This morning we turn our attention to the second in a four-part sermon series on the Gospel in Disney. And as I mentioned this last week, these modern classics in Disney animated film speak to the human condition.
When we look at these film clips from Disney we’re really looking at illustrations. Think of it this way. When Jesus preached he didn’t say, “Well now we’re going to Isaiah 52 and let me do an exposition of the text for you.” No. He did that one time. The very first sermon that he ever preached was in Nazareth and he preached that way. And then they tried to kill him. After that he never did it that way again.
Instead what he did was he told stories. “Now let me tell you about a father who had two sons. Let me tell you about a shepherd who had 100 sheep. Let me tell you about a sower who cast seed.” He told stories.
We’re telling stories using animated film. And then we’re saying, “Now how does the gospel relate to that?” So I’m hoping you get this.
Its 1992 and the film Aladdin came out. This became the highest grossing film of the year worldwide. It became the highest grossing animated film ever made in 1992. And was only knocked off its perch 2 years later by The Lion King, which we looked at last week. The film again won 2 Oscars for the best musical score and the best original song “A Whole New World.”
And so we are going to be looking at this and we are going to be asking the question, where do we see the gospel; gospel truths, gospel principles in this story?
Now the story comes from 1001 Arabian Knights. It’s the story of Aladdin and the magic lamp and it’s been told generation after generation. Disney of course has reinterpreted it a bit but let me remind you of what’s happening in the film. The film is the story of a young man named Aladdin who was basically, we don’t know whether he was orphaned but he’s basically raised himself on the streets. And the way he survives is he steals in the marketplace.
And so the film starts with Aladdin stealing a loaf of bread to eat. And while he’s getting ready to eat he notices these two little tiny children who are digging through the garbage to find food, because they also were orphans only much smaller than he is. And he takes the bread that he fought for and he gives it to these little children.
And then after they’ve eaten they run out into the streets and there is a prince who is riding into town to court the princess Jasmine. And he’s riding on his horse and they’re almost killed, trampled to death by the horse. And I want you to notice in this exchange who’s the prince and who’s really the good for nothing.
Worthless, riffraff, street rat, or is there more to him? And of course what we already see in this opening scene is we see courage and compassion and kindness and a willingness to risk in order to save someone else. And so you realize that he is as the film describes him “a diamond in the rough”. He’s not yet what he could be but he’s got potential.
And what’s interesting in this paints a picture for us of both how God sees us and of who God chooses. Who God chooses to use for his purposes.
Let me take you to 1 Samuel 16, a story you’ve no doubt heard before. God calls Samuel to go to Jesse in Bethlehem and He says, “One of Jesse’s sons is to be the next king, the great king over Israel. Go and find one of his sons and I will tell you which one will be the great king.”
So Samuel goes to Jesse and he says, “Jesse I need to see your sons. One of them will be anointed by God.” And so he brings him the oldest boy. His name is Eliab. And Eliab comes out and Eliab is strapping. He’s strong. He’s handsome. He’s everything you’d want a king to be. And Samuel looks at him and says, “Yeah! He’s the one.”
And I want you to listen to what the scripture says in this passage: “Samuel looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is now before the LORD.” But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:6-7)
And so Jesse brings all six of his sons in the house before Samuel and every one God says, “No not this one.” Samuel says to Jesse, “Do you have any more boys?” He says, “Well, yeah the runt of the litter. He’s just a little boy. He’s out tending the sheep.”
And in walk this lanky little David, whose maybe 11 years old. And Samuel looks at him and God says, “Yep he’s the one.” “You’re kidding Lord? This one?” Yep because I see his heart. I see not what he has been nor what he is today but what he could be.”
Did you know that’s how God looks at you? God sees not what you have been nor what you are today. He knows all that. But he sees what you could be if you place your life in His hands. And that’s why God – He chooses unlikely candidates.
