A Lion in the Manger

“They were in Lucy’s room, sitting on the edge of her bed and looking at a picture on the opposite wall. It was a picture of a ship—a ship sailing straight towards you. Her prow was gilded and shaped like the head of a dragon with a wide-open mouth. She had only one mast and one large, square sail which was a rich purple. The sides of the ship—what you could see of them where the gilded wings of the dragon ended—were green. She had just run up to the top of one glorious blue wave, and the nearer slope of that wave came down towards you, with streaks and bubbles on it.…all three children were staring with open mouths. What they were seeing may be hard to believe when you read it in print, but it was almost as hard to believe when you saw it happening. The things in the picture were moving. It didn’t look at all like a cinema either; the colours were too real and clean and out-of-doors for that. Down went the prow of the ship into the wave and up went a great shock of spray. And then up went the wave behind her, and her stern and her deck became visible for the first time, and then disappeared as the next wave came to meet her and her bows went up again. At the same moment … Lucy felt all her hair whipping round her face as it does on a windy day. And this was a windy day; but the wind was blowing out of the picture towards them. And suddenly with the wind came the noises—the swishing of waves and the slap of water against the ship’s sides and the creaking and the overall high steady roar of air and water. But it was the smell, the wild, briny smell, which really convinced Lucy that she was not dreaming… a great cold, salt splash had broken right out of the frame and they were breathless from the smack of it, besides being wet through…”

So begins The Voyage of the Dawn Treader from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. At face value it is a beautiful children’s story about a sea voyage. But Lewis intends us, young and old, to view it as a parable about life. More especially about discovering the purpose in life. And along the way, understanding the insidious power of evil, learning to resist temptation, and realising that rescue can only come from another realm. The realm of Aslan. Remember the first time you entered the world of Narnia? And came under the mesmerising spell of the evil White Witch who makes it “Always winter, never Christmas”… But the redemption of Narnia and the end of the White Witch’s reign has been prophesied and the arrival of “sons of Adam and daughters of Eve”, is a sign that the coming of Aslan as the rightful King is near. Clearly Aslan is a picture of the Lord Jesus. How do you feel about Jesus portrayed as a lion? Jesus is actually described as a lion in the first and the last books of the Bible. In Genesis, is this prophecy.

“You’re a lion’s cub, Judah, my son. Look at him, crouched like a lion, king of beasts; who dares mess with him? The sceptre shall not leave Judah; he’ll keep a firm grip on the command staff; Until the ultimate ruler comes and the nations obey him.” (Genesis 49: 9-10)

And in the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John, is told, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.” (Revelation 5:5)

But why the name Aslan? Simple. Aslan is Turkish for ‘lion’. The abiding message of Narnia, so powerfully re-told in the new film, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is that God calls us to a grand adventure, an epic journey that will never end to know him and make him known. As Prince Caspian exclaims, “Think of the lost souls we are here to save”.

Lets reflect on God’s great purpose – to know Jesus and make Jesus known – rooted in 3 promises in Ephesians 1.

 

1. Jesus has the power to deal with your past

“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. (Ephesians 1:18).

Lewis portrays the hopelessness of a world captive to evil and the hope which Aslan brings as people like Eustace change sides and serve him loyally. The consequences of evil may be outward but the causes lie deep within us all – even as children. The first line of the book begins, “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it.” Insufferably pretentious, lazy, self-centered. In his eyes he can do no wrong.

After his pretentious sounding name, the very next thing we learn about Eustace is that when it came to friends, “he had none.”  The only happiness Eustace knows is to dominate, torment, and intimidate others, whether insects and beetles or his cousins.  And as the story unfolds, his greed eventually consumes him and he turns into a dragon. The Eustace we meet in the first half of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is friendless, self-centered, and consumed by the desire to dominate.

In Eustace, C.S.Lewis is probably describing himself. The resemblances in the initials of the name Eustace Clarence Scrubb and those of Clive Staples Lewis hint of similarities between the character and his creator.  The Eustace we meet in chapter one is truly the “record stinker” that Edmund will call him. And so was Lewis himself for a time during his youth. In his autobiography Surprised by Joy, Lewis confesses that at one point, his prime motivation was a craving for “glitter, swagger, and distinction, and the desire to be in the know.” Lewis confesses, “I began to labour very hard to make myself into a fop, a cad, and a snob.”

But however obnoxious, Aslan will not abandon him. Aslan has been calling him though he does not know it. If Eustace deserves his name, he is given something he does not deserve—grace. It is this grace, Reepicheep the mouse assures Eustace of. “You have an extraordinary destiny. Something greater than you ever imagined”. Through grace he is offered a chance to be free from the consequences of his self-centred nature—grace which he has done nothing to earn and does not deserve. And this is not cheap grace.

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, we learn the true cost of grace. Seeing Aslan slowly climb the steps to the stone table, while the army of the White Witch mock and jeer him, then in humiliation see his beautiful hair shorn, is all deeply moving. The scene resonates so vividly with the events of Good Friday. In the same way that Aslan settled the score for Edmund’s wrong doing by agreeing to die in his place, Jesus Christ died on the cross, to pay the price for your sin and mine. It is the cross that gives us the power to turn the page on our past. But there’s more to his power. Jesus not only gives hope to overcome your past.

