Scripture: Acts 21:7-14
The movie Frozen is mostly about two sisters who are daughters of a king and queen in Scandinavia. One of those daughters, as you’ll see, has an unusual gift…
The chief troll asks Elsa’s father, the king, about Elsa’s power to create snow and ice. He asks, “Born with the powers or cursed?” The father responds, “Born.” But the truth is, for most of the movie we’re left wondering whether these powers with which Elsa is born are also, in fact, a curse. It certainly feels like a curse… to both Elsa and her parents as she’s growing up. Granted, her parents don’t help the situation by locking her away in her room—isolating her from everyone, including her beloved sister Anna.
But it’s clear that for most of her early life, Elsa experienced this potentially amazing gift—this great blessing—as a curse.
Do you ever feel like the the gifts that God has given you—or the circumstances in which you find yourself—or, to put in the most secular, leastbiblical way possible—the “cards you’ve been dealt”—are a curse rather than a blessing?
It’s easy to see why you might feel that way…
The apostle Paul might also have seen things that way in his own life… if he didn’t understand that every moment of his life was in God’s hands, that God was in control, that God was working all circumstances for his good.
In Acts chapter 21, for instance, Paul is on his way to Jerusalem for the last time in his life. And along way he stops to visit some churches on the Mediterranean coast. Listen to Acts 21, verse 4: “And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” And then they leave that place and set sail down the coast to another church, where a man named Agabus had the gift of prophecy. Listen to verses 11 and 12:
And coming to us, he [Agabus] took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.
Do you get the picture? At both of these churches that Paul visited, we’re told that the Holy Spirit has enabled these believers to prophesy to Paul… And of course the message that the Holy Spirit has imparted to these prophets is correct: Paul really, really is going to face a a lot of trouble when he goes to Jerusalem. He won’t die there—but he will face a violent mob, he’ll be arrested by the Romans and locked up, he’ll be put on trial, and ultimately he’ll be sent to Rome, where he will spend the remainder of his life in custody before being executed.
Ultimately, going to Jerusalem will mean the end of his freedom to travel and spread the gospel, the end of his missionary career—and in about five years, it will mean the end of his life on earth.
These churches and their prophets are rightly warning Paul about all this. The prophecies are true…
But please notice: While the prophecies themselves are true, the churches’ interpretation of these prophecies is false: Paul’s fellow Christians think that because going to Jerusalem means incredible risks, and hardship, and pain, and suffering, and costliness, and heartache, and difficult trials, and even possible death… because of these hard things, then what…?
Then Paul shouldn’t go. Paul shouldn’t do it. If going to Jerusalem is going to be this hard, then it’s not worth it! Objectively speaking, it makes no sense! And they can think of about a thousand perfectly good reasons for Paul not to go.
That’s why Paul’s fellow Christians are so upset…
But Paul knows better… And so should we.
Sometimes we Christians—and sometimes we the church—must do difficult, painful, impractical, costly things for one simple reason: because God wants us to… Because God, in his sovereignty has brought us to this place, because God in his sovereignty has given us this set of circumstances in which we find ourselves, and, yes, by all means, because God in his sovereignty wants to test our faith—like it or not…
And the test goes something like this: “Who are we going to trust: Are we going to trust ourselves—including our own worldly wisdom, and our own limited experience, and our own flawed logic, and our own often misguided and self-serving intuitions?
“Or—despite the risks, despite what it costs, despite the pain, despite the difficulty, despite the impracticality—are we going to trust God… Which usually means… Are we going trust that he really is telling the truth in the breathed-out words of this book, holy scripture?”
I face that test all the time, and I’ll bet you do too!
Well, rather than do the more difficult thing—to work with Elsa to teach her to control her powers even though doing so is potentially risky, costly, and painful—Elsa’s parents make the seemingly easier choice: “We’re just going to lock her away for the next ten years or so—keep her out of harm’s way, keep her away from temptation, keep her away from people she loves, keep her away from her sister, and hope for the best!”
Her parents’ seemingly easier choice causes great harm to their daughters… to say nothing of the kingdom over which they rule!
The next clip takes place when Elsa is 21. Her parents have died in a shipwreck at sea, and today Elsa is being coronated as queen. Her secret powers have remained a secret from everyone thus far, even her beloved but impulsive sister Anna.
