The Lion King
For the next four weeks we’re going to be looking at modern classics from Disney, animated films that were award winning films. They are films that have been seen by hundreds of millions of people and we’re going to look for the gospel within these films.
Now I want to be clear here that I am not preaching from Disney. I’m not going to be preaching the gospel according to Disney but the gospel according to Jesus Christ but as its seen or illustrated in these modern classic films from Disney. This week we start with The Lion King. Next week, Aladdin. The week after that Pocahontas. Then the week after that we’re going to turn to The Hunchback of Notre Dame. And I thought this would be a fun and interesting way of celebrating summer and celebrating the gospel.
Now as we look at the Lion King in particular let me just remind you of few things about the film. It came out in 1994. And it became the highest grossing film of the year around the world. It met with incredible acclaim. It won two Oscars both for the soundtrack, which you may remember was composed by Elton John and Tim Rice. I'd also remind you it became the highest grossing animated film of all time in 1994 and it retained that title for 7 years. And to this day it continues to be the highest grossing hand-drawn animated film. And its popularity has continued to remain very strong now almost 20 years later. It was even made into award-winning Broadway musical. And so we’re familiar with this.
And the film has in it, at least in my mind, some very powerful pictures of the gospel. And so I think you’re going to enjoy having a chance to reflect upon how this film points us toward the gospel.
Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to show you several clips from the film and then we’re going to talk about how those clips point toward gospel truths. And I don’t know that the writers and those that designed and directed this film had any idea they were preaching the gospel in film, but when you look at it you can’t miss it.
And here’s part of the reason why. Any great film, any great theatrical production, any good work of art or piece of literature deals with the human condition. What makes it great is that we resonate with it. We find it speaks to us and it speaks to our condition. And the gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s response to the human condition. So any time we find the human condition accurately portrayed and the hopes and dreams of human beings, anytime we see that we’re going to see something that points us toward the gospel.
Now as we begin I want to show you the opening clip from the film and as you watch this I want you to keep in mind a couple of things. This idea of the lion king that Disney picks up is actually a biblical idea. And it starts all the way back in the time of Jacob and that’s where our first scripture lesson fits in.
Now you remember Jacob had twelve sons. Later these became the 12 tribes of Israel. And one of those sons was named Judah. Now when Jacob is dying he pronounces a word over each of his sons. And these words would come to define their lives. And when Jacob came to Judah he spoke a special word about Judah’s future and the future of his descendents. Listen carefully to what Jacob says about Judah:
“You are a lion’s cub, Judah; you return from the prey, my son…The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his.”
Jacob is speaking to his son Judah promising that one day there will be a kingdom and in that kingdom a descendent of Judah is going to reign. But this is such a sweeping promise. What king in the future of the nation of Israel would have all of the nations obeying him? What is this about? And for generations nobody knew.
Now when king David came along he was the greatest king Israel would know until the time of Jesus. And when he came people said, “Ah, this is what Jacob meant. King David, he’s the one. “And of course David was a lion from the tribe of Judah. And he ruled and reigned, but you know the nations didn’t obey him.
And so the people continued to wonder for a thousand years they wondered, “What was this word that Israel spoke to his son Judah. What was this about the nations obeying him? And in the time of Jesus before He was born people were waiting for the messianic king. And when Jesus was born it became clear to the earliest Christians that he was the long awaited Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
So with that in mind as we roll this opening clip let me point out how some people have looked at this opening scene and seen the birth of Jesus. Here is Jesus the Lion of the Tribe of Judah born and he’s anointed. And you may remember the word anointed in Greek was Christos or Christ in Hebrew it was messiah. And so you’ll see he’s anointed and then he’s presented. In some ways what I see here is the wise men and the shepherds gathering around to praise and to hail the newborn king.
And then on Jesus’ 8th day he was taken to the temple and Simeon takes him in his arms and I picture Jesus being raised up before God and the temple. And then finally you’ll see a beam of light striking the lion cub. And you remember when Jesus was baptized when he was 30 there was a voice that came from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son with whom I’m well pleased.” And a dove descends and rests upon Jesus, the Christ the Messiah. So take a look.
Show clip 1 (0:40 – 4:37)
And so the story begins; the story of the lion king.
Now very early in the story you discover that it’s a story of a father and a son. There’s a lot more to it than that but certainly the lead characters, the two protagonists are the father and the son; King Mufasa voiced of course by James Earl Jones in that deep voice who is the father and then little Simba who is the boy cub, the future lion king.
So one of the images this film paints is the beautiful picture of what that relationship is supposed to look like. For me as a father, not having been given a job description, as a father was to be intentional about being the best father I could be for my boys. And I’ve failed in a 100,000 different ways but I can tell you the things that I most wanted to give to my kids was I wanted them to know that they were loved by their dad.
I wanted to teach them who they were. Not just as my children but as children of God. I wanted them to understand who God is and how much God loves them. And I wanted to try to model for them in some small way the love of their Heavenly Father.
