August 15, 2021 I Desire Mercy

I Desire Mercy



Read Matthew 9:9-13.


Matthew, the author of the gospel, records his own calling. From verse 10 the passage shows a short dialogue with Jesus at Matthew’s own house. Verse 10 says that many tax collectors were eating there with Jesus. This makes sense since Matthew would have invited his friends. The only friends he would have had would be other tax collectors. Tax collectors are not liked in our own day. But they were really despised in Israel. They were viewed as traitors to the nation, working on behalf of the Roman government. And, all of them collected more than they were required to do and so lined their own pockets.


And, many “sinners” were eating there, too. This describes those who flaunted God’s laws. It would include prostitutes, drunkards, and drug users.


The Pharisees found this offensive. Even though they expressed objection to this (via their question) to his disciples, Jesus heard it. And he answers them:


But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. [1]


What did our Lord mean by this? Is there anyone who is well with respect to their sin before they come to Christ? The answer is no. The reason no one is well is because of sin and our inability to have our sins taken away. Only faith in Christ can take away our sins. When Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician,” he meant that those who think they are well do not seek help. This was the condition of the Pharisees. They thought they were well. In reality, they were just as bad off as the prostitutes and drunkards. This is also the condition of most people in the world. They think they are fine because they may not be guilty of the more obvious sins. But they fail to see their own pride, their own selfishness, their own gluttony, and their own lust. Everyone needs a physician. And only the Great Physician will do!


Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” [2]


Again, when Jesus says  that he does not come to call the righteous, he means that he is not calling those who think they are righteous. In reality, there is no one who is righteous except God alone. Jesus calls those who recognize their sin and seek deliverance.


He says that the Pharisees need to “go and learn.” This is what all must do. All must go. That is, don’t just sit around and wait for something to come to you. You must go. You must seek the truth. All must learn. We are all ignorant of the truths of God. Yet, we must not remain in our ignorance. If we do, there will be no hope. We must learn what God has spoken. God has not left us in our ignorance. He has given us a book whose very source is God Himself. God has spoken!


What were the Pharisees supposed to learn? It was just six words: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”


These are the words of God. God is saying that he desires mercy over sacrifice. This is a quote from the book of Hosea. It is presented as hyperbole. That is, God does desire sacrifice. This is clear from a multitude of verses under both covenants. But, to God it is more important to exhibit mercy than to offer sacrifices. God does want you to offer sacrifices, but he desires that you show mercy to others moreso!


The matter of mercy is of vital importance. We both need mercy ourselves and we must be those who show it to others.


What is mercy? “In his mercy, God shields sinners from what they deserve and gives gifts that they do not deserve.” [3]


Mercy, in its simplest meaning, is not giving the sinner his due. But it goes beyond this and includes the favor of God. So, mercy includes grace. Often, these words appear together:


Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love. [4]


God is described by mercy!


Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,[5]


One of his titles is “The Father of mercies!”


But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,[6]


Our God is rich in mercy! Because God is merciful we need to be also.


First, though, we need a good understanding of our own need for mercy. Every person needs it but not all see their need. The one who has not yet come to Christ for salvation has a great need for the mercy of God. Every sin, every transgression of God’s law, every wicked thought, is retained upon the soul until the mercy of God comes to a person. This mercy comes through the work of the Spirit opening a person’s eyes to their own sin and through the work of Christ on the cross taking away the sin of the penitent.


There is some confusion on this point. God does not grant his mercy without repentance. A person must turn away from their sin and repudiate it in order for them to experience the mercy of God. Just this past week I was conversing with a young lady who was living with her boyfriend and had two children by him. Even though he was not employed, in years past he had supported them and had not abandoned them. That is to his credit. I explained to her that she was living in direct disobedience to the Lord and was, therefore, in sin. She replied that she prayed daily and always asked God to forgive her sin. I further explained that God does not forgive sin without repentance. She then replied that, “Everyone sins. No one is perfect.” In other words, she did not see the seriousness of spurning God’s words. In her mind, you just live the way you wish and ask God to forgive your sins without turning away from them. I reaffirmed the clear revelation of God that without repentance there is no forgiveness, no reception of mercy (Jeremiah 8:6; Psalm 7:12; Ezekiel 18:32; Luke 13:3-5; 15:10; 17:3; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; 11:18; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20; Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:15; 6:12; 2 Cor. 7:10; Rev. 9:20-21; 16:9-11). I think that she finally understood. May the Lord use my words to bring conviction and repentance.


