Beauty and the Beast: The Hope for Change
It is a tale that is old as time, this fairy tale that became Beauty and the Beast. It’s actually written down for the first time in France in the 1700’s but probably originated far before that. And like every great fairy tale it was a story that had a moral.
Beauty and the Beast is a story of transformation and the need for change and how sacrificial love is what it takes in order to see that change happen.
This story has been made into 5 different films. The last one in 1991 was actually the Disney animated classic and finally into a Broadway musical from there. You heard one of the songs from the musical earlier and then I’m going to show you a couple of clips from the animated classic so that you have a chance to catch the storyline. And in the process I want you to be listening all along the way I want you to be listening and asking this question: “Where do I see the gospel in this place.”
Now I’d like to begin by showing the opening clip from the animated classic Beauty and the Beast.
Clip 1: Opening scene from animated film
This is where the story begins. The young self-absorbed, self-centered Prince fails the test. He doesn’t show love. He doesn’t welcome in the hag out of the cold. And she then transforms into the enchantress and casts a spell on him.
And the spell was quite simple. It is allowing everyone else in the world to see what she saw. It is transforming him so that his outward appearance matches his heart. He becomes a beast.
Now the story of Beauty and the Beast is really a story at first about the darkness within all of us. About those places where inside we are not the same as the person we pretend to be on the outside; where we act in unkind ways, where we’re uncharitable, we’re uncompassionate, where we’re self-centered or self-absorbed.
And here we find one of the primary teachings of the Scripture. And that is from the very beginning, when God created us in paradise there was something that went wrong, something that was awry with the human spirit. Christian theologians call it original sin. A brokenness in which the image of God was distorted in us. So that God created us to be people that are loving and kind and thought of others first and thought of God and worshipped God. But instead there is something inside of us that desires to be God ourselves and for the whole world to revolve around us. And that brokenness needs to be healed. It’s in need of a transformation.
One of the questions we’re meant to ask when we read stories like this or when we read in the scriptures stories of those who were beasts who were transformed is where is the beast within me? And I would ask that of you. Where is the dark place in you that’s in need of transformation? That place where you’re embarrassed of or ashamed of or maybe you don’t even recognize? Or the thoughts that you wouldn’t dare to express with words but you feel them inside.
A couple of weeks ago I was out playing golf and I wasn’t really paying close enough attention and I had sort of lost track of where Robbie had hit his ball. And I came across this ball lying in some thick grass and I picked up His ball by mistake and put it in my pocket. Well Robbie understandably didn’t appreciate that very much and he told me so. Well something about that hit me wrong and it really made me angry. And I found these feelings welling up inside. And I said some things that were not very becoming. And I went home that day and I looked at myself in the mirror and I thought, “Why did you act that way? Why did you feel that way? What was going on inside here?”
And as I began to ask those questions and looked at myself in the mirror I didn’t like what I saw. There were things there that I wish were not a part of my life. And that’s the beast within, at least one of them for me.
Now all of us struggle with these beasts whether we recognize it or not; the shadow that we try to hide, the inner darkness that keeps us from God or being what God wants us to be. Sometimes these are character traits or old tapes that we play for ourselves or sometime they are addictions or patterns that we simply can’t find the strength to break. And sometimes they’re just garden variety sins or maybe more serious sins.
You might remember I did a series of sermons a year or so ago on the 7 deadly sins. The 7 deadly sins were deadly because they had the most corrosive power over the soul. They were the root of so many other sins. Lust was the first, and gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, and pride. These for many of us represent our dark side. And so if these go unattended or unaddressed they eat away at you from the inside out.
Now it’s interesting the Bible is filled with characters like the Beast; beasts who were transformed by the power of God. But consistently we find the story of human beings, the story isn’t about saints. It’s a story about sinners and broken people.
So we find Adam and Eve placed in the middle of paradise. And God gives them one rule. And they can’t abide by that one rule. They find the one fruit they most want to eat is the one fruit that God has forbidden for them to touch.
We find Cain and Abel, two brothers. And Cain kills his brother Abel. Why? Because of jealously. Because the inner rage, the dark side within.
