A 79-year-old frail man tells a story to his granddaughter that he’s kept a secret for decades due to his fear. At the age of nine, he was an orphan living on the street in Jerusalem. He had an encounter with a bloody and beaten man who was forced to drag a heavy timber cross for his own crucifixion. Little did he know at the time he was witnessing first-hand the last 40 days Jesus walked the earth.
Bible Gateway interviewed D. Michael MacKinnon about his book, The Forty Days: A Vision of Christ’s Lost Weeks (Post Hill Press—Simon & Schuster, 2017).
Explain how your childhood forged the impetus for this novel.
D. Michael MacKinnon: Unfortunately, as a child, I grew up in abject poverty and was often homeless. By the time I was 17 years of age, we had been evicted from 34 homes. Most of those homes having no heat or electricity.
When I was five years of age, I got a little plastic nativity scene. I was drawn to it like nothing before. The little baby Jesus in that plastic nativity scene became my best friend in life and I talked to him every day. At five years of age, we were being evicted out of our home and they found me hiding in a closet clutching my baby Jesus nativity scene.
Often, when we were evicted, we were taken in by my grandparents. It was at their home as a young child that I discovered my grandmother’s Bible. As soon as I did, I began to read it to learn more about baby Jesus and more about Christianity.
When did you finally write the novel and under what circumstances?
D. Michael MacKinnon: Over the last decade or more, once or twice a year for just a second or two at a time, I’d have a flash out of nowhere in my mind saying: “The Forty Days. There is a powerful story there. Tell it.”
Not really knowing what to make of it, I just ignored them and went on with my life. About five years ago, my wife walked into my home office and saw a yellow-sticky up on the wall above my desk with just the words THE FORTY DAYS written on it.
She asked me what it was and what it meant.
I turned to her and answered: “I don’t really know.”
Then, just over a year ago, while sitting in my home office working on another project, the entire book flooded into my head in a few minutes. I then sat at my desk for the next ten hours or so and wrote the book exactly as it came into my head that day.
Over the next few months, I met with a number of ministers and each told me it was my obligation to tell the backstory of how this book came to me.
What is the setting of the story?
D. Michael MacKinnon: The setting takes place 70 years after the resurrection of Jesus. In a poor, one-room home built from stone, mud, and straw home just outside of Jerusalem, a frail old man tells his granddaughter and her doubting husband of a miraculous secret he kept to himself for decades out of fear. He tells them that as an orphaned nine-year-old street urchin, he had an amazing interaction with a “bloody and beaten man” being forced to drag a heavy timber cross for his own crucifixion. The old man then finally reveals what he witnessed during the 40 days after the resurrection.
Describe the grandfather, the book’s main character.
D. Michael MacKinnon: The grandfather is now 79 years of age and feels his time is near. His life was one of great loss and great tragedy, but because of that divine interaction 70 years before, his faith and belief in Jesus Christ increases with each passing day. His granddaughter is the light of his mortal life and he feels now is the time to tell her and her shepherd husband of his first person encounter with Jesus and his teachings.
The grandfather describes how, as a boy, he encountered the wounded Jesus on his way to being crucified and then his witnessing of Jesus’ death. What do you want your readers to experience in these scenes?
D. Michael MacKinnon: They know—but all of us need to be reminded from time to time—that Jesus loves us all and died for us all. As spelled out in the Bible: “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10).
I want them to know that this was the ultimate sacrifice and we must honor him with our faith and our deeds every day of our mortal lives.
Explain how you’ve written the book to be an account through the eyes of a child of the events of Jesus’ life after his resurrection.
D. Michael MacKinnon: When the whole book flew into my head that day, the experiences of the little boy were the most overwhelming. I believed—and believe—that the little boy was really there. That he was real. That he witnessed the miracles of Jesus and was meant to tell his story. I truly do believe this was a vision, as personally, I know of no other explanation. As one minister told me: “Because of your horrible childhood, it is entirely possible that you were but a conduit to tell this beautiful and faith-filled story.”
Why was the grandfather afraid to tell his story for so many years and why did that fear end?
D. Michael MacKinnon: As the Bible teaches us: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
The grandfather was an imperfect man. He had seen men before him who spoke of Jesus punished, beaten, and even put to death. He feared to speak the truth but when he did, he also came to realize, it was all part of his greater plan.
What portions of the Bible did you rely on in writing the book?
What do you want your readers to understand when they’ve finished reading The Forty Days, especially as we’re approaching Good Friday and Easter?
D. Michael MacKinnon: That in these uncertain and even dangerous times, faith is more important than ever. That it’s critically important that we share the divine teachings of Jesus with as many people as possible. I truly believe that’s why this little book came to me in the way it did. To shine a light on the 40d he walked the earth after his resurrection as witnessed through the joyful eyes of a little boy who was so deeply touched by his glory and love.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
D. Michael MacKinnon: Biblegateway.com is an invaluable resource for those looking to explore the Christian Bible. It should be visited regularly by those hoping to better understand the Bible, the Christian faith, and the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
D. Michael MacKinnon: Former US senator and former head of the Red Cross Elizabeth Dole told me she read the book in one sitting and that it was “one of the most powerful and inspirational books [she] had ever read.” She told me every Christian minister and clergy member should read the book and spread the word. She believes it’s a book that should be shared by all Christians because of Christ’s messages inside. She also felt it was very important for readers to know that I did not take a dime for the book and that, for me, the only thing you do with a book like this is to help a charity in his name.
Bio: D. Michael MacKinnon is a former White House and Pentagon official. While at the White House he had the high honor to write for two Presidents. Additionally, he’s written for every major paper in the nation as well as appearing on all of the major television and cable networks as a political commentator. Often homeless as a child, at five years of age a little plastic replica of the baby Jesus touched him and changed his life forever.
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