The Gospel According to “Les Miserables” – Part 2

Les-Miserables-Movie-Poster

3. CONNECTING THE DOTS

Fantine: Brokenness & Hopelessness

You don’t have to look very far to see that something in our world is broken. Wars, disease, death, tragedy, sorrow, despair, pain, and suffering mark each and every one of us. Even creation recognizes that something is not right and longs for redemption.

Romans 8:19-23 “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Let’s be honest, we all have been like Fantine at times. We thought that things would be different and grand. We pursued careers, money, fame, popularity, relationships, and every other thing under the sun.  She represents the prodigals who have wasted life chasing a vanishing dream. Those who have tried everything and still end up empty handed. Our lives are broken just like the life of Fantine. We all long for hope…for redemption. (Spoiler alert) Fantine never finds it. She ends up cold, sick, heartbroken, and sadly dies alone inside of a dark hospital.

Yet, there was one long before Fantine who sheds light on this same thing. Solomon had everything under the sun. Wealth, wisdom, and women were all at his feet. To this day he is regarded as the richest person to ever live. And yet he pens these words in the book of Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes 1:1-2 “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”

Vanity is just another word for worthless or empty. Crazy isn’t it? That the most wealthy man with the most beautiful women and the most brilliant wisdom would say that everything is worthless. The reality is that all of us know this to be true. We are never satisfied. We are all like Fantine thinking that just having more of __________ will satisfy. Just think about how often we have to have “the next big thing.” Video games, new cars, new homes, new furniture, new spouse, new cell phone. We all long for satisfaction and meaning. We all want purpose in life. Could it be that the problem is that we often search for identity, meaning, and purpose in in all the wrong places?

Javert: Law & Morality

But Fantine is not the only character in this story with a lesson to teach us. Javert is a man who pursues morality and upholds the law. His life is not characterized by reckless living, but rather he is disciplined, motivated, and driven to success. Javert represents the Pharisee in all of us. His entire life is void of mercy and grace. He lives only for justice. He lives to make things better. He believes that he is the solution to the current problem of Valjean.

Again going to Scripture we see his character in a story that Christ unfolds in Luke 18.

Luke 18:9-12 “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”

In Luke 18 we’re introduced to the first of two characters…a Pharisee. The Pharisees prided themselves in obeying all the rules and regulations. They foolishly thought that in keeping rules and checking off their boxes they would earn favor, love, and merit with God. This is the Javert inside us all. We all long for justice. We pride ourselves in our abilities and personal righteousness. Jesus thinks otherwise.

Matthew 23:27-28 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

There is nothing wrong with rules and regulations. In fact I agree that we need rules and regulations. But when keeping those things becomes the primary pursuit of life we run into trouble. Even as Christians we can fall into the trap of living this way. We would confess that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone but at times we live completely opposite of that.

I can so easily regulate my relationship with Christ to my weekly check box  Have I read my Bible this week? Did I go to church to worship? Was I in community group? The problem with this is that you never find freedom in these things. Because the reality is that there will come a day when I don’t read my Bible, I miss church, and I stay home from community group. This kind of lifestyle only leads to frustration and even destruction because no one can perfectly keep the rules. So when we try with all of our might and fail, then what?

In the life of Javert this kind of pursuit for keeping the rules led to his destruction. Javert’s confidence in the law leads him to be convinced of both his own personal righteousness and also Valjean’s utter sinfulness. (Spoiler alert) Towards the end of his life he ends up not knowing the meaning of grace and mercy. Confused and frustrated by the continual acts of kindness that he is shown from Valjean he destroys himself by committing suicide. Obedience without a foundation of grace and mercy will always lead to frustration and destruction.

Tim Keller has appropriately said on this topic “The Bible’s purpose is not so much to show you how to live a good life. The Bible’s purpose is to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life against your will and saves you from the sin and brokenness otherwise you would never be able to overcome… religion is ‘if you obey, then you will be accepted’. But the Gospel is, ‘if you are absolutely accepted, and sure you’re accepted, only then will you ever begin to obey’. Those are two utterly different things. Every page of the Bible shows the difference.”

Valjean: Mercy & Grace

A life of freedom. The gift of a second chance. This is what Valjean experiences not because of his obedience to a set of rules but because he receives the gift of mercy and grace.

Luke 18:13-14 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner! I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Valjean is pardoned not because of his pride and self-righteousness, but because he realizes that is not a righteous person. In the story he finds redemption and meaning by turning to God.

