Desiring Mercy, not Sacrifice

Matthew 9:1

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

It’s interesting to me that Jesus associates faith with forgiveness. Jesus “saw their faith” and declared that his sins were forgiven.

I think it’s key to see here that forgiveness of sins happens through faith. It happens when we believe, not when we do something or obey certain rules. It happens through faith.

Matthew 9:10

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.

I love this picture of Jesus. Surrounded by him were sinners. Think about it for a moment–what was it about Jesus that drew these sinful people to him? They were obviously filled with shame and guilt for their sins. Maybe even some of them were hardened in their hearts because of sin. Yet, they constantly wanted to be around him. They were drawn to him. Why?

I believe sinners were drawn to Christ because of his grace. He exuded grace. It flavored everything he did and said. There was no shame in his eyes, in his body language, in his words. He just loved people for who they were, caring for them deeply. He knew sin was destructive, but he knew they were wounded, broken, shamed people who needed an answer that “religion” was not giving them. So, people were drawn to him. Sinners wanted to be around him. They longed for those days that Jesus would come to their city and spend time with them.

This is my challenge to myself–do sinners enjoy hanging out with me? Do I speak shame with my body language, with my eyes, with my actions or with my words? I hope not. I want to love sinners as Christ loved them. And not just those superficial “Christian sins” like watching rated R movies and eating too much. I want to love sinners, those people crippled and bound by sin.

Matthew 9:11-13

And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

When the religious people complained that he was hanging out with sinners, their religion couldn’t be silent. They had to complain, “Why does your teacher eat with sinners?” Funny how religion does that.

I love the irony of Jesus’ words, “Those how are well have no need of a physician…” If anyone needed Christ, it was the religious people. They were sicker than the sinners because of their expectations and condemnation of others. They could not receive grace. They had to do stuff to please God.

Jesus told them to go learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice”. That word mercy can also be translated compassion. Jesus did not call the people to sacrifice. Sacrifice is doing things as required by the law, for your relationship with God. But mercy and compassion are about people, for your relationship with others.

Religion often focuses on what we can do for God, and mercy focuses on what we can do for people. A church that rejects a homosexual from attending is more focused on ‘sacrifice’ than ‘mercy’. A church that excommunicates a member who is getting a divorce is more focused on ‘sacrifice’ than ‘compassion’. And, even if ‘sinners’ are allowed in church, they are often rejected by the attitude of its members. It’s really sad. God has called us to love people, and we should love them as God loves us.

Matthew 9:16-17

No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.

I’ve heard commentators say that this scripture is comparing the old covenant (old garment and wineskins) with the new (unshrunk cloth and new wineskins). I can see where they get that, but it seems odd being right in the middle of a comment on fasting. Maybe the comparison is with the bridegroom, and trying to compare this presence with the presence of the religious people around him.

Grace Empowers Great Faith

Matthew 8:4

And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

This scripture is interesting because I’ve been saying previously that while Matthew starts in the New Testament, it really takes place under the Old Covenant. The New Covenant goes into effect once Jesus dies and comes back to life. Then, everything changes. Grace is in effect. But, until then, Jesus had to command those around him to continue living in the Law until the “better covenant” was made active.

This example of the leper who is healed is great example of how Jesus told others to keep doing what they are supposed to be doing as required by the Law. Once this leper was healed, Jesus commanded him to “go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” Essentially, he was saying, prove to them that you were healed by properly presenting the gift that the Law required of you.

Matthew 8:10-12

When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This story of the centurion is really incredible because Jesus marvels at his response. What amazes God? This centurion’s faith amazed God. Why is that?

Immediately after marveling at this centurion’s faith, he makes a comment about those who will be reclining at the table in the kingdom of heaven. It’ll be people coming from the east and the west. It’ll be people from all around the world, like this centurion. And, those who think they are automatically accepted into heaven, the “sons of the kingdom” will be cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. The “sons of the kingdom” are those religious people who think they are automatically received into heaven because they follow all the rules, but their hearts don’t believe.

