The Heart of the Law
Jesus told the Pharisees to go learn what God
meant when he said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 12:7),
Jesus and his disciples had picked grain and eaten it on the Sabbath.
The Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Law of Moses
by working on the Sabbath. Jesus insisted he and his disciples were
innocent (the Pharisees didn’t understand the heart of God’s law).
What tie did Jesus find between the Pharisees’ use of the Law of
Moses and a lack of mercy?
Though Jesus did not actually break the law, he justified his
actions with two examples that technically did break the Law of
Moses. David ran for his life from King Saul, lied to the priest so
as not to betray his presence, then took the consecrated bread
only the priests could legally eat. Jesus refers to this incident and
makes the point clear: “[They] ate the consecrated bread—which
was not lawful for them to do” (Matthew 12:4, italics mine). Yet
the Scriptures do not condemn David and his men. Why?
Jesus Showed Mercy
Jesus confronts their very approach to the Scriptures that cannot
value mercy (in David’s life-threatening situation) over judgment
(technically breaking the law). They didn’t understand what Jesus’
half-brother James came to realize: “Mercy triumphs over judgment”
Jesus did not negate the Law of Moses; he fulfilled it in a way
the Pharisees never could (Matthew 5:17–20). He poked a finger
in the chest of the Pharisees for missing the whole point by valuing
the technicalities of law more than the people the law was there
to serve. In Mark’s account of this encounter, Jesus said to them,
“The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the
Sabbath” (Mark 2:27 The Message).
Cultivate the Heart of Jesus
The Pharisees’ motive was not love for people, but love for
themselves. They loved the law because they used the law to feel
valuable. See, the problem is the same. Pharisees don’t see themselves
as God’s Masterpiece mercifully being restored. They see
themselves as muddied people who cleaned themselves up (or
didn’t need restoring). How do you view yourself? Does this view
lead you to value “being right” or “knowing truth,” even more
than showing compassion or mercy to a broken world Jesus wants
Truth is Grounded in Love
After coming to faith, I became an avid Bible student and
eventually went to seminary. But because most of my sense of
worth or value still came from “being smart” or “being good”
at whatever I was doing, my knowledge and use of Scripture
was about me. I used it to prove myself smart or right. When
I started teaching, I subtly slid into phariseeism. My love for
truth was more about proving myself right than helping others
Mark records another Sabbath controversy where Jesus got genuinely
angry because the religious leaders cared more about proving
they were right about Sabbath law than they cared about a man with
a withered hand Jesus wanted to heal (Mark 3:1–6). Honestly, I see
evangelical Christians all the time who appear to value “speaking
truth” and “being right” significantly more than they value lifting
a finger to help broken, hurting, wandering people. I think that’s
a good clue we’ve lost the truth about the heart of Jesus!
What do you think? How can modern Christians be more like Jesus and less like Pharisees?