Monday, January 13, 2014

The Emperor's New Clothes

Do you remember the fable, The Emperor's New Clothes? Once there was a foolish emperor.  Two traveling thieves told him that they could spin gold into magic cloth that only the wise could see.  Deceived, he paraded down the boulevard until an innocent child pointed out the obvious-The Emperor's not wearing any clothes! It always makes me cringe a little.  I hate stories where I spend the whole time feeling embarrassed for the characters, and there is nothing more humiliating than sashaying down the street in your "new" clothes only to realize you are naked. It's the stuff of nightmares. 

Last week, I was reading Revelation and realized suddenly that Jesus tells a very similar story to the Emperor's New Clothes.  In Revelation 3, as he talks to the Laodicean church (the one that's famous because Jesus wanted to spit them out) he tells them, 

`Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,   I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. (Revelation 3:16-17)

Can't you see them? Bare, exposed, filthy and blind, they strut down the road like kings. Like the emperor they've have purchased clothes made of "gold thread."  Like the emperor they have no idea that they are in fact humiliated instead of honored.  

Jesus cries out, "Look you are naked, pitiful, and blind!" What are they missing? Jesus condemns them for their lack of insight into their own miserable state. He still loves them, that's why he reproves them (Revelation 3:19). They used to be a church in good standing (Colossians 4:15-16). Yet now he complains that their deeds are neither hot nor cold.  It's the same complaint he leveled against the Pharisees in John 9.  As long as they believe that they have no need for what Jesus has to offer them, they will remain naked and self-deceived. 

But it's not only spiritual arrogance that might leave us inadvertently naked. Isaiah spins another tale.  He envisions people bare as the day they were born, trying to weave clothes.  You can picture that right?  But the problem is they are trying to make clothes from spider's webs.  Nothing but vanity.

No one sues righteously and no one pleads honestly. They trust in confusion and speak lies; They conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity.   They hatch adders' eggs and weave the spider's web; He who eats of their eggs dies, And from that which is crushed a snake breaks forth.  Their webs will not become clothing, Nor will they cover themselves with their works; Their works are works of iniquity, (Isaiah 59:4-6)

The Laodiceans are pridefully certain that they are secure; the people of Isaiah's day know they are in trouble. Everything that should have brought life (conception, hatching eggs) brings death.  Desperate for protection and coverage they are trying to create clothes but instead of good material they have insubstantial spider's web.  They cover sin with sin.  Lies and confusion are their basic mode of speech; deceived and deceiving they are as incapable of truth as they are of weaving spider's silk into robes of light. 

Any sin will do as an example.   Bitter and harsh, a wife lets the lie- "it's all his fault"- play over and over again in her mind.  Her friends agree.  She knows her marriage is falling apart at the seams but she tries to bind it together with blame instead of repentance. A gambler plays just one more time; ashamed he deceives himself into thinking another game will cover his debt. Anytime we are frantically deceiving ourselves by trying to cover sin with sin we are weaving spider's webs into clothes. 

These graphic images tickle our imaginations. The Emperor's New clothes is a complex cautionary tale.  Pride - he wouldn't admit that he wasn't wise and therefore could not see the robe.  Naiveté - he trusted the two thieves over his own senses.  Society - everyone agrees on the fraud until the bubble is pierced by the frankness of a child. Sitting back and comparing him with the humbled Laodiceans or the unclothed fools weaving webs there's a temptation to smugness.  But what if we are the Emperor?

Could we be so sure that we are doing the "right things" or believing the "right things" that we have in fact excluded Jesus and his plain teaching from our lives? Jesus begged the Laodiceans to open the door and let him in (Rev 3:20). Is our own door slammed in foolish pride?  Could Jesus be talking to us when he says, "You do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked?"

Or could we be telling each other soothing lies?  Rather than letting our sin be judged by the word of God, do we pretend that we can cover ourselves with works of iniquity? When the stakes are high, and we don't dare to be wrong, could it be that we just go on walking bare down the boulevard assuring each other that we all "see" the clothes? 


We'll be spending this month undressing the issues like submission and gluttony.  We will strip away the lies like "I've done my part!" and examine God's clear truth.  I fear we may step on some toes.  I fear many of those toes may be our own. But it is far better to know you are naked so that you can come and buy the white robes that Jesus promises to give to the faithful!


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission

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