The Turn – The Nature of Magic, Part 2

"Are you watching closely?"
“Are you watching closely?”

The Turn – “The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary”.

In the first part of this series, we talked about The Pledge, the first part of a magic trick as described by Michael Caine in The Prestige. Drawing from Job, one of the oldest books of the Bible, we can see that there was a cultural chasm in between the bible writers and God. Job, for instance, believes that he is contending with God alone, and he still serves, even though he can’t seem to wrap his mind around some of God’s arbitrary choices. His fondest wish is for a mediator.

This is where Jesus comes into the picture. Job, Daniel, David, Isaiah, and many other bible writers look forward to and crave the coming of this Messiah more than anything else. Some view him as a king, some as a conqueror, a stone that becomes a mountain, a rebel, a revolutionary, a non-conformist, or a reformer. And how does this happen? It’s all due to the second act of the magic trick: The Turn.

One of the few glimpses that we have of the appearance of Jesus comes from Isaiah 53. “He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him” [vs. 2]. The point that Isaiah is making here is that the Messiah is ordinary. If there’s one thing that people love just as much as a god, it’s being told that the god is just like them. We don’t just want to be told about the musical or chess savants, we want to be told that with enough practice, we could do it, too. We dote and swoon and faun over Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone saying awkward things because they’re the gods, and we’re awkward, and if they’re awkward, then maybe we can be the gods. That’s Jesus’s selling point – there’s not really anything special about him at all.

As comedian Dave Foley says when describing the Eucharist used in Catholic communion, ‘[whispering] It just looks like a cracker. That’s the miracle part!’

It just looks like a cracker, but it’s really the body of Christ. It just looks like the Emperor’s got no clothes on, but really, they’re made of the finest material around. It just looks like an ordinary man. Don’t pay attention to the man behind the curtain, don’t be dissuaded by what it looks like, just watch closely and I’ll show you what it really is.

Are you watching closely?

And yet, in all this non-specialness, he was the Son of God, the direct result of supernatural parentage. He healed others with a touch, and spoke truth to power. He challenged authority because He was the ultimate authority. And He loved the human race so much that He was involved in a plan to save it that was conceived from the creation of the world – indeed before the creation of everything that is – just for you. This is the last and crucial element of The Turn.

The life of Jesus was not enough. His deeds were not enough. What truly satisfied the people that wrote the bible was that the Messiah would be the propitiatory sacrifice to cover all sin. He could be the scapegoat, with the sins of the people upon his head, or he could be the ram in the thicket, provided to Abraham by God for a sacrifice instead of his son. By his stripes, they would be healed, and his sacrifice would stand for all time.

The story that the gospels tell – the crucifixion of a god – is the process of a man becoming a legend. This part of the story of Christianity is the most pivotal, for millions of Christians believe that if this was not accomplished, if Jesus was not holy, if he was not sinless, then the human race would be overtaken by the dark forces that seek to destroy it. This is what The Turn is all about. It’s about taking something ordinary and making it do something extraordinary, like vanish, change, or even die.

But don’t clap just yet. The third act is yet to come.

Next time, we’ll talk about the third and final act of the magic trick, The Prestige.

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