I have been singing the songs of Les Miserables ever since I saw the movie on my birthday a few weeks ago. Each time I hear the words I am transported back to the scenes of a story packed with powerful pictures of the gospel, law and grace. To draw out my thoughts I’ve decided to write a few blog posts spotlighting some of the characters. And with Oscar night this month, what better time to do so.
I start with prisoner 24601. This number was assigned to thief, Jean Valjean, who spent 20 years on the chain gang after stealing a piece of bread and then trying to escape from imprisonment. When he is finally given his ticket to freedom, Inspector Javert warns him that he will always be a slave with no capacity to change so the “law” will be watching for his next mistake.
Sure enough in a scene shortly thereafter we see Valjean is still unreformed, living true to his 24601 identity. While spending the night in the home of a bishop, he stole some silver while his host lay sleeping. As 24601 made his way out in the night he is caught by the Constables who bring him back to the bishop.
What happens next, as those who have seen Les Mis know, changes the course of the rest of his life. Amazingly the bishop tells the constables that he indeed gave the silver to Valjean and they can set him free. Then taking it a step further the bishop graciously gives Valjean additional silver, a pair of beautiful candlesticks.
But what the bishop really gave was abundant grace to a lost soul. It was this unwarranted love and being called a brother that changed Valjean forever.
As Valjean wrestles through this freedom that only grace can provide, he declares that “another story must begin”. Now living out his new identity, he bestows the same kindness and grace that was shown to him on to Fantine (his dying factory worker), her daughter Cosette (who he adopts), later Cosette’s future husband Marius (who he saves from dying in a battle) and even his nemesis Javert (whose wrong he righted even though it could’ve put an end to Javert’s constant pursuit of him).
What a beautiful picture of the gospel!
This is what happens when God in His mercy reaches down and declares us righteous. There is nothing in us that deserve His grace. Yet God the Father sets His love upon those who He has called to be His children, sending His Son to take on our sin so that we can be free.
When we experience this kind of love, we will be changed, just as Valjean was. We will have a new identity in Christ; our old self will die and we will be made new, as was Valjean. His love and mercy will now compel us to show that same love and mercy toward others, just as Valjean did.
Only the grace of God can transform us in such a way. This is what Javert failed to see and I will explore in another posting.
In Valjean’s question “Who Am I?” that he posed to himself, he found his answer in understanding what only a sinner can see. By God’s grace he was forgiven and given grace, so “Who Am I” not to do the same.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen one, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Col. 3:12-13
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