When Jesus Rescues Cinderella
KRISTEN TEE (2010)
AN OPENING NOTE
The story of Cinderella is one embedded in the hearts of most people. First captured in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Glass Slipper”, this tale of redemption and salvation has been savoured and retold many times. Disney’s animated adaption, Andy Tennant’s “Ever After” and Mark Rosman’s “A Cinderella Story” are only a few films which offer a glimpse of the dreamy connection we have with the story of Cinderella. For me, the story of Cinderella was one of my favourite fairytales, one which I still like to reflect upon every now and then. Perhaps I am struck by the hopefulness Cinderella expresses while she patiently endures the injustice dealt to her by her step-mother and step-sisters. Additionally, the thought of my very own Prince Charming is a one certainly fitting of a fairytale, something every girl secretly longs for but only some find. In recent days, however, I have had a revelation about this well-loved fairytale. It is a new and wonderful insight given from God, the Bridegroom, the Father and the Saviour who loves us all so passionately and completely. When Jesus tells the story of Cinderella, he speaks a path that we tread.
This is an overview of key elements for those who are unfamiliar with the Cinderella story, or find their recollection of the tale to be ragged or slightly blurred and jumbled.
Ella is a young girl who is well loved by her father. Unfortunately, her father dies while she is very young and Ella is left to the care of her rich step-mother and two step-sisters, all of whom despise her. She is delegated to the role of household servant, expected to fulfill every whim of her selfish and demanding step-mother and step-sisters. Mocking and proud in their life of finery, they call her Cinderella as she sits amongst the ashes in her rags.
One day, an announcement is made that a royal ball will be held. Cinderella is eager to go but her chances of making the function are desolate. However, in the face of impossibility, a fairy godmother fashions Cinderella a glamorous ball gown and produces a coach to get her to the palace for the ball. She warns Cinderella that at midnight, everything will return to its former state. A delighted Cinderella finds herself at the royal ball and catches the attention of the Prince, almost forgetting the warning given to her by the fairy godmother. At midnight, the clock chimes and she remembers the words of the fairy godmother. In her haste to hurry home, she leaves behind a glass slipper.
The Prince, captivated by Cinderella, determines to find her. He searches the whole land for the one maiden whose foot will fit the glass slipper perfectly. Finally, he arrives at Cinderella’s household and places the slipper on her foot. He takes her as his bride, rescuing her from the clutches of her undeserved prison and showering love and faithfulness upon her as they live happily ever after.
THE CHARACTERS TRANSFORMED
We are like Cinderella, living under the household of the world which is represented by the evil step-mother and step-sisters. This is a household of mockery, pride, hate and oppression. However, there is Prince who saves us and his name is Jesus Christ.
JOY, HOPE AND PERSEVERANCE
In the Disney version of Cinderella, there is a scene which depicts the attitude of Cinderella as she carries out her chores. She wakes up early, refreshes herself, gets dressed and begins work. As she feeds the chickens, deals with the grumpy cat, washes the floors and answers the demands of the world, Cinderella works with a peaceful efficacy. She does not complain, but sings a beautiful song of hope and joy despite her hardship and injustice. She remembers the love of her father and hope for a saviour. How do we find joy and hope in the midst of our everyday lives?
While we are living in this world, there is no escaping its laws and influences. However we have a choice of whether to become a part of it or to accept our citizenship in heaven. Certainly, we should submit to the governing authorities on the earth, just as Cinderella submits to her step-mother and step-sisters; Romans 13:1 “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” However, we ultimately submit ourselves to God, remembering the love of the Father and the inheritance we have as his children; Ephesians 1:4-5 “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” Cinderella did no wrong to her step-mother and step-sisters, yet they despised her because of the love she was given by her father. Why does the world hate us? Jesus explains in John 15:18-19: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you had belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
The perfect example of one who completely submits to the Father’s will, is grounded in love, and perseveres through the oppression of the world, is Jesus himself. Isaiah 53 depicts the image of the Suffering Servant. Verse 7 describes how Jesus behaved in the midst of his tribulation: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Verses 10-11 portray his submission to God and the result of his sacrificed life: “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
So we arrive back at my very first question: how do we find this joy and hope in our daily lives? First, we experience the love of the Father and become secure in our identity as children of God. Cinderella began her day by refreshing herself and getting dressed. Let us begin our day by letting the word and love of God wash over us, and by dressing ourselves in his identity. Second, we believe in Jesus Christ who came once to free us from the consequence of sin, and is coming again to take marry his bride and establish his kingdom on earth. 1 Peter 1:8-9 describes the joy such faith and love brings us: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” In the midst of trials, we remember all this and are joyful as God refines us; James 1:2-4 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Finally, as we allow Jesus to live in our hearts, we are given joy, peace and hope as an overflow of the Spirit at work within us; Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
STEPPING INTO GRACE
What a wonderful moment it is when the fairy godmother appears and opens a way for Cinderella to meet the Prince against all odds. We are delighted to see her attend the ball and our hearts rejoice with her as she dances with her Prince.
