MERCY AND NOT SACRIFICE
Some Thoughts by
GARY RAY BRANSCOME


"If ye had known what this means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless." (Matthew 12:7, Hosea 6:6)

    The verse quoted above tells us that the law of Moses did not require sacrifice because God likes the shedding of blood, but because He wanted His people to look to Him for mercy (Psalm 13:5). In short, those sacrifices were instituted, from the beginning, to testify of Christ, and any promise of forgiveness connected with them was a promise of forgiveness in Christ (John 5:39, Galatians 3:8,22). Therefore, while such sacrifices assured those living under the law of God's mercy, as we look back to what was done at that time, they help us to understand the significance of Christ's death in our stead.

BAPTISM


    As simple as that truth is, relatively few understood. Most just assumed that God was pleased by what they did. However, people make the same mistake today when they assume that baptism is an act of obedience. The same God who said, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice" is saying to us, "I will have mercy, and not an act of "obedience," yet they do not hear. They simply cannot understand that because baptism was instituted, to testify of Christ, the promise of forgiveness connected with baptism is a promise of forgiveness in Christ. Or to put it another way, even though God uses the ceremony to give us His promise, it is only through personal faith in Christ that we receive what is promised (Galatians 3:22, Acts 2:38 and 22:16). Dr. Walter A. Maier put it this way:

Do not be misled by those who say that Baptism is not important. They contradict Christ. They put their own opinion above Scripture. Take Jesus at His word, and you will find that through Baptism – and I mean of course, not merely the performance of the ritual itself, but by your personal faith in Jesus and in His promise – the Holy Ghost unmistakably comes to you." (The Power of Pentecost, 1943, from the book America Turn To Christ.)

THE LORD'S SUPPER


    Like baptism, the Lord's Supper was instituted to point us to Christ as the source of all forgiveness. And, Christ uses that ceremony to tell those who come that His body was given and His blood shed, for them for the remission of sins (Luke 22:19-20). For that reason, His Supper is far more than a meaningless act of obedience, for when Christ tells us that His body and blood were given and shed for us, he is telling us that we have forgiveness through His death. And everyone who goes away believing that they have forgiveness through His death, actually has that forgiveness (Galatians 3:22, Romans 5:2). Luther put it this way:

Now, this great treasure is conveyed and communicated to us in no other way than through the words “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”… Whosoever believes these words has what the words declare and bring. … And inasmuch as He offers and promises forgiveness of sins, there is no other way of receiving it than by faith. (Luther’s Large Catechism)

    To better understand why the Lord's Supper was instituted, try to visualize a poor peasant woman who longs for assurance of God's mercy and forgiveness. Although she is illiterate, and her pastor is not preaching the gospel as he should, she believes that when she comes to the Lord's Supper she will receive Christ's body and blood for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28). Therefore, by accepting Christ's body and blood as they are offered in the lord's Supper, she is in effect accepting Christ as her savior. For to accept Christ's body and blood for the remission of sins, is to accept Christ, and believing that you have forgiveness in Christ, is what faith in Christ is all about. Thus, by faith she actually does receive Christ's body and blood, not as food but as the atonement for her sin. Perhaps that is what led John Bunyan (the Baptist Apostle of England) to say:

During this time when I thought of the blessed ordinance of Christ which was His last supper with His disciples before His death, the Scripture, "Do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19), was made very precious to me. By it the Lord came upon my conscience with the discovery of His death for my sins, and as I then felt, it was as if He plunged me in the virtue of the same... After that I have been usually very well and comfortable in the partaking of that blessed ordinance, and have, I trust, discerned the Lord's body as broken for my sins and that His precious blood has been shed for my transgressions. (From the book, "Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners," by John Bunyan, pages 146-147)
 

THE LAW OF GOD

 
    Just as animal sacrifice, baptism and the Lord's Supper were all instituted to point people to Christ as the source of forgiveness, the law itself was instituted to point us to Christ by showing us our sin and need for forgiveness (Galatians 3:24). Therefore, even when God's law called for adulterers and homosexuals to be put to death, the aim was to bring them to repentance. Moreover, when we consider the stubborn refusal of most homosexuals to acknowledge any wrongdoing, it becomes evident that without such punishments, few are likely to repent (Exodus 22:16-21, Leviticus 20:10-16).

    For that reason, those who refuse to condemn sins of adultery and homosexuality actually hate those who are guilty of such sins, for if they really cared about those people they would want them to repent, instead of encouraging unrepentance. If our government actually punished those guilty of adultery or homosexuality, and our society backed up the government in taking such action, far fewer people would commit such sins. Moreover, those who did would feel condemned and unclean, would dread the thought of anyone finding out, and would very likely desire God’s forgiveness while wishing that they had never committed the sin to begin with.

CONCLUSION


    Throughout history God has reached out to people with mercy only to have most of them harden themselves in unrepentance (Matthew 23:37). Therefore, if we really want to see souls saved, we need to stop using the law in a vain attempt to make people righteous, and start pointing them to Christ for mercy.