What if the gospel is more like Halloween than Christmas?
If you grew up hearing that Halloween was the celebration of evil, you might feel as shocked as I did when the question was posed to me. When I considered how the two holidays might relate to the gospel, the thought of Halloween being a superior picture seemed downright heretical.
Until I took my youngest son trick-or-treating.
Costume design is not my forte, so my son dressed in his baseball pants, his team t-shirt, donned his ball glove, and went as a baseball player. As we strolled down the sidewalks, I counted about 27 princesses and nearly as many ninja warriors. A walking vending machine wobbled around us as we stepped up to ring a doorbell, and a few pixelated Minecraft characters flew across the yard, taking a shortcut to the next house.
Considering my own lack of costume-creativity, I was enthralled with the artful parade of of characters.
But there were also scary and downright disgusting costumes that made me want to cover the eyes of every tiny trick-or-treater on the street.
Hordes of people trickled down the sidewalks and streets, stumbling over cumbersome costumes, running door to door.
A man with a supposed gouged eyeball.
Creatures limping and growling.
I stepped back for the wide view.
It occurred to me that Jesus’ earthly ministry was probably a little more like Halloween than I like to imagine.
I thought of Jesus and his disciples disembarking on Galilee’s eastern shore when they were startled by a mad man running and screaming at them. Broken chains dangled from his limbs, and his naked body bore a web of scars and scabs from self-inflicted wounds (Mark 5:1-8).
Another time, after a horrific night at sea when his disciples mistook him for a ghost, Jesus stepped ashore at a place called Gennesaret. When the people there recognized him as the one who had fed a multitude on the other side of the lake, they brought all their sick friends, family, and neighbors to him.
Parents brought him their children suffering from hacking coughs, oozing sores, injured limbs and faces. Desperate sufferers cried, moaning and hollering so they wouldn’t be overlooked. Mothers carried lethargic babies, and fathers cradled skeleton-like children.
People on the verge of physical and spiritual death flocked to Jesus. (Mark 6:45-56). They came in hordes from all over the surrounding country, begging him for help and hope. (Matthew 4:23-25)
And what did Jesus do when the helpless and harassed came running down the streets and shores to him?
He wasn’t disgusted. He had compassion on them. To him, they were like sheep without a shepherd, and as The Good Shepherd, he welcomed every desperate soul. He also taught them, spoke about the kingdom of God, healed their sick, and changed them (Matthew 9:35-36).
In Dane Ortlund’s new book, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, he shines a glorious spotlight on the heart of Christ and who he is. Ortlund unpacks the biblical case for Christ’s most natural response to needy people who come to Jesus for help. “The posture most natural to him is not a pointed finger but open arms” (p.19).
Ortlund writes, “[Christ] does not cringe at reaching out and touching dirty sinners and numbed sufferers. Such embrace is precisely what he loves to do. He cannot bear to hold back. We naturally think of Jesus touching us the way a little boy reaches out to touch a slug for the first time—face screwed up, cautiously extending an arm, giving a yelp of disgust upon contact, and instantly withdrawing” (p. 24).
But, he continues, “…if the actions of Jesus are reflective of who he most deeply is, we cannot avoid the conclusion that it is the very fallenness which he came to undo that is most irresistibly attractive to him” (p. 30).
Ortlund expounds, describes, and biblically proves that the very heart of Christ (as well as what he has done) is the “wonderful extra good news” we sang about so many years ago in Sunday school.
Some books make you want to change yourself or change your world. This book made me want to kneel in adoration and worship Christ.
I don’t know if Jesus would have had a bowl of candy at his house or not. He never claimed a permanent earthly address. But I know that if he had, the line at his place would have been long because Jesus drew a crowd everywhere he went (Matthew 4:25).
The line wouldn’t have been moving fast, either. It was his life’s work to address physical and spiritual needs, and that takes time. His miracles weren’t “an interruption of the natural order but the restoration of the natural order. We are so used to a fallen world that sickness, disease, pain, and death seem natural. In fact, they are the interruption” (p. 31).
I suppose His disciples would try to hurry the line or disperse the children. Parents worried about getting home before dark might urge their children to “skip that house.” But I bet Jesus would tell them all, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me” (Mark 9:37).
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).
Jesus was never one to miss a teachable moment.
Whether we admit it or not, without Christ, we are spiritually helpless and harassed. Without Christ, we are the sinners and sufferers. It’s just that in the 21st century, we’ve figured out how to dress it up and rename it so we don’t come across as spiritual beggars–people unable to earn what we desperately need.
But the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like that.
Our best hope is to come to Jesus with empty hands, offering him nothing as payment for what we need and cannot buy:
Everything that flows from his gentle and lowly heart.
And to everyone who receives him, to those who believe on his name, he GIVES the right to become children of God (John 1:12). No matter how you’re dressed. No matter how sick you’ve been, or how desperate you feel. He gives to everyone willing to receive what he is handing out.
Come empty. Leave full. Be changed by a Savior who delights in showing compassion and mercy to those who know they need it.
For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.