There is always a way to meet Jesus. He is powerful King, yet an approachable friend. The devil throws all sorts of distractions at us to keep us from seeking Jesus. Lies, brokenness and busyness are only a few of the weapons he uses to take our focus away from the glory of God. However, we can be confident in a God who knows us completely; Psalm 139:2-3 “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with my ways.” Nothing can keep us from meeting God. Though we are unworthy, He gives us worth and dresses us in his glory. The dictionary terms for “grace” describe an abundance of love and mercy which pardons any unworthiness. That is indeed the nature of the “glorious grace, which [God] has freely given us in the One he loves.” [Ephesians 1:60]. The choice really, is ours. Do we dare to step into the carriage, and go to the place where we can meet the Almighty King?
A DANCE WITH THE PRINCE
Another moment in Disney’s re-telling of Cinderella features a scene in which Prince Charming looks past all the beautiful girls in the kingdom and focuses his eyes on Cinderella who is just wandering around the back of the crowd. He is captivated by her and there is a wonderful sense of eternal love which captures us as we watch them dance in the moonlight.
Song of Songs 6:4-9 feature several stanzas in which the lover adores his beloved. Jesus tells us how he sees us in verses 4-5: “You are beautiful, my darling, as Tirzah, lovely as Jerusalem…Turn your eyes from me; they overwhelm me.” He goes on to describe how unique his beloved is in verses 8-9: “Sixty queens there may be, and eighty concubines, and virgins beyond number; but my dove, my perfect one, is unique, the only daughter of her mother, the favourite of the one who bore her. The maidens saw her and called her blessed; the queens and concubines praised her.” It is overwhelming to see the extent of the King’s love for us. He looks at each one of us individually and says “You are my beloved.” In Ephesians 3:14-20, Paul prays that the Ephesians, “being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know the love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” I definitely want to experience this overwhelming love. Jesus is holding out his hand to us, asking us to join his dance. Will you take his hand and let him lead you?
Cinderella’s magical moment with the Prince is interrupted by midnight chime of the clock. Without explanation, she leaps out of the arms of her Prince and rushes back to the ashes of her previous life, leaving behind a glass slipper.
All too often, something interrupts our time with God; perhaps a thought of something we need to do, a worry or a memory of a past event. In Song of Songs 2:15, Jesus calls for a joint effort in “Catch[ing] for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.” God wants to spend time with us and the distractions we have are the foxes which ruin the blooming vineyard of our relationship with God. When we acknowledge these distractions and place them at the feet of Jesus, he helps catch these distractions so that we may be able to focus more on Him.
The glass slipper is reminiscent of a moment left behind in the loving arms of Jesus. It seems incomprehensible that after such an amazing encounter with the perfect Prince, Cinderella could run back to the wretched clutch of her previous life. However, this is a scene played over repeatedly as we run from the arms of the Redeemer back into the arms of the Oppressor. It is illogical, yet the world seems to have a strange pull on our hearts. I believe the answer to this phenomenon lies simply in the material of our humanity. Sin, it seems, has an enticing aura about it which beckons us to fall, and in our weakness we are deceived many times. However, Jesus is the provider of our strength. 1 Corinthians 10:13 explores the faithfulness of God in such times: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” In our sin, like Adam and Eve, we feel ashamed and hide from God. If we instead, give God our brokenness and shame, he will redeem us. Perhaps Cinderella ran home to avoid the shamefulness of her mistreatment being made public. We do not have to hide from Jesus. He knows our shame, our hurt and our needs. He is the healer and the redeemer who wants to clothe us in his glory and lift our feet from the miry clay. This reminds me of the story of the prodigal son told in Luke 15:11-32. We come desolate and unworthy, but God throws his arms around us, kisses us and is filled with compassion for us even when we are far away.
