TODAY’S READING: HOSEA 5-9
“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6
This is such a simple and powerful statement from God. He desires and delights in steadfast love and the knowledge of him. Conversely, he does not desire or delight in sacrifice and burnt offerings.
Yet, despite this simple, clear, direct declaration of what God desires, we still miss the point of the cross. In fact, we often apply the exact opposite of this statement to God, Jesus, and the cross.
What do I mean?
Much of western Christianity believes that God required the death of someone in order for there to be justice. In other words, God needed someone to be sacrificed to be appeased.
More than that, God required blood to be shed to forgive sins. Many believe that God would not be satisfied, he would not be appeased, until blood was shed. In other words, there had to be a burnt offering, for it was the blood of the burnt offering that was applied to the horns of the altar and poured out at the base of the altar, in order for God’s anger to be assuaged.
But, this belief completely and entirely misses the point of what God desires. Hosea 6:6 says God does not desire and delight in sacrifice, burnt offerings, shedding blood, and blood sacrifices. Rather, God desires in steadfast love and the knowledge of him.
Instead of God desiring sacrifice, burnt offerings, and the shedding of blood, we are the ones that desire those things. We are the ones that have the need for a sacrifice to assuage our anger. We are the ones that have a need to shed blood to make things right. We have are the ones that are blood thirsty. We are the ones that seek satisfaction this way.
Where was God in all of this?
2 Corinthians 5:19 says, “That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” Another way of translating this is, “God was in Christ.”
Therefore, God wasn’t requiring a sacrifice and a burnt offering.
Therefore, God was the sacrifice and the burnt offering.
God allowed us to make him the sacrifice and the burnt offering in order to reveal to us his steadfast love. 1 John 4:8-10 says, “God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
God allowed us to make him the sacrifice and the burnt offering in order to reveal to us that he is good and only good. When Jesus was called “good teacher,” he responded, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19) God is good. And, because he is good, God can only do good. It is so because that’s God nature, his very being – goodness.
There’s another way of saying this. 1 John 1:5 says, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Darkness is evil, violence, murder, death. God is not these things. Therefore, he does not desire or delight in these things. To show this, God allowed us to put all of our violence upon him and murder him.
So, it was a burnt offering that Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 twice.
When the Pharisees asked the disciples why Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus responded, “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.'”
The Pharisees thought the righteous were those offered the proper sacrifices and burnt offerings according to the law. But, Jesus says he didn’t come for those people for they were self-righteous. He came for sinners. And, he demonstrated that by showing mercy to the tax collectors and sinners instead of demanding sacrifices from them. Therefore, if you were really righteous you would know that God wanted you to show mercy and give sacrifices and burnt offerings.
In Matthew 12:7, Jesus said to the Pharisees, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”
This is fascinating because Jesus ties the desire for sacrifice and burnt offerings with condemning the guiltless.
Who was the only one that was truly guiltless?
And, we condemned him, made him a curse, by hanging him on a cross. It was our need for sacrifice and burnt offerings, not God’s, that did that.
A scribe asked Jesus what was the most important commandment. Jesus said that the first was to love God and the second was to love your neighbor. The scribe said that Jesus was right.
Then, in Mark 12:33, the scribe said, “And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” This scribe realized that to love God and neighbor is much more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices combined together that Israel had offered for more than a thousand years.
And, Jesus said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
In other words, when you perceive that God really desires and delights in steadfast love, mercy, grace, and knowing that he is good and only good then you have reached the kingdom of God.
But, if you think that God requires, needs, gets some sort of satisfaction out of, sacrifices, burnt offerings, the shedding of blood, then are not anywhere near the kingdom of God.
Ultimately, understanding this comes down to understanding where we are and where God was in relation to the cross. We were standing away from, apart from, outside of, the cross, projecting our violence upon it and Jesus. And, because we are self-righteous, we think that’s where God was too. We think that God was standing in the same spot we were with the same attitudes and desires we had in regards to the cross and the crucifixion of Jesus.
But, God was not standing away from the cross, looking at the cross, and doing something to Jesus on the cross. No, God was positioned on the cross. He was in Jesus. God was in the exact opposite from us in regards to the cross.
And, the moment we see that it changes everything about who was desiring what at the crucifixion. The moment we see that it changes the entire meaning of Jesus’ death and crucifixion.