Anna, meanwhile, has just asked permission of Elsa, the queen, to marry a man whom she literally just met earlier that day. And Elsa says no… An argument ensues…
In our modern age, we think that the secret to happiness is simply “letting go” of all the constraints that hold us back—to get in touch with what’s inside of us, to do what comes naturally, to follow our hearts. “It’s time to see what I can do,” Elsa sings. “To test the limits and break through. No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free!”
But is this really freedom?
Years ago, my wife, Lisa, had a 16-year-old student in her class who played violin… very well. This young woman played her violin in a musical at Lisa’s school. My daughter was in it, so I went to it. This violinist was very good. After the show, when I was introduced to her, I complimented her. I said, “You were great! You didn’t sound screechy at all.”
I don’t know why I put it that way; I was just trying to make small talk. I wasn’t trying to damn her with faint praise. But, in my experience—I don’t know—teenage violinists sometimes sound screechy, let’s face it.
So she looked at me, and in a completely deadpan way, she said, “Thank you. I practice four hours a day, every weekday—eight hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays—and I’ve been doing so for ten years!”
Um… No wonder you didn’t sound screechy…?
My point is, if you’re going to spend 36 hours a week becoming great at something, that hardly means “letting go” or “being free to do as you please” or “doing what comes naturally.” On the contrary, it means putting constraints on yourself. It means choosing not to do other things you may want to do in that moment. It means often telling your heart “no.” It means limiting your freedom…
And that may sound bad, but think about what this young woman got in return for all her hard work: She got a truer and deeper kind of freedom! She got the freedom to play any piece of violin music she wanted to play! Nothing would be off limits. Nothing would be too difficult!
Assuming she loves violin, nothing would be able to stop her from doing what her heart loves most!
If that’s true in our everyday lives, why wouldn’t it be true in our spiritual lives?
Every single person, after all, has a heart that was made to treasure Christ above all—even though sin prevents our hearts from doing what they were made to do.
So Jesus came to set us free, he says… free to do what our hearts most deeply desire.
But this freedom, Jesus says, requires us to put on his yoke.
A yoke is a wooden crosspiece you fasten to an animal’s neck to enable it to pull a plow. We put on the yoke of Christ so that he can lead us where he wants us to go. 1 A yoke, by definition, limits our freedom. That’s why Paul can talk about being set free by Christ while at the same time being slaves to Christ.
But think of what we get in return for putting on the yoke of Christ and limiting our freedom in this way!
We get true and lasting happiness, which only comes by treasuring Christ above all!
But at times, following Christ will be very difficult. It’s supposed to be.As Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” 2
By “letting it go” and doing what comes naturally and following her heart, Elsa is choosing the wide path and the easy way, and she will soon find out that this way leads to destruction.
In this next clip, we see some ways in which her sister, Anna, is unwilling to simply let Elsa go.
Anna grew up as a princess—and as we’ve seen, she lived a very sheltered life up to this point. There was nothing in her background, as far as we know, that makes her especially well suited for this job of rescuing her sister, Elsa. But you’ve got to hand it to Anna. Whatever else she is or isn’t, she is not afraid!
I want to talk about fear for a moment by turning our attention to the Book of Judges, chapter 17. Judges, in case you don’t know, takes place in that time between the death of Joshua, after he led Israel into the Promised Land, and the beginning of Israel’s monarchy. It was, to say the least, a bleak time in Israel’s history, characterized by idolatry and lawlessness. As the author reminds us in Judges 17:6 and many other places, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
One of those people who did what was “right in his own eyes” was a wicked man named Micah. Micah carves idols out of silver and worships them in a shrine that he builds in his own home. Then, to make matters worse, he hires a Levite to serve as his personal priest… Levites were that tribe of Israel primarily responsible for the religious life of the nation. They were priests and ministers who attended to all aspects of worship in the tabernacle… later the Temple.
Now listen to verses 12 and 13:
And Micah ordained the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”
All of this, by the way, is completely against God’s law. Micah is a wicked idolater; I’m not justifying anything he does here. But in his own way, Micah does have a kind of faith. His faith is idolatrous and superstitious and self-serving, and it certainly won’t save him, but to his small credit… he really does believe in the power of God!
