They were gathered at Matthew’s house, dining with tax collectors and people that were known as “sinners”. The Pharisees couldn’t understand that, how could Jesus and his disciples hang out with “those people”? They had to question Him…
Jesus answered them:
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)
The Pharisees were the most religious people at that time. They knew all about the Law and they thought they were righteous because of the things they did (the sacrifices, the loud prayers, the “rules” they followed to the letter). They thought they deserved favors from God. They didn’t need a savior because they could save themselves.
But they got it all wrong.
They made their rules more important than God’s will. They were blinded by their own pride, they thought they were worthy. They had the Savior from God right before their eyes but they didn’t recognize Him.
The Law given by God did require a sacrifice. But He would rather sacrifice Himself, and that’s what the Pharisees never saw coming (in spite of so many prophecies).
They didn’t expect Jesus to sacrifice Himself to free us all:
For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:14)
Jesus gave His life as the sacrifice required by Law to purify us and make us holy (that means, separated for God). So we don’t need to do that anymore. The Law was fulfilled. The price was paid.
As the apostle John wrote:
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:1-2)
It is easy for us to look at the Pharisees and judge them. But how many times we are tempted to do the same thing? How many times we do something for God and think we’re good enough? How many times we look at other people and think we’re better than they are, for whatever reason? How many times we make deals with God to get His favors in return? “Lord, if you do this for me, I promise to do that in return”.
Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice so we don’t have to do that. Sacrifices didn’t work.
The sacrifices by themselves aren’t capable of changing a person. Only a relationship with God can do that. Now, we can have a relationship with God instead. No more sacrifices, bargains and deals searching for favors from God.
We receive mercy and grace from Him, so the same way we receive, we must show and give them to other people too. That is the sign of a truly transformed heart.