In my search for a church, I checked out all kinds, and each one had their own teachings. What if I picked the wrong one?????? What would happen to my soul then???????? Will I go to hell if I accidentally pick the wrong church???????????
Oh no!!! I have to give up nicotine, throw away the tv, stop eating food, have to "the right" church, have to tithe, have to do this and that, I was making a list! That list kept getting bigger by the day! This was my "salvation plan list".
The more I examined my life and thought about it, the bigger that "salvation requirement list" got and the more upset, frustrated, tormented, and hopeless I felt. I felt my joy slipping away. I started to feel despair, self condemnation and loss of the happiness that I had before in Jesus because the more I looked at that list the more I realized that I could never do it, I would always not quite be good enough, according to that list.
I prayed and prayed and prayed.......and one verse kept popping into my mind "I desire mercy, not a sacrifice". I ignored it, and checked my list again. Tried like crazy to withdrawal from nicotine, tried to find a church, prayed for guidance, wisdom and direction........then I heard it again "I desire mercy, not sacrifice". I wondered what that meant? I had no idea…..I just knew that I was miserable now because I wasn’t living anymore, just trying to follow a set of rules so that I wouldn’t go to hell!
I started to see Jesus as this stern judge that was ready to cast me away if I accidentally said or did the wrong thing, or if I went over my allotted sin count for the year, even tho I really did love God with my whole heart, and did my best to serve Him and follow His commandments.
So I sat down for my nightly Bible reading and I read Matthew 9:9-13 which says:
“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth. “Follow me,” he said to him. And he got up and followed him. As Jesus was having a meal in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this he said, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. Go and learn what this saying means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
There it was again! That mercy thing, and Jesus was saying it to the Pharisees! There was a cross reference there too, it was Hosea 6:6 so I looked that up and there it was again! Hosea 6:6: “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”
Interesting…….so I kept on reading further in Matthew and there it was again! Matthew 12:7 “If you had known what this means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”
Here in Matthew chapter 12, Jesus was addressing the Pharisees again when they were questioning His disciples for picking wheat and eating on the Sabbath. Jesus told the Pharisees, again, He wants mercy and not sacrifice!! He also told them that they didn’t understand what that meant.
So, what did Jesus mean? I decided it was time to do some research and figure it out, so I put my “salvation requirement list” away for the day and focus on this scripture and it’s meaning.
Who exactly were the Pharisees? The name Pharisee, in its Hebrew form, means “separatists”, or “the separated ones”. They were also known as chasidim, which means “loyal to God”, or “loved of God”. They were a group of people who followed the law to the letter. They followed it so closely that they turned worship into a system or a “list” of do’s and don’t’s. They created the first “salvation list” and they believed that they were holy, righteous because they followed this list and everyone who did not follow this list was detestable. They put themselves above everyone else…….including Jesus!! Their list was so long and so hard and full of sacrifice, rituals, rules and regulations that it was next to impossible to adhere to it. In their life of sacrifice, they considered themselves better then everyone else and proud because THEY were worthy, THEY were great, THEY were righteous, THEY were holy, THEY were important and deserving, and everyone else was pond scum.
Yes, they followed the list, but they lacked one thing, the most important thing, mercy. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”.
Notice that Jesus said to them “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice”. Jesus knew that they had no clue what it meant. They were too busy following the list, analyzing that list, arguing over it, debating it, studying it, dissecting it under a magnifying glass, always trying to be perfect, but missing the most important thing, compassion, love and MERCY!!!! In their attempts to be perfect on the outside, their hearts had no love, no compassion, no humility……..all they had was their list, and Jesus knew it. Their adherence to their list, made them proud, cold, and cruel because they felt that they were righteous and deserving and everyone else was not. They loved their list, they loved it so much that they flaunted it in front of everyone else! Look at me! See how great I am! See how good I am! See how holy I am! I am like God!!!! Remind you of anyone? Didn’t satan also think he was great?
Jesus knew that the Pharasees would never understand because you can’t learn love, compassion and mercy from adhering to a list! It’s a matter of the heart, and they would never get it. That’s why Jesus also said in Mark 4:12 “They see clearly but don't perceive. They hear clearly but don't understand. They never return to me and are never forgiven.'"
So what does Jesus really want from us then? He tells us in Matthew 22:37-40 “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
That’s it! That’s what God wants from us, that’s the whole list! That’s also why Jesus told us in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”
To follow Jesus and to gain His approval is to love God with your whole heart, and to love others and show it though compassion and mercy in your heart, mind and daily actions. It’s a heart condition, a matter of love and humility before God.
Galatians 5:22,23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
1 Corinthians chapter 13 goes into detail greater detail. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
That’s the whole list…….to love, that’s it! To love God with your whole heart, and to love your neighbor. So, who is your neighbor? Jesus doesn’t leave us in the dark about that either, He told us in The Parable of the Good Samaratin.
Luke 10:30-37 Jesus answered, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he traveled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.’ Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?" He said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Your “neighbor” is everyone and anyone, your fellow human beings. Not just members of your own family, not just your friends, not just people of your own race, country or religion, your neighbor is everyone.
1 John 4:8 sums it all up “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”