See, Micah believes that just by virtue of being close to a Levite—who is himself, supposedly, very close to God—Micah will have an “inside track” to God. He believes that if he gets close to someone who’s close to God—like a Levite—well… he’ll have the world on a string! As Micah says, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me!” “Now I know,” in other words, “that the Lord will bless me. Because my own personal priest is going to make sure that God gives me what I want… because, after all, he’ll surely give this highly favored Levite what he wants! Right?”
So Micah is wrong and immoral, but his logic is sound. It certainly helps having an inside track to God. It helps being close, personal friends with someone “on the inside”!
But what about us? What about me? Sure, I have saving faith in Christ, unlike Micah… Yet you rarely hear me say, “I know the Lord is going to take care of me! I know the Lord is going to bless me! I know the Lord is going to do mighty things for me and through me!”
I rarely say that… Even though, unlike Micah, I have infinitely more than an “inside track” to God… infinitely more than a mere “man on the inside”!
All of us who are in Christ have infinitely more than that…
We all have God himself, Jesus Christ, on our side, praying for us, interceding for us, advocating for us before God the Father! We have the very Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, living within us. Through Christ we have been adopted into God’s family as his highly favored sons and daughters; our Father loves us every bit as much he loves his only begotten Son Jesus; and, as Jesus says, if even sinful human fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will our heavenly Father give good gifts to us!
Do we even believe it?
Psalm 118:6: “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Do we even believe it?
Romans 8:31: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Do we even believe it?
Philippians 4:19: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Do we even believe it?
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” Jesus says, “and all these things [that I worry about] will be added to you [will be taken care of by our heavenly Father].” Matthew 6:33.
Do we even believe it?
If so, why do we worry so much? Why are we anxious so often? Why are we so often afraid? Why do we so often feel sorry for ourselves? “Woe is me!”
We’ve got within ourselves all the power to win every battle in our lives! In Christ we are more than conquerors!
But do we even believe it?
That clip ended with Elsa striking her sister with her ice magic—accidentally… not in the head this time, like when she was a child, but in the heart… which is a mortal wound. Anna is now dying. Her heart is freezing, her hair is turning white, and she is slowly turning to ice.
In the next clip, the chief troll explains to Anna and Kristoff that “only an act of true love can thaw her heart.” Of course, Anna thinks that a kiss from Hans, the man she plans to marry, will save her. But Hans doesn’t love her, as Anna finds out; he’s only using her to take over the kingdom.
Hans’s men have now taken Elsa captive. And in this clip, both sisters’ lives are in jeopardy.
By the way, you’re about to meet Olaf, a snowman that Elsa brought to life earlier. Olaf is great!
Notice Anna was given a choice. The man who loved her, Kristoff, was running toward her. If she had stayed where she was, he would have caught up to her, kissed her, and Anna would have been healed. Instead, what does she do? She puts herself in between her sister and the man who’s going to kill her. She dies in place of Elsa.
But notice how her death saves Elsa. She becomes ice. And in doing so, she breaks the sword meant to kill Elsa and knocks Hans unconscious. It’s as if she takes her sister’s icy affliction upon herself—and lets herself become ice—so that her sister can be saved.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus does something similar for us! Paul says, “For our sake [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 3 The sin that had infected our hearts, for which we ourselves deserved death, Christ took upon himself and died in our place. This is an act of love that will melt the coldest heart.
Except… not to be overly critical of an otherwise excellent movie… But there is an important sense in which Anna’s sacrifice doesn’t come close to what Christ did for us.
Let me close with this:
Elsa asks, “You sacrificed yourself for me?” And by way of explanation, Anna says, “I love you.” And indeed she proved it by her willingness to sacrifice herself. And she also proves what Olaf said to her after Anna’s warning that he might melt: “Some people are worth melting for.”
Anna loves her sister, Elsa, more than anyone in the world. They’ve already shared so many treasured memories! And Anna knows that Elsa is a good person—in spite of recent tragic events. Anna knows that. So of course Anna believes that Elsa is worth “melting” for!
So here’s my question: Would Anna have died a sacrificial death for her former fiancé, Hans…who was happy to leave Anna for dead and who was this close to murdering her sister?
Would Anna have sacrificed her life for Hans?
Of course not! And no one would expect her to!
Hans is not worth melting for… not even close!
But see… That’s one incredibly important difference between Anna’s sacrifice for Elsa… and Christ’s sacrifice for us.
He made that sacrifice for unworthy people who hated him and nailed him to a cross and wanted him dead… including people like Hans… and even people like you and me!
“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” 4