Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:29)
Killed For Picking Up Sticks
There is a tragic story in the history of Israel involving the execution of a man for picking up sticks. The children of Israel were in the wilderness when they found a man gathering wood. Nothing in the story indicates the purpose of this wood collection, whether it was to build a fire to warm by or to cook food. Whatever the case, the man was walking around bundling wood for himself. The people brought the man to Moses and Aaron, seeking guidance on what to do. All of Israel was brought together trying to find out what must be done to the man. As guidance was sought from the Lord, the man was arrested and put under guard. His crime was apparent: he was picking up sticks.
After inquiring of the Lord, Moses and all the congregation took the man outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones. It was a horrific way to die. The people took stones and threw them at the man. His death was slow as each stone bruised and broke him until he was unconscious. Finally, death came, and the rocks stopped flying. As the congregation walked away, the image of the battered and bloodied man burned in their minds. He was not executed by an unknown hooded executioner. Each member of Israel had taken part in killing a man who was found picking up sticks.
The story is not about gathering sticks. There is nothing immoral about working to gather wood for a fire to warm by or cook food. The people brought the man to Moses and Aaron because the man was picking up sticks on the Sabbath day. Under the Law of Moses and expressly declared in the Ten Commandments was the prohibition of working on the day God set aside as the Sabbath. The law clearly stated that any person who profaned the Sabbath day would be put to death. Any work done on the Sabbath day would bring a judgment of death against the individual. God had set aside the Sabbath day as a holy day, and the man picking up sticks on the Sabbath found the word of God to be faithful.
When Christ died and rose from the dead, the Sabbath law was abolished. Before His death, Jesus instituted the memorial feast of His death, burial, and resurrection. The Lord commanded the early church to meet on the first day of the week and remember His sacrifice. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, warning them against taking the memorial feast in an unworthy manner. Eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner brings guilt and judgment to the individual. Like the man picking up sticks, taking the supper in an unworthy manner can bring severe judgment as being guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
The early Hebrew Christians struggled with their faith, and the book of Hebrews is a message of hope found in the covenant of Jesus Christ. Throughout the book, the appeal is made to see the failure of the old law and the glory of the new law. As the author begins to close the book’s message, he warns those who would refuse to assemble with the saints on the first day of the week. He exhorts them to remember the purpose of the assembly to consider one another in order to stir up love and good works. Another reason not to forsake the assembly is to realize that they profane the Lord’s Supper when a person refuses to worship on the first day of the week.
God requires His people to worship every first day of the week. This is not a suggestion from the Lord but a command He expects His people to keep. The man picking up sticks may not have thought it was a big deal to do so on the Sabbath, but God’s law was clear. He was put to death for profaning what God had made holy. The first day of the week is not an optional gathering that Christians can choose to ignore. When a person refuses to assemble with God’s people on Sunday, they trample underfoot the body of Jesus Christ, count the blood He shed on the cross as a common thing; and they insult the Holy Spirit. If a man can be judged for taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner while sitting in the building, imagine the judgment of the man who refuses to assemble.
The church has long turned a blind eye to those who fail to assemble as if some small thing is done. In the story of the man picking up sticks; it was not about the sticks but profaning what God had called holy. When a man or woman chooses to forsake the assembly purposely, they deny the memorial feast of Jesus Christ. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the One who commanded the memorial. These words from God must echo in the hearts of the disobedient: “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay. The Lord will judge His people.”