What do wild turkeys, Moses, and the heavy metal band, Iron Maiden, have in common?
Dawn broke on that crisp autumn morning just as it had on many others when I had enjoyed hunting in the national forest adjoining my grandmother’s property. Squirrel was the intended target and like Elmer J. Fudd stalking Bugs Bunny, my twelve-year-old frame crept quietly among the trees, careful not to make a sound as I pursued my quarry. Off to my left I heard movement, a lot of movement, too much movement to be a squirrel. Squinting to identify the source of the rustling leaves, shapes appeared. Juvenile turkeys were ambling down the hill toward me, oblivious to my presence just a few yards away. Never mind that it was not turkey season. Never mind that even if it were, these birds would still be illegal. None of that mattered to me as I shouldered my shotgun, clicked the safety off and commenced firing at will.
Bang, bang, bang! Reload…bang, bang! Pause…Bang! Reload, ringing ears, dead silence.
Acrid smoke filled the air like remnants from a July 4th fireworks show, blood and guts and dead turkeys lay strewn about as feathers floated lazily to the ground. I excitedly began to assemble the carnage, priding myself that we’d be eating turkey until at least Memorial Day. As my pile continued to grow, out of the corner of my eye I spied movement. One of the reasons young turkeys are not for harvest is they are dumb as a bag of hammers and the one walking toward me was no exception. Bang! More smoke, more blood and guts, more feathers, more silence. Or did I just hear something walking in the woods? Yes, I think I did hear something rustling in the leaves. It sounded like footsteps. My heart began to race as the gravity of my situation dawned on me. I had just poached a bunch of turkeys in a national forest which sounds a whole lot like a federal offense. There go the footsteps again, or is it? I couldn’t be certain.
“It’s my dad’s fault that this happened,” I thought to myself trying to calm my angst. A product of the Great Depression, he taught me that hunting was for food so “if it moved it died.” Of course, the Great Depression had been over for fifty plus years and I’d never been hungry a day in my life. If I was honest, my dad didn’t exactly tell me to shoot everything, and most telling, he wasn’t there with me. This crime was all on me and I was certain that I heard footsteps in the leaves. It just had to be a wildlife conservation officer. He must have heard all the shooting and was coming to investigate. The sound had to be the law coming for me.
So I hid in some bushes – heart pounding, waiting, watching, and thinking that I was going to jail for all this. I was definitely hearing footsteps rustling in the leaves now, my own as I ran as fast as I could, dead turkeys in tow, to escape the terrifying sound I thought I heard at the scene of the crime. I was living proof that Moses was exactly right when he penned those words in Leviticus 26:36b: “The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues.”
I did fall that October day. Not at the hands of law enforcement but worse. Both the perceived innocence of youth and my righteousness according to the law died on a grand scale. I started the day proud and strutting my stuff as a great hunter oblivious to the evil lurking inside me. Yet by day’s end the myth was shattered, replaced by truth. That pile of dead turkeys served as a mirror and the “kid” staring back in the reflection was a criminal, greedily thieving what did not belong to him solely for narcissistic feelings of greatness. I was the bound and guilty progeny of the original sinners, not just because of what they had done but because of what I did.
Make no mistake, sinners are in fact being pursued by a most hideous beast called sin, death, and the devil, unleashed and striking continuously.
A few years later, an album cover from Iron Maiden caught this lanky turkey killer now turned teen’s attention. Eddie, the hideous demonic creature used to market Maiden’s merchandise, was depicted as a fanged beast with giant claws coiled and ready to strike, hiding in the moonlit trunk of a tree. “Fear of the dark,” the cover read! Now, I’m fairly certain that when it comes to a guilty conscience the members of Iron Maiden have no idea the accuracy of their artwork, but the image took me back to that fall day in the forest, depicting exactly what I felt. It has since occurred to me that the rustling leaves Moses spoke of may or may not be the sound of immediate accountability. But make no mistake, sinners are in fact being pursued by a most hideous beast called sin, death, and the devil, unleashed and striking continuously.
And though Moses speaks the truth and Iron Maiden sings about sin, death and the devil, neither stops the fear of a sinner’s unrighteous conscience. There is only one who can do that and his name is Jesus Christ. There on the cross, bearing the sins of the world, he alone knew the full terror of a conscience wracked by sin and judged accordingly. There on the cross, taking my sin and yours, he alone knew the full terror of the grave’s cold shadow. There on the cross, with the hot breath of the evil one hissing around him, he alone knew the full terror of satanic prosecution.
And all this he endured willingly for those so guilty and bound in sin that even dead birds, rustling leaves, and album covers set them to flight. Endure he did all the way to the right hand of the Father meaning all authority resides in him. Therefore, whatever Jesus Christ says to you is true eternally. And so we come to the heart of the matter. What does Jesus Christ say to you?
At the baptismal font, he promised to be with you always. At the communion rail, he promises that his body and blood are given and shed for your forgiveness. And from the pulpit, using the big mouth of a sinful preacher, he promises that his cross and Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb was all for you. You are forgiven without cost or condition, and the terrifying enemies that stand against you do not have the last word – he does.