Desiring mercy, not sacrifice

In my message a couple days ago about Jesus being “perfect theology”, I asked the question “does God shun sinners?” To which I answer emphatically NO, he welcomes them. There are many “proof texts” I could use, but the one that comes quickest to mind for me is this from Matthew – But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” This verse will always come quickly to my mind, it’s the verse that changed my life. I had never read through the Bible before, but the suggestion from my sponsor (I was open to suggestions at the time!!), I started to read. Matthew being the first book of the New Testament and all, that’s where I started. So I’m reading along, I don’t remember anything standing out to me. But then I come to that verse in chapter 9, and I just stopped. I literally went and re-read that at least 4 times, not sure if I had read it wrong. After all, it was in red letters! I live in America, I had heard so many different things about what Jesus had taught, but I had never heard that. I had always been told (or at least, understood) that you had to be “good” to go to God, go to heaven. But here’s Jesus plainly saying he didn’t come for the righteous, but for sinners. Sinners like me…

So, back to the present. There was an overdose yesterday. Apparently, there have been 8 this week in Calvert County, Maryland, where I live. They happen every week now, it’s just a part of life in the big city (or small town. Or even where you live). Usually it’s just something we hear about and move along, but sometimes it gets personal. This one was fatal. And it happened to be someone my family and I know very well. It happened in my neighborhood, to a daughter of a very good friend of my wife’s, a girl who had been a part of our in-home day care for 7-8 years as she grew up, a girl who had played with my children, been a daily part of life in my own home. She was not a “bad” person, was not “evil”, I would not say she was “wicked”. But she was troubled, she had struggles, as do all of us. And now her struggles have taken her life.

And now, some of you are wondering, “did she know the Lord?” By which you really are asking, “is she going to heaven or is she going to hell?” Because in our “economy” of salvation, you’re either in or your out. You’re either “saved” or you’re not. You’re either part of “the elect”, or you burn in fires of hell for the next 10 billion years. (Is that really part of a “beautiful gospel”?)

So, my answer to that question “did she know lord?” is simply that I don’t know. But she knows the lord now. But was she in or was she out? I don’t know. But I guess here’s my thought for today – if she’s not “in”, if there is an “in” and there is an “out” as some of us so vociferously believe, does that mean she’s burning in hell for the rest of eternity? 
 And my own answer to that question is another question, see if you can help me with this – “What would be the point of that?” And seriously, if you have thoughts on this, let me know, what would be the point of that?

Jesus is the friend of sinners. Yet we will all come before the judgment seat of Christ, this I know. Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead (BTW- this is all you must believe about the after-life to be considered orthodox in your beliefs). But what will that look like? I don’t know, but here are some of the things Jesus himself told us.  
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:12-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Jesus is the one who judges, right? He’s also the one tells us that it’s not the will of the father that any would be lost.
““But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”” Luke‬ ‭18:13-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬. Why do we so exalt ourselves, thinking “we” are the only ones who might be shown the mercy of Christ?

““If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew‬ ‭6:14-15‬ ‭NLT‬‬. Are we forgiving of sins against us? This will be a measure of our own judgment, does Jesus not tell us?
““Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭6:35‬ ‭NLT‬‬.  
Of course, this from Matthew 25 – ““Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”” Matthew‬ ‭25:44-46‬ ‭NLT‬‬
In case you don’t know, I don’t think it’s as simple as “in” or “out”. Don’t ask me for clear and easy answers, I don’t have them. But I have one answer – we will all stand before the judgement of Christ. I also know this – there is a mother and a father and a sister who are in hell today, this day, in this life.  
I pray that the light of Jesus Christ might wash over them, and their daughter, their families, their friends. I pray the love of Jesus Christ might wash over them and guide them through this dark time. I pray the light of the world will continue to overcome the darkness we see all around. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John‬ ‭1:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬. Amen.

“But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.””

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭9:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

John Lewis

4 thoughts on “Desiring mercy, not sacrifice

  1. I really enjoyed this post, but it’s kind of heartbreaking. There has been a lot of addiction and overdoses where I live too and I struggle to understand it all myself.

    I’m so glad you really heard those words from our Great Physician.

    As to hell, I’ve come to realize I can totally trust God and place others in his hands. As much as I love people, He loves them 100 times more. If I’m feeling a call to mercy, His wisdom and grace is even bigger than mine. I also know God’s justice is restorative, rather than punitive,like much of humankind believes. We think people are going to hell to teach them a lesson, which of course makes no sense because what would be the point? I do however, believe there is hell. If people can create a version of hell for themselves here on earth,than there’s something similar going on in the spiritual.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this response. Yes, it is definitely heartbreaking…

      I agree totally that God’s justice is restorative and nit retributive. We may be into retribution and vengeance, God is not.

      I do believe in hell as a place, but I’m just not so sure what it looks like. I do know we create plenty of our own hell right here, if we want to know what it looks like, we can look at the wars of God past 50 years, our impoverished neighbors certain nations around the world, even some of our own neighborhoods. It’s not hard to find, or see…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This dilemma regarding the two eternal destiny options has been agonized over by the learned and illiterate for centuries. Some literal preachers will shake a Bible in your face and say, “Well, there it is, in black and white. Without a public confession of faith in Jesus’ atoning blood, you’re hell-bound forever!” Or you can side with Universalists or Annihilationists. Recently a young man I was very fond of in my neighborhood died unexpectedly. I never met up with him long enough to present the gospel to him in a loving way. I thought we had time. The funeral clearly showed the family was unchurched and not familiar with Bible realities. I had prayed for him to come to his salvation for years. Now I’m left to hope that God heard my prayers and was kind and merciful to him in judgement. I agree that it’s not as simple as “in or out.” Some would judge that as heresy, but maybe it’s also heresy to presume that one might know the unfathomable depths of God’s purposes and character. Not long ago I was complaining to the Lord about not answering my prayers based on clear scriptural promises listed in the Bible. I clearly “heard” Him say “Don’t put Me in a box.” That response has changed my perspective on many aspects of my Christian life. I’m going to stick with Mark 10:27 and believe that with God, “all things are possible.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. amen brother. Sorry I’m so late responding. Thank you for your comment. I don’t know about the young man who was lost, hopefully he has found his way home. Those who believe not believing in “in or out” theology is heresy simply don’t understand what heresy is. Historically in the church, heresies had to do with the divinity of the Christ, or the Holy Trinity. What we certainly know very little (nearly nothing in fact) is what, exactly, happens when we die. Jesus spoke very little of it, was very vague and not specific at all. But – clearly Jesus BELIEVED in the bodily resurrection at the “last day”, and was himself physically resurrected. We, apparently, will be with him in a place he call paradise until this “last day” comes, but the great Christian hope is still, despite gnostic influence of our disembodied souls living on forever, is the bodily resurrection at the “last day”.

    We can’t even keep this straight, but we are going to tell everyone else about heaven and hell. Looks to me, mostly, like we participate in making this world we live in its own form of hell…

    Liked by 1 person

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