A WIDOW’S TREASURE – Mark 12:41-44
Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on December 18, 2016 under 2016 |
Message preached Sunday, December 18, 2016 from Mark 12:41-44
Theme: The Lord Jesus doesn’t measure the value of a gift by thing that is given, but rather by the loving sacrifice of the giver.
(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
But we shouldn’t let the sweetness of this story distract us from the fact that it also has a very important spiritual lessons to teach us—one that, I believe, has enormous implications for the attitude we have toward our Christian life and service.
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This very sweet story comes after some very hard ones. We have been studying these stories together over the past few weeks. They describe the events surrounding our Lord’s third and final visit to the Temple in Jerusalem, just before going to the cross for us; and of the opposition He experienced from the various religious leaders of the Jewish people.
In the last in the series of stories of those confrontations—which was the passage that we studied together last week—Jesus had closed those confrontations off by warning His disciples to beware of those religious leaders who sought to parade around in a false piety. He said that they “devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers” (Mark 12:40). And I don’t believe it is merely coincidence that the very next story we read—right after those words—is the story of a widow. I believe that the Holy Spirit wanted us to see the difference between the false piety of one of those lofty religious leaders, and the true piety of a widow—one of the poorest and most humble of the people in the Temple.
Some Bible teachers have even wondered if it was a widow that had—herself—been a victim of one of those religious leaders about which Jesus had given His warning.
In Mark 12:41-44, we read;
Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood” (Mark 12:41-44).
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Now; when I come to this heart-warming story, I need to tell you that I feel a little bad about something—and maybe even a little bit cautious because of it. I feel badly that there have been a lot of preachers in times past who have used this story to pressure people into giving money to the church. I truly wish that hadn’t happened; because I don’t believe that’s primarily what it’s about. It certainly is somewhat about that; but I don’t believe it’s primarily about that. (In fact, if I wanted to use a passage to persuade people to give more money to the church, I wouldn’t use that one; because the dear woman that Jesus praised so highly gave less than everyone else.)
I do of course believe this passage concerns that which we offer to the Father in the service of His Son. But I believe the Lord Jesus’ focus in it is more on the heart of the giver than on the gift itself. After all, He had been watching many wealthy people give great gifts to the Temple; and we don’t read in this passage that He rebuked them for doing so. But He didn’t call any of them out for special attention either. Instead, He called out this poor woman who—compared to everyone else—could barely give any money at all. And what she did give was her whole self.
And I’ll tell you right at the beginning why I believe this passage should be so personally important to us. When it comes to the service that we may wish to render to the Father in the name of His Son Jesus within His household—not only money, but also our talents and skills and energy—we may feel a lot like that widow in the midst of all those wealthy givers. We might look around us and see the tremendous and noteworthy things that others might be able to do for the Lord; and we may wish that we could do the same. But instead, we don’t have a great store of riches to give from. Nor may we feel that we have great talents or remarkable artistic skills like other people have. We may not have the intelligence and experience needed to provide great administration skills or wise planning. We may not be good speakers or gifted Bible teachers. We may not have a commanding presence and possess leadership skills like other influential Christian leaders. And in some cases, we might not even have physical abilities or personal energy to do what others can do. We may feel like we are so limited and have so little to offer to the Lord—almost next to nothing, compared to what other people can offer—that we’re tempted to sit in the sidelines and offer nothing of ourselves at all.
And in that respect, this widow is a real heroine of faith. In spite of the seeming little that she had to offer, she offered all that she had. And she stood out from everyone else, not because of the thing that she offered, but because of how completely she offered it. She gave all of the little that she had! And I believe this makes her a great and encouraging example for you and me to follow in our service to the Lord Jesus.
You and I should never hold back from offering to the Lord whatever we have—whether small or great. Jesus doesn’t grade His servants on the curve. He treats each one of us on our own terms—as unique individuals with unique abilities and unique resources. In fact, we could say that—in His sovereign providence—He Himself sets the terms and limitations of those abilities and resources. And as our Sovereign Lord, He doesn’t measure the value of a gift by thing that is given; but rather by the loving, heart-felt sacrifice of the giver. And knowing that should truly motivate us to give our all for Him.