And that’s the first lesson for me in this movie. We see Mufasa trying to shape the identity of his son. He is teaching us about the importance of teaching our children who they are and whose they are. And when I go back to see the story in the book of Genesis of Jacob pronouncing words over his children, he was shaping their identity.
And so we need to take that seriously. You have power over your children to shape their identity. So make sure you’re shaping their identity well. “You are a child of God. You are loved. God has a purpose and a will for your life.” We’re meant to teach our children this.
Now in every great story of course there is the protagonist but there’s also an antagonist. In this film the antagonist, the one who creates conflict is the brother of the king Mufasa. His name is Scar. And it’s supposed to scare you just a little bit; Scar. And if Mufasa represents the good, and the light, Scar represents really the dark side in all of us. An so when you see this character you’re meant to be repulsed by him and at the same time you’re meant to see just a bit of him in you. Take a look:
Clip 2 (11:29 – 13:15)
Well when you look at Scar you're meant to see unbridled jealousy, covetousness, a desire for power, for control and you know really all of those things that are a part of our dark side as well. You know the essential desires that aren’t checked, not brought under some sense of discipline: The desire for status, power, control without being tempered by the call to love.
And so when you see Scar you’re meant to see a bit of yourself. I see in myself these desires, this sort of dark side that draws me to it.
We talk about that theologically, we talk about it as our sin nature. There’s something broken in us that’s drawn to those things that can hurt ourselves or hurt other people or will separate us from God. And yet like a moth to a flame we find ourselves continually drawn in that direction until or unless we remember who we are and whose we are.
And so we see this dark side and really Scar represents not just the dark side in us, but he represents the darkness embodied which we talk about as Satan or the devil. And so Scar is one who would draw us away from God.
Now when I look at this picture of Scar I think first of all of some of tyrants who have ruled over entire nations in the last 100 years. You know Stalin or Hitler or these other people who were willing to kill and destroy in order to have unbridled power; absolute power.
But it’s not just that. It’s stuff that happens every single day. Just in the last two weeks we’ve seen stories back in the news of athletes suspended for using performance enhancing drugs, a former congressman who sent lewd pictures of himself to women, the Cleveland kidnapper, the mayor of San Diego accused of multiple incidents of sexual harassment.
And you look at this and you think, “What was going through their mind? You know, how did you think this was going to turn out OK exactly? Like nobody was going to find out or you wouldn’t get caught.”
The problem is you stop thinking when you’re drawn towards sin. You no longer think about the consequences. You no longer think about whether this is smart or not. You just find yourself drawn into something. That’s ultimately, in these cases what appears to have happened.
And we may look at that and say how idiotic. How stupid. But I guarantee you that there are people who are sitting here in our congregation today who have done some pretty stupid things before. Of course these are pretty extreme cases, but here’s the lesson, we all struggle with the dark side.
And one of the things that’s interesting here is that the dark side is portrayed by a lion just as the light is portrayed by a lion. Jesus is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah but in the book of 1 Peter we read these words, “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him!” (1 Peter 5:8-9a)
So when I read this I think to myself, ‘Where am I tempted? Where is the dark side? How do I stay away from it because I don’t want to join Scar; I don’t want to give in to the Scar within?”
Now as the story continues Scar sets up a situation in which he hopes to kill his own brother and his cub Simba in order to seize control. So he’s devised a plan. And here’s the plan: He takes little Simba to a gorge and right down in the center of the gorge he says, “Your father wanted you to wait for him right here. He’s going to meet you here. Just stay here.”
Then he sends the hyenas out to round up a herd of wildebeests. And the hyenas are going to drive this heard of wildebeests into the gorge and they’re going to crush Simba. They’re going to trample him to death.
Now the next part of the plan is that Scar goes to King Mufasa and he says, “Mufasa your son’s in
danger. There’s a stampede in the gorge and Simba's down there. Hurry, go help him!” And the hope is that the herd of wildebeests will trample both father and son to death in the gorge.
And the plan was partially successful. Mufasa gives his life for his son, as a father would for a child. But Simba lives. Now let me remind you of what happens next: Watch. Clip 3 (37:50 – 38:50)
It’s interesting watching scar here. The word devil means “slanderer”. The word Satan means “accuser.” In fact in Revelation it says that “Satan was the accuser of God’s people.” Sometimes he lies to us to accuse us, to make us feel worthless or guilty of things we weren’t really responsible for. Like the children who were abused when they were children and they believe somehow that was their fault. Or sometimes we are guilty. Sometimes we did do something wrong, but the accuser, the Satan, plays the role of saying, “You can never be forgiven of this. What you did was so horrible God could never forgive you. Your only choice is to run away. Run as far away as you can from the church, from God, from the family that you knew because you’re unredeemable. ”
I’ve seen this so many times in my ministry. You see I have ministered with some of you and I have said, “I think you would be a great leader in this ministry. A great teacher or whatever it may be.” And I’ve had people say to me, “I could never do that. You have no idea what I’ve done in my past.” But you know what? It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in your past. When you come to God and you ask for God’s mercy and grace, God forgives you. “He is faithful and just…” the Scripture says, “And will cleanse you from all unrighteousness.” There is no place you have gone that was so far gone that God cant redeem you, save you, and deliver you from your sin and make you whole and clean and new again. That’s the gospel.
