The Cradle, the Cross and the Wardrobe

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Matthew 1:21

INTRODUCTION: This is the third and last message in our Narnia Christmas Series. In our first message in the series, “The Lion is a Lamb,” we looked at Aslan, the most important character in all the Narnia books. Aslan is a magnificent talking lion who rules over the world of Narnia and takes his stand against evil and injustice in the world. We saw that Aslan in Narnia is representative of Jesus Christ in our own world, who is presented in Scripture as both the Lion of Judah and as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Similarly, Lewis portrays Aslan as both a lion and a lamb in the Narnia Chronicles.

In last week’s message, “Always Winter, Never Christmas,” we looked at the curse of the White Witch upon the land of Narnia. Just as in our world we face an evil and powerful adversary in the devil, so the inhabitants of Narnia face a powerful foe in the White Witch. And just as our world is under a curse because of Satan and sin, so also the world of Narnia, at least when we first encounter it, is under the curse of perpetual winter. The White Witch has made it so it is always winter, but never Christmas, a most terrible curse indeed!

Today’s message is called “The Cradle, the Cross and the Wardrobe,” which is an obvious take on the first book written in the Narnia series, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Have any of you seen the movie yet? We haven’t gotten to it yet, but we hope to see it sometime this week. In “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” Lewis explores the Christian themes of Christmas, Easter and salvation through the adventures of the four human children who enter Narnia through the wardrobe. I want us to explore those same three themes this morning through the symbols of the cradle, the cross and the wardrobe.

At first glance these three symbols don’t seem to have anything in common, but when you stop to think of it, they do tie together in different ways. For example, all three are made out of wood. It’s the same way with Christmas, Easter and salvation. At first glance they may seem like three separate topics to you, but in both Narnia and in the Bible, you find that all three are closely intertwined. So let’s look this morning together at the cradle, the cross and the wardrobe.

I. The Cradle: Jesus was born. (Christmas)

We begin with the cradle. The cradle in today’s message is, of course, a symbol for Christmas. We naturally associate a cradle with a newborn infant, and the real story of Christmas is the story of how Jesus Christ was born as an infant into our world.

The angel proclaimed to Joseph in Matthew 1:21 that Mary would “give birth to a son.” Now Mary was a virgin. She had never been with a man, and yet through a miracle of God, “she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18) Later Mary and Joseph would travel to Bethlehem to register for the census. And “while they were there,” Luke tells us, “the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7)

A manger was a poor substitute for a cradle. Don’t think of the manger as a finely crafted cradle, set on rockers, decorated with lace and painted white with a shawl overhead to shield the child’s eyes and ears from light and sound. A manger was basically a wooden feeding trough for animals. It would be crudely constructed with rough, splintery wood, not at all the type of place where you would choose to lay your newborn child. It was about the same size and shape as a cradle, but that’s where the similarity ended.

God could have chosen a different place for his Son to be born into the world. Jesus could have been born in a luxurious palace surrounded by comfort and wealth with multiple servants attending to Mary’s needs. His birth could have been announced by royal trumpeters with powerful kings and presidents and governors in attendance. He could have been laid in a golden cradle with plush cushions and purple satin sheets worthy of the one who would be called the Prince of Peace. Instead Jesus was born into poverty and obscurity. His birth was announced by angels to lowly shepherds watching their flocks by night. And he was laid in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.

C.S. Lewis does not have a birth scene for Aslan in the Narnia Chronicles. Lewis symbolizes the Christmas story in a different way. As we saw last week, Narnia is under the long, dark curse of always winter, never Christmas. And yet when Aslan appears the curse is finally broken. Father Christmas arrives bearing gifts, and winter quickly turns to spring. Lewis symbolizes Christ’s coming to earth at Christmas by having Christmas come when Aslan arrives in Narnia.

Lewis also emphasizes a very important teaching of Christmas in the Narnia Chronicles, and that is the teaching of the incarnation. The word “incarnation” simply means “taking on flesh.” And although Lewis touches on this at various times and in various ways in the Chronicles, he presents the doctrine of the incarnation most clearly in the fifth book, called The Horse and His Boy.

In The Horse and His Boy, a talking horse named Bree helps a young boy and girl escape from the cruel country of Calormen to the free land of Narnia to the north. The girl’s name is Aravis. In chapter 14 near the end of the book when they have at last arrived safely in Narnia, Aravis asks the horse, Bree, a question about Aslan. Bree, unfortunately, does not yet understand this doctrine of incarnation.

“Bree,” said Aravis, . . . “why do you keep on swearing By the Lion and By the Lion’s Mane? I thought you hated lions.”

“So I do,” answered Bree. “But when I speak of the Lion of course I mean Aslan, the great deliverer of Narnia who drove away the Witch and the Winter. All Narnians swear by him.”

“But is he a lion?”

