The message of redemption moves along. The biblical storyline continues to unfold. The paintings on God’s canvas are about to unveil a dark and defining moment in the history of God’s people. The colors will disappear, and an approximate 3,400 year-old scene will reveal a tragic story that has a critical lesson for us even today…
“Now while the sons of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation; and they put him in custody because it had not been declared what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” So all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
The Israelites were rescued. God’s people had received the oracles and Law of God to live as a kingdom of priests, and they accepted this responsibility with full acknowledgement and understanding. They were to be God’s mouthpiece of praise, and the embodiment of proclamation saying, “…God is in fact the one true sovereign God, and His message of salvation is for all people.”
However, as we have seen these Israelites have rejected Moses on occasions, have doubted God, and were now about to experience His unrelenting wrath against a particular sin.
The verses above put forward the situation, the consideration, the judgment, and the execution of a man caught red-handed. It seems too cruel. Too harsh. Too unjust. Many might think, “…all this man did was pick up wood on a Saturday…perhaps he was gathering this wood for his family who ran out of wood…maybe they needed it for warmth or for cooking food.”
And so, in the face of what seems to be a punitive and unnecessary punishment, the critical point can be lost.
What’s the point of this judgement and execution?
The answer is found in the previous verses:
“But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt will be on him.’”
Defiance. What is defiance? It is, according to Merriam, a “willingness to contend or fight,” i.e. to willfully rebel against a command or expectation. From God’s perspective, defiance is “blaspheming the Lord.”
God’s people were to trust Him–for everything…in everything…at all times. Their observance and obedience to God’s law–including the Sabbath–vindicated their trust in God. In other words, as they rested (did not work) on the Sabbath, they were saying, “…yes, God is true…His Word is right…and He alone is our Sovereign Provider.” There is no wiggle room. If a person was to defy God’s Law, they were defying and blaspheming God Himself. And so, before the wood-gatherer enters the scene, we see God’s declaration and the subsequent judgment that would be carried out against any perpetrator. The execution then is expected. God was clear in His commands, and He was just to punish any who would break them.
How Does This Apply To Us Today?
The lesson from this section of God’s biblical narrative is not that we are to refrain from picking up wood on the Sabbath or even to refrain from work on the Sabbath. The OT Laws were fulfilled in Christ. So then, how does this apply to us today?
What is the principle sin that God is dealing with here? Defiance.
The point…is there any person who has ever lived before, during, or after this story is told who has lived without defiance of God? No. And so, any person who dies defying–not trusting–God is subjected to a state of forever separation from God.
What then is a person to trust?
“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”
Man is born defying God. It’s in his nature. It’s the desire to satisfy ones own own hungers, wants, wishes, thoughts, perceptions, etc. It’s the pursuit of power, pleasure, and prestige apart from God. This is the inescapable reality of every human being born in a sinful condition.
But God didn’t leave man in this sinful condition. No, in the face of our defiance, guilty of punishment, subjected to the same fate of stoning and execution as the wood-gatherer breaking the Sabbath, Christ, the very Son of God, steps in. He faces the crowd holding their jagged stones ready to end our lives, and says, “…turn your anger away from these defiant people…fix your wrath upon me…hurl your stones with full force…and slay me…instead of these guilty defiant perpetrators.”
And it is here once again that we see yet another reason why Christ Had to Die…
Just like the defiant wood-gatherer, we have defiantly lived our lives apart from trusting God. But that’s not the final word. Christ died for us in our defiant state. He made provision for our escape from wrath, and moreover, for a relationship with the Father.
This applies to all for salvation, as well as to our everyday lives. As we choose our own desires above God’s desires, we are reminded that Christ died for our acts of continued defiance, and thus we lean in faith on His work for our being made like Him. We trust–everyday–in His work on our behalf, because our desires still remain to satisfy ourselves. It’s a daily trust of following Christ in faith, and a constant reminder of our need and His provision for us through His life, death, and resurrection. We walk in faith–in the Spirit–and so do not satisfy the deeds of the flesh.
Christ had to die…because we are defiant.
Glory to our God. Glory to our King. Let Christ be praised. His life and death for all to see!— September 7, 2017