Sept. 7, 2020

Sticks & Stones

Sticks & Stones

A man gets stoned for collecting firewood on the Sabbath. Why? Was it really so wrong? Listen in  as Pastor Jason examines this narrative found in Numbers 15:32-36.

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Greensburg Church of the Nazarene
31 Bluebird Ln
Greensburg, KY 42743

Greensburg Church of the Nazarene
31 Bluebird Lane, Greensburg, KY 42743


*This is a not a word for word of the podcast, but the actual sermon manuscript



“Church members are like automobiles---they start missing before they quit.” It is a funny statement, but sad at the same time. Sad because it is true. Ask any believer if going to church is important, almost all of them would say yes. However, of the 65 percent of Americans who say they are Christians, less than 40 percent of those attend church every Sunday.


Think about it this way, if you are a no-call, no-show for your job, most likely you will get fired. You may get away with it a time or two, but eventually they will fire you. If your kid misses school without calling or turning in a doctor’s note, after several times the state will show up at your house. Skip practice and games, no matter what sport you play, the coach will not let you play. What do you and I say when a church member skips church? “Sorry we missed you.” “Well, shucks, we hope we will see you next week.” You and I apologize to them, coddle them so they will comeback. For someone who claims to love God and wants to live for Him, this does not seem right. That is because it is not.


The message today is titled “Sticks& Stones.” We will be looking at this event recorded in the book of Numbers, dealing with a man who picks up sticks on the Sabbath. As we go through, we will try to answer the question: Why does the man get put to death?


Numbers 15:32-36:

32 While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, 34 and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. 35 Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly took him outside the camp.” 36 So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses. (NIV)


This is the Word of God, for the people of God, thanks be to God.


Verses 30-31 of Numbers 15 read: “But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the Lord’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.” This is God’s command given to Moses, shared with the entire Hebrew community. The passage where you and I are focusing, trying to answer the question, “Why does the man get put to death?” is an illustration to that command.


Verse 32 While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. The word translated “desert” in my 1984 edition of the NIV is a poor one, other translations have it as “wilderness,” which is a much more accurate word. Desert makes us think of sand, cacti, and no shade to be found. That hardly seems the place a man would go out to find wood, let alone be gathering it.


Wood is an important resource today, even more so for this Hebrew man travelling through a wilderness. He most likely had a family, needed the wood to build a fire that would allow for cooking meals, keep them warm, and provide some protection in deterring most wildlife. The need was real, so the man was trying to supply that need. However, the man was found collecting his supply on the Sabbath, a day commanded as a day of rest by God to His people.


The Sabbath was and is not a new law. God in the very beginning established the seventh day as one of rest. Not that God needed to rest, but He knew you and I as human beings would need one. Jesus echoes this by saying, “Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man.” Remembering the Sabbath was again established with the Hebrews at the mountain of God, one of the Ten Commandments. It was also demonstrated to these people when God sent them the manna, the bread of heaven, as they travelled through the wilderness. Manna would appear every morning for them to collect, except for the Sabbath.


This was a law that the man knew. It was common knowledge throughout the entire Hebrew community. Moses did not invent this law; it was commanded to Him by God. The man had a very real need for wood, but he chose to pick up sticks on the day he was commanded to be resting. A willful violation of God’s known law. Theologically, this is what we Wesleyan-holiness folks call personal sin.


Verses 33-34 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. Again, the NIV does a poor job of communicating the intent in these verses. Moses, Aaron, and the whole assembly knew the man picking up sticks had violated the law of the Sabbath. They also knew the punishment that was outlined for the violation. In Exodus 31:15, God tells Moses, “Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.” Moses knew the penalty was death, and so did everyone else.


What the community did not know was the method for carrying out the sentence. There was no debate if the man was guilty, he was found gathering the sticks. The sentence was going to be carried, honoring the command of God. Since there had been no lightning bolt or fire from the sky, the community needed to know how. And let us be honest, they may have also been pausing to allow God to direct them in the matter overall, the man was simply picking up sticks. Was gathering needed resources a crime worthy of death?


Verses 35-36 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. God confirms with Moses that the man should be put to death. Then God shares the detail on how the sentence is to be carried out, stoning. The man picked up sticks on the Sabbath, and he was to be punished with stones. It was God who commanded this as the man’s punishment.


The community is also given the command to carry out the sentence outside the camp. Sin always pays us with death, but the fellowship of God’s people is a holy place. By holy, that means it is set apart or uncommon. Death is common, unholy, having no place intermixed with the people of God.


He picked up sticks violating the law of the Sabbath and was put to death for his actions. This was commanded by God to Moses, carried out by the community. Why does the man get put to death? The man was put to death outside the camp because that is what he wanted. His actions were in willful defiance against God, ultimately deciding death outside the camp was better than God’s will that impeded him from fulfilling his own needs. God gave the man what he wanted.


How does this relate to us here and now? Jesus healed many people on the Sabbath, and He is God in the flesh. Obviously, there is something in the application of the Sabbath we need to know. Also, Sunday is not the Sabbath. The church worships on the day Jesus was resurrected. And as a last disclaimer, I am not saying you will go to hell for working on a Sunday, I work on Sunday! Some would say I only work on Sundays.


The Sabbath is about “rest.” Resting in the presence of God, allowing our hearts to be refreshed. Church attendance is important because it is a time you and I gather for that purpose. The Spirit works through me to fresh you and you to refresh me. When we are alone, our hearts still crave this period to rest with God. Ultimately, the idea of the Sabbath is rest not focused on ourselves but God and others. About loving God and loving others.


Personal sin is defiance against God. The man knew picking up sticks violated God’s law, but he decided his own needs were more important. You and I do the same thing whenever we pick other things over spending time with God. We know God tells us to rest in His presence, yet we choose to do the opposite.


“I have to work; I have to support my family.” “We are so busy all week.” “Sports are important.” Those are lines we use to make excuses for things that are more important to us than God, making them sinful. My needs are our idol, more worthy than obedience to God. Providing for my family is our idol because we do not trust that God will. By choosing those things over God, we are picking up sticks and choosing the stones.


While sin is personal defiance, a group can also be defiant against God. Group sin is allowing the defiance against God. The man picked up sticks on the Sabbath and the temptation for Moses, Aaron, and the Hebrew community was to undermine the offense. You and I sin as a group for apologizing for others missing and not calling their idolatry what it is. As a group we know God’s will is for us and others to rest in His presence, yet we choose to pick the sticks and get the stones. The sticks are fear of losing numbers in attendance and membership, coddling those who do not want to be there instead of reminding them of our call to holiness. The call to love God and love others.


Defiance is always sin, and sin always leads us to death. God’s will is for us to live, but He will not force us to do so. His love for us is so reckless and extravagant that God allows us to have what we want. Salvation and holiness are His will for us, the choice God wants us to make. Picking the sticks is for us to choose the wrath of God, the stones that will be our death. Not what God wants, but what we want.


Remembering the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments, the basic requirements to be human. Loving God and loving others sums up the life obedient to the Ten Commandments. This means that going to church, resting in the presence of God, is an elementary action of a heart seeking to live out the Christian life. Whether online or in person, a true follower of Jesus will take time to be with Him and the others seeking the same, without our arms having to be twisted to do so.


What are the sticks in your life? Lay them down at Christ’s feet. Stop choosing to let them lead you to the stones. God loves you and His will is for you to rest in His presence, not for you to chase the things leading to death. Picking the Sabbath will be setting a precedence for your life.