Summary: Message explores the dangers of religion without the heart of God toward people. How do we nurture a heart of mercy? Pastor shares four key points in answer to that question.
I want to begin this morning with a man named Matthew. Matthew’s family name was Levi.1 He became an apostle and wrote the gospel that carries his name. But when he met Jesus, he was far from that. He was a tax collector. Tax collectors were hated by their fellow Jews.2 They were considered to be traitors because they collected taxes for the Roman government. It was a very profitable profession; but it was known for its corruption and the Jews despised them.
In Matt. 9:7 Jesus approached Matthew at his tax booth and called him to be a disciple. The Bible says Matthew, “got up, left everything and followed” Jesus (Luke 5:28 NIV). It was a complete break from his sinful life. It was a complete abandonment of his lucrative career. It was an all-out decision to follow Jesus. Later Matthew threw a big party in honor of Jesus. He invited all his old friends to come and meet Jesus. Nothing fuels evangelism like a new convert on fire for the Lord. Matthew wanted his friends to experience the Lord for themselves. So Jesus was there. The disciples were there. And a crowd of Matthew’s sinner friends were there.
When the Pharisees saw that Jesus was feasting with all these sinners, they were appalled. Matt. 9:11, “And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"3 That was the last place they expected to see a man who claimed to represent God. They didn’t have the audacity to confront Jesus directly but they did confront His disciples. When Jesus overheard their conversation, He gave them this answer. "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’” Notice that the call to sinners is not a call to continue in iniquity; it is a call to repentance. Jesus had a purpose in meeting with these people.
But the thing I want to focus on this morning is Jesus’ quote from Hosea 6:6 “I desire mercy and not sacrifice….” The Pharisees were all about sacrifice. Of course, there were the animal sacrifices at the temple. There was all that religious ceremony. But they also sacrificed meals. They fasted regularly. They tithed down to the penny. They very carefully observed hundreds of religious rules and regulations.4 And in all that, they were careful not to contaminate themselves by the influence of ungodly people. So here is Jesus eating and drinking with all these sinners. From their perspective, Jesus is completely off-base.
Then Jesus said, “You need to learn what God meant when He said in Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” And this morning, we want to make sure we know what God meant by that. Why? because we too can get caught up in the rules and regulations of religion and miss the whole point, if we’re not careful. God wants a heart that is tender and merciful toward other people, not just a religious system that keeps certain rules and regulations.
So the question I want to address this morning is this: How can we nurture a merciful heart toward people?
I. Understand God’s priorities. God’s priority is people.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but through Him the world might be saved.”5 God’s objective is not a bunch of religious activity. God is not trying to build successful, impressive organizations. Jesus came to “seek and save that which is lost.” Jesus came to rescue people from the bondage and the destruction of sin and give to them eternal life. It’s all about rescuing people from their own destruction.
The operative word for Christianity is the word “go.” “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19). Mark 16:15 "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” We are not called to hunker down and survive. We are called to thrive in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit.6 We are called to take the good news of Jesus Christ to every creature. It is a very different mindset from what the Pharisees had.
God’s basic stance toward people is a stance of love and redemption. No matter how sinful or defiled they may be, if they will turn from that and turn to Him, He will embrace them in love, forgive their sins, and welcome them into the family of God. He did that for you and He did that for me. We are no better than any of those people out in the world. They simply need to hear the invitation from God and respond to it. “For God so loved….” I once saw a t-shirt with a brief message to Christians: “What part of ‘go’ do you not understand?” We go with the same motive that Jesus and Matthew had at that party—to seek and save that which is lost.