What do you see when you look around at people? Or you look at yourself. Let me remind you that God called Moses the stutterer who was a fugitive from the law to be the great deliverer of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. And God called Esther the beauty queen who wasn’t necessarily known for her brains, but called Esther to be the courageous woman who would save the Israelites from mass extinction at the hands of the Persians. When Jesus went calling disciples, do you remember who He called? If I’d been Jesus I would have gone to the seminary in Jerusalem and I would have asked to see the students who were graduating with the highest GPA. But Jesus didn’t do that. He went to the fishermen on the seashore of Galilee and he called to 4 of them and said, “Come and follow me.” These were probably guys who couldn’t even read or write. And then he called a tax collector and a zealot and a whole host of other people who were riffraff and ragamuffins. And He said, “You’re going to help me change the world.”
And Paul writes in our scripture passage today this to the Corinthians. Some of the Corinthians had begun to think that they were really something and Paul has to remind them. He says, “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters; not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, the things that are not, to reduce to nothing the things that are.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28)
God sees not what we have been, but what he sees is the potential within us. We are all diamonds in the rough.
I don’t know what tapes you have playing in your head about how worthwhile your life is or whether you have any value but here’s what I know, God looks at you and you are His workmanship. And God sees what you can be when you put your life in his hands. And God can do extraordinary things through people who are simply willing to say, “Here I am Lord. Use me.”
That’s the first thing I see in Aladdin. Here’s a street rat, a riffraff. Nah. Here’s a man who’s going to become a prince.
The second thing I notice in this film is this idea of what Aladdin does next. He meets Jasmine. And Jasmine is the princess, the sultan’s daughter. Jasmine is nearing her birthday and the law says the princess has to be married by this birthday. And she has to marry a prince. And she’s feeling trapped. And so one day she puts on commoner’s clothes and she sneaks out of the palace and she goes to walk in the marketplace. And Aladdin is watching as she enters the marketplace. And immediately Aladdin is smitten.
And so here he is. Aladdin is head over heels in love with Jasmine. And they get to know one another. And there’s some sparks that begin to happen.
Except there’s this law. That Jasmine has to marry a prince. And he’s just riffraff, street rat, a common thief. What’s going to happen?
Well this sets up the moment when Aladdin finds his magic lamp. He finds this lamp, and he rubs the lamp and out pops the genie. And you may remember the blue Genie is called simply Genie and he’s voiced by Robin Williams.
So now he’s got this Genie who’s going to fulfill his wishes. Which is how some of us tend to look at God – but that’s another sermon. We find him now having this ability to have anything he wants. Wow! Doesn’t that sound like what our dreams are, to have anything you want?
And of course what he wants is to be married to the girl. But he’s not a prince. So what do you think his first wish is? Yeah, “Make me a prince. I want to be a prince.”
And so the Genie does what he asks. He at least tries. He gives him the duds of a prince. He’s wearing these great clothes. And then he’s got the whole entourage. He’s got fabulous wealth, servants, animals. All of this. And so now all Aladdin has to do is go and impress the girl. He’s going to march into the sultan’s palace. He’s going to sweep her off her feet with all of this magnificent glory that he had. And he tries that. Except it doesn’t work.
The princess is not attracted to all of this stuff, because she’s already had that offered to her again and again by all these other superficial and shallow princes. And what she found herself interested in in Aladdin was something that was in here. But all he was concerned about was impressing her with all that was outside; the externals.
And so we find he’s in trouble. Actually he’s repulsing; he’s pushing her away from him because he’s focused on the superficial stuff. Which is what often happens when other people see us focused on the externals and not the internals.
And so Aladdin comes back to Genie and says, “Genie what do I do? I mean she doesn’t seem to be interested in me?
So this is interesting. Now here’s this dilemma. The human condition, our attempt to try to impress other people.
Let’s just pause there for a second. And I’m curious. In what ways have you tried to impress other people? In what ways have you tried to become a friend of somebody, or win the admiration of somebody by your efforts to impress? And what is it about you that you want people to be impressed by?
