************ Sermon on Matthew 9:13a ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 1, 2018
"I Desire Mercy, Not Sacrifice"
Difficult Bible Passages #6
We continue our study of difficult Bible passages. Our problem is not with the last part of verse 13. It is the first part where Jesus says to the Pharisees, "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'"
This is a quote from Hosea 6:6. This morning I mentioned that Hosea 6:6 is also quoted by Jesus in Matthew 12:7. Obviously, this verse is significant to our Lord.
In both Bible passages the Pharisees are upset with Jesus. In Matthew 9, they are upset that Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners (Mt 9:11). In Matthew 12, they are upset that Jesus does what is unlawful on the Sabbath (Mt 12:2).
What is it that the Pharisees don't understand? What is Jesus saying to them in Matthew 9 & 12?
I The Calling of Matthew
A I don't know if you realize it or not but Matthew was an outcast. It was risky and politically incorrect for Jesus to call someone like Matthew to be one of His disciples. I have three reasons for saying this.
First, Matthew was a Jew working for the hated oppressors -- the Romans -- collecting taxes. He was like an American who work for Muslim terrorists. Matthew probably worked for Herod Antipas and collected taxes and custom charges at the border crossing in Capernaum.
Second, tax collectors generally were very rich because they charged far more in taxes than the law required. And they enforced payment by using the Roman army. Matthew must have had ill-gotten riches because he could afford to invite Jesus and His disciples and followers over for dinner.
Third, being a tax collector and customs official, Matthew had daily contact with "unclean" pagans. Furthermore, we are told that Matthew actually allowed tax collectors and sinners into his home and thus broke the laws on uncleanness.
Was Matthew a sinner? Was he unclean? Was he a crook? Did he sell out to the hated Romans? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Jesus knew all this. Jesus was aware of all this. Jesus never said Matthew was none of these. Yet, Jesus said to Matthew, "Follow me." In that day and age this was risky and politically incorrect!
Doesn't Jesus treat us the same way? We all are sinners -- you, me, the elders, the deacons, the Sunday School teachers, the organists, the ushers, the infants in the nursery. Jesus knows our sins -- just like He knew Matthew's. He knows our lusts. He knows our coveting. He knows our disobedience. He knows how we ignore the wishes or commands of our parents. He knows all of this yet He says, "Follow me."
Isn't this why Jesus came? Why the incarnation? Why the second person of the triune Godhead took on our flesh? He did this to call sick sinners like Matthew and you and me to follow Him.
B Notice the two-fold comparison Jesus makes. He compares the healthy and sick, righteous and sinners. Tax collectors and sinners -- like Matthew -- are equated with the sick. Now, as Jesus points out, it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. It isn't the healthy who make a visit to the emergency room, but the sick.
Well, Jesus is the doctor. He is the One Who gives healing. He is the One Who heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He is the One Who heals the sick, raises the dead, and cleanses those who have leprosy. He is the One Who cures the sickness in our souls. Jesus has come to call sinners. He is the One Who would heal all that is wrong in our lives and make us God's child again. He is the One Who meets us in our misery and calls us to come to Him and be healed and made whole.
Jesus is the doctor. So, one chapter earlier than our Scripture reading we see Jesus healing two men who were demon possessed. And, in the same chapter we see Jesus healing a paralytic and forgiving his sins. And, right after our Scripture reading we see Jesus raising a dead girl and healing a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.
Jesus is the doctor. And, we -- with Matthew, and tax collectors, and sinners, and scribes, and Pharisees -- are the patient who needs healing from His almighty hand.
C Jesus called Matthew. And notice how Matthew responded. "Matthew got up and followed him."
This was not easy for Matthew to do. This meant repentance. This meant a new and different direction to his life. Do you think Matthew was still able to be a tax collector after he answered Jesus' call? Do you think he could still hang out with all his old friends and do the same things with them he did before? Do you think life went on for Matthew pretty much the same as it was before?
Matthew, to his eternal credit, simply got up and followed Jesus. He knew he couldn't go back to his old job. He knew he couldn't drink and party with his old friends anymore. He knew life was forever different from now on.
Do you see what Matthew did instead? He invited Jesus for dinner. And, he invited his old friends for dinner so they could meet Jesus, so they could meet the man Who changed his life.
II The Problem of the Pharisees
A The Pharisees could not accept any of this. The Pharisees could not understand any of this. We are told that when the Pharisees saw Jesus eating with Matthew, other tax collectors, and sinners, they questioned His disciples about this. This wasn't just idle curiosity on their part -- a simple question asked calmly. Rather, it was said with accusation and anger and hostility. "WHY DOES YOUR TEACHER EAT WITH TAX COLLECTORS AND 'SINNERS'?" Why does Jesus lower Himself and contaminate Himself? Why does Jesus eat with such scum?
In His reply Jesus tells these experts on the Law to go and learn the meaning of Hosea 6:6: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." What a slap to the face. Jesus is quoting from a book the Pharisees are very familiar with. But Jesus is saying these experts did not know, they did not understand, the sacred text. These experts on the Law were ignorant about the meaning of Hosea 6.
