This week we're starting a series titled "God on Film" where we will be using some of this Spring's greatest blockbusters as illustrations to better understand the words of Scripture. Our first movie is "Beauty and the Beast," a familiar film with a great theme!
This message is based on Acts 9:1-19.
This morning we start a new series called “God on Film.” Movies can be powerful. I think they are more than just entertainment. I think movies, and TV, too, for that matter, shape our beliefs. The people we let into our homes through the TV can almost become like part of our families. They can become people that, while fictional, can influence our thoughts, desires, and dreams.
So we’re going to look at three of the more popular movies that just came out this spring. While the movies are not Christian films, I’ll try to show some Christians themes, and we’ll see if we understand god’s love for us through these movies. This week, we start off with Beauty and the Beast. If you’ve seen this film, which just left theaters within the last month or so, you wouldn’t have heard any references to anything biblical. But we’ll see if we can’t find a biblical theme.
It’s a story we’re all familiar with. It’s a story about a Prince who lives in a castle with a slew of household staff, but no one else in his life. He seems to love life, throwing dances, very grand balls, in the castle, and seemingly inviting all the women in the kingdom. But there is no love in his life. He seems to use people for his own entertainment.
One day, an enchantress comes to one of his balls, dressed as a beggar. When she is thrown out of the castle, she transforms herself into a lovely maiden. Of course, now the prince is intrigued. But it’s too late. She casts a curse on the castle and all who live there. The prince is turned into beast, all the household staff become furnishings – with the main characters becoming a candlestick, a clock, a tea pot, a tea cup, and an armoire.
The enchantress then leaves a single rose. The curse can only be broken by loves first kiss, and it must happen before the rose loses its petals. Now it is an enchanted rose, and you get the idea that it’s been years since the curse, and it’s only starting to shed them. It’s been so long, in fact, that the prince, turned into the Beast, has given up all hope of ever breaking the spell.
Fast forward to the nearby village, which because of the curse has totally forgotten about the castle. There are two main characters that hail from there. We have Belle, the bookworm who is always day dreaming of far-away places with her head always stuck in a book. Then we have Gaston, the macho man of the village, the dream of every lady in the village but one – Belle, the one Gaston has decided he must have.
One night Belle’s father goes off on one his business trips. A fierce storm comes up, the horse is spooked, the wagon destroyed, and Belle’s father is stranded. Wandering, he finds the castle, enters, finds a nice warm fire, gets warmed up there for a while, then finds some food that’s been laid out for him. But then he is discovered by the beast, who throws him in a dungeon.
The horse finds its way back to Belle, who sets out to find her father. The horse takes her right to the castle. The household staff – the candlestick, clock, etc, all lead her to her father. The Beast appears again, but Belle isn’t phased, she sticks up for herself, and winds up tricking the Beast into holding her prisoner instead of her father.
Long story short, the Beast eventually falls for Belle and lets her go. As she returns to the village, Gaston hears about the Beast, and sets out with a mob from the village to destroy it. Belle hears what they are doing and returns as well, arriving just in time to find the Beast severely wounded by Gaston. She confesses her love for him, gives him a kiss, and the curse is broken.
Now all that being said, what biblical truths can we take away from this. Well let me suggest that Beauty and the Beast is a story of transformation. The Beast was lost in it’s curse, which came about, if you think about it, from his sin – his hardened heart, his pride, his conceit. He was very much the narcissist, and as a result, a curse was given him.
Let me also suggest, that when we are lost in our sin, that sin becomes a curse on us. Think back to Genesis 2, the fall of mankind. When God confronts the serpent, who tricked Eve, and then Adam and Eve, He put a curse on them. The serpent’s curse we see in verse 14-15, “cursed are you above all livestock and all the wild animals!” Why? Because of the serpent’s sin. In verse 16 we see Eve’s curse, and in verse 17-19 we see Adams. When we willingly sin, we come under the curse of sin, and we lose relationship with God.
So just like the Prince, when we become overly self-absorbed, overly prideful, overly narcissistic, we sin, and come under sin’s curse. Now for the Prince, he was turned into a Beast, and then had to find true love in that hideous form. For us, it’s not so hard. We just have to repent from the sin that caused the curse, and turn to God by faith in Jesus Christ.