So the devil in the form of Scar is telling little Simba, “Run away. Run as far away as you can. You’re unredeemable. You’re not fit to be a child of the king any more. You’re not fit to live in the kingdom anymore.” But really all Simba needed to do was come to his mother and say, “Mom I don’t know what happened but I’m so sorry.” And all would have been made right. He would have been the king.
But Simba listens to the lies of Scar and runs away - he runs away for a long time – for years guilt and shame have consumed Simba and at the same time Scar has control of the Pridelands and destroys them in his quest for more. But Simba runs away and he’s filled with guilt and shame and he runs into a couple of friends. A little meercat and a warthog, Timon and Pumbaa. And Timon and Pumbaa try to help him sort of deal with his guilt and shame. And the way they deal with it is they teach him not to worry about anything. It’s actually a pretty fun song. And the song and the phrase they teach him is Hakuna Matata. Hakuna Matata means “no worries.” Just don’t worry about anything. And that’s a fun way to live for a while.
And when I see this I always think about the prodigal son who ran away from his father and then he squandered everything he had; not worried about responsibilities or expectations or what it was that his father wants of him. That’s what happens with Simba. He forgets who he is and he wanders off and he lives by Hakuna Matata as long as he can. And no worries!
But the day comes when he realizes that he has responsibilities. Scar has destroyed the Pridelands and there’s no hope and the animals are living in despair. And that leads us to what I believe is the most powerful scene in the film. Old Rafiki shows up and helps Simba realize he can’t live by Hakuna Matata forever. There’s something needed of him. He was destined for something.”
Take a look at this scene:
Clip 4 (1:03:40 – 1:08:48)
“Remember who you are. You are my son. Remember!” We have a tendency to forget who we are. When we were baptized God claimed us. He said, “You are my child.” But we run from that.
So part of what I want to say to you today is I want you to remember who you are. You know the devil wants to convince us - whether you believe the devil’s literal or whether you see the devil as a personification of all that’s evil and the dark side – the devil would convince you that your life is not worth anything. He would convince you that you can’t be forgiven and that you’re a person of little value, but that’s not what God says. And that’s not what the gospel says. And the gospel’s about the great worth that you have – so much so that God would lay down Christ’s life for you.
Maybe you forgot who you were somewhere along the way. It’s so easy to do. You get caught up in your career or in the things that you desire in life and what the world tells you you’re supposed to want. And along the way you forget, you’re a child of God. He walks with you and He loves you and He wants to have you walk with Him. And there’s a plan and purpose that he has for your life and you forget all those things.
I even sometimes forget. And I quit acting like a child of God when I forget who I am. So I have to remind myself. I have to get on my knees and remind myself that “Lord I belong to you. I am not my own but yours. I remember I belong to Christ.”
Have you forgotten who you are? Today is a great day to remember that you are God’s child. And He is your heavenly father.
Now when Simba remembers that he has a father and that he’s a son of the king it’s only then that he he stops living by Hakuna Matata and he goes back to the Pridelands and he says, “You know I’m responsible for what’s happening here.” And you know these animals have been living in despair under Scar’s leadership and he’s virtually ruined everything. The whole world seems ruined. But you know that’s not the end of the story.
Now you know this that when there’s a Disney movie you know how it’s going to end, right? You know it’s going to end happy, isn’t it? I mean you know that Simba has to go back. He’s going to retake the Pridelands. Scar’s going to die and everybody’s going to live happily ever after because it’s a Disney movie.
But listen. Why do Disney movies end that way? Because something inside of us yearns for life to really be that way, doesn’t it? We want to know when we’re going through dark times that the darkness will never have the final word. What we preach and celebrate every year at Easter. And that’s the final lesson. We want to know that hardship and pain and suffering and even death will not have the final word. And the truth is Disney may build that in because that’s what you want, that’s what you long for. But you want it and long for it because that’s what’s going to happen someday. You know what? The King, the Lion King is going to come back. And when He comes back He makes all things right. And we live and we trust in that end of the story – that we know one day what will happen.
So we get to the end of the Lion King and Simba comes and he destroys Scar and he takes back the land and paradise is restored. And that’s exactly what the Scriptures say will happen. In the Book of Revelation, the writer of Revelation is living in a time when there’s persecution and pain and suffering going on. And he’s weeping. And yet the elders in the heavenly vision he has say to him, “Do not weep! See the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.” (Revelation 5:5)
And then it says, it describes this Lion as a Lamb. And it gives us this vision of ultimately what will happen. It says, “He who sits on the throne will shelter them with His presence. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them; nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:15-17)
That’s how the human story ends. And also in a sense how it begins. And with this in mind I invite you to bow with me for our closing prayer.