Go and find out what this means!

Jesus got fussed at a lot.

A lot.

In Matthew 9, Jesus finds himself, once again, being fussed at by the Pharisees for partying with tax collectors at Matthew’s house. Jesus’ response? “Go and find out what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice'” (Matthew 9:13). Jesus uses this same phrase again in Matthew 12:7. In both instances Jesus is channeling the prophet Hosea, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). I particularly enjoy the interpretation given by the NLT: “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.”

Go and find out what this means!

Perhaps there is not an exhortation in the whole of scripture that needs more desperately to be pondered by Christians today than this sentence that Jesus says to the Pharisees on two separate occasions.

You see, in America, we are people of sacrifice. It is the foundation of our economic system. We get compensated for a sacrifice of labor. Often times the rate of your compensation is determined by the years you sacrificed getting whatever college or post-graduate degree you have attained.

Sacrifice is about transaction.

How many Christians view their salvation as a transaction and use their self-perceived sacrifice as the basis of putting themselves on a higher moral ground than the “lazy,” “selfish,” “sinful” people that surround them? In doing so, do we not sacrifice others on the alter of our own self-righteousness?

I desire mercy, not sacrifice.

Go and find out what this means!

So what does this mean? What does it mean to be a person of mercy rather than a person of sacrifice? I’ve been wrestling with this for, honestly, a period of several months. But before we look at what it means for us, let’s look at what it meant for Jesus?

20130208-225834.jpgIn John 8 the Pharisees bring to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery. The biblical law of Moses was clear. They were commanded to stone her to death. Yet Jesus delivers his famous response, “You who are without sin cast the first stone.” As they drop their stones and walk away one by one, Jesus says to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I, go and sin no more.”

Undoubtedly someone will read this and immediately point out that Jesus’ lack of condemnation doesn’t mean he didn’t point out her sin. While that is true, she is given the means of being convicted by her sin precisely in Jesus’ lack of condemnation for that sin.

Here were accusers standing up for God’s law, ready to sacrifice this woman on the alter of that very law.

Yet, in that moment, Jesus stood with the woman, as her advocate, extending her mercy, not sacrifice.

I desire mercy, not sacrifice.

Go and find out what that means!

What this story teaches us is that whether we are a person of mercy or a person of sacrifice can be clearly determined by where we are standing in the culture wars of our day. So let me make this clear.

Are you ready?

Wait for it…

DON’T STAND UP FOR JESUS.

Yes, you read that correctly. Don’t stand up for Jesus. First of all, Jesus is God, he doesn’t need you to stand up for him. I find this quote from longtime Duke Divinity professor, Stanley Hauerwas, to be really helpful here, “Never think that you need to protect God. Because anytime you think you need to protect God, you can be sure that you are worshipping an idol.” So there you have it.

DON’T STAND UP FOR JESUS.

INSTEAD…

STAND WITH JESUS.

You see, in the name of “standing up for Jesus,” I have seen far too many Christians assume the role of accuser. And just so you know, when you do this, you are actually being the anti-Christ as you take the side of Satan and join him in his role of accuser (Revelation 12:10). Was that sharp enough? Those, however, who stand with Jesus join him in his role as the advocate for sinners (1 John 2:1).

I am convinced that the real battle in our culture war is not between liberals and conservatives but between advocates and accusers.

Too often these accusers are Christians who, like Peter, are standing up for Jesus with sword in hand, or like the Pharisees, with a stone in hand, ready to attack. But I am convinced that the closer we are to Jesus, the less we will want to throw rocks at people. So let’s, instead, stand with Jesus as he courageously advocates for the accused.

After all, accusation does not bring about conviction for sinful behavior. Accusation brings about defensiveness. When people are attacked for their behaviors or beliefs, they take consolation in their persecution, which becomes “injustice,” regardless of whether it’s warranted or not.

Therefore the primary stance that Christians should be taking is that of advocate – telling people in the world that God loves them and has provided a means for us to live in authentic, richly meaningful community together. Sin should be dealt with inside the community of people who share the common presumption of God’s mercy that makes speaking the truth in love both possible and productive.

We should absolutely vote for our convictions in political elections. And I think we can speak out on our convictions publicly insofar as they are relevant to actual decision-making processes like city council meetings and so forth. But to spend all our time sharing articles, signing petitions, eating at Chick-Fil-A on “Chick-Fil-A-Day” and making snarky comments on the Internet in the never-ending, time-sucking meme war that has nothing to do with building the kingdom is a waste of God’s time and yours.

When we accuse, we are under the dominion of Satan. As Christians, our vocation is to love Satan out of the world in the same way that Jesus showed us. Furthermore, love is a much more compelling argument than even the most ruthlessly impeccable logic. People who are advocates like Jesus don’t condone bigotry or any other sin. They simply realize that love is always the first step and arguing with people outside of a covenant disciple relationship is not the Biblical method for spiritual growth and sanctification from sin.

There’s definitely a place for public prophecy in confronting the sins of society, and I’m not always sure where the line falls between prophecy and accusation. But I do know that when Jesus was confronted with a sinner caught in the act of adultery, he took her side over her accusers. We should do likewise anytime we see people having their character assassinated, especially when they are ideological opponents, because “the insults that fall on [them] have fallen on [our savior]” (Romans 15:3). Paul offers a critically important distinction in 1 Corinthians 13:6, “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” Yes, tell the truth, by all means. Speak truth to power. But don’t take pleasure in exposing other peoples’ evil, however legitimate, because when you delight in evil, you are doing the work of Satan.

The loudest words that people should hear from Christians are not the accusations that the Accuser exploits to keep people eternally separated from God, but the invitation from our Advocate for sinners to come to His table and eat.

Our God, in Christ desires mercy, not sacrifice.

Go and find out what this means!

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