Holy Bread & Jesus: When its “Ok” to Skip Church

skipping-churchChristians feel uneasy when both ministry and people claim the same square on our calendar. We are getting ready to start the service when a young man interrupts the announcements and asks for prayer. We are driving to choir practice when are sister calls and asks us to come over because she is having a down day. We are walking into our Sunday school room when our mom calls and asks if we can run her to urgent care because she has a bad headache. What do we do?

We welcome the young man, we give up choir practice, and we leave Sunday school.

In 1 Samuel 21, David comes to Ahimelech the priest for food. Unfortunately for David, the only food available is the show bread. After being a display for a week, the bread is sent to “Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it (Lev 24:5-8).” David clearly lacked priestly credentials. Yet Ahimelech “gave him the holy bread for there was no bread but the bread of Presence (1 Sam 21:6).” Though modern readers might question Ahimelech’s wisdom in discounting God’s law, Jesus does not. He praises the priest in Matthew 12:3-8, declaring that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath.

What does all this mean? Can we dispense with the law of God? Is God saying that the strict Jews of his day and those who champion the purity culture are a bunch of godless, legalists who have misrepresented the heart of our loving God?

No. Jesus is not tossing away the law and declaring as one author said, “God accepts us as we are, without judgement or condemnation.”

Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-18,

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass form the law until all is accomplished.

Jesus spends most of the sermon on the mountain fortifying the law of God, equating adultery with impure thoughts and murder with anger. Jesus does not think we are broken and beautiful irrespective of the law. He upholds and defends the law, calling us to obey it.

If that is the case, why does Jesus allow his disciples to eat grain on the Sabbath and pastors to wear blended suits? The laws against eating pork, touching dead bodies, and wearing blending clothing were attached to the practice of sacrifice. They existed to teach men and women that God was holy and that they were not. They showed that people could only commune with after they had been purified by a sacrifice. The sacrifices were a picture and a reminder of the great sacrifice to come, Jesus Christ. God told Hosea,

“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than brunt offerings.”

The sacrifices could not save or purify one’s heart. Rather they taught sinners to fear God and provided men and women who lived before Christ with a means of working out their faith with fear and trembling. The laws gave opportunity for faith but were not the measure of faith. The sacrifices, ceremonial cleansings, and wearing of right clothes could be carried out by unbelievers.

In short, the ceremonial laws were not salvation. They were a picture of salvation. Thus, the priest could work on the Sabbath and violate God’s command against Sabbath work. The things worshiped were always greater than the means of that worship. Because Jesus reigns and we know the sacrifice, we no longer have to slit the throats of pigeons. The curtain has been torn in two by the cross.

How does the above discussion answer our dilemmas? It reveals that we are made to love God and to love our neighbor. Things such as business dress, choir practice, and Sunday school can facilitate the worship of God well. But they are not essential to the faith. They are a means of worshiping God but they are not the thing worshiped, Jesus.  We can worship God by loving our neighbor, by caring for our sister, and by having compassion upon our mom. God is just as honored and glorified by practical ministry as He is by ties, choir concerns, and Sunday School attendance pins. I am not advocating that you regularly skip church like one famous evangelist who intentionally joined a church more than 900 miles from his home so that he would not have “to work in church affairs.” No, we need the local church as Hebrews 10:25 reminds us. But, we must never become so attached to our programs, traditions, and schedules that we neglect the worship of God and the love of others for the tools that were designed to help us worship and love.

Are you ready to handout the showbread?