The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is one of the best-loved stories of all time. Multitudes of children grow up on the tale of the land covered in snow, cursed to be always winter and never Christmas, that is saved by four children from England through the power of Aslan, the Great Lion. How many people have hid in their closets, holding their breath every time as they reach for the back wall, hoping against hope that this time it will open into Narnia? The land is truly one of magical delight. But it’s not just the fauns and the talking beavers and the snow that make this story so endearing. At its core is the powerful allegory of a willful sinner who is saved by the death of the very one he scorned. Aslan’s sacrifice to save Edmund Pevensie is beautiful enough to break your heart.
From the beginning of the story, Edmund is portrayed as a selfish brat who only cares about himself. He’s perfectly willing to hand his siblings over to an evil Witch in exchange for rooms filled with Turkish Delight. When he hears the name of Aslan, he is overcome with horror and dread. He can’t understand why his siblings are so eager to meet this Lion; the witch sounds much better to him. In the end, he leaves his family behind and sets off for the Witch’s castle on his own. The promise of Turkish Delight gives him the strength to endure the brutal winter winds and the terrifying statues littering the Witch’s courtyard.
But when he finally sees the Witch again, things begin to go dreadfully wrong. The promised candy is replaced with moldy bread and frozen water. Instead of becoming a prince, he becomes a prisoner. And worst of all, the Witch is now after his siblings: not to make them his servants, as she had told him, but to kill them all. Edmund is only kept alive in hopes that his family will come after him.
This is a perfect picture of what we all are like. We’re born as sinners. Our very nature is rebellious against God, and we strive against Him from the moment our life begins. Like Edmund, we care only for ourselves. The temptations of the devil are much more enticing than what God offers us. So we run after him, confident that we’re getting the better end of the deal. But then, everything falls apart. The sin that was pleasant for a moment loses its shimmer, appearing instead as something hideous. We try to escape, but it’s too late. We’re a prisoner to sin, enslaved to its wishes. Nothing we do can free us from the grip of sin.
But fortunately for Edmund (and us!), this isn’t the end of the story. Edmund might have betrayed his family, but they weren’t about to give up on him. They make the long cross-country trek to the Stone Table, where Aslan is waiting to meet them. The Great Lion notices at once that one of them is missing, and he sends his own soldiers to the Witch’s camp to rescue Edmund. Edmund is at last free.
Well, not quite. The Witch knows something he doesn’t, and she braves a meeting with Aslan to exert her rights. The camp waits tensely behind Aslan, barely moving as the Witch walks up to the Lion and dares to recite the Deep Magic to him. Her words send a shard of ice into the heart of every hearer.
“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch. […] “You at least know the Magic which the Emperor put into Narnia at the very beginning. You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that for every treachery I have a right to kill. […] [T]hat human creature is mine. His life is forfeit to me. His blood is my property.”The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, pp.141-142
Aslan himself knows this to be true. He will not work against the Emperor’s magic; he knows that a blood sacrifice must be made. But he will not let Edmund pay that horrible price. Instead, the Lion makes a deal with the Witch. He will give his own life in exchange for Edmund’s. In this way, the law required by the Deep Magic will be fulfilled.
This is exactly what happens. Late that night, Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund. The Witch kills him on the Stone Table. As his life expires, the Deep Magic is satisfied; Edmund can go free. But his freedom comes at a terrible cost, for now no one stands between the Witch and her dominion. It is a dark night for Narnia.
But with the dawn always comes light. In the morning, the Stone Table cracks in two—and Aslan is alive again! He knew what the witch did not:
“[I]f she could have looked a little further back, […] she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, p.163
And so the Witch’s victory was no victory at all. Aslan had defeated Death, an enemy far greater than the Witch, and now he would charge into battle against her. All of Narnia is delivered from her power—including Edmund.
Few stories can communicate so effectively the beauty of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Though like Edmund we were slaves to sin and deserved a traitor’s death, Jesus Himself died on our behalf. We had betrayed Him, wronged Him, even mocked Him; yet He willingly gave His own life that ours would be spared. The wrath of God demanded a payment for sin; the justice of God accepted Christ’s sacrifice as that payment. And, having died for the sins of all, Jesus rose again to newness of life. He has defeated both sin and death, and one day He will return and throw the devil into the lake of fire, where he will burn for all eternity. He is the Victor, the great sacrifice Who has saved us from ourselves. He looked on us and loved us, even when we hated Him. He loved us to the point of death—a horrible, humiliating death. And in His power, He rose again, so that we now have eternal life in Him if we believe. As Aslan paid the price for Edmund’s treachery and defeated both Death and the Witch, so Christ has paid the price for our treachery and defeated both death and sin.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).