And by the way—just so that we are encouraged—have you ever considered the fact that, from a strictly material standpoint, this poor widow gave the least that everyone else could give? It was almost next to nothing. And yet, because of the Lord Jesus’ acceptance of it, we are still talking about it two-thousand years later; and it has been the blessing of countless millions of souls ever since.
A friend of mine pointed out recently that a million dollars plus infinity (because God is in it) equals infinity. But two small mites plus infinity also equals the same infinity. It’s not the gift itself that matters to our God; but rather, the heart with which it is given. And my hope is that—by the time we’re through with this passage this morning—we will all come to the Lord Jesus with a heart like that of the poor, lonely, helpless widow; and give everything that we have out of a heart of love, and entrust ourselves completely to our infinite God to use what we give for His eternal purposes … and to care for us in return.
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Well; now that I’ve pretty much told you what my sermon is about, it’s time for me to preach it. Please look at this passage in Mark’s Gospel, and pay careful attention to the lessons we can learn from it.
The first thing that we see, in Mark 12:41, is that the Lord Jesus was sitting “opposite the treasury” in the Temple. Bible scholars tell us that this would have been in a place in Herod’s Temple that was called “the court of the women”. It would have been next to the court of the Gentiles, where the non-Jewish people of the various nations could come; but this place itself would have been where all Jewish people—including the women—were able to come and worship God.
Along the walls of this court were receptacles that were used to receive the offerings of the worshipers. They were shaped like trumpets, with a bellow at the top; and people would walk in and cast their coins and offerings into these receptacles. There were thirteen of these trumpet-shaped containers; and many of them were marked in such a way as to indicate which container would receive a donation to which particular need of the Temple.
Now; after all the difficult confrontations Jesus had with the religious leaders on this third day in the Temple, He sat in this court and “saw how people put money into the treasury”—that is, into these containers. And when he writes of Jesus ‘seeing’ all this, the Gospel writer Mark used a word that means much more than simply a casual glance. It means that the Lord Jesus carefully and thoughtfully observed and contemplated what He saw. And it must have been a very interesting thing to watch; because we’re told, “And many who were rich put in much.”
Now a question I have had about this whether or not this would have made people feel a little self-conscious. Don’t you think it would? Jesus, of course, wasn’t standing over people’s shoulders and watching. He was seated in a place opposite the treasury. But people certainly would have seen Him there and would have known who He was. Remember that, just a couple of days before this, He had ridden into the city on a donkey’s colt with great shouts and praises—with people waving palm branches and blessing Him as coming in the name of the Lord. They would have watched in astonishment as, on the very next day, He went through the Temple and boldly cast out the money changers and vendors—telling them to take those things out of His Father’s house. And of course they would have been present to see all those religious leaders—the chief priest, scribes, elders, Pharisees and Sadducees—confront Him earlier that day and oppose Him and try to trap Him with trick questions; and they would have watched as He answered their questions with such wisdom and authority that they all ran off with their tails between their legs. I don’t know if people felt nervous about Him watching as they put money into the treasury; but they certainly would have been aware that He was there.
And also notice that we’re told that there were many who were rich and who were putting much into the treasury. Another question that I have is how it would have been known that they were putting in “much”. Our Lord, of course, is wise and sovereign and knows the hearts of all men; so surely, He would have known because of that. But could it also be that, because Mark is giving us an eyewitness account, other people knew it too? Could it be that many of these rich folks were making something of a ‘show’ of how they were giving?
Do you remember what the Lord Jesus said in the Sermon on The Mount—in Matthew 6:1-4? He said;
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” (Matthew 6:1-4).
Could it be that, when some of these folks were coming into the Temple and casting in their offering, they were tooting their horns about it just a bit? Could it be that they were making just a bit of a display of it all for publicity’s sake?—so that when other devoted Jewish people saw the size of their gift to the Temple, they would think, “My; what godly people these are!”
I notice something very interesting and important in this passage; and that is that Mark says very specifically that Jesus was observing “how the people put money into the treasury”. Did you notice that? Jesus wasn’t so much watching “how much” people gave as “how” or “in what manner” they were doing it—however much the amount of the gift might have been.
