Jesus Prefers People Over Symbols

TODAY’S READING: MATTHEW 12-13

“But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.'” – Matthew 12:2

“And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ – so that they might accuse him.” – Matthew 12:10

“But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.” – Matthew 12:14

The Sabbath was a day to rest. Work was forbidden. This was very important to the Jews as keeping the Sabbath was enshrined in the fourth commandment. So, the Jews created very elaborate rules on what could and could not be done on the Sabbath.

But, Jesus broke their rules.

For the Pharisees, even picking up sticks to build a fire on the Sabbath was against the law. So, when Jesus and disciples picked grain in the field on the Sabbath the Jews were incensed.

The Pharisees even went so far as to believe that helping another person, healing them, on the Sabbath was against the law. So, they hoped to trap Jesus in breaking the law by healing on the Sabbath.

But, the Sabbath was just a symbol. It was just a type or a shadow of a true reality. The Sabbath was only a picture of the true rest we have in Jesus.

By meeting the needs of others on the Sabbath and breaking the rules of the Pharisees, Jesus showed that the true rest in Him, the truth behind the Sabbath, placed the welfare of people ahead of respect for symbols. Unhealthy respect for symbols will demand that people sacrifice to them. That sacrifice will come at the expense of people. But, Jesus said mercy was more important than sacrifice. God desires us to be merciful to others and meet their needs instead of sacrificing for symbols.

In other words, Jesus prefers people to symbols.

Meeting the needs of others is always more important than respecting a symbol.

However, when our hearts are beholden to symbols, we become hard hearted and care not for showing mercy to others. The Pharisees were so beholden to their symbols that they wanted to destroy Jesus. So, we could say that holding symbols as more important than showing mercy to others, to understanding others, is antichrist.

Jesus’ lesson of preferring people over symbols is greatly needed in the American church at this moment. For there are many demanding respect for symbols – a flag, an anthem – at the expense of showing mercy to others. If we take the gospel of Matthew seriously, to do is to conspire against Jesus and attempt to destroy him all over again.

To demand respect for a flag or an anthem while ignoring the needs of others is nothing short of antichrist.

To those that think respect for a symbol is more important than hearing and meeting the needs of others, Jesus says, “Go learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'”

Steadfast Love and Knowledge of God, Not Sacrifice and Burnt Offerings

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?

Jesus.

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.

Mercy and Not Sacrifice

TODAY’S READING: JEREMIAH 6-8

The first seven chapters of Leviticus give, in intricate detail, the instructions for how Israel was to offer sacrifices. Moses wrote that God commanded these sacrifices. And, throughout the Old Testament, we read of Israel offering thousands upon thousands of animal sacrifices in seeming obedience to God’s commands.

Yet, Jeremiah 7:22-24 says, “For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.”

Well, which is it? Did God command Israel to offer burnt offerings and peace offerings and sin offerings and guilt offerings and wave offerings as Leviticus says? Or, is Jeremiah correct in saying that God did not speak to the fathers or command them regarding burnt offerings and sacrifices?

Leviticus 1-7 and Jeremiah 7:22-24 are diametrically opposed.

How do we resolve this?

The only possible way to resolve contradictory statements in the Old Testament about God is Jesus.

John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

John 5:37 says, “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, and his form you have never seen.”

John 6:46 says, “Not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.”

John 14:9 says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Jesus is the only one to have clearly seen the Father. Therefore, Jesus is the only one to know exactly who God is. Jesus is the only one to know exactly what God wills and desires.

So, what does Jesus say about sacrifice?

Amazingly, given all the detailed rules regarding Israel’s sacrifices and all the sacrifices Israel offered for more than 1,000 years, Jesus utters the word sacrifice just two times in all four gospels. (Interestingly, in the gospel of John, where Jesus as pictured as the son of God, the word sacrifice is never used.)

In Matthew 9:13, Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came to not call the righteous, but sinners.”

In Matthew 12:7, Jesus said, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”

In both cases, Jesus is quoting the same Old Testament passage of scripture.  Hosea 6:6 says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” This is the Hebrew scripture version of Hosea 6:6. Jesus actually quoted from the Septuagint version, which says, “Because I want mercy rather than sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than whole burnt offerings.”

The Hebrew and Greek version of Hosea 6:6 reveal that mercy and steadfast love are synonymous. You cannot have one without the other. And, Jesus said that God wants steadfast love, mercy, not sacrifice.

Jesus agreed with Jeremiah.

Jeremiah said God did not command Israel to offer sacrifices, but God did command Israel to “obey my voice.”

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record the Jesus’ transfiguration before PEter, James, and John. And, in each account, God speaks from heaven, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35) Therefore, Jesus is the voice of God, the voice we are to obey.

So, if we are to obey Jesus, God’s voice, then what are the commandments we are to obey?

Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was. In Mark 12:30-31, he answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Interestingly, the scribe that asked Jesus which was the most important commandment responded to Jesus that these two commands were “much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And, Jesus told the scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Now, regarding these two commandments of love that Christians are so familiar, Jesus did not just make them up. They weren’t something knew. God had spoken these commandments to Israel.

For the first commandment, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

For the second commandment, Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18, which says, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

So, Jesus is God’s voice. Jesus says we are to obey two commandments: love God and love neighbor. And, Jesus showed us just where God spoke these two commandments to Israel.

So, Jesus reveals through his statement that God desires mercy, steadfast love, and not sacrifice, and that these two commandments of love are the summation, the entirety, of all God’s commandments. Jesus said in John 5:19, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”

Therefore, when Jeremiah says that God told Israel to “Obey my voice” this is what he meant. God wanted Israel to show mercy and not offer sacrifices. God wanted Israel love him and love their neighbor. However, God said, “But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.”

What’s the lesson?

If we make the Bible our authority over Jesus, then we will be stuck with these contradictions, these irreconcilable depictions of God. However, God is not the author of confusion.

Jesus always clears away any contradictions we read in the Old Testament. Jesus alone is our authority. Jesus alone removes the veil so that we can see God clearly.

God desires mercy, steadfast love, and not sacrifice. He always has. And, he always will.

(Keep that in my mind when you read about a new temple being built in Jerusalem to reinstitute the old Israelite sacrifices.)