We may fail many times, but Jesus looks upon us as a success. He is perfect and when we know him, we share in his wholeness. In the story of Cinderella, the Prince does not give up looking for the girl who danced with him for one night. Like the Prince searched tirelessly for Cinderella, Jesus pursues us and calls to us, yearning to take us back into his arms and remind us how much he loves us. Nothing can stand in the way of his passion and zeal for us. In Jeremiah 3:11-22, the Lord laments for his people Israel and despite their faithlessness, calls them to return to him that he might prosper them; Jeremiah 3:14 “Return faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you – one from a town and two from a clan – and bring you to Zion.” The sequence in Song of Songs 5:2-8 portrays a scene in which the Lover calls to his Beloved, knocks on her door and “thrusts his hand through the latch-opening”. Initially the Beloved makes excuses for why she cannot open the door but when she glimpses her Lover’s passion, she is overwhelmed with desire for him and goes to the door only to find he is no longer there. We constantly make excuses for why we cannot meet with Jesus, but a mere hint of his perfume reminds us of how much we long for him. Jesus is always seeking to meet us but it is our decision to open the door. Psalm 139: 7 “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” Just as Prince Charming places the glass slipper on Cinderella’s foot, Jesus slips the tangibility of his presence over our hearts, reminding us of his unfailing love which redeems and frees us.
Weddings symbolise an eternal union between bride and bridegroom who share an unbreakable relationship. When Cinderella marries Prince Charming, it is the fulfilment of all her hope. When Christ marries his bride, the Church, it will be the fulfilment of his Kingdom.
Who is Prince Charming? He is the manifestation of the perfect man, one whose characteristics are blissfully and creatively imagined by any young woman waiting for the perfect lover. However, most people realise that a real, human Prince Charming is hard to come by, and that love is not always a fairytale story. While there may be no Prince Charming, there is a perfect lover. Jesus is not exactly charming to human eyes at all times, but he is a flawless lover. Isaiah 53:2-3 describes the way Jesus was perceived by the world: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” What greater love is there than the incomprehensible act of the Creator God coming to earth in mortal form to die for the rebellious humans he created in his image? The fulfilment of God’s plan for the redemption of humanity comes in the establishment of his kingdom on earth. Ephesians 1: 9-10 outlines the “mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put in effect when the times have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.” Isaiah 9:6 also identifies Jesus as the one who is the “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” and who will “reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing it and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” In Psalm 3:6, God says, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” There is no doubt that Jesus is returning to claim the final victory. Revelations 19:16 proclaims him as the “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.”
Jesus is the King who is returning to defeat the forces of darkness and establish his kingdom of light for eternity. The church is the bride, waiting eagerly for the arrival of this bridegroom king. So what lies at the end of this story? In Revelation 21:1-5, John describes the marriage that seals the complete redemption of the earth: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Weddings are constituted not only of a vow and promise of life, but also incorporate a celebratory wedding feast. The parable of the wedding banquet is told in Matthew 22:11-14. In this story, the king invites some special guests to the wedding feast he has prepared for his son. These special guests, which may have been the Israelites waiting expectantly for the Messiah, refuse the king’s invitation. Graciously, the king sends his servants to invite these special guests a second time. However, they refuse the offer again, and even mistreat and kill the messengers. Such rebellion is punished as the guilty are destroyed in the wrath of the king. The king then sends messengers to invite all who will come to the wedding banquet and many attend. When the king arrives, he notices a man who is not dressed in wedding clothes. When questioned, the man has no answer as to why he is not appropriately dressed for the wedding. The king has the man bound and thrown “into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus concludes the parable saying, “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” To attend the wedding feast, we must both accept the invitation offered by the king, and prepare ourselves appropriately. What are the proper wedding clothes? They are salvation, won by faith and love in a living and active relationship with Jesus Christ, by whose blood our sin has been washed away.
“IT IS FINISHED.”
These are the words Jesus spoke just before he gave up his spirit on the cross [see John 19:30]. In Revelation 21: 6-8, Jesus announces the final judgment, saying “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelievers, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Andy Tennant’s adaption of the Cinderella story ends with justice dealt to the guilty parties and in the same way, God’s judgment will fall on those who do not truly love him. Those who accept his invitation of love however, will partake in the glory of heaven.
Every story has an end. If Cinderella’s finishes with the fulfillment of hope and a promise of new life, this story finishes with the glorious fulfillment of God’s will and promised inheritance for his people. There is a God who knows our innermost being and seeks to rescue us out of our sin. He loves us completely and longs for us to focus our gaze upon him and see the enormity of his gift to us. This is the Prince of Peace and King of Glory who is returning to marry his bride. This is the gracious Father who extends his hand to all who will accept the invitation to dance with him the steps of grace, love and salvation. Fairytales offers an ending of happily ever after. God offers an ending of eternal life, perfect love and a share in his heavenly kingdom.