And by the way; that leads me to ask still another question: If that was true back then, then how much more true is it today? Back then—in the days of His earthly ministry, when He could only be limited in the flesh to one place at one time—the Lord Jesus watched carefully how people gave to the cause of His Father’s house. How much more is He able to watch how we give to His Father’s house and His Father’s cause today, as He sits in glory at the Father’s right hand? Do you suppose that it’s still true that what’s more important to Him than the amount we give to His cause is the manner in which it is done? Is it done with a grudging attitude? Is it done in a hurry—without much preparation or forethought or true gratitude to Him? Is it sometimes done by us because we don’t want anyone to look disapprovingly at us if we didn’t put something in the plate?
Please know that, as the pastor, I don’t see who gives what. I don’t even always know who does what. It’s not my business what you offer to the Lord; and it’s not your business what I offer to Him. That’s a matter between each of us and the Lord. But He sees it all, dear brothers and sisters; and I hope that, when He watches how you and I give today, He is genuinely pleased with what He sees.
And may that not just be true with respect to money that we offer; but also with respect to all that we offer to Him—our money, our time, our talents, our labors, and our worship.
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So; the Lord was watching carefully how people were giving in the temple. And He was seeing that many rich people were coming in and offering great amounts of money.
And I think it’s interesting how Mark puts it in verse 42. He says, “Then one poor widow came …” In the original language, the word “one” is used to emphasize her solitariness. She came all by herself. She was a widow—which meant that she truly had no one to care for her. Back in those days, there was no pension plan or relief program. A widow such as this woman had no source of income. She was one of the most helpless and needy people in that culture. And what’s more, Mark tells us very specifically that she was “poor”; and the word here doesn’t merely mean that she was in the lower-income bracket. It means that she was destitute—reduced to beggary. What a contrast she would be to the “many” rich folk who were around her—casting in their “much”.
I wondered earlier whether the folks who had been giving felt a little self-conscious as Jesus watched how they gave. But do you suppose that this poor woman felt even more self-conscious coming to give in the midst of all these wealthy people? I am suspecting that she would have preferred not to be noticed at all. So; why then would she come? It would have to be that she came out of sincere love to God and out of a desire to honor the cause of His house. As a single, solitary, poor, beggarly widow woman, she could, in no way, make any kind of show out of her very meager offering. It couldn’t have come from anything but the purest of motives.
And notice the gift itself. Mark tells us that, coming up into the treasury, she “threw in two mites, which makes a quadrans”. The word “mite” is a translation of the word leptos; which refers to something “fine” or “thin”. They were the smallest and least valuable of the Jewish copper coins; and it took two of them to make up a “guadrans”; which was a quarter of a very small Roman coin. You get the idea. The coins she had were not very valuable.
Sometimes, you’ll hear preachers say that this was only a fraction of a penny. But that’s not quite accurate—and I believe that it’s important to understand that, or else we won’t get the full impact of her sacrifice. What she had in her hand actually worked out to about 1/64th of a working man’s daily wage. (Some older commentaries call this ‘a few pennies’; because, back then, that’s what 1/64th of an average working man’s day’s wage would be.) In terms of current value, I suggest that you could work out what she had to be the rough equivalent of $2.50. And I don’t know how you feel about it, but giving up the only remaining $2.50 that you have would feel like a whole lot more of a sacrifice than giving up only a mere fraction of a penny! A fraction of a penny, after all, is—for all intents and purposes—worth nothing. You couldn’t do anything with that a fraction of a penny; and so it would cost you nothing to give it away. But if you have only $2.50 and give that up, then you’ve given up just barely enough that you could have used to have at least bought yourself a little bit of food.
This woman gave up the last little bit that she had that she could have used to buy herself something to eat—perhaps the last little bit she could eat for a while. And do you notice that Mark doesn’t just tell us that she had “a quadrans”? Instead, he specifically said that she had “two mites, which makes a quadrans”. Now, I admit that I am speculating just a bit here; but could it be that, in her heart, she had to struggle with casting them both in? For her to have cast one in—in my opinion—would have been a tremendous sacrifice. But she’d then have at least one coin left for herself.
It reminds me of a story I read recently about a little girl. She had two coins in her hand as she went to church—one to put in the plate, and the other to buy some candy later. She tripped and fell; and lost one of the coins down the drainage grate on the sidewalk. “Oh no!” she cried, “Jesus’ coin is gone!” Well; this poor woman didn’t make any such distinctions. Perhaps when she went into the treasury, she was about to drop one of the coins into one of the receptacles—hoping, at least, to have something left for herself. But then, she dropped them both in; and she completely cast herself upon the mercy of God. What a great act of faith it was to give them both!