In our reading, we see a rather over the top example of God’s redemption and transformation in the life of Saul, who later became Paul. Saul was a devout Jew convinced that the Christians were leading other Jews astray with their teachings of Jesus. In the movie, the Beast was an unsavory character who had given up ever becoming a man again. In the bible, Saul was an unsavory man who almost singlehandedly led a crusade against the early church, seeking out Christians and putting them to death, with no idea that he was wrong. I think at least the Beast knew the curse he was under, Saul had no idea. Most of the unchurched people we meet will have no idea of the curse they are under, they have no idea they are in the wrong. Like Saul, they think the Christians are wrong.
In the movie, Belle’s love was able to transform the Beast’s heart of stone. In our reading, God’s love transformed Saul’s heart of stone. And Saul really did have a heart of stone. In 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul referred to himself as a chief of sinners, saying, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” Yet, God was still able to reach Paul, even the worst sinner is not beyond God’s ability to heal.
Let’s look at our reading this morning. There are four points that I want to cover this morning that help us to understand Saul’s conversion. They may only be loosely connected to each other, but I want us to think about each of them in turn, and what they might mean to us as believers today.
The first has to do with the Body of Christ. We saw in the reading that while Saul was traveling to Damascus, he experienced this blinding light that dropped him to the ground. The light was so bright, he later described it as, “a light from heaven, brighter than any sun, blazing around me and my companions” (Acts 26:13).
Then he heard the voice say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (9:4). This is what I want to talk about here in this point. Saul never persecuted Jesus. He only persecuted followers of Jesus. Yet the Lord said, “Why are you persecuting me?” The message here is that persecuting followers of Jesus is persecuting Jesus. Paul later wrote a lot about the Body of Christ. I’m sure he wasn’t thinking about at the time, but this is an early lesson for him about the realities of the Body of Christ. We are all a part of the Body of Christ. We feel each other’s pain, we struggle with each other, we help and encourage each other. And as our reading implies, when one suffers, even Jesus Himself feels the pain.
The second point I wanted us to think about this morning was Saul’s question, “Who are you, Lord?” (Acts 9:5). Understand that when Saul referred to Him as Lord, that doesn’t mean he knew who He was. The Greek and Hebrew words for Lord can be literally translated as “Sir.” It’s a word that gives respect. In England, the word is used as a title for Dukes, Earls, and Barons. They are like classes of people, the top classes should be respected, and to show that respect, they are referred to as Lord so and so. Saul didn’t know it was Jesus appearing to him.
If he did, it wouldn’t have been necessary for Jesus to identify himself, “I am Jesus who you are persecuting” (v5b). I think this statement by Jesus had to be the pivotal statement for Saul in his understanding. Suddenly, he realized that everything he believed about Jesus and His followers was wrong. If Jesus was alive, and there was no denying it after this, then He had to be the Messiah. And if Jesus was the Messiah, then Saul was wrong, not the followers of Jesus. This was a huge wake up call for him.
At what point in your life did you realize that everything you thought about Jesus was wrong? When did you come to the conclusion that Jesus is real, that He is alive, that He loves you unconditionally and wants you to love Him in return? Every believer has to come to this point. Perhaps it was when the faith of your parents became your faith. Perhaps it was a time when you saw something, maybe not as brilliant as Saul’s blinding light, but something brilliant enough to convince you that you were wrong, and suddenly you just knew Jesus was real, and the Christian faith was the only thing that made sense. That question, “Who are you, Lord?” has to be answered by each of us as we begin our life of faith.
The third point is about reflection. I suspect that Saul needed some time to reflect on what had happened. He needed to think about what he just experienced, and what it meant for his life moving forward. The Lord instructed him in verse 6 to, “Get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” To make sure he didn’t get to distracted during this time, he was left blind for three days after he got there. He had plenty of time to think about his life and his experience with Jesus.
Reflection is something that’s sorely needed in our day. Life is so busy that we rarely take to the time to sit and think. And the sad thing is that we experience God every day, but because of our busyness, we don’t recognize Him. Saul had three days to think about the experience he just witnessed. Make sure you take some time everyday, maybe during devotions and bible reading, just to think about how you are experiencing God in the day to day.
Finally, I want to talk about understanding. God sent Ananias to Saul to lay hands on him. Let’s look at verses 17-18 again, “Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized.”
It was then that Saul received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. This was when Saul became a true follower of Jesus, with the scales falling from his eyes as symbols of his new understanding and faith.
Have you received the Holy Spirit? Do you understand Jesus’ message of grace? The transformation to come can be as complete as we saw in movie, when the curse was lifted, and everybody became normal again. Except for the Prince, who was now filled with a love the likes of which he had never experienced before. That’s the kind of transformation that’s available for you. And it can only come from the love of Christ.