Jesus Wants Your Heart (Matthew 9:13)
“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” —Matthew 9:13
Matthew chapter 9 verse 13 comes toward the end of an exchange Jesus and his disciples had with the Pharisees. They were having dinner with a bunch of “outcasts,” by the Pharisees’ standards— tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees got in the disciples’ face about this, demanding an explanation for what was an anomaly in their minds. “What’s going on here?” they asked, in effect. “Why would your teacher waste his time on these people?”
Jesus overheard them, and he wasn’t pleased by their question. It was an affront to his entire reason for coming to earth. You wouldn’t schedule an appointment with your doctor just to tell him how well you’re feeling, his reasoning went. Doctors exist because sickness exists. There is a physical ideal, and sickness is not a part of it. Doctors exist to help people who do not feel well to feel better.
That’s why Jesus came, but he didn’t come only to heal people from physical sickness (though he did that, too). No, Jesus came for more than that. He came to bring people out of spiritual darkness into light. He came to make spiritually blind people see, to cause the spiritually deaf to hear, to quicken the legs of the spiritually lame.
Jesus came because there’s something better than living in sin. He made a way for spiritually blind people to gain their sight and see the beauty of the Gospel. So Jesus was angry with the Pharisees for not understanding what he came to do, why he cared about these people. But he was also angry because the Pharisees didn’t understand what he came to teach.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus repeatedly quotes one of the Ten Commandments, or recounts a tradition, or refers to the old covenant law, and then he takes that commandment, tradition or law and expounds on it making it about something bigger and deeper. Jesus’ message to the world was always that he cares more about people’s hearts than their external actions. Not that actions don’t matter, but that right actions are an overflow of a heart that is right with God.
The Pharisees thought that they stood justified before God because they “did the right things” because of their “sacrifices,” but their hearts were far from God. The Pharisees condemned the tax collectors and sinners because they looked broken on the outside, and yet the Pharisees were just as broken on the inside.
What about you? Are you—like the Pharisees—“going through the motions” of faith? Pretending to love God, but your heart being far from him? Looking good, but feeling empty? Condemning the sin of others, but held captive by your own unforgiven sins? Or maybe you’re a Christian who has forgotten what grace is, and you’re trying to do life all by yourself again without depending on Christ and banking on his forgiveness.
There is forgiveness and freedom in Jesus. He isn’t asking for perfection from you; he came to be perfect in your place. Jesus wants your heart. A heart that is broken over sin, and yearns for good works—not to try to earn God’s favor, but out of love for a God who has already poured favor on you in Christ. A heart that looks at the brokenness of the world and is merciful, realizing that you’re no better than those “tax collectors and sinners,” that the only thing that separates you from them is the atoning sacrifice of the blood of Jesus. He wants hearts that are overwhelmingly thankful for that—and a life—long, joyful pursuit of holiness will be the happy result of that kind of thankfulness.