Russ Ramsey is the author of the new book, Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015).
He was kind enough to answer five questions I had about this unique book, the writing and research behind it, and his hopes for how it might be used.
How would you describe the genre of Behold the King of Glory?
Story. Creative non-fiction.
Behold the King of Glory is not a devotional in the traditional sense. I do not write in first person, and I do not directly address the reader until the end. It is not a collection of vignettes, but a single narrative divided into forty chapters told in a storyteller’s voice and loaded with hundreds of Scripture reference to take the reader back to the source.
Can you take us inside the process involved in writing this book? How much of it required your pastor-scholar hat? How much the creative-storyteller hat? What was most difficult, and what was most enjoyable?
Justin, I loved living with these two responsibilities in balance—the scholarly disciple and the storyteller’s imagination. The scholarly work had to be done before the creative storyteller could open the floodgates. I spent the first few months mapping out the chronology of Jesus’s earthly ministry as best as I could, and then trying to tease out the narrative threads running through it.
I consulted the works of others. I began the slow process of breaking Jesus’ life down into five “Eras”:
- Obscurity (his early days in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee)
- Popularity (his preaching tour of Galilee)
- Jerusalem and Judea (mostly from Luke and John), and
- Passion Week
From there I broke those down into smaller epochs that would become the chapters. Then I gathered study materials for each chapter and studied, took notes, and mapped out the key acts of each mini-story.
I made a manila folder that had maps and timelines and Scripture references all on one place—things to keep me between the lines as I was writing. It was like craft time at the Ramsey house. I still have that folder.
Care to share one of your favorite passages from the book?
I love the arc of Peter’s story. I love how the Gospels give us an example of a man who failed about as colossally as a person can fail, and yet had not slipped beyond the reach of Jesus. And I love the artistry in the way Jesus reinstates and reassures Peter. This passage from chapter 38, called “Do You Love Me?” focuses on what we read in John 21:
As the dawn began to glow above the eastern hills, Peter and the others saw a man standing on the nearby shore. Peter threw him a wave. The man cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted, “Do you have any fish?”
In unison, the failed fishermen shouted back, “No.”
The man on the shore said, “Try casting you nets on the other side of your boat. You’ll find some there.”
The disciples sighed at the man’s suggestion, because when it came to fishing, it always seemed that everyone had an opinion. They hadn’t caught anything yet, but they weren’t ready to call it a day either, so they decided to give it a try.
Immediately, large fish filled their nets. When the men tried to haul the nets back into their boats, they couldn’t. They had caught too many. But as the disciples strained and pulled at the nets, a wave of familiarity broke over Peter. This had happened before. It was a morning not unlike this one. Peter and his brother were fishing without any luck when a man they did not know well asked to borrow their boat so he could put out a bit from the shore to teach the pressing crowds. The rabbi told them to push out a little deeper and let their nets down for another try. When they did, their nets filled so quickly and so fully that when they tried to pull them into the boat, the nets began to break under the strain.
On that day, Peter fell on his knees before Jesus, the rabbi in his boat, and said, “Leave me alone, Lord. I am a sinful man.”
On that day, Jesus told Peter, “Do not be afraid, Simon. Follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men.”
The man on the shore was recreating that scene—that first day when Jesus called Peter to follow him. As if waking up, Peter recognized him.
“It is the Lord,” Peter exclaimed, as he leapt out of the boat to swim to shore. What else could he do? Love had come to confront him.
The dripping disciple stood before his Lord, not sure what to say, but desperate to get underway with whatever needed to happen in that moment.
Jesus spoke first. Motioning to a charcoal fire he had made, he said, “Bring me some of that fish.”
Peter looked at the fire and saw some bread and fish already prepared. Jesus had made breakfast for his friends. Peter went to the boats and hauled the heavy, full nets ashore. He put a couple more fish on the fire for his brother and the others.
Jesus said, “Come have breakfast with me.”
The disciples all knew this was Jesus, but none of them had the courage to speak. They watched in bewildered fascination as Jesus took the bread from the fireside, blessed it, broke it, and handed it to them as he had done that Thursday in the upper room before his arrest.
How do you envision folks using this?
I wrote Behold the King of Glory to be a book you could curl up with and read on your own. I created a free study guide for people who might want to use it devotionally or in a small-group setting, but the book is a single narrative intended to be read as a story.
As a resource, I hope pastors find that it helps them stand in the stories themselves. We pastors spent a lot of time trying to answer the “so what?” question that we can easily miss the “what’s there?” question. I don’t know of many narrative-focused Gospel resources, so I hope this will fill a hole on any pastor’s bookshelf.
If people read Behold the King of Glory, they will _____________.
They will probably see things in the Gospel story they had never seen before.
They will see that Jesus and the disciples sang together before leaving the upper room, and that the Sanhedrin made a plan to kill Lazarus, whose only crime was not being already dead.
They will see that Nicodemus defended Jesus before the Sanhedrin, and that Jesus very likely smelled like perfume during his scourging and crucifixion. These details are all there in the text.
Hopefully, they will also know Christ better, and love his word more deeply. This is why I wrote the books. I am a witness to the story Behold the King of Glory tells. My life has been transformed by the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And lastly, they will read a book unlike anything else I have been able to find—a book-length narrative that is fiercely devoted to staying true to the text of Scripture.
“With a writer’s imagination and skill, a theologian’s backbone, and a disciple’s devotion, Ramsey weds knowledge to emotional resonance and information to immanence in this moving account of Jesus’s life. You will grow and delight as you travel with him.”
