What Did Jesus Mean –
“I Will Have Mercy, And Not Sacrifice”?
Originally published as What Did Jesus Mean – “I Will Have Mercy, And Not Sacrifice”?, Good News, July – September 1973, pp. 13-15
By Charles F. Hunting
Do we really know what He meant? Christ said, “Go ye and LEARN what that meaneth” (Matt. 9:13). Knowing can mean your eternal life!
What IS our goal – really? Is it a hazy, not too vivid, all-encompassing kind of thing, like “to get into the Kingdom,” “to show love,” or “to do the Work of God”?
Each of us must have a much more clearly defined, moment-by-moment goal than that. A goal so vivid and so real that we can confidently know we are fulfilling God’s desires – His purpose for our lives.
The Starting Point
Everyone wants to live forever. But since we are merely physical human beings, we all face physical death.
Death is a sobering reality. As David said, our life is but a “handbreadth” (Ps. 39:5). We are here today and gone tomorrow.
Death is our final appointment in this life – then we simply no longer exist. Nothing physical survives. We are gone.
But spirit does survive. So our goal has to be one of spiritual survival.
What Spiritual Survival Means
Look at it this way. Let’s suppose you want to hear music, so you compose a song. Then you hire an orchestra and a director. Finally you record their rendition by means of a tape recorder.
Afterwards the orchestra disbands. The sheet music is destroyed. Everything physical that went into making the beautiful sounds is gone. But a perfect record of the whole effort remains recorded on tape. It can be replayed in a tape player at any time.
In the same way, the spirit in man is the spiritual record of each one of us. This is what survives.
God put this spirit in man for a great purpose. Combined with our physical brain it enables us to think, to plan, to design. It gives us some of the imagination and even some of the desires of God Himself. And it provides God with a record of our attitudes, personality, acquired knowledge, our very character – all that which makes as US – after we die. That which is physical decays and dies, but the spirit in man remains indestructible, eternal.
But why does God want a record? The answer is that God plans to “replay,” reconstitute, rebuild – resurrect – us exactly according to the pattern of what we will have become in this life – same basic personality, same attitudes, same character. And so the basic element of our whole being which will survive our physical life is our CHARACTER. Only we will then be composed totally of spirit.
So what is being recorded in your case? Think before you answer. Whatever it is, it has to be recognized by God as something He wants to survive eternally – or He will not “replay” for the purpose of eternal preservation the record that has been made.
And here is where the problem lies. Some of us will fulfill the sickening prophecy of non-recognition found in Matthew 7:21-23, where Christ said: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven…. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord … and then will I profess unto them, I never knew you.”
Physical Works Not the Criterion
Did you notice something very frightening about those words? Christ was speaking of those who have identified Him and call Him Lord and Master like we do. They know He is the Messiah. But Christ does not know them. He does not recognize them. He is looking for something that He cannot find. Therefore He will not replay their “record” for eternal life.
We keep the Sabbath, we tithe, we keep the Holy Days, we may pass out songbooks or give the opening or closing prayer, or even be ordained as a deacon or deaconess. We may feel that these activities prove we are on our way into the Kingdom.
We may even be ordained into the ministry of Jesus Christ, give sermons, anoint the sick and see them healed, and even cast out demons! Wouldn’t you say that doing these things would be the obvious sign of a man of God, well on his way into God’s Kingdom?
But read what Christ said: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out demons? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” (verse 22.)
Do you grasp that? They have done all of those things that most of us would regard as the final stamp of approval from God. They have done great works – preached inspired sermons, anointed the sick and seen people healed, and cast out demons.
But didn’t the apostles heal the sick and cast out demons – before they were ever begotten of God’s Spirit? Didn’t Judas also do all these things? Yes they did! And so did some of the other religious Jews of Christ’s time (Matt. 12:27).
So what chance do you have? You’re a lay-member of the Church. Perhaps you took the leadership training course but you are still not “used.” Have you failed? May be – but not because you were not ordained or put on the visiting program. If that were true, what about the women in the Church who don’t even pass out songbooks or lead in opening and closing prayers, and whose main duties are housekeeping?
Let’s understand something! Your physical activities are not what ensures your receiving eternal life in God’s Kingdom!
Recall Matthew 5:3-7. Jesus said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for their’s is the kingdom of heaven…. Blessed are the meek…. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. … Blessed are the merciful…” etc.
Notice that all these are qualities (attitudes) of mind – of character. And it is these qualities that are required in an eternal son of God.
A Commandment-Keeping Failure!
One young man came to Christ and asked, just as we all do, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). Notice that he went to the right person, just as we do. Christ gave him the same answer that we are aware of: “Thou knowest the commandments…” (verse 19).
The young man told Him that he had observed and kept those laws from his youth. Then Christ loved this young man. He wanted to help him. But there was a problem, and Christ knew that something was wrong. The problem was not physical; it was only expressed physically, but it was a spiritual problem. This man had a mind that coveted. So he was a commandment-keeping failure, just as were the Israelites who tried to keep God’s commandments in Moses’ time.
God said of the ancient Israelites: “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always…” (Deut. 5:29). In other words, there was a spiritual inability – a spiritual lack – that prevented them from completely comprehending the spiritual meaning of the great laws of God. But brethren, we should not have that lack; we should have the Spirit of God in our minds. God’s laws are spiritual, and with His Spirit we can truly keep those laws in their spiritual intent.
The Kind of Mind to Cultivate
Notice the important question asked in Micah 6:6-7: “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God?… Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?” Is God going to be pleased with burnt offerings (physical works)? Shall we find approval from God with great tithes and offerings?
Now notice the startling answer in verse 8. “He hath showed you, O man, what is good; and what doth God require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Here is what God wants: He wants you to “love mercy.” Is there anything physical about that? Of course not. So be pursuing a merciful mind.
