Week 2: Lessons From The Pharisees

Day 3 – Mercy vs. Sacrifice: Matthew 9:9-13; 12:1-8

[Is it appropriate to start a blog with a preface? Well, I’m going to. The next few passages that we look at will begin to reveal that the Pharisees and Scribes of Jesus day had much the same heart problem as the people of Israel under the Old Testament prophets. Caring for the fatherless, the stranger and the widow were in a sense the measuring stick that God used to measure the sincerity of His people’s faith. But time after time they fell into a common trap: sacrifice (ritual) and outward appearance versus mercy and obedience to the heart desires of God. Many of the passages we will look at have already been covered as we went through the Old Testament. For the sake of time and space we will not go into them in great detail, but I will provide a link back to previous posts in case you want to brush up a little.]

In Matthew 9:9-13 we find the story of Jesus calling Matthew, a tax collector, to follow Him. They go to Matthew’s home and begin to eat. It must have been interesting to have Jesus over to your house. It seems you would be serving not only him, but his disciples and the entire neighborhood. The Bible tells us that while Jesus, Matthew and the disciples were eating many “publicans and sinners” sat down with them. I’m not sure what the Pharisees had expected. I mean seriously, Matthew himself was a publican, who did they expect to be in his home? Just the same, the sight of these men shocked them and they said to the disciples, “Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” Evidently they had forgotten Psalm 14:1-3 which tells us twice “there is none that doeth good, no, not one” – Pharisees included.

Jesus heard the Pharisees comment and He said to them, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

A little ways down the road, in Matthew 12:1-8, we find the Pharisees back at it. It was the Sabbath. Jesus and His disciples were walking through a cornfield. The book of Mark tells us in two separate places that the press and constant presence of the people was so great that the disciples “had no leisure so much as to eat.” That cornfield must have seemed incredibly convenient. Perhaps a little like the New Testament version of a drive thru. As you can imagine, they began plucking the corn and eating it. The Pharisees were suddenly all stirred up again. They went to Jesus and began accusing the disciples of breaking the Sabbath. Jesus reminded them of how David fed his hungry men with the shewbread from the tabernacle, which only the priests were to eat. And how in the very law itself, the priests are commanded to make sacrifice on the Sabbath, profaning the Sabbath, and yet they are blameless. Then he said, “But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.”

So, what does it mean “I will have mercy and not sacrifice”?

This verse is quoting another passage: Hosea 6:6, “For I desired mecry, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” This passage was covered in the Old Testament blogs, but it does not hurt to review. Mercy is a recurring theme in the book of Hosea. In fact in just fourteen chapters we find it ten times. In Hosea 4:1 we discover that Israel was greatly lacking in this area, “Hear the word of the Lord, ye children of Israel: for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.” The Lord goes on to describe a nation full of violence and crime. In Hosea 12:6 He says, “Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually.” Of course this leads up to chapter fourteen where we find the verse we have already noted several times, “Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses: neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods: for in thee the fatherless findeth mercy.”

Micah 6:6-8 is a familiar passage to many and falls right in line with the verses both in Matthew and in Hosea, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burn offereings, with the calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

God requires of us that we love mercy. Sadly, I think this is a trait that is missing in many today.

In Isaiah 1, we see a very clear picture of sacrifices versus mercy. God had come to despise the feasts and sacrifices of Israel, “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and the appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are trouble unto me; I am weary of them…Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doing from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”

At other times, instead of feasts and sacrifices, they separated themselves to fast and mourn, but God was not pleased with this form of sacrifice either, “Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him. And that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?” Isaiah 58:5-7.

This was exactly what Jesus was talking about. God didn’t want their sacrifices. He wanted their hearts. He wanted them to be walking in obedience in the areas of mercy and judgment. He didn’t want their pride, their fulfilling of traditions. He wanted them to walk in humble obedience to His Word. Notice, especially in the verses in Hosea, the constant reference back to the condition of their relationship with God:

1. “I desire…the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6

2. “There is no… knowledge of God in the land” Hosea 4:1

3. “Turn thou to thy God… Wait on thy God continually.” Hosea 12:6

4. “Walk humbly with thy God” Micah 6:8

The fact that they did not know their God revealed itself in they way they carried out His commands. Their lack of concern and care for the widow, the fatherless, the stranger and the oppressed revealed a nation that in their hearts did not know their God. The same was true of the Pharisees. The same is true of us today. God’s desire for His people to care for the fatherless, the widow, the stranger and the oppressed did not fade away with the Old Testament. God doesn’t want our traditions. He doesn’t want our pride. He wants our obedience. He wants us to do justly. He wants us to love (and exercise) mercy. And He wants us to walk humbly with Him.

It would be easy to read this, agree, walk away and do nothing. I hope you won’t. Lives, families, churches and communities are crumbling around us because of that very habit.

William Wilberforce once said of the slave trade, ““You may choose to look away, but you can never say again that you did not know.” Now you know. Now you are responsible to act upon that knowledge. Where do you start? Draw closer to the heart of God; He will show you.

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Also Check out Rachel Miller’s Book: The King’s Daughter: A Story of Redemption

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