NUMBERS 15:17-16:40 | MARK 15:1-47 | PSALM 54:1-7 | PROVERBS 11:5-6
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Today’s passage in Numbers is a most terrifying one. A severe and harsh law it was that had been given to the Hebrew children, and one that was to be observed at all costs. Atonements were afforded for certain violations, but to others the punishment was stoning by death. Which is what happened to that poor man collecting wood on a Sabbath day. He was brought before Moses and the elders, and when the Lord was consulted, the verdict was clear: death by stoning.
Contrast this now with this man named Jesus, who several thousand years later comes along and says to the elders of the Temple that the Sabbath was made for man, and not vice versa. And to give backbone to those words, Jesus tells an infirm man to pick up his mat (not unlike picking up wood) and to walk!
Was this not a violation of the Sabbath? It certainly was, but then that was the point. The Sabbath was made for the man and not man for the Sabbath. So, if it meant doing what was necessary, it mattered not what day of the week it was to do it.
But continuing in our reading of the Book of Numbers, beyond the frightening incident of the Sabbath-breaker’s fate, there is the story of Korah and company, sons of the House of Levi who go up to Moses with a view to dispute the established rules and privileges afforded only to Aaron’s sons in the Temple. This was apparently not-so-wise a thing to do. Some things ought to be left as they are, I suppose…
Because if the story of Korah and his followers is any evidence to this, it must have certainly served as a lesson to the rest of the people to hold their peace when it came to matters concerning the appointed ways of worship. The outcome of all this is that two hundred and fifty people including Korah and his household along with all their possessions are swallowed up in an instant earthquake. Just like that!
This was no ordinary matter, this business of burning incense, etc. in the Temple. One wrong move and you might very well invoke the wrath of God and be consumed by a fire, or even be swallowed up in an earthquake. That’s just the way things were!
And if all this leaves you with a heavy heart feeling oppressed about how very formidable a task it was to please God and to stay in line, and if you were lucky enough, to perhaps live a life of minimal incident, well then, you are not alone. This was indeed a serious matter! Living a life that was pleasing to the Lord meant being a perfect person. All the time.
And because you would invariably slip and fall at some time or another, there was, of course, a long list of atonements that were available to you, but then you’d better beware: there might not always be an atonement for everything. Which meant that there was always the likelihood that you’d be struck down dead one way or another. Like it or not, that was just how it was. There was constant fear, fear, and more fear.
Turning next to Mark, we arrive at the fateful crucifixion story. When brought to Pilate, Jesus is asked point-blank if he is the king of the Jews, and Jesus answers, “Yes, it is as you say.”
Could that have been any clearer?
But apparently it wasn’t quite clear enough to all because for those that cried out for Jesus to be crucified, they didn’t stop to see or even think about what they were asking for: they were asking for the blood of an innocent man at the cost of allowing a convicted criminal by the name of Barabbas to go free! I wonder how Barabbas might have spent the rest of his life — I wonder if he did indeed connect the dots eventually?
But the crowds want blood, and they want it now. So Jesus is made to carry his own cross all the way up to the mountain of Golgotha where he will be strung up—nails firmly put into place at the wrists and ankles in order to prevent him from slipping down the cross. But that wooden cross is a heavy thing.
And it so happens that a man by the name of Simon is asked to help Jesus carry it. Would that this Simon had known what a privilege it was to bear the cross of Jesus. I wonder if he kept track of the events surrounding this particular crucifixion, and perhaps later might he have realized how great an honor it was to have carried the cross of his own savior!
The centurion-guard who was witness to the crucifixion and charged with the task of ensuring that Jesus breathed his last on the cross was one whose eyes were opened when he saw and heard what transpired when Jesus did indeed breath his last.
The series of events that led to that moment caused this centurion to speak the words: Surely this man was the Son of God! There is no doubt in my mind that this man would have left that hill of Golgotha a changed man!
Joseph of Arimathia was another man that we don’t know much about other than for the one thing that is recorded about him: he asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, and when Pilate gets confirmation of Jesus’ death, he accedes to Joseph’s request, who then prepares the body for burial as was the custom of the day and places it in a tomb that is evidently paid for by himself. Again, what an amazing little fact about a man who was tending to the bodily remains of his own savior!
Next, in our Psalm for the day, we see David crying out for help to God during what must have surely been a hard time in his life. He was perhaps being pursued by King Saul, but his words seem to serve as an echo to what must have also been going through the mind of Jesus—who still bore the physical body of a human being—during the horrific time of his crucifixion. David cries:
1 Save me, O God, by your name;
vindicate me by your might.
2 Hear my prayer, O God;
listen to the words of my mouth.
3 Strangers are attacking me;
ruthless men seek my life—
men without regard for God.
It is a cry that each of us has most likely had or will have at some time in our life. May it be that like David we are also able to say with confidence:
7 For he has delivered me from all my troubles,
and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.
May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word. Amen.