We find Jezebel who a classic example of how ultimate power corrupts ultimately. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And she misuses her power and destroys people. And in the end is destroyed by her own self-centeredness.
We find King David who writes so many of the Psalms and is a man after God’s own heart and yet he can’t keep his hands off another man’s wife. And finally to cover up his own sin he has Uriah put to death.
Why are these people this way? Except there’s something not quite right inside of us.
So I’d guess I’d ask you again, are you aware of the beast within? What is the beast you wrestle with? Do you see those places that still need to change in you for you to become the person that God longs for you to be? Because until you see it, you can’t begin to see change. That’s really the first step, is recognizing that there is something wrong.
The apostle Paul says this in Romans 3. He says, “Human beings are filled with evil; greed, depravity, envy, strife, deceit. We’re arrogant and boastful and slander others. We live without mercy and live without love.”
And finally in Romans 7 he saying, “Now this isn’t just about you. It’s about me. The good things that I want to do I don’t find the strength to do. And the things I don’t want to do I find myself doing.” And then he says this. “Wretched man that I am who can save me from this body of sin and death?”
Then of course he answers his own question. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord who gives us the victory.”
Are you aware of your need for change? Your need for salvation? Because until you are salvation can’t occur. But once you are, you begin to recognize it, once you finally see there is this dark place and I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s what God wants me to be then you’re ready.
Change starts when we finally realize how broken we are and the need of transformation.
And that’s exactly what happens for the Beast in the musical. In the Bible we talk about it as repentance because once you realize that you are broken you cry out to God and say, “God save me and deliver me from this. And I am so sorry for what I have done. And I grieve the fact that I did these things.” And when you begin to feel that here and you begin to pray and ask God’s forgiveness and then you ask God’s healing and you ask God to help you to not be that anymore, you’re beginning on the process of transformation – a metamorphosis that happens in your life as you cry out to Him.
And that’s exactly what we find in the biblical narrative. And we are transformed by the power of God’s love.
So here we find the Beast. You get to the end of Act 1 in the musical and you find that the Beast comes to this point where he suddenly understands. It’s as though he didn’t see up to this point but now he sees just how awful he is.
This woman has come into the castle, Belle, and she’s his one chance for salvation. He knows that the spell will be broken if he can love her sacrificially and she can love him. If he can win her love then the spell will be broken and he’ll be set free, he’ll be saved. But he continues to act towards her in the same beastly manner that he treated the hag. And finally she runs away and he looks at himself and he realizes that he lost the one chance for salvation because if he can’t love her then he can’t love anybody. And if she couldn’t love him then there was no chance.
And in that brokenness he cries out a wonderful song that Act 1 ends with in which he says these words: “In my twisted face there’s not the slightest trace of anything that even hints of kindness. And from my tortured shape no comfort, no escape. I see but deep within is utter blindness. If I can’t love her.”
Utter hopelessness. Utter despair. And yet that is not the biblical story. The biblical story says that there is always hope. No matter how bad things may be for you. No, matter how broken you may seem, there is always hope for redemption. There’s always hope that God can save you from the pit and bring you out and give you new life. There’s always hope for change.
Now that change happens through sacrificial love. It happens in the bible through a relentless pursuit of the lover of our souls, the God who will not let us go. The God who continues to love us even when we are most unlovable. And in His relentless pursuit – when we finally turn to Him and we reach out to Him, He lifts us out of the pit and He begins that process of change. That’s the biblical story – there is always hope, no matter how broken you may seem, how addicted, or how failed your life may be, there’s always hope with God.
Now the apex of those expressions of sacrificial love in the scriptures is seen in Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. It is the most powerful and profound example of the love that God has for us and the lengths, the ends to which God is willing to go in order to save us and redeem us. And that act of sacrificial love is itself meant to change us.
Now we find two examples of this in the musical; two pictures where we see that same kind of redemptive love. I want to talk with you about just one of those. That is when Belle, the beautiful young girl discovers that her father has been imprisoned in the Beast’s castle. The father was taking a trip through the woods and a pack of wolves had attacked him. And he ran as fast as he could, found the castle and ran inside; trespassed. And once inside the Beast captured him. The Beast knew that if anyone escaped from the castle going back to the village, explaining that there was a beast there he would be killed.