The centurion was a Gentile, a man who was not under the Law nor bound by any requirements of the Law. He did not follow Jewish custom or abide by their rules. He simple came to Jesus, asked him for help and then believed it would be done. “Just say the word…” I think that is why Jesus was amazed at this man’s faith. This Roman Centurion was under grace and simply believed not based on any of his own ability, or his keeping of the Law.

It takes great faith to believe in Christ and not put your trust in your ability to follow rules and “do good”. The people who will be reclining at the table of God in heaven will be those who believed, not those who obeyed.

Matthew 8:28-29

And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”

This peak into the spiritual world is quite interesting. These demonized men saw something in Jesus that the others around him could not see. He was the son of God and had incredible authority, so much so, that the demons cried out, “Have you come here to torment us before the time?” What authority did Jesus carry that they would cry out in fear? What torment does Jesus bring to them?

How does this apply to grace? I’m not sure, but I thought it was interesting.

The Golden Rule

Matthew 7:12

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s the golden rule. It’s what so many people teach and preach in church today. And, it’s interesting that everyone only quotes the first part of verse and leave off the last half which says, “for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

It feels like Jesus spent all of chapter 6 talking about these things that we should do and things we shouldn’t do, and how it relates to people and to God. Giving, praying, fasting, and forgiveness and then sums up these principles with the statement. “Treat others as you want to be treated. That’s the Law.”

What’s interesting is how he moves right into the next verse…

Matthew 7:13-14

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Jesus was speaking to those under the Law who were required to enter this narrow gate of life that comes through following the Law. His command, “Enter by the narrow gate” was spoken to those around him that were living in the Old Covenant.

He continues to explain how hard this “narrow gate” of the Law really was. The way was hard. It’s hard to keep all aspects of the law. It’s actually impossible, but there are few who find it. Salvation under “the Law and Prophets” is rare, few people find it.

Matthew 7:21-23

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

This is an amazing scripture. People will think they are headed to heaven, but they will get there and cry out, “Lord, Lord!” but Jesus will respond, “I never knew you.” The key is the first part of this verse. In it, Jesus talks about how to “enter the kingdom of heaven. It is by doing the will of his Father. What is the will of the Father? We need to know this because it’s what gets us into heaven.

I believe the will of the Father is to believe in Christ for salvation. The Father’s will is not about doing, but about believing. There are numerous scriptures that we’ll get into later, but John 6:28-29 is a great example. The disciples asked him, “Lord, what must we do, to be doing the works of God? Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” There is one work of God, for us to believe in Christ. That must be our focus. I believe this is the primary will of God for our life.

Fascinating! I just saw this. These people crying out “Lord, Lord!” in verse 22 were trying to get into heaven by their works, by all the stuff they did for the Lord. By doing. They said, “Did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” In other words, “Weren’t we doing those things for you in your name?” They thought that doing something earned their way into heaven. They wanted Jesus to let them in because of their “mighty works.” Jesus rejected them. They were trying to get into heaven by what they did, not by what Christ did for them. They didn’t believe. The will of the Father is simply this: trust Christ for salvation.

Salvation is about believing, not about doing.

Is God’s Forgiveness Conditional or Unconditional?

Matthew 6:1

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

In Matthew 6, Jesus continues his comparison of outward righteousness and inward righteousness, and verse 1 is very clear. “Beware…” Don’t practice the outward righteousness so that others can see it. Again, this is good advice. It’s not a command for to follow.

But, what about rewards in heaven? Will we lose those them if we do our righteous acts for others to see?

I’ll dig into this later, but for now, I believe that “in Christ”, we have every reward available to us today and in heaven. These instructions from Christ to those under the Law were because under the Old Covenant, there was no other way for God to reward and bless people. It required people’s obedience. But, everything changes under the New Covenant. God doesn’t require our obedience–he requires Christ’s obedience.

