Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Go and learn what this means...

God interrupted my Haiti-saturated world to smack in the face with an idea these last few days.
Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,' for I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Matthew 9:13
Do you ever chop up a scripture and miss something important? If you just said no, then obviously you're an extra terrestrial or a golden retriever and I'm honored that you're taking time to read my blog between television appearances.

I, however, am a human and I've been guilty of chopping this verse in two right on the "for". (Side note, will somebody PLEASE tell me where the period belongs in that sentence!?)

In so doing, I've beheaded Jesus's statement about the kind of people He calls to repentance: "not the righteous, but sinners." Without its head, this statement seems obvious and easy to dismiss; of course Jesus came to call the sinners to repentence, the righteous have no need to repent.

The sneaky hidden question, then, is "Who are the righteous?"

Be honest, didn't you just place yourself in the good guys camp? Don't be embarassed, most of us do, it's instinct. We are always the good guys; we are always the "us" in the "us versus them."

But riddle this for me: if I'm righteous and Jesus came for the sinners, he didn't come for me, did he? If I'm well and Jesus came for the sick...he didn't come for me, did he?


Let's put the head back on this scripture, "Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy not sacrifice.'" Jesus is quoting from the prophet, Hosea:
For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings, Hosea 6:6
I know the bible is not constructed in chronological order, but I consider the prophets, like Hosea, as a kind of buffer between the Old Testament and the New Testament. It was through the prophets that God really brought home this new way of relating to him, personally and intimately, rather than through priests and sacrifices.

So what does this "new" idea about relationship with God have to do with the fact that Jesus came to call sinners and not the righteous? Well, the people who fulfilled the OT law of sacrifices were the righteous, so to speak. But the reality is that no one really could fulfill the Old Testament law, no one really was righteous under its tenets, they all fell short in some way, but there were some who seemed to.
If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eight day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. Phil 3:4-6
This is the Apostle Paul talking, in case you were wondering. If anyone was in the righteous camp, it was Him. Let me be clear here, because I think we can miss something important when we read about Paul: he did everything right.

According to his culture, his society, his religion and his family, he was perfect. And God didn't want him.

He didn't want him like that anyway, God doesn't want sacrifices. He doesn't want the law. Because God came to call not the righteous but sinners. God wants sinners...what?

God doesn't want people to sin but he wants sinners? This seems kind of confusing. And it is, it was even to the early church:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? Romans 6:1
The entire book of Romans addresses this weird paradox that we face. It will take the rest of your life to figure it out but let me just highlight one point here, because I think it is key:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, Rom 3:21

See this is what Jesus and Hosea were talking about. Those sacrifices and burn offerings? God doesn't want them because he has taken true "righteousness" and manifested it separately from them.

I love that word, manifest. It means to make visible or able to be sensed (seen, heard, touched, smelled, tasted). I like to think it means to "put skin on" something. Not coincidentally, the bible uses this word to describe Jesus:
Without controversy, great is the mystery of Godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, 1 Tim 3:16
So, how was righteousness "manifested" separate from the law?
...the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. Romans 3:22
God doesn't want that righteousness that Paul had, "the righteousness that came through the law," He wants love, not sacrifices. Do you know what happened when God took righteousness away from the law and put it in faith in Jesus?

Sing it with me...
...there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23
This is why Jesus doesn't want "righteous" law-abiding men like Paul! Because He wrote a new law in love. He manifested that new law inside the womb of a virgin and named Him "Jesus. "

He came to call sinners because we're all sinners.

When Paul said, that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief," (1 Timothy 1:15) he wasn't being falsely humble. He wasn't just beating himself up over the whole "stoning Stephen" thing (Acts 8:1). He got it: he was absolutely no different from any other sinner on earth.
This is the truth Jesus was asking his disciples to "go and learn" because if they couldn't understand that concept, that righteousness existed outside of the things that they did, they were going to miss everything Jesus was about.

This is the truth that Paul was trying to explain to the church in Rome.

This is the truth that Martin Luther fought so hard for during the Reformation, it's the foundation of modern Christianity: Sola Fide, by faith alone.

So, why did I just take 3 pages to tell you something that you already know?

Because like the disciples, like the Roman church, like the 16th century church, we still don't get it! We're still counting ourselves with the "good guys." We're still fighting for our righteousness with sacrifices and offerings.

Don't think so? What are the things that make you "feel" Christian?

Going to church
giving to charity
being sexually pure
...not lying
...not swearing
...not drinking or partying
...not celebrating Halloween

Maybe these are good lifestyle choices, but they are sacrifices and burnt offerings. If this is the basis of your righteousness then Jesus didn't come to earth to call you; you're still hanging out with the Saul version of Paul, a Christian of Christians. You have to understand that when Paul said in Romans 3 that there is  now "no difference" between the law-abiding and the rest of us, he means that there is NO DIFFERENCE, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

We have to embrace this idea. God help me, I have to embrace this idea. I have to stop piling up altar-stones to hide my sin. God doesn't want them, He wants my love.

I am a sinner
I am a sinner
I am a sinner

And Jesus came for me.


  1. Nice post :)
    Periods and commas ALWAYS go inside quotation marks :P

  2. Thanks Lizzie :) I've read that but I question it EVERY time :D