Novemeber 28, 2021 Mercy Is Better Than Sacrifice

Mercy is Better than Sacrifice

Nov. 28, 2021



Read Matthew 12:1-8.


Verse 1 begins, “At that time…” This means that the events which Matthew describes are related to what Jesus has just spoken at the end of chapter eleven. There, Jesus described Himself as the true rest. He said, “Come to me…and I will give you rest.” (vs. 28)


The Pharisees accuse the disciples of breaking the Sabbath law. No work was to be done on the Sabbath. What constitutes work? The OT only gives a few examples. In order to answer this question, among many others pertaining to the law of God, the scribes created what is known as the Mishnah. This was a guide to the Jews to help them understand and put into practice the law of God. “It was a major concern of the scribes to work out more specific rules so that everyone could be sure what was and was not permissible.”[1] They worked out 39 categories of activity which were to be classified as “work.” These were quite specific and included such things as writing more than one letter, erasing more than one letter, moving anything, travelling more than a half mile, and reaping and threshing grain.


God has instituted the Sabbath to give man rest. But the scribes and Pharisees had instituted so many regulations as to actually make Sabbath-keeping a burden. Their regulations made life more difficult, not less difficult!


“When the Lord called people into rest, His disciples were hungry. For this reason, He brought them to the grain fields, fields growing wheat. No doubt He knew that these fields were rather ripe, full of ears good for eating. The Lord Jesus purposely did this. Realizing that His disciples were hungry, He took them to the grain fields for rest. This is a sign. The call to come to Him for rest given in chapter eleven was sounded on the Sabbath day. This is proved by the words “at that time” which begin chapter twelve. The Sabbath was a day of rest. On the day of rest the Lord called people into rest. He seemed to be saying, “You people are keeping the Sabbath, yet you are still laboring and striving to keep the law. You are heavily burdened with all the laws, rituals, forms, and regulations. Although you are keeping the Sabbath outwardly, actually you do not have any rest. You need to come to Me. You labor and are burdened with the matter of law keeping. Come to Me, and you will find rest.” Peter and John might have said, “We are hungry and cannot rest. We need something to eat.” But that day was the Sabbath, and virtually all activity had ceased. Hence, it was difficult for the disciples to find anything to eat. Knowing this, the Lord Jesus took them into the grain fields.”[2]


The Pharisees didn’t care about the hunger of the disciples, only about their regulations. It is very doubtful that what the disciples did was a violation of God’s law. It was only a violation of the Mishnah, man’s law. But Jesus does not make that point when he is accused. He assumes, for the sake of argument, that they did break God’s law in an outward way. He assumes it to make a greater point. He could have easily said, “You foolish Pharisees! There was no violation of the law here. For you to think that merely picking some grains and rubbing them to get to the kernals, just to eat, is work shows how perverted your thinking is.” Rather, he lets them think that his disciples broke the law in order to show them who he is.


He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?[3]


After his disciples were accused, he begins his reply by asking, “Have you not read…” He expected them to have read God’s word. Not only read it, but he expected them to understand what they read. The Lord still has this expectation. He expects those who purport to follow God to read his word. And, he expects them to understand what they read. (If anyone has trouble understanding what they read, they can go to the Lord in prayer and ask for enlightenment. They can ask the teachers in their local church for illumination.)


Why was it that David was exempt from the law? The Lord does not state why he was exempt, just that he was. However, reading the account in I Samuel 21, we can discern the two reasons that apply even more forcefully to Jesus and his disciples. The priest at the temple, Ahimelech, was told that David was on a mission for the king (Saul was king at this time). This means that he was an emissary for the king and that he was on a holy mission (his men had kept themselves pure). Because he was an emissary for the king and because he was on a holy mission he could eat the showbread that, by law, only the priests could eat. Now, someone greater than David is here. If David and his men were exempt, by virtue of who David was, then Jesus and his disciples are exempt, by virtue of who Jesus is.


Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? [4]


The priests, on the Sabbath, perform work. They must prepare and butcher animal sacrifices and make the ceremonial loaves. Yet, they are not guilty of breaking the Sabbath because the temple is greater than the Sabbath.


Jesus is greater than the temple; therefore, he is greater than the Sabbath.


And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.[5]


The primary reason why his disciples are not guilty is because of who Jesus is. But Jesus does not leave the pettiness and hypercriticism of the Pharisees unaddressed. The law which states, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” was known by the Pharisees. But they knew only the words. They didn’t embrace the meaning, the truth, of what the words represent. The disciples were hungry. It was a merciful matter to allow them to eat. It is so simple a child can understand it. But hard hearts sometimes miss simple things. “Lord, save me from the hardness of my own heart! Amen.”


