WHAT DID JESUS MEAN WHEN HE SAID: "I WILL HAVE MERCY AND NOT SACRIFICE"? (MATTHEW 12:7). ISN'T CHRISTIANITY ALL ABOUT SACRIFICING?
At least in two places Jesus quoted the prophet Hosea. This is what Hosea wrote:
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)
The first occasion when Jesus quoted this passage was when He was eating with sinners and publicans.
And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto 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. (Matthew 9:10-13)
The Pharisees were troubled when Jesus was eating with sinners. Did they forget that, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God"? (Romans 3:23). They kept distance with these common men.
The Pharisees had the "holier than thou" attitude. They felt they were superior to the publicans. Remember the parable of the Pharisee and the publican? (Luke 18:9-14). In this parable you see the attitude they had to others and their approach to God. They despised the others and exalted themselves before God. They would give lots of offerings, pay tithes, fast and perform all ceremonies, but did not have love in their heart. Listen to the denouncement of Jesus upon these Pharisees.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:23, 24)
They thought if they brought all the sacrifices that God asked for, they met the requirements. But they failed to understand what God really wanted. Look at what God says:
To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:11, 12, 16, 17)
What did God want His people to do in their day-to-day life? Micah penned it down beautifully:
He hath shewed 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? (Micah 6:8)
Instead of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God they practiced evil. And to make up things, brought big sacrifices as if to appease God and bribe Him! The apostle said:
For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1 John 4:20)
In the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), we see two religious men, a Priest and a Levite, neglecting the wounded man on the wayside, probably going ahead to perform their duties in the temple. A Samaritan showed mercy, while the priest and Levite were focusing on the sacrifices and their duties to God in the temple. Of the three-Priest, Levite and the Samaritan who pleased God? It was the Samaritan who showed mercy to the one who wanted it badly! That is what Jesus meant when He said:
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. (Matthew 9:13)
The publicans and sinners needed mercy from the religious men of Israel. But instead of showing mercy to them, they condemned them and gave them no hope; while in the meantime, they proudly sacrificed things to God.
Here was Jesus extending to the publicans and sinners His divine love and giving them hope for life and an eternal inheritance.
And these Pharisees-stinking and swollen in sin-were so blinded that they condemned Jesus for mingling with them.
And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto 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. (Matthew 9:11-13)
And in Matthew 12:7 we see Jesus repeating the same text from Hosea. Here the story was about Jesus' disciples plucking corn on the Sabbath day. There was no commandment forbidding this act on the Sabbath. Cooking was forbidden. But they were not cooking. In fact Jesus said they were "guiltless" (Matthew 12:7). They did not break the holiness of the Sabbath. "The Lord of the Sabbath" was there with them! He knew what was lawful and what was not. He did not stop the disciples from plucking corn and eating on the Sabbath day. They were hungry and needed food. And it was lawful to pluck and eat.
These Pharisees did not provide food to the disciples, but were ready to condemn them, though they were innocent. This is what the Master and Lord of the Sabbath said:
But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned guiltless. (Matthew 12:7)
Indeed, God had instituted the sacrificial system to deal with sin, and it had to be done, but the Pharisees had lost sight of the great quality of being merciful!
Yes, God is still looking for a demonstration of true mercy and true sacrifice. And what kind of sacrifices is the Lord looking for? David wrote:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (Psalm 51:17)
And Paul adds:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. (Romans 12:1)