Jim M Macfarlane
Matthew 23: 23
Luke 10: 25-29, 36-37
Jeremiah 9: 23-24
I think we all felt profited by our considerations on Lord's day afternoon, when we took account of what our brother brought before us with regard to Mount Zion, what it represents as to the sovereign mercy of God, and the privileges that flow out to those who have been shown mercy. Psalm 48 takes account of her towers, her bulwarks and her palaces; we can consider how we have been brought into a realm of privilege and elevation, and learn that the love of God has been expressed in the mercy which has been shown to us. In the verse I have read in Matthew, the words of the Lord are not addressed to the scribes and Pharisees in terms of the blessings of being the objects of mercy, but rather that, even in terms of the law, the exercise of mercy should be central to the regulation of their own practice.
The law required that everything be tithed and, in order to comply perfectly with this, the scribes and Pharisees tithed even the smallest and most trivial of things; the Lord refers to the herbs which were added in tiny quantity to give flavour to food. The Lord contrasts this with what He describes as “the weightier matters of the law, judgment and mercy and faith”. I think that it is of note that He does not refer to these three things as more elevated than the law, or as superseding the law, but speaks of them as its weightier matters. These are judgment and mercy and faith, and of them He says “these ye ought to have done and not have left those aside”.
I think that, whenever the exercise of a moral faculty is required, the three things which the Lord mentions here must be taken together. The first requirement is judgment. This means that there is a moral assessment of every circumstance that is presented to us. The writer to the Hebrews refers to “full-grown men, who, on account of habit, have their senses exercised for distinguishing both good and evil”, chap 5:14. The ability to judge is not only a capability that we have as a result of the possession of the Holy Spirit but a duty in every circumstance. Along with judgment, the Lord mentions mercy. There may be a tendency to seek some kind of balance between judgment and mercy, with concern as to having too much of one or the other. The Lord speaks of them together and neither is compromised by the activity of the other. A sense of the mercy which has been shown to us will regulate us in the exercise of judgment. A sense of being always under the eye of God will also regulate the activity of judgment and mercy; hence the Lord’s reference to faith.
We have read in Luke because the lawyer in chapter 10 was led by the Lord to speak of mercy. The Lord Jesus did not use the word in this passage; the lawyer was compelled to. He was seeking to put the Lord to the test by asking, “having done what, shall I inherit life eternal?”. He was put to the test by the Lord, who asked him, “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” No one was better qualified to answer a question about the law. This man’s life had been devoted, not only to what God had given Moses, but also to the vast body of knowledge that the Lord, elsewhere, calls “your traditional teaching”, Matthew 15: 3, 6. The Lord gave full approval to his answer, along with an exhortation to let his answer guide his practice. The lawyer, “desirous of justifying himself, said to Jesus, And who is my neighbour?”. We know how the parable unfolds and it finishes with the lawyer having to answer his own question. The Lord Jesus developed the parable in a way that did not allow the lawyer to offer criticism of the man’s descent from Jerusalem to Jericho; he might have felt well qualified to do so. The question which he had to answer was the one which he himself put to Jesus, by whom he was directed to focus on what was necessary to restore the man. He was compelled, in the presence of Jesus, to identify it as the activity of mercy. However he may have wished to justify himself, the last word belonged to Jesus, with an exhortation: “Go, and do thou likewise”.
I read in Jeremiah 9, because others have connected it with the passage in Matthew. The prophet speaks about the things in which the natural man glories, in a summary which is as appropriate today as it was when Jeremiah spoke. He continues, “but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am Jehovah, who exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, saith Jehovah”. What elevation for a person to know and understand Jehovah and to learn what He delights in. In Matthew 9, Jesus says, “But go and learn what that is - I will have mercy and not sacrifice”, v 13. This is a reference to Hosea 6: 6, where “loving-kindness” is used where the Lord, in quoting it, uses “mercy”. If we can consider the correspondence between the two words to apply in the passage in Matthew 23, the Lord would seem to be indicating that the weightier matters of the law were not simply more important for man’s attention, but are things in which God delights.
The accounts of the Lord’s own practice in the gospels provide perfect examples. In John 8, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman before the Lord, stating that Moses had commanded that she should be stoned for the sin which she had committed. He applied the weightier matters of the law to all present, to the scribes and Pharisees as well as to the woman. When He said, “go, and sin no more” (v 11), He did not leave any question as to the moral character of what she had done. This, however, was after He had said, “Neither do I condemn thee”. Do we not all know the unearned blessing of “no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus”, Romans 8: 1? May we be encouraged by these things and may the Lord be able to bless the word to us all.
19th May 2015