And so to preserve himself, to save himself – you see he’s still only focused on himself – he imprisons Maurice, Belle’s father. When Belle finds out that her father is in prison she goes to the castle. And there she does something most Christ like. And in this act of sacrificial love the Beast finally begins to get a glimpse of what it means to be authentically human. Take a look.
Clip 2: Belle takes her father Maurice’s in the Beast’s castle prison from animated film
This is a picture of what in the scriptures and in Christian theology we know of as the idea of substitutionary atonement. It’s one particular way of looking at the cross in which we understand that Jesus Christ came to give Himself in our place, to take our place in paying the price for the sins of the world. And innocent man suffers for the guilty. And the guilty go free.
This is a very powerful picture of the love of God. It’s one way of understanding the cross, but it’s a powerful one. To think that Christ suffered and died to save us, to redeem us. That’s meant to affect you.
About ten years ago now when many of you saw the movie The Passion of the Christ the power of that film was that it painted a fairly realistic picture of the sufferings of Jesus. And I don’t know about you, but for me when it really affected me was when I realized that was for me. He was suffering when He didn’t have to so that He might delver me. And that’s meant to change your heart.
That’s why the cross is the central symbol of the Christian faith because we look at it and we realize that God himself suffered for us out of His great love for us that we might be changed. And that in itself changes us.
The beast begins to change. He sees something so different from himself because all he can think about is his own self-preservation and here is Belle who is willing to give up her future and her life to save her father. Something begins to change when you see sacrificial love.
And that’s what Belle does and that’s what begins to change the beast. This is how it works. This is how beasts are transformed. They’re transformed by the power of love.
What’s interesting is that this is the Bible story. I mean consistently the Bible is the story both of beasts but then what happens in God’s relentless pursuit of us in God’s love and the love others show and how people are changed by that.
All through the Bible are these stories of utter transformation.
A demoniac who the people had been afraid of, living among the tombs with his hands shackled changed by the power of Christ.
You read of the apostle Paul who had been persecuting Christians, putting them to death changed by the power of Christ.
You find Zacchaeus the tax collector who was only in it for himself, stole from the people so he could have a fabulous house hanged by the power of Christ and giving away half of all he had to the poor.
How does this happen except that we come into contact with a love greater than our own.
The apostle Paul says this in 2 Corinthians 5. He talks about the persistent love of God and how that love changed him and changes us. And he said this. “For the love of Christ urges us on…He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died and was raised for them…from now on therefore we regard no one from a human point of view…so if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!...so we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making His appeal through us.”
The apostle Paul knew what it was like to be a beast. He’d been there. He stood by and watched Stephen the first Christian martyr stoned to death. He had given approval for this. And Stephen’s clothing was brought and laid at the Apostle Paul’s feet. He had gone to arrest the other Christians. Why? Because he wanted to make a name for himself. Because there was anger in his soul. Because he was convinced that he was right and they were wrong for prideful reasons. Who knows why? But so much hate coming from this man. Until finally he met Christ personally and everything began to change. He saw the world with new eyes. And then he was compelled by the love of Christ. As a changed person to love other people, to love the unlovable until they too were changed, because he himself had been unlovable.
This morning as you prepare to come forward to receive this symbol and to remember the sacrificial love of our Lord Jesus Christ the question that I would ask you today is first of all have you identified the beast within yourself? Do you see those areas where you need change? And are you willing to accept the radical love of God and to say, “God change my heart. Make me new. Be the potter, I’ll be the clay. Shape me into the person you want me to be.” That’s the first step – repentance and asking for God’s help and change.
What is the change that you most need for God to work in your life? Maybe it’s an addiction, or some secret sin, or maybe it’s one of the deadly sins, maybe it’s just a pattern that you need to break? Ask God. Say to Him, “God I repent of it. I give it to you. I need your help. Set me free and change me.” And as you take and eat and drink I pray you will know in your heart and life the hope of change.