Have you ever followed a teacher or a boss' directions exactly…completed your assignment or task…looked for approval…and then…
Been told you totally hosed up? Gotten that bad grade or bad review of your work?
[ Assuming most everyone is shaking their heads, note how this seems to be a pretty common experience. ]
How did you feel?
Like the rug was pulled out from under you?
Frustrated and angry?
But not good, eh?
God getting very specific with directions
I made it through the entire Bible for the third time in 2009…something I really can have no pride in since I am 45 and have no excuse for not having read through it many more times, but one thing that is clear, especially in the Old Testament, is that God can be very, very specific with directions.
Let's turn to chapter 20 in Exodus. We aren't going to read it, but we'll glance through it to get a sense of just how precise our Lord can be in telling us what to do:
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
Chapter 20's 26 verses give us the 10 commandments and rules about altars.
Chapter 21's 36 verses give us rules about slaves, dealing with parents, punishment for striking others (depending on who and the results), restitution, and more.
Chapter 22's 31 verses continue adding more guidelines, for instance what to do if you borrow something and it is stolen…not allowing a sorceress to live…and much more.
Chapter 23's first 19 verses have even more rules including some clear directions about not perverting justice.
We then get a little hiatus from directions through the end of chapter 24, followed by…
Exodus 25, starting with verse 10 (31 verses), includes instructions for the Ark of the Covenant, table for bread, and the golden lamp stand.
Exodus 26's 37 verses tell how to build the tabernacle.
Exodus 27's 21 verses cover the bronze altar, court of the tabernacle, and oil for the lamp.
Exodus 28's 43 verses give guidance for the priests' garments.
Exodus 29's 46 verses say how to consecrate the priests.
Exodus 30's 38 verses deal with the altar of incense, the census tax, the bronze basin, anointing oil, and incense.
Exodus 31's 18 verses specifically call Bezalel and Oholiab to lead making "all that I have commanded you" and rules/penalties about the Sabbath.
Have you kept count? Assuming I've used my Mac's calculator correctly that's 346 verses specifically telling the Israelites what to do…with about 200 of them dealing with the Tabernacle and what's in it.
And we've only gotten started…
For instance the first 7 chapters of Leviticus have 172 verses covering various offerings…then between chapters 11-16 are 238 verses covering clean and unclean, purification after childbirth, leprosy, cleansing houses, bodily discharges, the Day of Atonement.
And…as you can imagine…I am still only getting started…for instance Levitcus 23's 44 verses cover the Sabbath, Passover, Feast of Firstfruits, Feast of Weeks, Feasts of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Feast of Booths.
Forest through the trees
What's my point in all this?
You've heard the expression that someone "cannot see the forest through the trees." Individually reading through all of what God commands in those 562 verses can be drudgery…and can make us miss the forest through the trees…and one of the characteristics of that forest is that God was very, very particular in what he expected out of the Israelites.
"Why?" would be a good be a good subject for another sermon…but for now, can we all agree…especially in light of me just scratching the surface…that God was very specific in what he expected out of the Jews, including when it came to how they were to worship Him?
Or do you want me to continue proving it? ☺
Mercy, not sacrifice
Let's turn to Matthew 9:9-13:
9 As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed him.
10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 12 But when he heard it, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
If anyone knew how to properly keep the rules in those 562 verses in Exodus and Leviticus (and the hundreds, perhaps thousands, we didn't elsewhere)…it was the Pharisees.
But, how does Jesus chide them?
"Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'"
Mark shares another incident that can help us reflect on this more:
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" 29 Jesus answered, "The most important is,'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 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.' 31The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." 32 And the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 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." 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions (Mark 12:28-34).
I shared a couple/few hundred verses when it comes to offerings and sacrifices, and there is something that is "much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices"?!
That rebel Jesus
Hmmm…God spends all that time in the Old Testament commanding how to worship Him…and now Jesus says got actually wants mercy instead…and then Christ implicitly commends someone who says loving God and our neighbors "is much more than al burnt offerings and sacrifices"?
I know…it must be that rebel Jesus putting a new spin on things…or at least giving new light…since those concepts are so "new" in Jesus' day.
Or are they?
Let's look back to the Old Testament again…
First, a couple of verses will make it clear just how unhappy at times our Lord was with the sacrifices and worship He received…
21 "I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
8The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.
He despised their feasts…got no delight in their solemn assemblies…and finds the sacrifice of the wicked to be an abomination…ouch!
6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
God wants steadfast love and knowledge of Him…
1 Samuel 15:22
22 And Samuel said,
"Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
God wants us to obey and to listen…
6 In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
you have not required.
7 Then I said, "Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
8 I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart."
God would prefer His law be written in our hearts…
3 To do righteousness and justice
is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
God wants righteousness and justice…
6"With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself beforeGod on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"
8 He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
God wants us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly…
And I could go on…
When I started this study I expected to find just a couple/few instances in the Old Testament where our Lord spoke about what He preferred over sacrifice…but I couldn't have been more wrong. There are a ton…perhaps not as many verses as those commanding the Israelites how to worship…but they have much more impact. For instance:
11"What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
12 "When you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17 learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless
plead the widow's cause.
God would prefer we cease to do evil, seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, and plead the widow's cause.
Basically…offering the "right" sacrifice or worship with the "wrong" heart is an abomination to our Lord. It is hypocrisy, and although we can fool the world that only sees with human eyes, we cannot fool the Lord who sees inside our hearts…
What does God really want?
Did you notice how in all the "negative" we've read when it comes to sacrifice and offerings, God has done much better than political opposition in the modern world does…that instead of just saying what is wrong, He has offered His alternative?
The Bible also provides us a couple more ways we can offer a sacrifice pleasing to God:
18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied,having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.
Church offerings are an acceptable sacrifice…
15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Praise is an acceptable sacrifice…
And I'm sure we could discover more together…but we've got a pretty good list to start with. God really wants:
- Loving Him and our neighbors
- Steadfast love and knowledge of Him
- Obeying and listening
- The law written in our hearts
- Righteousness and justice
- Doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly
- Ceasing evil, seeking justice, correcting oppression, bringing justice to the fatherless, and pleading the widow's cause
- Supporting His church
Come to think of it, God wants us to be just like…can you guess? He wants us to be just like the person who exuded all those characteristics…
And speaking of our Lord and Savior…one last bit of grounding advice from Him:
23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
As we become more like Him…and focus on the "weightier matters of the law"…let's not forget that we can't show justice, mercy, and faithfulness and ignore God's commands.
Let's neglect nothing…