Mercy , and Not Sacrifice
(Matthew 9:12-13, 5:20, 19:16-26, 23:23, 21:28-31, Hosea 6:6 , Psalm 51, Matthew 18:23-35, Mark 7:6-13, 11:25, 12:33, 38-40, Luke 10:30-37, 15:11-32, Romans 12:1)
Jesus says, in Matthew chapter nine, in the thirteenth verse,
“But go and learn what this means , ’I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
In this study, I am going to try to learn, and to share with you, what I think that He means by this statement.
I think first of all, we need to look at the context, not only of the quote in Matthew, but the original saying in the book of Hosea.
The immediate context ,of course, in Matthew is when the Pharisees called our Lord Jesus to task for eating with sinners. When confronted with this, Jesus in essence tells them that since the Pharisees were righteous, even though it was their own, outward righteousness, He had come not to minister to them, but to those who were sick and had need of Christ’s righteousness. (Of course, we all know that it is not our righteousness
( Isaiah 64:6), that justifies us, but the righteousness which is imputed to us by God( Isaiah 54:17 ) )
In the fifth chapter of Matthew, He does say that our righteousness must be greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven, but, again, taken in context with what the rest of Scripture says about our righteousness, I think we can see that He is saying not that our righteousness is what gets us to Heaven, but that our zeal for obedience to God ( Romans 6:14), must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.
An instance of this is found in the nineteenth chapter of Matthew, verses sixteen though twenty-six where the rich young man confronts Jesus with a problem and received an answer he didn’t like because he was not willing to give up his uncertain riches and have mercy, but thought that his sacrifice was enough. In our Christian life, we also must realize that we cannot, in fact will not obey any of God’s laws without our imputed Righteousness, that is Christ. As He says, in verse twenty-six, “With men, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible”.
In the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, verse twenty-three, Jesus pronounces a woe on the scribes and Pharisees because, while they outwardly obey the law, they miss the point of the law, justice and mercy and faith. While outward obedience, Jesus says, is important, justice, mercy, and faith are just as, and indeed more important because they pertain to the inward man, or the heart.
So what did our Lord mean by this?
Looking deeper into passages such as the one found in the twenty-first chapter of Matthew, beginning with verse twenty-eight, the parable of the two sons, might begin to give us a glimpse of what we are searching for. Now, although at first, the first son would not even make the outward sign of obedience, he had a tender heart(mercy) and later went and did his Father’s will. The second son, while at first showing the outward sign of obedience(sacrifice), I think, never intended to obey, because he ended up not doing what he promised.
We as Christians, and I count myself here especially, need to remember to practice what we preach, i.e. do what we say, for as Scripture says in another place, “Better not to vow, than to vow and not pay”. (Ecclesiastes 5:5)
Now we turn to the main verse here that Jesus quoted in Matthew, from the book of Hosea, the sixth chapter and sixth verse: “ For I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Reading the entire chapter, we see that it starts out with Gods compassion on us, undeserving as we are, then about the seventh verse, we see how undeserving of God’s compassion we really are, but thankfully it ends with God saying that He will have compassion nevertheless.
In Psalm fifty-one, I believe, David truly recognizes, one ; that we need God’s mercy, two ; that we are not deserving of that mercy, and three ; that true forgiving mercy comes from God alone.
The main passage that I think we should look at, according to our topic, are verses sixteen and seventeen where he reminds God, and us, that God does not require just an outward sacrifice(Romans 12:1), but also a humble, thankful, repentant, and therefore, merciful heart.
For some further insight into the matter, let us now return to the New Testament of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew, verses twenty-three through thirty-five, the parable of the unforgiving servant. In this passage the unforgiving servant, who owes his Master a large amount of money, offered his Lord a sacrifice by getting on his knees and praying for mercy, which he received but when put to the test, did not show a humble, thankful, repentant, and merciful heart, but threw his fellow servant into prison until he should pay all. When his Lord heard of it, and here, I think, is the message we all should take to heart, He sentenced him to the torturers until he paid Him all that was owed Him, because , I believe, he offered sacrifice, but without mercy.
To further illustrate my point, let us turn to the Gospel of Mark, chapter seven, verses six through thirteen.
In this passage, Jesus quotes from the book of Isaiah, saying “ This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” In other words, the Pharisees were willing to sacrifice to God with their words, but when it came to the heart they obeyed the commandments of men rather than obeying God. Continuing with the quote from Isaiah, “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.” Jesus here is saying that even though they offered sacrifice, or worship; by teaching their commandments as doctrine, they figured that they were free to disobey God’s commandments as long as they offered Him sacrifice with their lips. As David says in the 35th Psalm, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” .
by God's grace,