The rest of Matthew 6, Jesus continues with the “good advice”:

  • Giving. v2
  • Praying. v5-8
  • Fasting. v16-18
  • Finances. v19-24.
  • Provision. v25-34.

Matthew 6:14-15

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Is God’s forgiveness conditional or unconditional? If you fail to forgive anyone, will God reject you and cast you into hell?

I’ve really been pondering this question in depth the past few weeks. There are lots of stories and parables and commands in the Gospels about this issue of forgiveness. I have a lot to say on it, but I’ll make two points here.

First, this command is to those who are living under the Law that time. Jesus was again setting this unreachable standard (that would later be fulfilled in him). He was showing them that forgiveness is impossible without him. Again, he’s giving us good advice. And later, in the parable of the unforgiving servant, he shows us how unforgiveness will torment us in this life.

Secondly, this feels like it would be a double standard. Why would God hold us to a higher standard than himself? Why would God require unconditional forgiveness from us, and yet he himself have conditional forgiveness? It’s a double standard. So, something else is going on here.

I have concluded after studying scripture and seeing forgiveness in the light of grace, that God’s forgiveness is unconditional, just like his love. It’s still very good advice for us to forgive others. It will torment us until we do. But, will God keep us from heaven should we fail to forgive someone? I don’t think so.

Matthew 6:33

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

When Jesus was explaining to them about how to avoid the anxiousness of life, he encouraged them to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”.

Here’s how I’ve interpreted this scripture for years. If you need things in life–food, drink, clothing, provision–then spend time with God in prayer, Bible reading and seeking him, then God will give you what you need. Do you see where the burden lies? It’s on me to perform. It’s on me to do something so that God will provide.

This is how I see this scripture now. Seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. What is “his righteousness”? It’s the righteousness of Christ. He fulfilled the law. He is God’s righteousness. To alleviate any anxiousness of life and receive those things that we need in life, we are to live our life in Christ, in his righteousness, not our righteousness. We are to seek Christ and put our trust in him for everything we need in this life. When we do that, we’ll have everything we need.

It’s not about praying, fasting and reading the Bible more. It’s about completely and wholly trusting in Christ to be my righteousness. I am made right with God not by what I do, but by what Jesus has already done.

We are Blessed by Grace

Matthew 5:6

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Reading through the beatitudes, it’s interesting reading them in light of “grace”. They no longer feel like commands, but rather, they feel more like declarations of truth, truths for us to believe, experience and walk in. We are blessed when we are poor in spirit. We are blessed when we mourn, when we are weak, when we are merciful, when we are poor in spirit.

We are blessed because of Christ. Not, we will be blessed if…

This one beatitude about “hungering and thirsting after righteousness,” we will be filled. We will be satisfied. We should hunger and thirst for righteousness, not for doing “right” things, but for being “right” in Christ, for truly understanding that in Christ, we are perfectly “right” in God’s eyes. Not from what we do, but for who we are in Christ.. We should hunger and thirst for arriving at this belief that we are righteous in Christ. If you hunger and thirst, if you crave this desire to be in right-standing with God, you will be filled. You will be made right through you faith in Christ.

Matthew 5:8

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Even in this declaration from Christ, we see it as a command. “When you are pure in heart, then you will see God.” That’s inaccurate.

What it’s saying is, “When you truly understand that you are pure in heart through Christ, you shall see God like you’ve never seen him before.”

Matthew 5:13, 14

You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.

These are declarations of who you are in Christ. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are! It’s a clear declaration of who we are in Christ, not what we can become, nor what we must strive for. It’s about your identity. We must come to believe that we are salt and we are light.

Matthew 5:16

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

I love this: “let your light shine…” Notice it did not say “shine your light”. It said “let…” Let is all about resting. When you put your focus on Christ, then you don’t have to strive to shine. You just shine. It reminds me of Moses. When he came down the mountain, his face shone brightly. It wans’t something he was trying to do. It was simply a result of spending time in the presence of God.

