But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Matthew 9:13
Jesus challenged the religious crowd of His day. But go ye and learn what that meaneth. He was referencing a passage of Old Testament scripture, spoken by Hosea, which should have been familiar to them. For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6
Like so many of us, they did not take the time to understand the meaning of his words. They heard his words, but they did not listen to them; hence, they knew what was said, but not what it meant…because later on Jesus says to them, But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. Matthew 12:7
Under the letter of the law, sacrifices were offerings made to God on account of sin or as a demonstration of thanksgiving. They were commonly the bloody offerings of slain animals; signifying that the sinner offering them deserved to die himself. Old Testament sacrificial offerings were the principal part of the worship of the Jews; hence, they came to signify external worship in general.
Jesus brought to us a New Covenant; therefore, he admonishes the Pharisees, who were exceedingly tenacious of the external ceremonial objects of religion, and reminds them that God has declared he prefers benevolence or mercy to external accouterments. The church today would do well to also remember that rules, rites and rituals are external, but mercy and benevolence are found on the path that Jesus walked. The former has to do with the letter, the latter with the spirit.
Far too many of us only reverberate, reiterate or repeat what others say and believe. Such resonance carries an empty, shallow and hollow sound. Paul said we are to be fully persuaded in our own minds. Jesus told us that to accomplish this…go ye and learn what that meaneth. There might be times when you will spend days, weeks, months or even years, musing on one text and its meaning.
Do you desire to know the deeper things of God?
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Christian, get out of the shallow end of the pool, strengthen yourself by studying the scriptures, because it will require some spiritual muscle to venture into the deep end.