On May, 1 the church I pastor replaced our regularly scheduled Sunday services with “acts of service,” performing service projects for organizations throughout our community. It’s the second year we’ve done so.
At the “pre-service” kick-off that morning, I read portions of Isaiah 1:2,11-17:
Hear me you heavens! Listen, earth!
For the LORD has spoken:
“The multitude of your sacrifices –
What are they to me?” says the LORD.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams, and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
Stop bringing meaningless offering!
Your incense is detestable to me…
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me…
When you spread to your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you…
This was breaking news.
Universe-wide – “Heavens and earth.”
God tells us what matters to Him
Incense? Detestable to Him.
Feasts and festivals? Hates them. A burden to Him.
Prayer? He doesn’t hear.
Sacrifices? Surely He values the sacrifices! That’s how they dealt with sin. Sacrifices
served as the basis for the whole redemption system.
But look at these words:
“What are they to me?”
“I’ve had more than enough…”
“I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.”
Wait. What? God doesn’t like blood sacrifices? This really is breaking news!
A quick cross-reference took me here:
“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings” (Psalm 51:16).
“Sacrifices and meal offerings You have not desired…Burnt offerings and sin offerings You have not required (Psalm 40:6).
“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).
It sounds like sin offerings and sacrifices for sin are not at the top of God’s list of priorities for us. Does that shock you? It kind of does me.
So what is?
The answer is seen in what Isaiah continues to write:
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow ” (Isaiah 1:17).
Here’s the answer through the prophet Hosea:
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).
Jesus picks up the theme in a rumble with the religious leaders and tells them, “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13).
Jesus repeats the idea in Matthew 12:7 when the Pharisees criticized him for letting his disciples pluck grain on the Sabbath.
Twice, Jesus tells us to go learn what it means when God says he desires mercy, not sacrifice.
Jesus is telling us to go back to school. I wonder how many of us missed this lesson. Why haven’t we taught the lesson? Why have we mixed up God’s priorities?
One of my all-time favorite Christian songs was written and recorded by Steven Curtis Chapman, “The Walk.”
Chapman based his song on these words from Micah:
“Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
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.”
Is the title of this post true? “If it matters to God, it should matter to us.”
I told the people before we took to the streets that, to the best of my understanding, we were doing that day what mattered to God.
What do we learn?
What really matters to God?