Christmas time is exciting for so many reasons: time with family, great food, time to relax, and we get to celebrate the birth of our savior. That is usually the order of things isn't it? Family, food, …Christ. It is so easy to do this because we forget what salvation is about. What is salvation? It is usually explained as, “Well, God loved me so much, that He sent Jesus to save me from my sins.” When explained like that, what is salvation about? It’s about me. It’s about what I want, what I need. It is any wonder then that we spend Christmas doing what we want to do?
This view point on salvation has a major oversight. We overlook God and who He truly is. Whenever we tell people about God, we tell them the things that they want to hear. God loves you. God wants a relationship with you. God sent His Son Jesus to die for you. If you accept Him as your savior, He will save you from hell. Accept Him? God needs OUR acceptance? The Creator of the universe is begging for us, His creation, to choose Him? Our picture of God we create is a man centered god, a god who bases all of his actions on mankind.
Is this really an accurate picture of God? Why don’t we tell people the story of Uzzah when we talk about God? First Chronicles 13 tells the story of when David became king. He decided to bring the Ark of the Covenant, Israel’s most sacred vessel, back to a central place in Israel. The ark was a wooded chest, covered inside and out with gold. It had four golden rings on its corners so that it could be carried with poles. The ark was made exactly as God had commanded. It was symbolic as the throne of God. In the tabernacle it was kept in the Holy of Holies. Before David’s reign as king, Saul had taken it to battle and it was captured by the philistine army. It had been returned to Israel, but it had remained on the outskirts of the country in a small village. So when David became king he said, “Let’s bring it back to Jerusalem. Let’s put God’s glory at the center of our nation.” So they put it on a cart pulled by oxen and guided it towards Jerusalem. It was such an extremely joyous occasion. David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and harps, tambourines, cymbals, and trumpets. Then suddenly one of the oxen stumbled. The ark slid a little and looked like it might fall off. Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark so it wouldn't fall into the mud. Then it says that, “The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God.”
Frustrating story isn't it? Preaching about that story probably wouldn't draw a crowd would it? Where is the God’s love in this story? Where is His kindness? His patience? This story is hard for us to comprehend because it offends our definition of justice. The punishment doesn't fit the offense. Uzzah tried to do something good, keep the ark from falling in the mud, and he was struck dead for it.
To understand Uzzah’s offense, we must look back at what God commanded Israel’s priests when He gave the instructions for the creation of the tabernacle. He told them that these items were dedicated to the Lord and that they were holy. The Arc of the Covenant was not to be touched. For that reason God had it built with rings so that it could be carried by poles. God specifically said that those carrying it cannot touch it or they will die! It was Uzzah’s duty to carry the ark. He knew he was never supposed to touch it. Let’s ask the question of why was it on a cart to begin with? Why weren't they carrying it like God had commanded them to?
When Uzzah reached out to touch the ark to keep it from falling into the mud, it was an act of defiance and arrogance. He knew it was supposed to be carried with poles—he put it on a cart instead. He knew it was never to be touched—he touched it. Why did he touch it? To keep it from falling in the mud. In his mind he thought that his hand was less polluted than the mud. He felt he was cleaner and more holy than the dirt. But does dirt disobey God? Does mud ever arrogantly defy the commands of the Holy God? Never. Man, on the other hand, has the audacity to think that he is wise enough and holy enough to defy God’s commands at it will turn out okay. The Holy Ark wouldn't be polluted by dirt; it could only be polluted by sinful man’s touch.
Our Christian culture is offended by this story. “He just disobeyed once. Why couldn't God just forgive him and tell him not to do it again? How could God do that?” These are probably common thoughts. We don’t understand biblical stories like this because we don’t understand holiness and justice. We don’t understand that to be holy means to be completely separated from sin. Holiness can have NOTHING to do with sin of any kind. God hates sin. God hates it when mankind becomes so arrogant that he thinks he knows better than his Creator. God hates it when someone thinks just this once won’t matter or that it’s not a big deal. Defying God’s commands is spiting in the face of the all powerful, all knowing Holy Creator.
Now look back at the story of Uzzah and his act of arrogant defiance against God’s commands. God said, “You touch it, you die.” He touched it, and he died. That is justice. He received the punishment he deserved.
Why is God’s justice so offensive to us? Because we feel like we don’t deserve it. We were told God is loving and merciful, so we expect that those are His only qualities and that He has to extend mercy to everyone. But God is holy. He hates it when we defy his commands, and He is just, meaning He HAS to give punishment when punishment is deserved.
That is what is so amazing about Christmas. God Himself became a man, to take our punishment for our defiant disobedience of His commands. He humbled Himself and became a human being. He came to earth to take upon Himself the holy wrath that you and I deserve. That’s not justice. We defy Him, and He becomes a man to take the punishment Himself. That’s humility, that’s mercy, that’s God, and that is what Christmas is about. God coming to earth to show us once again, that only He is truly worthy of praise and honor.