Have you heard the old tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes?
Penned by Hans Christian Andersen, it’s the story of an Emperor who was totally obsessed with his personal appearance and achievements. And he was consumed with being popular at any cost.
One day two dodgy fashion designers arrived in the Kingdom, offering to make him the most beautiful set of clothes. But when the Emperor’s servant went to inspect these new clothes he couldn’t actually see anything.
The designers insisted the garments were real and asked the servant to step closer to inspect the gorgeous fabric and intricate design. The poor old servant thought he alone couldn’t see the invisible fabric and was so afraid of the Emperor’s volatile reaction that he just pretended to be impressed. The exact same thing happened with the rest of the Emperor’s entourage.
Funnily enough, when the Emperor came to try on these new ‘invisible’ clothes, he was surprised that everyone else was raving about something he couldn’t see. But he was so worried about what others might think, the Emperor joined in saying: “The fabric is stupendous. Nothing could be finer!”
To make matters worse, the Emperor then paraded around the street stark naked, while his servants pretended to lift the royal cloak from the ground! Eventually, the cycle of denial was broken by the honesty of a young boy who was brave enough to point out the Emperor’s folly.
“Your Royal Emperor, sir, I thought that I must come and tell you that everyone is laughing at you. Can’t you see what’s wrong?” the boy said.
The Emperor’s heart sank. He couldn’t hide behind his pretence any longer – there was something compelling about this young boy’s honesty that demanded he face the truth. The next day, the royal court cheered with gladness and relief as the Emperor turned up fully clothed. In his new-found freedom, the Emperor and his subjects were able to live free and happily ever after.
It’s a strange fable but one that’s very relevant in our image-obsessed world. For instance, consider how much time and energy society spends focused on things such as physical appearance, money, weekend entertainment and success in our careers. Then compare that to the amount of ‘airplay’ we give matters such as identity, purpose and life after death.
We have a world that chases madly after certain things, only to find emptiness. And yet very few people are willing to speak up, pointing out this stark truth because we all fear being different from everyone else. And so the pursuit of ‘stuff’ in the vain hope it will make us happy continues unabated, as if our whole identity rested on it.
Over the years, I’ve found the more sure you become about Christ, the more uncertain you become about everything else. Jesus told us to get used to it in Matthew 8:20, saying – “Foxes have holes and birds have nests but the son of man has no home.”
As uncertain as that sounds, it’s actually enough for some people. Peter and the disciples dropped their fishing nets and followed Jesus down that unknown road. Not everyone takes up the offer though. In Matthew 16 Jesus asked a rich young ruler (a man who sounds like he was actually more qualified than the fishermen) to be part of the great adventure. But the young man couldn’t deal with the uncertainty and “he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
For us today, this one naked truth is certain … when you chase Jesus you find your identity and your purpose. Everything else can change along the way but Jesus remains rock solid no matter where life takes you.