“Jesus Desires Mercy”
Welcome to “Key to the Kingdom.” My name is Bret McCasland. There were many people during the time of Jesus’ public ministry who were overlooked. They were neglected because they were poor, disabled, or even because of their nationality. As a result, they were without many of the basic things they needed to survive. On the other hand, the wealthy, the privileged, the religious leaders and other significant people offered no love or assistance. Jesus saw what was happening and He was not pleased. It did not make sense that such needy people had so little while the wealthy had so much. Jesus did not want people to use the excuse of obeying His teaching to neglect the poor and needy. And yet, that was exactly what was happening. More attention was given to obeying the laws than taking care of people. And that very thing happens in many places around the world, still today. Wealthy and privileged people show little compassion to the poor and needy. And no doubt, it is important to live in obedience to Jesus’ teaching and the commands found in God's Word; yet, we can never allow it to take away from our need to minister to the people God puts into our life. As we continue to look at some of Jesus’ most important statements, we will focus on what He had to say about such matters. Obviously the wealthy did not like it, and perhaps there are some who do not want to hear His words today. And yet, as we seek to faithfully follow Jesus, it is important we carefully consider how we can apply His teaching to our lives. I hope you will hear what Jesus has to say, as we now open up our Bibles and study together.
Early on in Jesus’ ministry, many people followed Him from a distance. They weren't for sure what they wanted to do with Jesus, but they did want to hear His teaching, be fed miraculously and also to be healed of their various sicknesses and diseases. And yet, Jesus wanted them to be more than just a casual follower, He wanted them to be a truly committed disciple. He invited them to do just that. And there were at least 12 men who were chosen to be His first disciples, and we call them His apostles. We find a listing of those 12 men in the gospel of Matthew chapter 10 verses 2 through 4. James and John were brothers, so were Peter and Andrew. Four or five of them were fishermen, and others represented various lines of work. Jesus even called a tax collector to follow Him; and his name was Matthew. That story is recorded in the Book that bears his name, and I want to begin by reading that story, in Matthew chapter 9, beginning with verse 9. <As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow Me,” He told him, and Matthew got up and followed Him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Him and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”> The story begins with Jesus inviting a man named Matthew to follow Him, to be a committed disciple or apostle. Now tax collectors, such as Matthew, were not considered to be people of good standing, and they obviously did not have a good reputation. Tax collectors had the responsibility of collecting taxes from their fellow Jews and then paying that tax to the ruling Roman authorities. And for the most part, they did a very poor job. They over collected what was due. Oh, they gave the Roman authorities what was due to them, but they put any extra amount into their own pockets. Yes, tax collectors were perhaps the most despised group of people in the day of Jesus, especially among their own fellow Jews. And yet, it's interesting to note in this story Jesus chose such a person to be one of His 12 apostles. And when He did they had a party in Matthew's house. Oh, we can just imagine the excitement that Matthew had when he was selected by Jesus to follow Him. He was excited. He opened up his home. He hosted a meal for his friends, and many people came. There were other tax collectors who came to rejoice and to celebrate with him. And then there were other people from the community whom he knew, who were perhaps overlooked and neglected; they showed up as well. And then, Jesus and His disciples were there also. Well, in the minds of many people, everyone like Matthew, or the tax collectors were in the same category. There was no difference between the sinners and the murderers and the prostitutes and the tax collectors. All of them were people who had a very poor reputation among others. And these were the people to be avoided, to be overlooked, to be set aside and not considered as someone to associate with on a regular basis. And yet we see here in this story, Jesus and His disciples came and they shared a meal with Matthew and his friends. And when the religious leaders, or the Pharisees, saw this, they had lots of questions, and they asked them of the disciples and Jesus. These Pharisees were the self designated leaders. They had a role that they took upon, or they assigned to themselves, to make sure that all people were following the laws and the commands that they found in the Law of Moses. There were 613 such laws, and about two thirds of them were negative, things that you could not do on certain days and you had to avoid certain issues and things and people. And about one third of them were positive, things that you could do. Pharisees, these religious leaders, they studied and they knew these laws, and they enforced them to the very best of their ability. Now, on top of that, they also came up with some laws of their own, and sought to impose them on others also; yet they themselves kept very few of such laws. Well, it didn't make much sense to these religious leaders why Jesus would associate with and share a meal with the tax collectors and the sinners in Matthew's home. If He claimed to be God’s Son then certainly He knew better than to eat with such people. Certainly He