andrew and all the disciples have such vivid personalities, and it is funny to see how they interact in normal everyday situations. One of them goes to the market to buy some food for the group, and the vendor swindles him out of his correct change. He apologizes to the group and to Jesus for losing their money, and the way the other disciples react is so hilarious.

They are just normal people going about their normal business, making mistakes and feeling grumpy and getting tired. And right there in their midst is God Himself! It really makes you think differently about the Bible to imagine what it must have been like for them to sit across the table from Jesus Himself.

The writing is absolutely genius! I loved the way the scenes were set up and the way other imaginary characters were brought in. I think the author did an excellent job of balancing the actual history of the Bible with the added imaginary elements. You can tell that she put a lot of careful thought into the disciples personalities and into Jesus’ words and attitudes.

I’m so glad that I read these plays instead of listening to the radio version, because then I got to read all the director’s notes at the beginning of each play. These include extensive notes about each of the characters and what they are thinking and feeling in particular scenes and how their lines should be delivered. It added another layer to the plays that was very enjoyable!

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