Meet the real-life pastor portrayed in the Easter film ‘Breakthrough’
OKLAHOMA CITY — Four years ago, Jason Noble was an unknown pastor for an Assemblies of God church in the St. Louis area.
Now a famous Hollywood actor portrays Noble in a faith-based movie — a potential blockbuster and New York Times critic’s pick — hitting the nation’s theaters just in time for Easter.
The 44-year-old pastor has spent months on the road promoting the film, Breakthrough, which racked up more than 125 million trailer views in advance of its April 17 opening in wide release.
“We believe that God is still the God who can do the impossible, amen?” Noble said at the Evangelical Press Association’s annual convention in this Bible Belt state capital last week. “That is what is going to explode on the screen.”
The 20th Century Fox production is based on the true story of a family at First Assembly Church in St. Peters, Missouri. It recounts the seemingly miraculous survival of John Smith, a 14-year-old boy who fell through ice on a frigid lake in January 2015.
Trapped underwater for 15 minutes, the boy had no pulse after 43 minutes of CPR. He recovered only after his mother, Joyce Smith — depicted on the big screen by Chrissy Metz of “This Is Us” fame — prayed.
It’s a modern-day resurrection tale that Noble, played by Topher Grace (“Spider-Man 3” and “That ‘70s Show”), believes God will use to win lost souls to Jesus.
In a roundtable discussion with writers at the Evangelical Press Association meeting, the father of four reflected on his faith, the film and his newfound fame.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Question: Have you always believed in miracles?
Answer: I've always believed God does and can do the impossible. I mean, I've always had a firm, firm belief in that.
In fact, the week before this happened, I was studying the Book of Acts. I prayed, “Lord, I read about all these miracles, and I see all of these people in need and our cities burning. … I want to see you raise the dead.”
Then this happened with John. I’m like, “Whoa, all right, God, you listen.”
Q: Was there a time in your pastoring of the Smiths that you had doubts that John would survive?
A: I would say the D-word would be desperation. I knew he was going to walk out. But I didn’t know how.
I remember we were doing a prayer vigil at the church. On my way to that vigil, I just go, “Lord, we need you to be who you say you are.” Like, “God, we are desperate for you today. We can't do this without you.”
So I got pretty desperate with God
Q: You were new to the church, and the film plays off conflict before the accident between you and John’s mother. How realistic is that?
A: There’s a scene where I go into the women's ministry room and rip the schedule off the wall, and that makes the women mad. Something like that is a death sentence for a pastor. I didn’t do it.
Joyce and I never had any conflict. It was a composite character that they built into the story with all of the people with whom we did have conflict.
Q: Are you pleased with ‘Breakthrough’ as far as the overall message?
A: I’m very pleased. In fact, I could not be more happy.
I can't wait to see what the movie does in the world. I mean, I think it's going to be just huge.
Q: Is there something that wish would have been in the movie that isn’t?
A: I wish they would have shown the first night a little bit more with the angels in the room. But again, I understand why they didn't.
I understand that it's a beginning conversation for people who are lost. It's not the full conversation. You know, you only have two hours.
Other than that, there's not another thing. I mean, I've watched it 100 times. I love watching it. I watch it again and again and again.
Q: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that when Joyce Smith saw John’s dire condition, she prayed loudly, “Lord, Holy Spirit, just give me back my son!” Talk about her faith.
A: You can't build your foundation in the middle of the storm. She had built her foundation six months before, at a Bible study using the “Believing God” material by Beth Moore. It was like God was preparing her.
What was amazing to me is, she had a split-second, split-moment decision to make. When she walked in and saw that boy on the table — dead, cold, sitting in front of her — she was either going to say “Goodbye” or “I’m bringing him home alive.”
It was not decided at that moment. It was decided six months before when she was learning all of this stuff. And it just came out of her.
Q: How would you encourage a pastor who is walking alongside others going through difficult times and maybe don’t get the happy ending?
A: First of all, we have to define what a happy ending is, right? Because I always tell people that, “Listen, just because a person dies doesn't mean it's not a happy ending.”
It's hard for us, but we're all going to die. If we're believers — and we believe in heaven and salvation — death is not the end. It's just a transition. That doesn't mean there's not grief.
Q: You went from being a small-church pastor to getting pushed into Hollywood. How was that?
A: I love it. Everybody's been wonderful. I'm sure there are people out there who are not. You know, you hear the negative stories. We haven't experienced that.
There are a lot of Christians in Hollywood that you wouldn't even know. I mean, people like Chrissy Metz, who is a strong believer and loves the Lord. I mean, she's just awesome.
We were just in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Justin Bieber was backstage. I didn't realize who he was. He's like, “I’m Justin Bieber.” So when I run into these people, I have no clue who they are anyways. So it's like, “Hey, that's wonderful.”
Q: Since this experience, you’ve stepped away from your role as a church pastor and moved with your family to Oregon. How has all this changed your life?
A: I am pastoring. It’s just on a different platform, right? I mean, you know, helping people.
I love being outside the four walls of the church because I think we can really get into these different arenas, as Christians, and help to bring the gospel to the world.
I’ll have a better answer for you maybe a year down the road. I'm still processing through it all.
Q: What’s next for you after the movie?
A: I want to continue working on more film projects. And I think we're going to plant a church in Los Angeles, so we'll see what God does.
Julie (publicist Julie Fairchild) and I were laughing because I'm like, “I want to go right to Hollywood.”