Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 12:7 (Holman) “If you had known what this means: I desire mercy
and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent.”
Despite the Pharisees ranting, plucking and eating grain on the Sabbath was harmless. The Twelve were innocent. They in no way broke a divine command.
The Pharisees, not the disciples, were guilty of improper Sabbath observance. Jesus unmasked the religious leaders’ true colors. Their meanness mocked the Sabbath. They were not more devout than others, just less loving.
They smugly felt they were enlightened, but were ignorant. They felt they understood, but misunderstood. They were wrong, everlastingly dead wrong.
The Pharisees fatally erred by underestimating how important kindness is to God. Having no tenderness or eagerness to help the hurting, they lacked mercy.
Unkindness is an all too common malady of the religious. They act as if ritual is more important than love, but God is more than a Master of Ceremonies.
Jesus is not merely a spectator of our worship. He is not detached, sitting way up in the grandstands, as if nonchalantly “reviewing the troops.”
God receives worship, actually interacting with us in it. Worship is our love-response to God. As we respond to Him, He responds to our response.
God actively participates in worship, enabling our minds to conform to His mind, helping our hearts beat in rhythm with His, and making us more like Him.
For this transformation to succeed, love has to be flowing from us to Him. Ceremonies, corporate worship services, songs, sermons, and sacrifices offered from a cold heart avail nothing. The heart must be warm; white hot is even better.
When the love-transfer is happening, our love for Him responding to His for us, and His love for us responding to ours for Him, the result is genuine worship, a dynamic interaction resulting in worshipers growing more like the One worshiped.
One way worship changes us, noted in the text we are considering, is by our learning to show mercy. In this way we imitate the Father, who has mercy on us.
Are we truly worshiping? Surely we want to know. The answer had best not be a guess or hunch, or a riddle needing to be mysteriously revealed; nor can genuineness of worship be determined by how we feel during a worship service.
We know we are truly worshiping here in the church-house when our hearts are regularly worshiping out there in the everyday world. The ultimate expression of worship is not in liturgy, but in real life. Worship is to be a full-life experience.
This is the worship-truth accented in the Bible verse quoted here by Jesus. In Hosea 6:6, God says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” In other words, mercy, compassion, and kindness in real life are more important to God than rituals.
The liturgy God desires most is mercy shown all the time. Our every action in life should be motivated by love. Generally, Law gives us negative safeguards, kind God-given boundaries telling us what not to do, how not to hurt ourselves.
Inside these protective parameters we have huge leeway, much freedom. How do we know what to do in a given situation, when no option would violate Law? If the choice is right/left, not right/wrong, are we left totally on our own? No, we always ask God for wisdom, and let love positively push us in all we do.
Our text is the second time Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6. His double use of the verse gives us profound and well rounded insight into what He expects from us.
In Matthew 9:13, Jesus used the verse in response to His being criticized for socializing with sinners, for hanging out with irreligious riffraff. In 12:7 He used Hosea 6:6 to refute quarrels against the Twelve satisfying hunger on the Sabbath.
Jesus used Hosea 6:6 in 9:13 to vindicate helping people spiritually, in 12:7 to justify helping people physically. This double use of Hosea 6:6 summarizes what Jesus expects of believers. We are to help people spiritually and physically.
Before focusing on helping others, though, we need to remember the first truth stated in Hosea 6:6 is “I desire.” Subject and verb eclipse the direct objects. Pleasing God always comes first. What He desires is the ultimate consideration.
The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (MT 22:37-38). Holiness matters most–always has, always will.
This inward momentum rising toward God, if it is genuine, finds expression by dispersing itself toward human need. We truly serve God by serving people.
John Calvin is helpful here. Holiness is rightly considered far superior to mercy, because God is greater than people. But believers prove our service to God is genuine by our kind mercies done for the spiritual and physical needs of others.
“I desire” starts Hosea 6:6 by pointing us to the first command. “Mercy and not sacrifice,” as Jesus showed in His quotes, point to the second command, love your neighbor (MT 22:39), and to the Great Commission, win the lost (Acts 1:8).
The first commandment does have priority over the second commandment, and over the Great Commission. Loving God does supercede loving people. But only by doing the latter two can we know for sure we are doing the former.
If unkind to people, and not involved in acts of service to humanity, our claims to love God are worthless chatter. “Let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (I John 4:7-8).
If we are not actively trying to win the lost, we betray the very function for which Jesus saved us. On the night of His agony in Gethsemane, Jesus interceded for the disciples. “I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message” (John 17:20). Our Master assumed His followers would reproduce themselves by enlisting others to become believers.
Most of us are familiar with the oft-quoted Bible verse, “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself” (2 C 5:19). Less well known is the last half of the verse, “He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.” “Therefore,” Paul continues in the next verse, “we are ambassadors for Christ; certain that God is appealing through us, we plead on Christ’s behalf, Be reconciled to God.”
The best gift we can give God is a holy life. How multiplied a blessing it is to Him if our efforts gave Him 10 holy lives, 50 holy lives, a thousand holy lives.
God seeks true worshipers (JN 4:23). Thus, our highest praise is to offer to Him our “everyday every moment” life as worshipers in spirit and truth (JN 4:24).
If God seeks worshipers, we bring no offering better than being instruments through which sinners are led to be transformed into worshipers and given to Him.
The lesson in our text is simple yet profound. Following Jesus is not meant to be complex, given only to the educated. Even a child can understand the Way.
In the most elementary terms, what is the lesson of our text? How can we simply state what it requires of us? Let me offer a summary statement of what Jesus was saying. God expects each of us to be a holy believer who is kind and evangelistic. Or, as we commonly express it here at Second: worship, serve, go.