This statement by the Lord, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” is somewhat amazing when you consider it. First, you must know that the Lord does desire sacrifice and is very pleased with it! So, why does he say that he does not desire sacrifice? It is a figure of speech known as hyperbole. The Lord is saying that, even though he is pleased with sacrifice, he is even more pleased when we show mercy! He is so much more pleased with mercy that it is as if he doesn’t desire sacrifice at all. But he does! Let us see this.


What is a sacrifice? A sacrifice is the giving to the Lord something that is very valuable to us. Of course, we can make sacrifices for those we love, too. But, here the Lord is speaking about sacrifices to God. Under the old covenant, the Israelites were required to make many sacrifices. As they lived in an agrarian and animal husbandry type of society, their sacrifices consisted of the best animals – those without defect – and the first (and best) portion of their crops.


God both desired and commanded these sacrifices.


Remember when Jonah finally repented in the belly of the great fish? The final words of his prayer of repentance were these:


“But as for me, I will sacrifice to You

With the voice of thanksgiving.

That which I have vowed I will pay.

Salvation belongs to Yahweh.”[6]

What was on a restored Jonah’s mind was to offer a sacrifice to God. He no sooner said these words when Yahweh responds favorably:


Then Yahweh spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.[7]


Mary and Joseph, eight days after the birth of Jesus, offered a sacrifice to the Lord:


And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”[8]


Because Joseph and Mary were poor, they didn’t offer a lamb. They could offer two birds instead. These birds were a sacrifice according to law, but they were also a personal sacrifice for the couple. This was a meal that they could have had for their family. But they offered it to God. How many modern Christians will skip a meal and offer the value of that meal to the Lord’s work? I think few. When is the last time you skipped a meal?


“Those passages are under the old covenant, Pastor.” But, God is still pleased with sacrifices under the new covenant!


We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints[9]


See that this passage describes a sacrifice from the churches in Greece. The disciples in that part of the world were in “extreme poverty!” Not just poverty. Extreme poverty! Yet, they gave money generously for the help of the saints in Jerusalem. If you live in extreme poverty and you give generously that is a sacrifice!


I remember when I was in college, with a very tiny income (I was selling housing insulation to pay my way through and not making very much!), I still gave as often as I received anything to the church which is, according to revelation, giving to God.


God is still pleased with sacrifices of our means, such as money.


When the Philippian church sent money to Paul, the apostle called it a sacrifice:


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.[10]


Not only was their monetary gift to Paul a sacrifice, he says that it is pleasing to God.


God not only desires us to sacrifice money for him but even our bodies!


Therefore I exhort you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – living, holy, and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.[11]


Remember what a sacrifice is. It is giving something to the Lord that is valuable to us. Except for the indigent, giving $10 is not a sacrifice. But giving $200 may be. We are to present our bodies as a sacrifice. There are things that we do with our bodies that bring us pleasure and so that activity is desirable for us. We are commanded to give those things up. The three bodily desires that cause us problems are sex, indulgence of food, and hankering after comfort. There is a place for all three of these things. It is when these activities either cause harm to our bodies or spirits, or when they keep us from the Lord’s work, that we need to be on guard and sacrifice those bodily activities.


So, then, it is clear that God desires and is pleased with our sacrifices. But, he loves us to show mercy even more!


We ourselves have been the recipients of tremendous mercy from the Lord. Not only have we received mercy when we first came to the Lord, but we have received mercy countless times as a disciple. Therefore, we ought to show mercy to others.


Jesus made this statement because the Pharisees were not being merciful to the disciples. They were hungry, but the Pharisees didn’t care. We need to be sensitive to the needs of others, especially those who seem to be lacking in many areas.


We can be merciful to those who have not yet come to the Lord. And, we can be merciful to those who belong to him. The Lord is so pleased with you when you are merciful! When we are stingy with our time or our resources then the Lord is not pleased with us.


We have an opportunity to show mercy this very week. Don’t allow the opportunity to pass you by. Sacrifice your time and your comfort but, even more, show mercy!





[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 455.

[2] Witness Lee, Life-Study of Matthew, Message Thirty-two.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 12:3–4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 12:5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 12:7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] Legacy Standard Bible (2021). (Jon 2:9). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[7] Legacy Standard Bible (2021). (Jon 2:10). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 2:22–24). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 8:1–4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Php 4:18). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] Legacy Standard Bible (2021). (Ro 12:1). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.