A Transformed Life

There are three examples throughout the story where we see this amazing transformation on display.

1. Valjean hears of an innocent man who will be tried and sentenced as him (Valjean). Unwilling to let an innocent man take the punishment for his crimes, Valjean goes before the court and reveals his identity to everyone including Javert. Valjean goes before the court to substitute himself for the innocent man.

2. Valjean unknowingly approved of Fantine’s dismissal from work, and therefore felt responsible for her tragic death. So he promises Fantine that he will adopt her daughter Cosette and that she will not lack for anything. He raises her, provides for her, cares for her, and loves her as his own. This is seen as he goes into the inn where she was being kept and literally buys her back. Valjean redeems Cosette and adopts her as his own.

3. Valjean allows Javert to go free when he had the opportunity to reap vengence. During one scene Valjean approaches the tied-up Javert. Holding a pistol and now face to face with his enemy Valjean lets Javert go free. Instead of wrath and judgment, Javert is shown mercy and grace.

4. THE GREATER VALJEAN

For theatrical purposes, most of the characters including Valjean, Fantine, and the young revolutionaries experience redemption as they all reunite at the barricade (Hugo’s picture of heaven). However, Javert destroys himself and is the only character we know who never sees paradise.

All of us are guilty of sin. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a test using the basic tenants of morality. Ever told a lie? Ever stolen anything regardless of value? Ever used God’s name in vain? Ever lusted? And on and on we could go. You see all of us are sinners by nature and choice. That is the argument Paul makes in Romans 1-3. We have all placed more value and worth into something other than God. In our arrogance and pride we have depended on something other than God. We have worshiped the wrong thing. We have committed idolatry. That is the  universal sin that damns all of us. So the bad news is this, because we are guilty before a holy, perfect God justice must be served. And the current situation for us means that we will pay for the sins that we have committed. That is you, that is me, condemned, unclean, guilty. But thank God for the cross!  On the cross, the Son of God hung in our place, for our sins, as our Substitute. But unlike the story of Valjean, the roles were reversed. We were the guilty deserving of wrath and He was the innocent. The cross is the point at which grace, mercy, forgiveness, love, justice, and wrath all collide in an explosion which has rocked the world and changed history. Jesus took my place paying the penalty for my sins. Stunning!

2 Corinthians 5:21 “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

One one side of the coin, Jesus took all of my sinfulness upon himself. God now looks at me as though I have never sinned. I am forgiven and pardoned. But on the other, Jesus gives me all of His righteousness. God now looks at me as thought I have always perfectly obeyed.This is what Martin Luther has often called the “Divine Exchange.”

As the sin-bearer, Christ took all the wrath, punishment, and suffering that was due me. He extinguished the wrath of God and satisfied the demands of the Father. Therefore, all those who repent and believe the gospel are now shown grace and mercy rather than wrath and punishment. We are adopted into the family of God has His sons and daughters and given all the blessings and benefits that He was won (Ephesians 1). To prove this Jesus rose three days later proclaiming victory over sin, death, and hell. The resurrection is proof that the check cleared and that wrath has been removed.

5. WHICH CHARACTER ARE YOU?

The reality is that all of us can identify with these characters. Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed. The pains of life are too much to bear and you feel hopeless. Or perhaps you are the person who has everything together. Perfect job, perfect home, and perfect family. Yet somehow you find that your pursuit of perfection has left you empty as well. The solution to every case whether you are Christian or not is to look at the cross of Christ. The cross provides hope, purpose, and meaning to all those who desire it. Repent of sin, trust in the Person and work of Jesus and find freedom from your sin and bondage. The cross also reminds  those of us who are believers that we daily need to go back there. It is not the end point, but rather the spring from which all of life flows.

What does it mean to be “gospel-centered?” C.J. Mahaney sums it up well. “We make time for what we truly value. We build habits and routines around the things that really matter to us. This is an important principle to understand as we seek to build our lives around the gospel. Do you want a cross centered life? A cross centered life is made up of cross centered days.”

“Les Miserables” very clearly portrays the themes of love, forgiveness, hope, redemption, grace, and mercy. True freedom and redemption do not come from joining a cause, living as an upstanding citizen, or caring for those in need. True redemption comes from the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. As good of a story as “Les Miserables” was, there is another story going on right now that all of creation, including you and I are a part of. It is the story of redemption. It is the story of how God is making all things new. And we get to be a part of that story. What part will you play?

(written by Jonathan Atkins)

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