“No, no, of course not,” said Bree in a rather shocked voice.

. . . replied Aravis . . . “If he isn’t a lion why do you call him a lion?”

“Well, you’d hardly understand that at your age,” said Bree. [And then while Bree continues to talk in a rather superior tone of voice, Aslan himself suddenly jumps over the garden wall and begins approaching Bree from behind without making a noise. Bree keeps on talking unawares. Let me keep reading.] “No doubt,” continued Bree, “when they speak of him as a Lion they only mean he’s as strong as a lion or (to our enemies, of course) as fierce as a lion. Or something of that kind. Even a little girl like you Aravis, must see that it would be quite absurd to suppose he is a real lion. Indeed it would be disrespectful. If he was a lion he’d have to be a Beast just like the rest of us. Why!” (and here Bree began to laugh) “If he was a lion he’d have four paws, and a tail, and Whiskers! . . . Aie, ooh, ho-hoo! Help!”

For just as he said the word Whiskers one of Aslan’s had actually tickled his ear. Bree shot away like an arrow . . . There was about a second of intense silence . . . Then [Aslan] lifted his head and spoke in a [loud] voice.

“Now Bree,” he said, “you poor, proud, frightened Horse, draw near. Nearer still, my son. Do not dare not to dare. Touch me. Smell me. Here are my paws, here is my tail, these are my whiskers. I am a true Beast.”

“Aslan,” said Bree in a shaken voice, “I’m afraid I must be rather a fool.”

“Happy the Horse who knows that while he is still young. Or the Human either.”

And so Aslan is a true Beast. He has four paws, whiskers and a tail. In the same way Jesus was born into our world as a true human being with real flesh and blood. He was the eternal Son of God, and yet he truly became a man. The Son of God who was with God in the beginning and through whom all things were created now lay helpless as a baby child in a wooden manger on that very first Christmas.

Lewis does make mention of the birth of Christ (not Aslan) in the last book of the Chronicles, called The Last Battle. The Last Battle tells the story of the final days of Narnia. Near the end of the story the children, along with King Tirian, the last king of Narnia, enter a small wooden stable (notice we have something made out of wood again) only to find an entire world inside it. There they also meet some of the characters from the earlier books, people like Lord Digory and Queen Lucy. Tirian looks around the inside of the stable, and Lewis writes:

[He] could hardly believe his eyes. There was the blue sky overhead, and grassy country spreading as far as he could see in every direction, and his new friends all around him, laughing.

“It seems, then,” said Tirian, smiling himself, “that the Stable seen from within and the Stable seen from without are two different places.”

“Yes,” said the Lord Digory. “It’s inside is bigger than its outside.”

“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” (p. 140)

What is the message of the cradle? Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God was born into our world as a tiny baby and true human being at Christmas. He was true God and true man born in a manger in Bethlehem. This leads us directly from the cradle to the cross.

II. The Cross: Jesus was born to die. (Easter)

Just as the cradle in our message this morning is symbolic of Christmas, so the cross is symbolic of Easter. The angel in Matthew 1:21 not only told Joseph that Mary would give birth to a son. He also told Joseph, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The very name Jesus means “one who saves.” Jesus was born into our world for a single purpose, and that purpose was to save his people from their sins. And he would save his people by dying on the cross for them. Jesus’ birth announcement contained within it also the announcement of his death. Christmas and Easter are inseparably connected. Jesus was born to die.

The climactic scene in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe takes place when Aslan sacrificially lays down his life for the boy, Edmund, who has betrayed them all. The scene takes place at the Stone Table which Lewis describes as “a great grim slab of grey stone supported on four upright stones. It looked very old; and it was cut all over with strange lines and figures that might be the letters of an unknown language.”

The White Witch confronts Aslan with what she calls “the Deep Magic” engraved in the writing on the Table. She says to Aslan: “You . . . know the magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to kill . . . And so . . . that human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property . . . Unless I have blood as the Law says all Narnia will be overturned and perish in fire and water.” Edmund’s brother and sisters are horrified for their brother, but Aslan offers to take Edmund’s place, and the Witch accepts his offer.

Aslan allows himself to be bound and tied. The witch and a whole host of evil creatures gather around him. They shave off his beautiful mane and put a muzzle over his face. He offers no resistance. This seems only to enrage them further. They surround him: kicking him, hitting him, spitting on him, jeering at him. Finally they drag him over to the Stone Table upon which he is killed in the place of Edmund the traitor. Edmund’s sisters, Lucy and Susan, witness the whole terrible ordeal.

