There is a problem.
Growing up in a Christian family and having a pastor for a father is a great thing. I am glad that my children will have the same benefit that I did. It is one of the most beneficial and spiritually enriching places that anyone can live in. It is an atmosphere of grace and love. God’s truth is a focal point in the household and is interacted with all day long. Obviously this kind of a spiritual lifestyle is not limited to pastors and their families, but this is what I grew up in.
On the flip side of that, growing up in a Christian home can be a bad thing. Spending all your life in the shadow of the Church can lead to some detrimental side effects. I know that one of them for me was a false sense of knowledge about the Bible. Because I was the pastor’s son, because I had heard at least two or three sermons a week, I assumed that I knew everything that the Bible said. That is far from the truth.
And with so much preaching and teaching about the Bible and God, things started to lose their potency. Stories of factual events started to sound like fairy tales. The realism of Scripture fell away, like a picture off a flannel graph board. Somewhere in my heart the Bible wasn’t a serious book, and the things it talked about weren’t a big deal.
That is a problem. To keep this kind of thinking going as an adult, it will surely bring about my destruction. Just like one man–he was stoned to death for picking up sticks.
Two Troubling Tales
“While the Israelites were in the wilderness, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses.”
Numbers 15.32-36 NIV
This is one of those stories that I missed out on as a child. Even as a teenager. Some how the book of Numbers was overlooked and other books were taught from. And I can understand why. Because this collection of four verses is scary–like gut wrenching, sick in my stomach disgusting. I’m saying that as a grown man. Reading these verses and thinking about what they mean does not sit well with me.
For starters, it is a frightening idea that a man is put to death because he was picking up sticks. It really is. While the story is vague on the details as to why, it isn’t crazy to think that wood may have been needed to build a fire, to prop up a tent, to repair a cart or a dozen other logical reasons.
The issue isn’t that this guy was getting wood for some reason; it was the day that he did it on. It was the Sabbath when this poor soul decided he would gather together some chunks of tree.
And this is upsetting to me. Who cares when he got wood? What does it matter that it was the Sabbath? If he had picked wood on Wednesday or Thursday no one would have cared. No one would have batted an eye. But on Sabbath–you better watch out. To my modern thinking and sensibility, this is stupid. Kill a man because he worked on the wrong day; that is foolish, even barbaric. What if that was his only day off? What if that was the only chance he had to get fire wood or a branch to make a tent peg? Why is it a big deal that he did this on the Sabbath? It does matter, because God said “Don’t.”
Now, as foolish and barbaric as killing a man for working on the Sabbath may sound, telling us that we shouldn’t do something because God said not to is worse. Telling someone to not do something because you said not to, that doesn’t work. In fact, when you say don’t do that, that is usually the first thing that we want to do. Tell a kid “Don’t touch the stove.” What do they do?
But therein lies the problem. We don’t understand. We have missed out on how serious it is to touch the stove. We aren’t happy with a “Don’t do it because I said” answer. So we touch the stove. We burn our fingers, our hands. We willfully disobey and then are surprised and angry when we suffer the consequences.
God says “Keep the Sabbath holy” and “Only six days shall you work. On the seventh you shall rest” and one man doesn’t like it. This man from the book of Numbers didn’t understand how serious God was when He said something. He did not perceive the gravity of things, that when God spoke it was a life and death situation.
The apostle Paul would later put the idea to paper, “for the wages of sin is death“. It was true long before it was written to the church in Rome. It was true then, in the days of Moses, when a man decided to gather wood on the Sabbath.
The idea that our sins, our willful disobedience, will lead to our death often floats over our heads. We know the idea. We may have memorized the Romans 6.23 passage, but some how it really doesn’t sink into our hearts. When we know what God has said, and we decide that we are going to ignore it and do something else, we are sinning. We are being disobedient. We are guilty of that which leads to death. We deserve to be stoned.
It was that idea of being stoned, Israel massing together and ending this man’s life that really stuck with me. It was this notion of stones being gathered and hurled down that really brought the gravity of sin home for me. But first let me tell you a story.
It’s a story that I’m sure you are all familiar with. And while the details of the story may change, and I’m not going to go into details, the heart of the story is always the same. A potent and terrifying image about the consequences of our actions.
There was a small commune, a strange little community that lived in the forest. As an isolated people, they had their own way of doing things. They dealt with their issues in ways that people in other communes or in the cities wouldn’t. Once a year, all the people of the commune would gather together for the lottery. A leader would stand up in front of all of them and speak.
“Well, it is that time again. Time for the Lottery. Most of you know how this works. The forest can only support so many of us. If we as a community grow too big, we will use up the resources and then doom us all to death. So once a year, we put everyone’s names in a bowl, pick one name and that person we kill. So let’s get this over with.” (I’m going to interject here and say that this is a piece of fiction. There aren’t real communes that do this.) The leader moved towards the bowl of names, and reached in. He reached deep, to the bottom of the bowl and grabbed a slip of paper. On that piece of paper the name of the person that would die. The leader glanced down at the name, and looked up at the crowd. They were still with fear and anxiety. No one wanted to die, but this was how things worked. It had to be this way. The leader called out the name.
The name belonged to a six year old girl. She was the one that was going to die. No sooner had the leader said the little girl’s name, her mother screamed out in protest. She would not let her daughter die. Instead, the mother would take her place.
