What DID He Mean When He Said, "I Desire Mercy and Not Sacrifice?"

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Audio Version of This Message
Mic 7:18 Who is a God like You, Pardoning iniquity And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in mercy.
 19 He will again have compassion on us, And will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins Into the depths of the sea.
 20 You will give truth to Jacob And mercy to Abraham, Which You have sworn to our fathers From days of old.
 (NKJV)
 Eph 2:1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins,
 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience,
 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
 (NKJV)
 Mt 9:9 As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, "Follow Me." So he arose and followed Him.
 10 Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples.
 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
 12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, "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."
 (NKJV)

The human race is in quite a dilemma isn’t it? Without Christ the human race is just like those unconverted Ephesians.....dead in their trespasses and sins. Just think about that for a moment. Conceived in sin as David says in Ps. 51:5

 Ps 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

Unless something happens to us, that takes care of our sin problem, we are lost, destined for hell.  We are like those Ephesians, nothing but servants of the devil, slaves to disobedience, imprisoned by our lust. Captive by the desires of our flesh and our mind.  This is how every single human being who is conceived begins life!
There is absolutely nothing you or I can do to bring salvation to an unborn child. Oh we can pray for their souls, and we ought to do that, (that should be one of the top ten reasons for the presence of Christians at the abortion clinics in this land, because typically two souls go in to the clinic and only one soul comes out!) but the fate of their souls is strictly in the hands of God and He says,

 Ro 9:15 "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion."

But God in His great mercy, has provided a solution for our original sin problem. He has given us the Sacrament of baptism. In baptism, God provides the means of grace to deliver our born children from their sentence of death. Knowing this, should we not have baptismal founts at the foot of every birthing bed in every hospital in the land?

I don’t think so. One of the reasons I baptize children on the eight day is because baptism is likened to the Old Testament practice of circumcision. We read of it in  

Col 2:11 In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision not performed by hand, when you threw off your sinful nature in true Christian circumcision; (What is true Christian circumcision?)  12 having been buried with Him in your baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith produced within you by God who raised Him from among the dead.
 (WNT)

Baptism is the new and improved version of circumcision. Circumcision was required for all Jewish children at the age of 8 days. They too were conceived in sin, but why did God allow an 8 day window? I think He was telling His people, look, you’ll just have to trust My mercy for your child from conception until the 8th day, but after that, I want you to exercise some faith in My promises.

And the Old Testament covenant promise was believe and be circumcised and be saved. You needed both faith and circumcision. In the New Testament it is believe and be baptized and be saved.  You need both!  

Please notice what this grace conveys to the one dead in his sins and trespasses. Please note what it delivered to the Ephesians (infant or adult)

12 having been buried with Him in your baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith produced within you by God who raised Him from among the dead.

Raised with Christ through faith produced within you by God. God uses this means of grace to convey faith to us. Yes even infants are capable of faith. David said in  

Ps 22:9 But it was you who took care of me from the day of my birth: you gave me faith even from my mother's breasts.

 This whole section of Ephesians deals with the workings of baptism. (by grace you have been saved, raised up together and made to sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (These are the effects of baptism, infant or adult) ) To be sure Paul was addressing adults, but remember these were adults in a new land, who had never heard the gospel, and so he talks about their former degenerate life.

Just because he is addressing adults, doesn’t mean that he is excluding children as Peter said on that first Day of Pentecost, “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off” (Acts 2:39)

He makes sure that they understand that their former way of living is no longer acceptable since they have come to faith and have been baptized. Therefore this former way of living is also not acceptable for the baptized children to follow.  Even though children are baptized, they can wander  into these areas of sin and disbelief and lose their salvation!

They too, can become victims of their own lust, chasing after and obtaining the wicked desires of their mind and flesh. What do you think about those attending the big party that Matthew threw? Do you think that they were circumcised? If they were Jewish......you better believe they were.

But for whatever reason, they had strayed from the faith, (they had become sexually immoral and financial cheats)  and were in great eternal danger, just as some of you may be even today. Some of you have walked away from the faith of your baptism and are now living as sons and daughters of disobedience!

And so Jesus came to them. He met them where they were. He didn’t participate in their sin, but He went to them to call them to repentance, offering them free pardon and restoration of fellowship with the Father. His message to all in the New Testament was “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

He did not come to this earth to save those who think they are righteous, those who think they don’t need a physician, He came for those who know that they are not living according to God’s plan, and want to come back to Him.

By way of explanation of His mission He challenged the Pharisees and yes, He challenges us too. “Go and learn what this means: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Have you ever really thought that statement through? What does it mean?

As I was preparing this message, I had to admit, that I had never really thought about it in this context.  It’s meaning is found in 2 Peter:


 2Pe 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

God does not want anyone to be sacrificed on the altar of sin and disbelief! He desires mercy, not the death associated with sacrifice! And so He comes to us with His grace of baptism for those defiled by original sin, and He comes to us with His Word, baptized or not,  (the Law to convict us of our sin, and the Gospel to bring us back to the fold.) He comes to us in the Lord’s Supper to reassure us and strengthen us in the faith.

When we know the heart of God as Micah did in our Old Testament reading today, we can say with him, “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity!”

Please note that the first part ov v18 is Micah speaking to God. He is simply restating one of God’s great attributes. “Who pardons like You do?” Oh we may pardon, but usually it’s with conditions, or we throw the sins of others at best into the sea of occasional remembrance.

Then he addresses anyone else who will listen. He says to you and I this morning.

How about this God, who will pass over your transgressions. How about this God who does not retain His anger at your open rebellion, because He delights in mercy (forgiveness) (not sacrifice, not the penalty of sin. So He sent His Son to pay the penalty (the sacrifice) that the wicked Ephesians, or you or I, could be dragged from the fire and not perish but have everlasting life.)

How about this God who will have compassion on you and subdue your iniquities and will cast all your sins into the depths of the sea! He waits for you this morning. He waits for you to respond as Matthew did. He invites you to follow Jesus. To stop following the ways of the world and turn back to Him.

  2Ch 6:36 "When they sin against You (for there is no one who does not sin), and You become angry with them and deliver them to the enemy, and they take them captive to a land far or near;
 37 "yet when they come to themselves in the land where they were carried captive, (the land of sin and disbelief) and repent, and make supplication to You in the land of their captivity, saying, 'We have sinned, we have done wrong, and have committed wickedness';
 38 "and when they return to You with all their heart and with all their soul (this requires a full commitment on your part) in the land of their captivity, where they have been carried captive, and pray toward their land which You gave to their fathers, the city which You have chosen, and toward the temple which I have built for Your name: (Call upon the Lord and you will be saved)
 39 "then hear from heaven Your dwelling place their prayer and their supplications, and maintain their cause, and forgive Your people who have sinned against You.

God longs to do that for each of us here this morning, (He desires mercy not sacrifice) if we will just admit our sinfulness! This is the heart of our merciful God. He desires mercy on you. He does not desire to exact the wage of your sin upon you.  He doesn’t want that for you! He invites you today to return to your baptismal rest:  

Ps 116:7 Return to your rest, O my soul, For the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.
 8 For You have delivered my soul from death, My eyes from tears, And my feet from falling.
 9 I will walk before the LORD In the land of the living.

God has dealt bountifully with you, there is no sin that you have committed that He will not forgive. (There was no person at Matthew’s party that Jesus would not forgive) Do not reject His gracious offer of salvation and eternal life, turn from your present path and beginning today, return to following Jesus.

And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.