One of my goals for 2011 is to think more about living as if I believed what Jesus says is true. Of course, that means doing a little bit of reading about what Jesus said, right?
I’ve read the Bible cover to cover twice; I just finished the second time on December 31, 2010. But this time, I’m actually looking at the things Jesus said and trying to understand more what he taught.
Not everything he said is for me, for example. When he calls the disciples, he says he’ll make them fishers of men. When Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep, that’s a command for Peter. I suppose that symbolically, there is something in there for me, too. But I’m more interested in his teachings to the general followers.
Take the Beatitudes. There’s a lot in there – about being humble, repenting, showing mercy, being pure in heart, being peaceable, joyful and letting my light shine. He also talks about reconciliation and forgiveness and divorce.
Then in Matthew 9, vs 13, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees who are criticizing him for eating with sinners and tax collectors (interesting, they fell into the same category, eh? Not sinners and homosexuals, but sinners and tax collectors … but I digress …). He replies, “But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'”
That’s a phrase I actually read over and over in the Bible. This time, Jesus is referring to Hosea 6:6, which reads: “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”
Mercy is much more difficult to gave than a burnt offering or sacrifice, because mercy requires forgiveness, purity of heart, peacableness, joyfulness, humility, and repentence. You cannot give mercy unless you have been shown mercy, and true mercy comes from the God who has every reason to dismiss us for our disobedience and yet choses to love us and save us.
A sacrifice or burnt offering, however, is a tangible thing, or something we give up that we probably would have gladly given up anyway. That’s why in other places in the Bible God talks about mercy instead of sacrifice – because the Israelites were sacrificing the lame and blemished animals. That’s not sacrifice; that’s action for the sake of it.
So while there is much that Jesus taught in the NT, I keep going back to the OT, in Micah 6:8:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
It is the essence of what Jesus taught. In Mark 12, a scribe asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is.
29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. 30 And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
32 So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. 33 And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
And that pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?