“Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13 ESV).
Every now and then a scripture jumps out at me while I’m reading. Usually I assume that God is trying to tell me something; it’s not always a verse that I share on this blog (at least not right away!). But occasionally I get the distinct feeling that someone else, and not just me, needs to discover a given scripture anew.
The Pharisees were questioning Jesus’ disciples about why he ate with “tax collectors and sinners” (v. 11) because He had just called Matthew, the tax collector, to follow Him; and they were enjoying a meal. Jesus overheard and addressed the Pharisees directly, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (v. 12). He was drawing attention to need rather than convenience, to brokenness over pride, to love over pity.
And while we may need, for a season, to avoid certain groups of people in areas of our own weakness, God never intended for Christians to keep to themselves! We make all sorts of fuss over our status in our group of believers–John’s trapped in pornography, so I’m better than him; JoAnn is a closet alcoholic, so I’m better than her; Tom swears like a sailor…. You get the idea. We jostle for position, more concerned about appearances than people; and more concerned about the saved than the lost.
In our main text, Jesus was referring to a verse in Hosea, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6 ESV). It’s so easy to become caught up in “expected” behavior to the point that we lose our first love (Revelation 2:4-5). The law was put in place to make it clear to all people that they can never measure up. The only way to get to God is by grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8).
Paul explained Matthew 9:13 and Hosea 6:6 with these words, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us…” (Ephesians 2:4 ESV). Mercy is the outpouring of love! For us to keep to ourselves God’s love and mercy, withholding it from those who don’t know, so that we can concentrate on looking good to other Christians (sacrifice), is the same as looking to the law to save you. It is placing ourselves back under the law, refusing God’s grace!
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 ESV)? We need to remind ourselves why we needed a Savior in the first place, to humble ourselves and find once again that “first love”. Then we will be able to show mercy; then we will be able to walk humbly with our God.
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