October 31, 2011 @ 2:49 pm
Dear Friends in Christ, Grace mercy and peace be to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus. Our text is the Epistle lesson. Tomorrow, October the 31st is Halloween and that means that neighborhoods everywhere will be filled with youngsters walking up and down the streets, bucket in hand, wearing all kinds of costumes, knocking on doors, reciting the same refrain: they ring the doorbell, someone answers with a bowl of candy and the youngsters say, “Trick or Treat”. We know how it goes, we have all participated in the fun at one time or another. One thing about the history of Halloween that still is evident today is its connection to All Saints Day. All Saints is a Church celebration of those who died in witness to the faith; the superstitious assumed that was some sort of a summoning of the dead and so Halloween, or All Hallows (All Saints) Eve has become a celebration of those who have died. The secular celebration sometimes can offend against Christian sensibilities. It seems macabre. Scary, and sometimes evil. It can make us pause and consider our participation. Yet there is something reflective of our Christian faith hidden here, that we often don’t realize. And that is the fact that death and evil really is not all that scary. Now I know that the Halloween masks and costumes can be unsettling and even somewhat gross; especially for younger children – I try to steer my younger children away from these sorts of things to avoid having nightmares. But, truth be told they are not really that scary. A kid in a monster mask is just a kid. Underneath the mask is a boy or girl who just wants a piece of candy. Likewise underneath the threats of death and the devil is a weak and impotent spirit stripped of his power and authority and unable to lift a finger against God’s chosen and baptized believers. Under the threat of death is the hope of rest in heaven with Jesus and those who have died in the faith and likewise there is nothing to fear. For the one who believes in Christ’s death and resurrection, for the one who believes in Christ’s victory over death and over the devil, evil can offer no threat that is not easily overcome by the Word of God. Satan is judged. Death is defeated. Sin has been done away with. All that remains is joy and laughter and a big giant celebration. The Word of God has made you free, you are free indeed. Our text for today comes to us from Paul Epistle to the Romans. He is writing about those things that are truly scary and that can truly threaten and kill and that is the laws and the commands of God. It says, “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” In other words, the Words of God that deliver God’s expectations and commands are laced with judgment. God demands obedience. God demands compliance. And to make it utterly unreachable and unattainable for any of us, God demands that we do it perfectly. When God’s demands are not met, he in his divine justice punishes every law breaker. This is how it works; the scriptures are abundantly clear – you obey the law you live and prosper. You disobey and you die. Now that is something truly scary. More than any monster movie or Halloween costume could ever be, God’s judgments are for real. But that judgment has been neutralized. Because that law has been fulfilled. It can’t condemn us any longer. The Apostle continues: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for fall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Paul points us to Jesus. Jesus is the sacrifice that fulfilled God’s wrath. Jesus is the One who died to pay the just penalty for Human sin. Jesus is the One who received all of God’s just anger and now we go free. Set free from death. Set free from all those things that would frighten us and scare us and terrify us as though we still had to fear God’s judgment, as though we still had to be afraid of death. We don’t. In fact, we can laugh at death. We can mock death. Jesus defeated death. Jesus defeated Satan and made a mockery of Satan. (Ephesians 4:8) We can too. We can laugh at the devil. When the rest of the world is cowering in fear, afraid of ghosts and spirits and goblins and zombies we can turn on the bright light of the Gospel and laugh. We can see death for what it is, the devil for who he is. I have seen it in countless hospital rooms and funeral homes: Christians come face to face with the death of one they loved and instead of shrinking away in fear and anxiety and grief, they sing. Their hearts sing. In spite of the grief and in spite of the sadness of a real loss, faith that trust in Jesus clings to Jesus and trusts that they will see this loved one again. There is nothing like it. These days it has become popular to put out all kinds of Halloween decorations. People will put cobwebs on trees. They will put orange lights all around to give off an erie glow. They will play spooky sounding music and even put mock tomb stones in the front lawn. I doesn’t fool anyone. It’s just a house. And the house gives out candy. Big deal. Same with death –it looks spooky and horrible – but it isn’t. It’s just death. Christian go to and through death with nothing but quiet and peaceful confidence because Jesus has been there first and he has removed its sting and neutralized our enemies that were lurking there. It’s safe. It’s secure. It’s the gateway to heaven. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints, says the Psalmist. Isn’t Satan a liar? Death cannot harm us. And neither can Satan. But he still tries. In fact, Satan often does what our kids do at Halloween. He dresses himself up and he puts on masks to try to fool us. He tries to intimidate us. He tries to make us think that he is powerful. He snarls and growls and threatens. He lies and pretends that he has power to destroy us, knowing full well that he does not. But hoping we will be frightened into believing him. Martin Luther made the comment that yes he is a devil, but he is God’s devil. God takes advantage of this pitiful spirit. He uses his hatred and anger against the believers and the Church to help accomplish His purposes. God allows the devil some slack in his leash to go attach the church, to attack his Christians from time to time. But God is there watching through the whole thing, allowing his Christians even to suffer for a time, but, all the while knowing that this suffering strengthens the Christian. It even adds to and increases our joy. In Romans 5 the Apostle Paul writes: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 ESV) Suffering leads the Christian to a stronger and more vibrant faith. Satan’s best efforts work against him. He is only God’s agent to teach us to pray. Dear Christian, when you suffer learn to pray. When you struggle learn to pray. Learn to give your struggles and your fears and your anxiety and worry all to God. Learn to run to him in faith and know that he will permit this suffering only as long as he has ordained it. He can remove it in a moment. In the mean time, receive it as a gift, and as an invitation to kneel before him in humble prayer. Receive his invitation. Respond to it in faith. Tomorrow is Halloween, kids in masks will be roaming the neighborhoods pretending to be terrifying. But they are not. They are just kids looking for candy. Likewise the devil will wander in and out of your life breathing out lots of threats and brandishing death like a weapon. Death’s stinger has been removed. Satan’s power is gone. God’s Word clearly testifies to that. We belong to Jesus and Jesus is here. Jesus has defeated death, he chases away the devil. We are saved In His name. Amen.