If a person trusts in the Person of Christ and the work of Christ with a repentant heart they will receive the mercy of God and the forgiveness of sins! Thank you, Lord! If you need to do that, neither put it off nor make it some vague thought. Make it definitive. Tell the Lord that you hate your sin and that you renounce it. And, trust in Christ to deliver you. Your trust brings the reality of forgiveness.


The lost person needs mercy. But the child of God needs mercy too! Throughout the OT we see God’s people, who were already in a covenant relationship with Yahweh, asking God for his mercy when they recognized their waywardness. One example from David’s life will suffice:


Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your steadfast love;

       according to your abundant mercy

blot out my transgressions.

2    Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

and cleanse me from my sin! [7]


King David was already in covenant with Yahweh but he called upon the mercy of God.


The essentiality of mercy even to God’s own people continues under the new covenant:


Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. [8]


As we read the gospels, a short but powerful prayer is seen several times. It has come to be known as “the Jesus Prayer.” It has been practiced for over a millennia by the Eastern Orthodox church. In recent times, evangelicals have begun using it. It is a biblical prayer, so we ought to use it.


It appears in the gospels in slightly different words each time. “The Jesus Prayer,” as it is has been recited for centuries, has been formulated from all these accounts and it looks like this in its fullest form:


Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.


It is also found in this form:


      Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.


And still shorter:


Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.


Any of these forms may be used. Marvelous testimonies have been heard regarding the change God’s own people have experienced using this prayer. One key is repetition. Not meaningless repetition, but sincere repetition. And so, the two blind men in Matthew 20:30-31 who pray the simple prayer do so repetitively until Jesus answers them. It has been recommended that it be recited at least ten times. Interestingly, Christian counselors who had their clients recite the short prayer ten times, discovered that it brought more peace to their subjects than the counseling itself!


Here is the simplicity of it all: Even as God’s people, we need the mercy of the Lord. There are sins that we fall into that the Lord will always forgive as soon as we confess them (I John 1:9). Never take your sin lightly. When you fall, confess immediately and resolve to live faithfully. But you know, do you not, that even though the Lord always forgives us upon confession, he may need to discipline us in order to teach us to mortify that sin? He does! Unless you like discipline, then it is a good thing to implore God’s mercy so he will not discipline us or at least not discipline us severely.


There may be other sins of which we are ignorant. These are reasons to implore the Lord’s mercy often.


And, because the Lord is merciful and kind, he will surely grant us mercy if we ask for it! Praise Him! “Thank you, Lord for your mercy!”


This is the very reason why we must be merciful, because the Lord is so merciful to us!


When Jesus quotes Hosea speaking on behalf of the Lord, saying, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” he shows that God requires us to be merciful to others. The mercy that God desires is our mercy granted to others. Who?


In Hosea’s day, the Israelites were taking advantage of each other. They were failing to be merciful. Thus, we must show mercy to our brothers and sisters in the faith. We will offend one another simply by frequency of interaction. We naturally say things and do things that are insensitive on occasion. Just show mercy when you are on the receiving end! As we walk in the path of faith, don’t make a big hill out of a small bump on the path.


But observe how Jesus applies this passage. He applies it to tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees avoided these people because of their sin. Christians can fall into this habit, too. The truth be told, no one deserves the friendship or even companionship of a child of God. Jesus showed mercy to the rebellious ones in eating with them and teaching them, for he always used opportunities to speak about the kingdom of God. We, too, can show mercy to the lost ones by spending time with them and speaking the word of God to them.


See then, the essentiality of mercy. We need mercy ourselves. And, we ought to ask for it often. Use the Jesus Prayer in all its simplicity. As you do, you will experience the presence of the Lord and his peace will come upon you.


God desires mercy from you. Show it to your spouse, your children, and your brothers and sisters in Christ. Show it to the lost. Don’t let a person’s sin keep you from reaching out.


Christ is speaking these words to you today: I desire mercy.








[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 9:12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 9:13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Jn 3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 1:3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 2:4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 51:1–2). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 4:16). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.