In today’s reading, one of the Scriptures jumped off the page: “Then He added, ‘Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Matt 9:13) In answer to a question from the Pharisees about why Jesus would eat with these people, He responds that the sick need a doctor, not the healthy. He tells the Pharisees to go learn the meaning of the Scripture in which God says that He desires mercy, not sacrifice. Jesus declares that He has come to call sinners, not the righteous.
His very words told us to go learn the meaning of the Scripture He referenced: “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know Me more than I want burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6) Hosea was one of many prophets that warned the nation of Israel against unfaithfulness to the God of their fathers. He cried out for repentance, from the priests and people alike, and called for the entire royal household, to turn from their wicked ways, repent of their spiritual adultery, and return to serving the Lord their God, in spirit and truth.
Offerings that are simply following an established routine are unacceptable to the Lord, Who desires that His people serve Him out of devotion, obedience and love. Pharisaic adherence to rules and regulations; behaving legalistically in the keeping of feast days and fast days; a mechanical attitude towards worship and religious ordinances and the meaningless repetition of prayers or invocations are futile, and the Lord will not accept such hypocritical behavior.
The Lord isn’t interested in empty words, shallow worship, frigid feelings, superficial service or legalistic rituals. He desires truth in the inward parts and a heart that is obedient to His Word. He longs for a people who are genuine, faithful, merciful and desire to carry out His will in their lives.
Our heavenly Father and gracious Savior desires mercy, and not sacrifice. He longs that we come to a deeper knowledge of Himself, rather than the engaging in the outward ritual of burnt sacrifices. May we be those that seek to honor Him, to the depth of our being, in word and deed – in thought and in motive.
So when He tells us ‘Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Matt 9:13) then we must understand that the lies people say aren’t true: we aren’t “good people” that the Lord will take to heaven because He is a God of love. No!
He is also a just and righteous God who gives us an opportunity by faith to have Jesus atone for our sins, but we must understand the truth: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). If we don’t understand that we are sinners, and humble ourselves before Him asking for His mercy and grace, then we’ll be like the Pharisees who thought themselves righteous, but indeed were not.
The gap between sinners and God could only be bridged through the Lord’s act of redemption—by God Himself coming to the human side of the gap through Jesus Christ (who is “God with us”) and the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent in His place. On the human side of the divide, the kindest, most virtuous people are sinners, and the vilest, most evil people are sinners as well. All are sinners. But God loves sinners and sent His Son to die for them (Rom 5:8). Those who believe in Jesus Christ have their sins forgiven and are granted eternal life. Those who don’t, aren’t.