Now; whether or not she tried to slip away unnoticed after that isn’t told to us. But clearly the Lord Jesus noticed her. Mark tells us, in verse 43 that Jesus “called His disciples to Himself” and began to speak of what she did. He didn’t say anything about any of the other givers; but what this woman did caught His special attention.
And may we from that learn that our Lord always notices when something is given by us in His Father’s service from out of true humility, and sincerity, and sacrifice? You may think that no one notices; and indeed, it may perhaps be true that no other individual on earth notices. But our Lord notices! I love what it says in Hebrews 6:10;
For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister (Hebrews 6:10).
I wonder how much more we would learn to value our own humble, meager, humanly-unimpressive, seemingly-unimportant acts of service and sacrifice to the Lord—even the ones that no one else seems to notice or appreciate—if we knew that the Lord Jesus sees the heart from which those acts of service come, and takes special notice of them and remembers them?
May He help us to see such things as He sees them!
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And that brings us, I believe, to the true lesson of this passage—and why it is of such great practical value to you and me. Jesus, having rallied His disciples together, calls their attention to that one poor widow; and tells them in verses 43-44; “Assuredly, I say to you …”—I believe He had to say that to them, by the way; because what He was about to say to them was so counter-intuitive that they wouldn’t have believed that it was true otherwise!—“Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury …”
“More”? Really? More than all those rich people? Some translators take this to mean that Jesus was saying that she gave more than any single one of those rich givers; but others suggest that what He really meant was that she had given more than the sum total of all the gifts of all those rich people put together. But in either case, how can that be? Jesus explained, “for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.” They all were able to give a portion of what they had; and after their giving, they had plenty left over to live on. Life went on pretty much as usual for them. But she didn’t just put in a portion. She put in everything—all that she had to live on. She had nothing left; and was now completely cast upon God. She literally gave herself.
And it’s that kind of giving that the Lord Jesus values. He doesn’t measure the gift by the cost of the gift itself. He made all things; and He has need of nothing. Rather, He measures the value of an offering by what it cost the giver. That’s the kind of gift that pleases Him—the kind in which the giver gives themselves completely over to God; all that they are, and all that they have.
After all, that’s what Jesus did for you and me. It was what He would do it just a few days later from this story—when He went to the cross for us.
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Now; we’re not told what happened to the poor woman after all this. But if Jesus would notice that she gave everything that she had to His Father’s house, I personally can’t believe that He would allow her to walk away uncared for afterward.
I’m speculating again, of course; but I’m betting that after Jesus taught His disciples a lesson from her sacrifice, He then sent one or two of His disciples after her with some money in hand to tell her that Jesus—the one who came into the Temple as the promised Son of David—saw what she did and blesses her for it. Wouldn’t that be just like our Savior? And really, I don’t think that’s a speculation that is too much of a stretch; because after Jesus rose from the dead, and the Holy Spirit was given, and His church was formed, we find His apostles in Acts 6 wrestling with the problem of how to properly care for the widows in their daily distribution of food. Jesus’ disciples were caring for the widows in His name and after His own heart. I even dare to wonder if this dear little Jewish widow from Jerusalem was in that group of widows that the apostles were ministering to!
But please, let’s not miss the lesson itself; dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s never feel that our humble abilities or humble resources or humble talents are too small to give to God. Don’t just limit this lesson to money! Expand it to the whole of your life before God. You may not be able to do the things that others may be able to do; or you may not be able to give the kind of gift that others may be able to give; or you may not have the talents to offer that someone else may be able to offer; or you may not have the energy to serve that others have with which to serve. But the value of your offering to the Lord isn’t measured by Him in terms of the thing itself that is given. Rather, it’s measured in terms of the heart from which it is given.
Let’s give whatever we have to Him, then. And let’s give our whole selves in the giving of it. And let’s just know that He watches how it is given, that He notices when it is given with true sincerity and humble sacrifice of love for Him, and that He values it in terms of what He knows that it costs us to give.
Let’s truly let our giving to Him be like the giving of that poor widow’s priceless treasure.