Are you happy when somebody who really deserves harsh punishment is forgiven and does not have to pay the penalty of sins? Are you sure?
What happens when somebody has wronged you? Do you secretly hope they will be punished – that they will have to pay the just recompense for slandering or harming you? We must come to have a merciful mind that just loves to see people forgiven and allowed to escape the deserved penalty for their sins. For this is the mind of Christ! This is the spiritual and mental yardstick by which we can measure and examine our own mind in every action of our lives.
The Greatness of God
“Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? . . . (Isa. 66:1.)
In effect, God is saying, “That vast expanse of the universe is all mine. The earth, which is so huge to you and to which you are limited, to me is about like something you would put your feet up on in your own home. This is just a part of my greatness. So what can you possibly do for me?
“ ‘For all those things hath my hand made . . .’ (verse 2) – look how puny your efforts are physically in comparison to the tremendous vastness of my creation in space and its awesome unmeasurable power!”
Can we do anything to compare with this? Of course not. Anything physical we would do in comparison with what God has already done is total futility.
But God will still come to know us, recognize us and ultimately use our spirit-in-man “record,” because of one thing. He will look at (or “look to”) us if each one of us is of a “poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my [God’s] word” (verse 2). Christ said that God seeks those who worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
Do you see anything here about physical accomplishments? Neither mental capacity nor a lack of it, nor race, nor sex, nor personal poverty can exclude any one of us from attaining to those things which God is looking for. A poverty-stricken paraplegic can still possess a poor and contrite spirit, for God is looking for something spiritual.
So acquiring and developing this spiritual character attribute must be our daily, hour-by-hour goal in life.
Moses will be in God’s Kingdom not because of what he did physically, but because he “was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3).
The meek are going to rule the earth (Matt. 5:5). Are you pursuing a goal of meekness? Don’t be deceived. It is not difficult to tell if you are one of the meek.
Meekness is totally different from feelings of inferiority. One who is meek is very teachable. He does not resent correction, regardless of the source from which it comes. You will not find a harsh, unbending or critical attitude in the spiritually minded keeper of the law. One who is meek is easily approached by family, friends and the ministers.
Moses took instruction and correction from a man beneath him in rank. Even with his vast experience in government in Pharaoh’s court and with the tremendous power that God had displayed through him, when his father-in-law came to him and told him he was wrong, Moses listened and learned (Ex. 18:13-27).
He did not take the attitude some of us display when one younger than ourselves gives a sermon or sermonette, or has a suggestion. Moses was not self-opinionated, or puffed up with his great office, or with his age or with what he had accomplished.
Was Moses merciful? When Miriam was struck with leprosy for criticizing Moses, he cried out to God to heal her instantly (Num. 12). Would this have been our attitude?
Why David Will Rule
Meekness, a broken and contrite spirit, and all of the other attributes of Matthew 5 form the yardstick by which we can measure ourselves in God’s eyes. It is not sufficient to put this on merely as a Sabbath façade, but it must be a continuous, ever-present goal in every activity – whether it is in our relationship with our employers, our wives or husbands, our children or any other human being.
Only this type of mind will be capable of safely handling the great power God is going to put in our hands.
Would you want a jealous, envious, revengeful type of person to rule over you? Obviously not. Neither does God.
Do you mentally hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matt. 5:6)? With deep emotion David said, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Ps. 119:18). Why? Because David realized his safety was not in wandering from the commandments of God. He knew that if his ways were directed by God’s law, he would not make mistakes and be ashamed (verses 6, 10).
But what did David do when he was cursed and had stones thrown at him? Did he take vengeance? Notice a spiritual mind in action when Abishai, David’s bodyguard, asked if he might destroy a man who deserved death. David replied: “If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’ . . . let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord has bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look on my affliction, and that the Lord will repay me with good for this cursing of me today” (II Sam. 16:10-12, RSV).
Would you react that way in similar circumstances?
David will be in God’s family not because of his military or other physical accomplishments, but because of his great spiritual strength and a mind that God and Christy will recognize. He loved God’s law and meditated on it – until, by means of the Holy Spirit, he came to understand the spirit of the law.
The Rest of the Story
What is the spirit of the law? The Pharisees were very strict keepers of the law. But Christ called them hypocrites because they missed the most important part of the law. Christ said: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith . . .” (Matt. 23:23).
Did you notice that the most important aspects of the law, the “weightier matters,” are good judgment (what we might call balance today), mercy and faith? These are spiritual things, And this is why “the law is spiritual” (Rom. 7:14).
“The law hath dominion over a man as long as he lives” (Rom. 7:1), but as true Christians “we should serve in the newness of the spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (verse 6).
You may not steal, but are you envious, jealous, stubborn or revengeful?
One of the biggest problems we have in the Church of God today is the breaking of the law of faith. But God says without faith it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6).
Can we begin to understand why David said, “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Ps. 119:165)? Or why Isaiah said, “The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever” (Isa. 32:17)?
Both David and Isaiah understood the spiritual purpose of the law. They had the mind of Christ! Do we?
The greatest expression of the mind of God is mercy. It caused Christ to be willing to die for and at the hands of those who deserved to die. In His most horrible moment, forsaken, beaten beyond recognition, He said: “Father, forgive them . . .” (Luke 23:34).
The same Jesus Christ was quoting from Hosea 6:6 – an Old Testament prophet – when He said: “Go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice” – why? – “for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matt. 9:13).
Have you learned what it means to have mercy?
(Editor’s note: As the above article shows, Jesus listed mercy as one of the three “weightier matters of the law” along with judgment and faith. Mercy itself is so important that according to James 2:19, “Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Hence mercy is, in that sense, even “weightier” than judgment. Mercy is very important to God and must also be very important to Christians.)