You usually really begin to see this in high school as we want to fit in and the peer pressure becomes so strong. But then we graduate from high school. And that all stops when we graduate from high school, right? No. We graduate and then it becomes the car that we’re driving , the labels that we’re wearing in our clothes, the neighborhood that we live in, and a whole host of other externals, that are ways of trying to tell people that we really are something special. “Please notice me. I’m hot stuff.”
Now when we become Christians we begin to realize, “You know what, that really kind of stupid. That’s not what we’re supposed to do. We’re not supposed to try to impress people. We’re supposed to influence them.
Actually that’s the question I would ask you. Are you impressing people or influencing them? And as you think about this you know we become religious and we stop trying to focus on the externals. And then what happens religiously is if we’re not careful we use our religiosity to try to impress people.
So now we’re going to church. “I’ve been in Disciple Bible Study 1,2,3,4… How about you? I’ve been on 7 mission trips? How many have you been on? I read my Bible and pray every single day. I’m on 4 different church committees.”
Jesus said this about the Pharisees. By the way he called people who did what I’m talking about hypocrites. You remember the Greek word for hypocrite means “play actor” or “pretender.” That’s what Aladdin was doing when he was pretending to be a prince.
And Jesus said this to the play actors. He said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before, as the hypocrites do.” (Matthew 6:1-2)
And then he goes on to describe the fact that we’re supposed to practice in secret where our Father sees and not in front of other people so that they can praise us.
Now that’s interesting because in Matthew 5 Jesus also says, “Let your light so shine before others so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
So which is it? Do we do our good works before other people so they can give glory to our Father who is in heaven or do we practice them in secret where nobody can see except our Father in heaven? And there’s really not a conflict. The issue is your motivation. Are you practicing your piety so that other people will notice you and think you’re really something; to impress them? Or are you practicing your piety in such a way that people give glory to God and not to you?
And so once more Aladdin is helping us see how we can pretend to be something that we’re really not.
Now the truth is when it comes to our faith, all of us are hypocrites. I mean I’m a hypocrite and so are you. Because I’m not yet what I want to be. But thank God I’m what I used to be either. And He’s still working on me! And He’s still working on you.
That’s the second thing I learned from Aladdin. The first was that we’re all diamonds in the rough and the second is we need to be about influencing other people not impressing them. And to be careful that the only one that we’re really needing to impress – and we’re not impressing Him we’re simply trying to please Him – we are to walk humbly before God seeking to please Him. And you know what? If we do that, if we actually live the way God wants us to live with humility and love and grace and sacrifice and all of those things, other people actually end up being impressed by you. And you have a chance to deflect that to God.
So that takes us to one last point. Here’s what happens in the rest of the film. There’s a conflict between good and evil. There’s Aladdin fighting Jafar – the evil vizier – and then we find in the midst of that Aladdin almost dies and he has to use up his second wish to save his life.
So Aladdin has used up 2 wishes. The princess knows he’s not a prince, everybody knows he’s not a prince. He can’t marry Jasmine and he’s burned his second wish trying to stay alive.
Now he only has how many wishes? Right? He only has 3 wishes. And when he first met the Genie he found out that the Genie was trapped. He was imprisoned as a genie. And the only way the Genie could ever be set free is if someone would use up one of their wishes to set the Genie free. To set the captive free, to use biblical language. And Aladdin says to him, “Don’t worry. I’ll use my third wish to set you free.”
But now Aladdin has used up 2 wishes. By this time Jasmine has fallen in love with him. They want to get married. He can’t marry her unless he’s a prince. He has one wish left. He’s made a promise to set the captive free with it. But he’s going to lose the girl. He’s going to lose happiness and love. What’s he going to do with his third wish?