Matthew 5:17

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

I think these are the first key words in the New Testament about grace. What did Jesus come to do? From earlier verses, we know he came to “save his people from their sins”. How did he do that? By fulfilling all of God’s requirements from the Law and the Prophets. Man could not do this, but Jesus did.

Matthew 5:18

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Wow, this scripture now takes on a different meaning to me. This is how I originally understood it: the Law would be in effect until “heaven and earth pass away” and that it was my duty, my job to make sure we walk in the Law till heaven and earth pass away.

That’s not what Jesus is saying here.

One key point about grace that we have to understand is that the New Covenant did not start with the gospel of Matthew. Yes, it may be the New Testament, but it’s not the New Covenant. Odd as it may sound, Jesus lived his life under the Old Covenant. Everything he did was under the Law so that he could fulfill the Law.

The New Covenant started when he died and rose again. So, in Matthew 5:18 he was simply saying, “Until I die and come back to life, the entire Law will be accomplished in me.”

Even in verse 19, the following verse talks about how we must follow the law and make sure we teach others to follow the law. But, this is not a New Covenant command from Christ. It’s an Old Covenant command. While he was alive, the people he was speaking to must follow the Law.

Matthew 5:20

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

I love how Jesus is telling them about the new standard of righteousness that God requires. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was an external righteousness–what they did, what they wore, how they followed the Law. But, the righteousness that Christ was talking about was an internal righteousness. He talks about this internal righteousness in the very next verse…

Matthew 5:21

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

I’ve heard messages taught that Jesus now holds us to a higher standard, a higher requirement because of this new “internal” motivation, not just external transgression. You’ve heard it said, “Don’t murder”, but I say, “Don’t even hate.” This new “requirement” is not a stricter command to follow. He’s simply giving them a comparison of this “righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” he talked about in the previous verse. He was showing them what God’s standard of righteousness was really like.

These next few verses, that’s what Jesus expounds on. You’ve heard it said… But, I say to you…

  • Don’t hate. v21
  • Don’t lust. v27, 28
  • Don’t divorce. v31
  • Don’t take an oath. v33, 34
  • Don’t retaliate. v38
  • Love your enemies. v43

Again, we see these as commands or “ought to’s”, but the key thing Jesus was trying to show them was this juxtaposition of outward righteousness and inward righteousness. There was a higher standard of righteousness required by God for those who lived under the Law.

Everyone listening to him that day were “under the Law” and were required to walk in that higher standard of righteousness to be accepted by God.

Why did Jesus tell them these things? Was he expecting them to walk in those higher standards, higher requirements? First, he was speaking to those under the Law, so they needed to know what was expected of them.

But, more importantly, I believe he was trying to communicate to them that there is no way they could keep all of God’s requirements of the Law, both outwardly and inwardly. The standard was too high. The standard was perfection. In fact, it was so high and the punishment so great, that to prevent you from sinning, you should cut out your eye or cut off your hand to keep from doing it. He was communicating to them that it’s impossible for us to meet those requirements for righteousness.

So, should we disregard these “commands” that Jesus was telling them that day since we are now under grace?

Everything he shared was for our benefit. There is natural consequences in this world for those things.

  • When you hate, it destroys you and those around you.
  • Lust will destroy your life and your family.
  • Divorce hurts and is a very painful experience.
  • Oaths are hard to keep.
  • Don’t respond to anger and give to those in need.
  • Anyone can hate their enemies, but loving them changes everything.

Clark Whitten said it well: “There are only two things in the New Testament — good news and good advice.”

The things Jesus encourages us to do are good advice, for our benefit to have an “abundant life”. There are good reasons why we should do these things. We need to stop seeing them as commands and see them as “good advice” to improve our life.

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