—Dan Doriani, Vice President of Strategic Academic Projects and Professor of Theology, Covenant Seminary
“I don’t know anyone who can make the stories—and the Story—in Scripture feel as present, as alive, and as sweeping as Russ Ramsey. His prose, his grasp of history and theology, not to mention his love of Jesus, does more than merely draw me into his book—it makes me want to read the Bible.”
—Andrew Peterson, singer/songwriter; author, The Wingfeather Saga series
“Many of us have wondered at some point, ‘What would it be like to live when Jesus did?’ With purity to biblical truth and perceptive insight into how the human heart works, Russ Ramsey answers that question. He tells the story of Jesus dwelling among us—a story filled with political intrigue, baffling miracles, relational complexities, and heartbreaking suffering—by presenting old truths in engagingly fresh ways. Read this book! And then share it with others who need to witness Jesus anew.”
—Jani Ortlund, Executive Vice President, Renewal Ministries; author, Fearlessly Feminine and His Loving Law, Our Lasting Legacy
“‘Behold’ means see with fresh understanding. Read this book to be renewed in your hopes—for today, for tomorrow, forever. Share this book with others, or read it to your children, so they may behold Christ too. Ramsey has succeeded at capturing and displaying the drama of Jesus—incarnate, dead, and risen—with memorable force.”
—Robert W. Yarbrough, Professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary
“It gives me great pleasure to endorse the life and writing of Russ Ramsey. We have been in the trenches together caring for the ‘called out ones.’ Russ gave us gospel immersion and fruits of deep care with Behold the Lamb of God. He continues this life-giving pattern of grace and service with this new, beautifully written book pointing to the Hero King Jesus.”
—Charlie Peacock, author; teacher; Composer/Producer, AMC Drama, TURN; record producer for The Civil Wars, Switchfoot, and The Lone Bellow
“Ramsey has written a captivating narrative of the life of Jesus in a biographical style that captures the life of Jesus so vividly, at times you’ll wonder if Ramsey sat down and spoke with all the people involved in the story. It’s the story of a real man who walked this earth and died on a cross bearing the wrath we deserve. Historical and faithful to Scripture, Behold the King of Glory is a wonderful Bible-reading companion for the Lenten season.”
—Trillia Newbell, author, United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity and Fear and Faith
“There is a graceful simplicity to Ramsey’s prose—and to his retelling of the old familiar story—that enables him to truly move his readers with the potency of gospel. Here is a quiet voice that can shake stone.”
—N. D. Wilson, author, Death By Living and Boys of Blur; Managing Editor, Credenda/Agenda Magazine; Fellow of Literature, New Saint Andrews College
“Ramsey’s ability to knit the accounts of the gospels into a highly readable, easily accessible, and grace-saturated narrative is a blessing for all. Telling the story of Jesus in bite-sized readings that can easily accord with anticipation and celebration of the Easter season makes this book a special gift.”
—Bryan Chapell, President Emeritus, Covenant Theological Seminary; Senior Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Peoria, Illinois
“This book throws open the curtains on Jesus and invites us to taste and see the only love that is better than life. This isn’t a great book just for the season of Lent, but for every season of life.”
—Scotty Smith, Teacher in Residence, West End Community Church, Nashville, Tennessee
Table of contents:
- Life for the Dying (John 4:43-54)
- Wild with the Hope (Matthew 4:1-11)
- Behold the Lamb of God (John 1:19-51)
- One Hundred and Fifty Gallons (John 2:1-12)
- Destroy This Temple (John 2:13-25)
- Zeus and the Pharisees (John 3:1-21)
- Herod’s Half Brother’s Wife (John 3:22-4:3)
- Famous (Luke 5:1-26)
- Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-11)
- Only Say the Word (Matthew 8-9)
- The Death of John (Mark 6:14-29; Luke 7:18-35)
- The Storm Treader (Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-56)
- Bread of Life (Matthew 14:34-16:12; John 6:22-7:1)
- You Are the Christ (Luke 9:18-36)
- Before Abraham Was Born (John 7-8)
- Born Blind (John 9-10)
- The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:1-37)
- The Leaven of the Pharisees (Luke 11:29-13:35)
- Lost Things Found (Luke 14-15)
- Lazarus of Bethany (John 11:1-44)
- A World Upside Down (Mark 10:35-45)
- The Living Legend (Mark 10:46-52; John 12:9-11)
- The King’s Coronation (1 Kings 1; Luke 19:28-36)
- Hosanna (Luke 19:36-40)
- The Vinedresser’s Tree (Matthew 21:18-22; Luke 13:6-9)
- Indignation (Matthew 21:12-17)
- John’s Baptism (Mark 11:27-12:44)
- The Scent of Opulence (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 13:3-13; John 12:1-8)
- Thirteen Men (John 13:1-35)
- The Last Cup (Mark 14:22-42, John 14)
- Trial at Night (Matthew 26:47-68)
- The Reckoning (Matthew 26:69-27:2; Mark 10:17-31)
- What Is Truth? (John 18:28-19:16)
- Crucifixion (Luke 23:26-46)
- The Forgotten Day (Matthew 27:51-66)
- He Is Not Here (Matthew 28:1-10; John 20:1-10)
- Flesh and Bone (Matthew 28:11-15; John 20:11-29)
- Do You Love Me? (John 21:1-23)
- Behold the Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53; Luke 24:1-35)
- Behold the King of Glory (Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Corinthians 15:3-49; 1 Peter 1:3-9; Romans 8; Revelation 21)