2. Jesus has the power to delight your present

and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 1:19-20)

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a grand adventure. There are risks.  There is danger.  Just like our own spiritual journey, these young people wrestle with challenges of all kinds. Lucy, for example, ventures onto one of the islands in search of a special book of incantations. When she finds it, she discovers that if she reads a particular page out loud, it will turn her into the most beautiful girl in the world. She feels inferior to her big sister Susan – she wants so much to be as pretty as she is. She starts thinking what it would be like to be the most beautiful girl in the world. The longer she looks at the page, the more she can feel that page tugging on her. She can feel the page pulling at her. She is tempted to look at what the page would do for her. Even though she knows that she should not read from the page, “ ‘I will say the spell,’ reflects Lucy, ‘I don’t care I will.’” But she resists then hears a roar as the face of Aslan appears on the page. She turns the page and so resists the temptation. Lucy is told, “When you grow up, you should be just like you.”

We all know what it is to be in those kind of moments. To feel the pull of the temptation. What can you do in those moments? Turn the page. C. S. Lewis wrote, “Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.” And resisting makes us stronger to resist. So when Aslan returns Eustace from a dragon to a boy, that is only the beginning. There is no doubt that he is a different boy, and yet Lewis explains, “to be strictly accurate he began to be a different boy, he had relapses…but the cure had begun.” That’s true of us isn’t it? We may have relapses but the cure has begun. I love the fact that like Aslan, Jesus doesn’t rescue us from trouble—He takes us through it.  Lewis put it this way, “God who foresaw your tribulation has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.” Not without pain, but without stain.

The Apostle Paul put it like this: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

So pursue your destiny, discover your purpose, surrender all to Jesus. Never underestimate “his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Jesus has the power to deal with your past, the power to delight your present and thirdly.

3. Jesus has the power to determine your future

As in Narnia, true hope comes from a world beyond our own. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Aslan conquers death and is raised to life again: That is assumed in the Chronicles that follow. Susan asks the question:

“But what does it all mean?” … “It means,” say Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes only back to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and death itself would start working backwards…”

Before the foundation of the world, God prepared a way to save you, through Jesus death in our place. It was his destiny. And he rose from the dead to show you your destiny. To reign with Him, become like Him and share him with others.

That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion.” (Ephesians 1:20)

In his letter to the Corinthians Paul adds:  “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” (1 Corinthians 6:14).

One day, every one of us will die a physical death. But the Bible is clear that that is not all there is to life. Every one of us will either live eternally in joyful service in the presence of the Living God, or in eternity separated from Him. Choose before there is no more choosing. Every battle requires us to take sides – ignoring the battle will not save you. Looking for the safe haven will not help.

There’s a moving scene in Narnia when Susan first learns of Aslan, She asks, “Is he quite safe?” Mr Beaver replies, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King.” He is indeed. He is the King. “Far above all rule and authority, power and dominion.” (Ephesians 1:20).

When you get to very the end of the book, the children are leaving the world of Narnia to go back to the world of England. Aslan tells them that he is in their world too

“but there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”

That is why I love the imagery of Narnia because it helps me understand through child-like eyes who Jesus really is.  Lewis argues that we long “to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own.” We were made for awe. None more so than at Christmas, when we are given a glimpse of another world.  Some churches celebrate Jesus the Christ-Child beyond Christmas. They keep him in the perpetual state of childhood, frozen in statues, safe in the arms of his mother. Not so in Narnia. Not so in the Bible. When you bend down and look carefully at the Nativity scene, you see not only a baby, but a lion, in the manger. Remember the Bible promises, “See the lion of the tribe of Judah has triumphed,” (Revelation 5:5).

What do you see in the manger? You may have never looked at Jesus that way before.  We like our religion safe, predictable and tamed. ‘..he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King.” Despite our flaws, God loves us, and has provided a way of rescue through the birth, death and resurrection of His Son. He wants us to be a part of His family. But he requires we reject our old alliance with evil. He bids us become servants of His good Kingdom in this foreign land and help save other souls. But this is not just a story — it is our story, if we want. This chapter of our history will someday come to an end. But we can have the true desire of our hearts, our longings fulfilled, if we acknowledge Him, for who He really is.

So as we approach Christmas and celebrate the birth of the Lion of Judah, I invite you to see the new Narnia film. And then to read the true story that inspired it. The most incredible true story of all. The story of which this life is, in the words of C.S. Lewis, but the “cover and the title page”. To help you there are a range of booklets on the table at the back including Rick Warren’s best seller, “What on earth am I here for?” It is our Christmas gift to you.

For those who trust and believe, ahead of us lies, “Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” Find out for yourself how Jesus has the power to deal with your past, to delight you in the present and to determine your future.  Aslan is on the move. Jesus makes it always Christmas and no longer winter. May the Lord bless you and those you love this Christmas.

With grateful thanks for much inspiration found in the writings of C.S. Lewis, Devin Brown, Luis Palau, Grayson Carter and Ken Foreman – their writings are accessible from www.narniafaith.com

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