What is this Stone Table? Some readers have compared it to ancient altars used for pagan worship, similar to Stonehenge in England. But Lewis himself wrote in a letter to a young girl named Patricia that the Stone Table was meant to remind readers of the stone tablets that God gave to Moses, that is, the Ten Commandments, or the Law. We spoke about the curse of the law last week, and we saw how everyone who does not continue to do everything that is written in the book of the law is under a curse, but that Jesus came to redeem us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. (Galatians 3:10,13)

The parallels between Narnia and our world abound in this part of the story. Just as Edmund must die for his betrayal, so the Bible tells us that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Just as the Witch demanded a blood sacrifice, so the Bible says that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness [of sins].” (Hebrews 9:22) Just as Aslan took Edmund’s penalty upon himself, so Jesus “took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows . . . he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him . . . We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6) Aslan had done nothing deserving of death. It was Edmund who deserved to die. But Aslan showed his great love for Edmund by dying in his place. In the same way “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

In the next chapter, the Witch and her companions go off to battle, leaving the dead body of Aslan lying cold and still on the Stone Table. Lucy and Susan come forward from the shadows where they have been watching, and together they mourn Aslan’s death. Then they sit on a hill overlooking the sea with their backs to the Table and wait for daylight.

In the morning, just as the first edge of the sun pushes up past the horizon, they suddenly hear a loud noise from behind them – “a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant’s plate.” They turn around and to their amazement, “The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end, and there was no Aslan.” The girls do not know what has happened at first, but then suddenly Aslan himself appears, alive and risen from the dead. After hugging and embracing their dear friend, the girls begin to question him.

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan . . .

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only 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 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.”

Jesus Christ committed no treachery or sin. He lived a perfect life and offered himself as a perfect sacrifice for sin. What does that mean for us? The Stone Table has been broken. The law can no longer condemn those who are in Christ. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. This was the purpose of the cross. This is why God sent his Son into the world at Christmas. Jesus was born to die. That is why the incarnation is so important.

If Jesus had not truly become a human being, he could not have died for our sins. Hebrews 2:14-15 says: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Or as the angel said to Joseph in Matthew 1:21: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

God offers you new life and forgiveness of sins through his Son Jesus. But you have to take hold of that life by faith. And that brings us from the cradle and the cross to the wardrobe.

III. The Wardrobe: Jesus died to bring you life. (Salvation)

The cradle in today’s message is symbolic of Christmas: Jesus Christ was born into our world on Christmas Day. The cross is symbolic of Easter: Jesus Christ died for our sins and then rose again from the dead. The wardrobe in today’s message is symbolic of salvation. Just as the children entered a whole new world through the wardrobe, so Jesus offers you a whole new life when you put your faith in him.

Now in the Narnia Chronicles, the wardrobe is not a symbol of salvation. It is simply a passageway from our world into the world of Narnia. And Narnia is certainly not symbolic of heaven or salvation. The land of Narnia is under a curse and struggles with sin and evil even as we do in our own world. And yet Narnia is symbolic of the fact that there really is a whole other world beyond our own, that there really is more to this life than meets the eye.

At the end of the book The Last Battle, the beautiful land of Narnia finally meets its end. After the heroes all enter through the Stable Door, they find themselves in the foothills of Aslan’s Country. Aslan’s country seems very familiar to them, but at first they cannot figure out why. Then they suddenly realize that it reminds them of Narnia, only it somehow seems, in the words of Lord Digory, “more like the real thing.” As they talk about the old Narnia which has now been destroyed, Lord Digory continues with new understanding:

“That was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here . . . You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door.” (p. 169)

Then Jewel, the Unicorn, sums up everyone’s feelings the best. “He stamped his right forefoot on the ground and neighed and then cried, ‘I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all of my life, though I never knew it till now.’”

Aslan’s country is indeed a picture of heaven and of salvation completed. This earth, our world, has a beginning and an end. It is only a shadow or a copy of the kingdom of heaven which has always been here and always will be here. When you place your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, you enter a whole new life. It is like coming home for the very first time. And when you one day arrive in heaven, reunited with old friends and lost loved ones, you will find yourself stamping your foot along with Jewel the Unicorn and saying, “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all of my life, though I never knew it till now.”

CONCLUSION: In the last chapter of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lucy asks Susan about Edmund, “Does he know what Aslan did for him?” I would like to close this morning by asking you: “Do you know, do you really know, what Jesus has done for you?” Jesus was born into our world as a baby on Christmas day. He died on the cross for your sins and rose again at Easter. He offers you new life and forgiveness of sins. That is the message of the cradle, the cross and the wardrobe. Jesus was born to die in order to bring you life.

So, how about it? Are you ready to step through the wardrobe? Are you ready to place your faith and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation and enter a whole new world? Jesus said, “I have come that [you] may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10), life more abundant and free. When you come to Jesus for life, the real adventure begins.

The last book of the Narnia Chronicles ends with the children and their friends journeying deeper and deeper into Aslan’s country. Aslan meets them there, and as he speaks to them, Lewis writes these beautiful closing words:

“He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning 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.”

© Ray Fowler

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