would not choose Matthew to follow Him or even to eat a meal in his home. And in their minds this was a terrible sin, and so Jesus was just as guilty as the murderers and the prostitutes and the sinners and the tax collectors. The Pharisees wanted to make it just as difficult as possible for anybody to follow Jesus. They did not like Him. They viewed Jesus as a threat to their authority. The Pharisees wanted the people to follow them. The Pharisees wanted to be in control of people's lives. And now there were many people who were beginning to follow Jesus and the Pharisees did not like that, and so they were looking for ways to trap Jesus, or to falsely accuse Him, or to identify Him with the so-called sinners of society. Well, when these Pharisees came into Matthew's home, Jesus knew the intent of their heart. He knew their thoughts and they certainly were not His. And upon hearing their concerns, Jesus stated the obvious. He stated, “It is not the healthy people who need a doctor, but those who are sick.” Well, that makes sense to us today; doesn't it? If we feel good, if we don't have any health concerns that we know about, the last thing we want to do is to go see a doctor. We don't want to be paying a hospital bill. We don't want to take medicine if we don't need it, because we feel good. We don't need anything. Yet, on the other hand, when we are not feeling well, some of the first things we do is to make that phone call to the doctor's office. We're happy to pay a medical bill and we certainly want to take those medicines that will hopefully help us to feel better. Well, Jesus had come to be the spiritual doctor for people who were spiritually sick. He even referred to Himself, one day, as the Great Physician. And so Jesus came to minister to the tax collectors and the sinners and the murders and the like, because they needed some kind of spiritual help and advice and encouragement; and Jesus was that doctor for them. Well, to make it more specific, Jesus went on to say, “Go and learn what this means. I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Now, this was a quote from the Old Testament prophet Hosea, found in Hosea chapter 6 and verse 6. Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Hosea condemned the wealthy Jews for justifying their oppression of the poor and needy. Such people believed they could treat the overlooked and the poor and the needy people of the world any way they wanted to treat them. They viewed themselves as better, as more significant, as a little bit more privileged than everybody else. And so they looked down on individuals and mistreated them and neglected them. And they justified that treatment by showing up at the right times at the temple to make the right sacrifices. And Hosea's word to such people was, that does not work; “Right sacrifices do not make up for neglecting people.” Well, Jesus knew that passage, and perhaps the Pharisees did as well, and so Jesus shared it with them once again. Well, you know, the Pharisees were the people who tried to make those right sacrifices. They wanted to keep the letter of the Law and they forget about the intent of the Law; and yet, we see that it was the tax collectors and the sinners with whom Jesus chose to eat. I want us to imagine the scene here for just a moment. The Pharisees come into the house and see the people that they recognize from the street. They are familiar with their questionable business practices and their lifestyles. And as they normally do, when they see such people, they neglect them. But then as they look at all the people there in the room, they see Jesus and He is eating with them. They are sharing each other's company and fellowship, and exchanging fishing stories, perhaps, and talking about their families, and simply enjoying being together. Jesus knows their names, their backgrounds, their joys, and sorrows, their successes and failures. And Jesus is developing a relationship with these tax collectors and sinners. He is treating them with dignity and respect. What Jesus is doing is that He is showing love and mercy to those who need it the most. These are the very ones whom the religious leaders, or the Pharisees, overlook. And so Jesus tells them, “Look at what I am doing and go and learn what this means. I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” On another occasion, Jesus and His disciples were walking in the grainfields on the Sabbath and the disciples were hungry. They began to pull off some of the ears of grain, perhaps barley or wheat and they were eating that in order to sustain their life. Look at the story here in Matthew, chapter 12, beginning with verse 1. <At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” He answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”> What the disciples were doing on the Sabbath day was considered harvesting, and harvesting was considered work, and that was condemned on the Sabbath day. But Jesus reminds the Pharisees, here, that David and his men were hungry. It did not matter what day of the week it was, they needed something to eat and so they went into the temple and they found what they needed. And then regarding the priests, every Sabbath day 12 fresh loaves of bread were set on the table there in the Holy place, and the old loaves were eaten by the priests; and that was part of their daily meal, according to Leviticus chapter 24. Well, the priests and David were godly men. They were trying to do what was right. They were trying to obey the Law and yet at the same time be mindful of their own lives. They were within the spirit of the Law, contrary to what the Pharisees were saying. And behind their judgment of Jesus and the disciples for doing such things was the fact that these religious leaders, or Pharisees, were not showing mercy to those who were in need of