The leader and the rest of the commune were amazed at this mother’s sacrifice, and they allowed this unusual event to continue. The mother gave her daughter a farewell kiss and told her that she was loved. The mother then proceeded down into the stoning pit. It was here that the mother would meet her end.
The commune gathered around the stoning pit, including the little six year old girl. The leader called out, telling everyone to grab a stone. They did. The mother looked up, hoping for one last glimpse of her little baby. Instead she was met with a flying stone and a little girl screaming “DIE!”
Sin Isn’t A Joke
This was a story that I had to read when I was in high school, one that I had totally forgotten about until I read this story from Numbers. It is a disturbing story for sure, more so when you flush it out with character names and emotion. The image of a little girl screaming, with murder in her eyes, has been haunting my soul since I read that passage of Scripture.
In this piece of fiction, someone was being stoned for others’ survival. In Numbers, someone was stoned for their disobedience. Someone had willingly defied the Living God. As I let the stories roll around in my head, I can imagine that there were those in the assembly of Israel that were angry at this man for picking up wood on the Sabbath.
I can imagine they had thoughts like;
“Why are you doing this? Don’t you know what happens when we disobey God? We suffer! We all get hurt. Do you not remember what happened when we grumbled and complained about God? People died. There was a plague. And because of our disobedience, we will never set foot in the Land of Promise. The land flowing with milk and honey will not be something we taste. Why would you willfully do what is against our God? Do you not see that this sin, this disregard for the LORD’s word leads us to destruction? It’s like a cancer. When one of us starts sinning, it spreads to everyone. Why did you do this?”
At the same time, I can just as easily picture this man’s family being a part of the assembly of Israel. Whether they would have picked up stones or not, I don’t know. But I can hear their thoughts and cries just the same as the angry crowd.
“Dad, why did you do this? We would have been okay without the wood for another day. We weren’t going to die. Why did you have to violate God’s law? Didn’t you know that if you did this it would destroy our family, my husband? Our sense of security? Our home? What God said, He will do. That’s what the Law says. Why did you think it would be okay to disobey this time? Now, one of God’s greatest gifts is ruined, our peace, our united love. All because you sinned. Why did you do this Daddy?”
I think that sometimes we really forget how devastating our sin can be to our community. We don’t realize what kind of an effect it has on those around us until it is too late. We do not see how crippling our sin can be on other people. Not until it is too late, and maybe not even then.
That shouldn’t be the case. That should not be the way that we act and react to sin in our lives. Whether we have heard all the Bible stories and grew up in the church or not, we need to be taking sin and the effects of sin seriously. The wages of sin are death, physical death as well as the death of other things. Things like our families, other close relationships, our sense of peace and security, are just examples of what can and will die if we go around willfully sinning. If we hear God’s word and choose to do the opposite, the result will be our death. We need to take sin more seriously.
I’m sure for most of you when I quoted part of Romans 6.23, you recited the rest of it. I said, “for the wages of sin is death“, and you probably said something along the lines of “but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our LORD.” And you wouldn’t be wrong. Depending on what translation of the Scriptures you read or used to memorize that passage, you may have said or thought exactly that. And I am not saying that knowing that part of the verse is wrong. The idea of grace, eternal life in Jesus, these are pillars in the Christian faith that should not be forgotten or ignored. But we so often gloss over “the wages of sin is death” to focus on the grace and eternal life part. Sin is not a joke. Sin and the price for committing it are not something that we can ignore or skip over. We need to take this seriously, because sin is currently killing you and your life.
Taking sin seriously requires that we take a good, hard look at our lives. It means examining our day to day activities and seeing how they line up with the Word of God. And to be honest, my life doesn’t. I am guilty of the same sin as the man who picked wood on the Sabbath. I do not keep the Sabbath holy. I do not rest on the seventh day. And I am starting to see the death that it brings. Yes, my sin will have a spiritual death component, but I am seeing it effect my relationship with my wife. We are supposed to be spending my day off or our Sunday together relaxing, and I am puttering around the house trying to get things done.
I am effectively killing our relationship by decreasing the hours we spend together. I am putting stuff and tasks accomplished ahead of her and our daughter. I am prioritizing them and God under things that can wait until the next day. When I am at church, my mind wants to wander back home to what has to be done, or even, what can be done. All of this is bringing death to the peace and the relaxation of our lives. What I am doing is sin. And I know it. I am acting willfully, just like the Numbers man.
This isn’t the only thing that I am doing wrong. This is but one of the many sins that I am guilty of. And that isn’t good.
My wife and I were talking a few nights ago, and that age old parental worry came up. “What if I do something that will mess up our daughter? What if I do something wrong and it scars her for life? What if I have sin or spiritual baggage that is going to screw her up?” I’m sure we aren’t the first parents to wonder these things, and probably not the last. But we are worrying about a good thing. We have seen the devastating effect that sin has one people groups’ lives, including in our own lives. We do not want to be parents that are bringing death and death filled habits into our daughter’s life.
I think we all need to take a moment and think about how serious our sin is. I think it would be a wise spiritual exercise to see what we are doing that is in direct violation of God’s Word. I think we should look at what is bringing death, spiritual death into our lives, our relationships. Because you never know when you might be picking up sticks and then receiving deadly stones.
Do you think we should take sin more seriously, or focus more on the grace side of the Gospel?
Let me know what you think in the comment section.
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