(Photo courtesy of The Rock Church San Marcos)
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Lessons Learned from Simba in ‘The Lion King’
By Pastor Jason Mayer
Every summer, in the spirit of the Apostle Paul’s declaration, “I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Corinthians 9:19), Rock Church puts on its “At the Movies” sermon series. In support of this series, every campus location transforms their lobby and community space into movie sets with the help of hundreds of volunteers from the community and congregation. This series empowers the congregation to invite friends and family to experience church in a fresh innovative way and serves as an effective outreach to the community.
Last summer at the San Marcos, CA campus, the movie selection was the Disney classic, “The Lion King.” The lobby build-out included a 20ft working waterfall, a tree of life, a Pride Rock photo op, carnival hyena game, an elephant boneyard slide and a live dance number before and after every service. These elements often elicited oh’s and ah’s from congregation and visitors alike. Unique to the movie themed series were non-traditional sermons with video clips from a different movie each week combined with the teaching of biblical principles paralleled in the plot. Each campus also hosted a family movie night on a Friday during the series in which the movie that inspired the lobby build-out was shown in its entirety.
In addition to providing a unique church experience, “The Lion King” draws strongly on the principles of the greatest story ever told, the Holy Gospel. Early in the story, Simba faces one of the great tragedies of his life when his father Mufasa is killed. In that pivotal moment, Scar, the villain, lies to Simba, telling him that he is at fault for his father’s death. This lie is the catalyst that sparks feelings of shame, guilt and ultimately loneliness in young Simba. This is the same primary tactic Satan employs in his efforts to destroy God’s children. As the father of lies (John 8:44), Satan knows that lies will often perpetuate themselves. They drive people to the undesirable outcome of separation and isolation from their heavenly Father.
Paralyzed by fear, young Simba flees to put distance between himself and his suffering. Where does Simba’s attempted escape from his pain and loss lead to? In his darkest hour he meets the lovable duo, Timon and Pumba. This meerkat and warthog pair quickly endears themselves to the impressionable Simba by offering both comfort and comedic distraction. Rather than providing a path to real healing, however, they tell Simba to “Hakuna Matata” or simply “don’t worry about it.” Likewise, today’s culture happily provides an on-demand respite from pain. Instead of forging a path through pain to health and wholeness, culture will distract, numb, confuse and preoccupy the multitudes in less time than it takes to ping, buzz, tap or click.
The true beauty of “The Lion King” is in Simba’s redemptive journey back to the pride lands. After years of living the carefree, cultural narrative of “no worries,” Simba refuses to return home despite the pleading of his longtime friend Nala. So long as he believes the lie that he is unwanted and unneeded, he doesn’t recognize the truth. Nala’s words plant seeds of truth in Simba’s mind, however.
The most powerful gospel parallel emerges when the wise baboon Rafiki reminds Simba of his true identity. When Rafiki meets Simba, he asks him, “Who are you?”
Simba’s response: “I’m nobody.” He has lost his identity.
Rafiki surprises Simba by saying he knows who Simba is because he knew Simba’s father.
Rafiki brings Simba to the water and tells him to look down. In Simba’s reflection, Rafiki restores his broken narrative. He asks Simba, “Do you see him? Do you see your father? He is in you.”
What ultimately draws Simba out of the lies and away from the cultural narrative is the reminder of his true identity; he is an image-bearer and heir of his father. Every person needs to be reminded that the cross not only brought mercy on their sins, but it poured out grace to make them co-heirs with Christ as sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:17). What a beautiful story to tell! To combat the lies and the cultural narratives, people need more than knowledge, they need vision. It is one thing to tell people about the gospel, it is another to show them God through the image of God Himself reflected in His people.
Find out more about Pastor Jason Mayer and The Rock Church San Marcos by visiting sdrock/campuses/sanmarcos.com