B The key word in Hosea 6:6 is the Hebrew word "hesed." It is translated as "compassion" in the New American Standard Bible, "mercy" in the New International Version, "kindness" in the Good News Bible. It seems odd that three major translations render "hesed" differently. But these different translations are all correct because the word "hesed" means "loyal love, unfailing kindness, mercy, and steadfast devotion."
In response to the charge of the Pharisees that He eats with sinners Jesus quotes Hosea's words about committed love. "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." I desire "hesed."
The opposite of "hesed" is sacrifice. By this is meant the sacrifice required by the law. By this is meant the law's demands. By this is meant a form of legalism.
Quoting from Hosea, Jesus says God desires mercy, not sacrifice; hesed, not legalism.
C To understand this we have to be reminded of the story of Hosea. God told Hosea to marry a practicing prostitute. Why? God told Hosea to marry a practicing prostitute to illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the LORD and worshiping other gods.
(Hosea 1:2) Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.So Hosea married the prostitute Gomer. And she continued to prostitute herself. Again and again she left Hosea and slept with other men, but Hosea took her back. She had children by other men, and Hosea accepted them as his own.
Israel, like Gomer and all of us, has been unfaithful to God. We all have become prostitutes by going after the things of this world. How does God respond? Hosea illustrates God's hesed love for His wayward people. "I will make you my wife forever," God said of Israel, "showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the LORD" (Hosea 2:19-20, NLT).
It is clear that all throughout God’s relationship with His people, He has shown "hesed". God wants both Israel and us to know Him for Who He is -- the God of "hesed," the Lord God Who is by nature faithful, loyal, merciful, and full of compassion.
D "Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'" Jesus is telling the Pharisees to show "hesed" to tax collectors and sinners. Instead, they were so quick to exclude and condemn Matthew. Instead, they could not extend a forgiving and restoring hand to Matthew. Instead, they refused to show mercy to Matthew. This repentant sinner was in their midst and all they could see was the breaking of their precious rules.
You know, we are also called to be like Jesus. We are called to be the opposite of the Pharisees. So Jesus says to us the same thing He said to the Pharisees:
(Mt 9:13) But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'
With the recent death of Billy Graham, all sorts of stories have come out about his life and ministry. One of the stories illustrates perfectly what Jesus says in our Bible reading: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."
Do you remember Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and their PTL ministry? PTL stands for "Praise The Lord" but the press said it stood for "Pass the Loot."The love the Grahams showed to Jim Bakker is very much like the love Jesus showed to a tax collector called Matthew in this evening's Scripture's reading.
The litany of their wrong-doings is almost unbelievable:
-Jim Bakker had an affair with the church secretary
-the Bakkers diverted $4.8 million in ministry funds for personal use
-the Bakkers committed fraud by selling time-shares they could not honor
Jim Bakker was indicted for fraud in 1988 and sentenced to 45 years in prison and fined $500,000.
When the scandal broke, Bakker’s Christian friends quickly deserted him. He became an outcast in the Christian world. And when he was sentenced, his wife, Tammy Faye left him and then divorced him.
Six months into his sentence, Bakker was surprised one afternoon when the prison warden called him into his office. Bakker had a visitor: Billy Graham. When Graham came in, Bakker asked him why he had come to visit -- because he knew that any association with Bakker would tarnish Graham’s reputation.
Graham replied that Bakker was his friend in good and in bad times -- and now when things were bad, he would stand by his side. And Billy Graham was true to his word.
Bakker’s sentence was eventually reduced, on appeal, to ten years. When he came out of prison on parole, he had nowhere to stay. So the Grahams invited him to stay with them.
On the Sunday following Bakker’s release, Ruth Graham took him to church with her. Disregarding what people would think about her, she stood up in church and introduced Jim Bakker to the congregation as her friend Jim Bakker.
This is the love the Pharisees needed to learn. This is the love the Pharisees needed to show. This is the love we are called to show.
Are we able to show this kind of love? Are we willing to show this kind of love?
There are some in our church who -- like the Pharisees -- are legalists. Legalists love rules. Rules to them are more important than people. They desire sacrifice, not mercy.
A more common problem today and in our circles is to put up walls -- in our homes, in our churches, in our circle of friends. We put up walls that keep people like Matthew out. We pick and choose. We look down on some people, like the scribes and Pharisees looked down on Matthew and tax collectors and sinners. We look down on some people and conclude they are a lost cause, that they are not worth our effort and our time. We separate ourselves from the very people our Lord Jesus came to save. If Jesus acted the same way that we sometimes do He would never have called Matthew. So, we need to hear the words of Jesus: "Go and learn what this means: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'"
Why did Jesus come, why did the second person of the triune Godhead take on our human flesh, why the incarnation? Christ Jesus came for sick sinners. Christ came to show "hesed."
Matthew was one of the bad people, one of the worst people, in the Jewish community. Yet, Jesus came to call him.
Do you know what this tells me? This tells me no one is beyond the reach of God's grace. Matthew wasn't. Nor were the tax collectors and sinners he invited into his home. Nor were the scribes and Pharisees who were so quick to condemn him and write him off. Nor are you and me and any of our loved ones.
Jesus came for sick sinners. He came to call us to follow Him. By His "hesed" He came to heal us and restore us and make us whole.
And now, in response, we are called to be like Him. "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." We, too, are called to show hesed.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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