it. Now, this statement, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” was a regular part of Jesus’ ministry. He had come to earth to be His Father's representative and to represent His Father's love and mercy to all people. He came inviting all sinners everywhere to receive what He had to offer, and that was the love and the forgiveness and the mercy and the salvation of God. Today, as we follow Jesus’ example, then we too will show mercy to those who are in need. We will give our time and our abilities and our money to bless the lives of other people. Following Jesus is not about what makes us feel good or what makes our life complete; but rather, following Jesus is all about walking in His footsteps and following His example. Following Jesus is about allowing God's love and mercy to make a difference in the lives of those who have never received it before. Showing mercy to people also falls in line with what Jesus stated in John chapter 13, verses 34 and 35: <“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”> Three times in two verses, Jesus states, “Love one another. Love the people God puts into your life.” It really does not matter to most people if you and I say we are disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. What matters to most people is that they see it through the love that we extend to one another. And that is how people will know that we truly are His disciples. When they see that God's love for us is not terminal with us, but that we share it with those who are in need. We accept such people. We, like Jesus, know their names and share times of fellowship with them. We do what Jesus did. And those opportunities to display God's love and mercy are around us each and every day. And those people may not look and may not even act like us. They may not be accepted by society. They may not be the fine and upstanding people of our communities. They may not attend church services every week, or even strive to live a good life. But rather, they are looked down upon and judged for their unusual or different behavior. The outcast and rejected and the sinful, and the so-called tax collectors, of our day may not share our beliefs, and they may not even practice religion at all. But yet, Jesus would say to us today, as He said to the Pharisees back then, “These are the very ones to whom you are to show mercy, for these are the people that I have come to show mercy.” Oh, we are not to be so focused on keeping the commands we believe to be important that we miss out on showing mercy to others. For in reality, that is exactly what Jesus desires for us to do. Oh, those who follow Jesus, today, recognize they were in a similar state when Jesus found them. Jesus was ready to accept and to forgive and to have fellowship with us; and that is the very reason for which He died upon the cross. Jesus died upon the cross. He gave His life there so that the burden and the curse of sin could be removed from us and that we could enter into a fellowship with our Father in heaven, through Jesus Christ, our Savior. And He Rose from the grave, allowing us the opportunity to experience that wonderful love and mercy from the Lord. The apostle Paul states it this way, in Ephesians chapter 2, verses 4 and 5: <Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.> Have you ever thought where you would be without God's mercy? Have you ever thought where you would be without the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He made for all of mankind? You know, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” is another one of Jesus’ most important statements. If we claim to be Jesus’ disciples then we will love people. We will go out of our way to show mercy to those who are in need of it. We will learn what Jesus said when He said, “I want you to learn that I desire mercy, not sacrifice;” to recognize that we can go beyond the letter of the law and extend love and mercy and kindness to those who have never received it before. And again, we have opportunities to do that each every day. And the question is, will we do that? Will we show mercy or will we cast judgment? The challenge that lies before us today is to represent Jesus as His true followers and disciples, and to show mercy to the people God puts into our life.
Across the street and behind me is a place called the Community Center; and there are places like this all over the towns and villages of this world. At this place, many people gather to receive some sort of assistance. Some people come looking for food and groceries to feed their families. Other people are looking for opportunities of employment, and still others are looking and seeking for some new place to live. You know, as I drive by places like this, my heart goes out to these people, and perhaps your heart goes out to them as well. I think about the many blessings God has entrusted to me and how fortunate I am to live and to enjoy so many good things. I also think about ways, perhaps, I could help such people. I offer a prayer on their behalf on a regular basis and I think about what else I might be able to do. In Matthew chapter 12, verse 7, Jesus tells us, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Oh, we do make some sacrifices for people. We give up some things in order to be a blessing to others, and that's good; but Jesus wants us to practice mercy. He wants us to extend mercy to those who don't have it or haven't received it. He wants us to extend mercy to those who are overlooked, less fortunate, perhaps, or are neglected by this world. Let me ask you a question. What are you doing to show mercy to those people at community centers? I would encourage us to be merciful and kind and compassionate people to those who are afflicted in some way by this world.
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