Now before I show the clip I want to just say all of us have this dilemma in our lives. What do you do with the third wish? In other words you have this amount of income after taxes. Do you spend it all on yourself or do you give the first tenth to God and you give to people who are in need and you live a life that’s generous towards others? And you use this amount for you but at least you set aside the third wish to help other people.
Or your time. You have x amount of time every week, right? We all have the same amount of time. And you’re tired and worn out but do you actually stop and go on a mission trip every other year or so? Or do you volunteer to help out at VBS or with backpack Buddies or our local Habitat project?
And see it’s our third wish. Do you use all the wishes for yourself or do you give some of them away? Clip 4
So Aladdin chooses to give up his own personal happiness to be able to set the captive free. He gives up the third wish. And do you know what the New Testament calls that? The New Testament calls it agape, which is a selfless and sacrificial love, a dogged determination to do what would bless or heal or help or set free someone else even though it comes at a cost to you personally.
And what the New Testament teaches us is that’s what it means to be human. And then when human beings begin to sin it’s because we forgot about this. And so Jesus says things like, “In the kingdom of heaven this is how it works, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. And whoever loses their life will find life. And if you would be truly great you must become the servant.”
And then Jesus demonstrates to us what sacrificial love looks like. Though He could have been a prince Himself, though He could have reigned as a king and had all the wealth and power this world has to offer instead he hangs on a cross where His body was broken and His blood was shed and He dies for us. That’s agape. And then Jesus calls us to follow.
The apostle Paul does too. In Philippians 2 he says this: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who … humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name.” (Philippians 2:3-5, 8-9)
Are you living only for yourself? Is it all about you? Do you have a little morsel to give to somebody else when they’re in need? I mean if we’re actually going to live this way it may mean when it comes to your time you don’t play golf as much as you might. Or it may mean you don’t upgrade that flat screen TV because you’re going to use that money to give to things that really matter. Or maybe you don’t buy this thing or take up this thing because there’s something bigger that God has in mind for you.
And when you finally figure that out – you know the thing is you use all three wishes for yourself you’re going to find you get to the end of your life and you still haven’t found what you were looking for. But you begin figuring out that you give one of those wishes away, you begin giving yourself away and you find a joy unspeakable and full of glory.
And so here’s what happens. There’s Aladdin and he’s just done this thing and he’s given up his chance to marry the princess and the sultan watches and sees it happen.
Let me just say this. Somehow when we actually give our third wish away God makes it all work out. You give your tithe and somehow it all works out. You give your time and somehow it still works out – even better than before.
And the sultan watches as Aladdin gives away his opportunity for happiness in order to help someone else be happy and free and what the sultan recognizes is that Aladdin really is a prince. He became a prince in giving himself away. And the sultan changes the law and he allows anybody to marry the princess and Jasmine and Aladdin get married and they live happily ever after.
One last postscript. You know we talked about the diamond in the rough? When you figure out that God sees you not for what you have been but for what you could be and he uses ordinary people like you to do extraordinary things. And when you stop trying to impress other people and instead you try to influence people as you try to please God in all things. And when finally you recognize this last point of the sermon that you have an opportunity to give yourself away and to exercise and practice agape. You know what we discover if all of us as human beings did those three things? We’d find a whole new world. Jesus calls that new world the kingdom of God.
So how about if we try those things? Offering our lives to God, let Him change us and make us what He sees we can be. Stop trying to impress but instead trying to influence and please God. And give ourselves away to set the captives free.
If you’re willing to do that I’d like to invite you to bow your heads and put your hands on your lap like your offering yourself to God. And I’d like to invite you to simply say quietly in your own words, in your own way:
Lord I offer my life to you.
Make me the person you want me to be. The person you see I could be.
Forgive me for spending so much of my time trying to impress others. Help me instead to try to influence them.
And help me to practice agape.
To give myself to others and to set the captives free.
Lord bless this congregation. Help us to honor you and to help create a whole new world. In Jesus name. Amen.