Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mark 12:41-44 Jesus commends a widow's two mites

41 Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. 42 Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. 43 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; 44 “for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”

Within the Temple, in the women’s court, there was an area designated for the collecting of offerings, this is where Jesus is sitting opposite from while He observes how the people put their money into the treasury. Now the treasury itself was not just one collection box. But thirteen cylindrically shaped boxes, like rams horns or ancient trumpets, into which the people deposited their offerings, whether free-will or those commanded. Some of these offerings were for the Temple service, some for ministering to the poor, and some were the commanded tithes and such that were required of Israel under the Law of Moses, and some were simply free-will offerings. Now the fact that these were done publicly and by depositing, copper, silver or gold coins into these treasure boxes shaped like rams horns must have made an interesting sound (as others have noted) as the coinage was deposited. Maybe that is why they were shaped like rams horns, to encourage more giving? For people, as Jesus noted, often love to be seen or heard when doing their charitable deeds. Yet He commands us all that when we give, we give in secret, so that our Father who sees in secret, will reward us openly (See Matt. 6:1-4). Now the passage says that as Jesus sat opposite the treasury He saw how the people put their money into the treasury. Not how much they put in, though He would’ve known that. Rather Jesus first noticed how they deposited their money into the treasury boxes. For one could be rather unassuming and ordinary about this and deposit their offerings into one of the treasure boxes and then go their way, and likely no one would’ve given them a second glance. Or one could put a little more effort and display into their depositing, and by doing so alert all around them that yes they were making an offering. Indeed if one were rich, as the passage says Jesus observed along with the widow and her two mites, many who were rich putting in much. One could make quite a public display of themselves by repeating the process over and over again, rather than just depositing their coinage and moving on without any fanfare as the widow will do.

How about me and you then? Do we seek public recognition for our charitable giving? That’s often our natural tendencies. Wanting to be acknowledged before our piers and or the public in general for our charitable deeds. Yet that is what Jesus calls elsewhere hypocrisy, not Godly charity. For if we are only motivated by receiving accolades from others, for having given, or done a charitable deed, then we are not honoring God or blessing others with our giving. We are only blessing and honoring ourselves. For charity can become divorced of love for God and or concern for ones fellow person. It’s no surprise then that the corporate world has learned to use charity often to serve their own ends, whether to build up brand loyalty and recognition by increasing their exposure in the public forum through it, or to promote some product or service that they hope to sell or offer and thus eventually profit from. Philanthropy in the twenty first century has become big business. Therefore as Christians we are called in all ways to be charitable, but not to be motivated by our lesser natures, by which we somehow hope to receive glory for ourselves (Pr. 25:27) or profit from having given, as Jesus says: “And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” Luke 6:34

Now in contrast to the many rich who were entering the Temple and putting in much. The Scripture says that Jesus also observed one poor widow who came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. Now the mite was the smallest of all coins in terms of both value and size, being made of copper. And for us there is no modern equivalent so I won’t try to draw a parallel between our currency and their ancient currency. Suffice it to say that what widow put in was utterly insignificant in terms of its value and weight. And thus when the widow deposited her offering it would have scarcely made a sound, and if it did make a sound it would’ve been lost in the sound of all the other offerings being offered simultaneously at that time in the various treasury offering boxes. Neither would've her offering made a profound impact on the Temple and it's services. Just as it would've gone utterly unnoticed by those Levites who counted and were charged with safekeeing the treasury offerings. Yet it is this obscure poor widow who nobody noticed, that Jesus notices amidst all the rich and their giving their generous gifts to the Temple treasury. And having observed her giving and what she gave Jesus immediately calls His disciples to Himself and says to them: …“Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; 44 “for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.” Vs. 43-44

Now to appreciate what Jesus said about that particular widow giving her whole livelihood, it must be understood that there were no pension checks for poor widows. Nor was there a developed welfare system for them. Nonetheless God’s Law commanded that widows, along with the poor, fatherless, strangers and Levites in the land be provided for from the third year tithes, and at yearly feasts. And since the Israelites were an agrarian people all the poor at harvest time were to be permitted to glean from the corners of fields, and glean leftover grapes from the vineyards and such (Lev. 19:10; Deut. 14:28-30; 16:9-12; 24:19-24 etc.). But there was no day to day distribution of food or anything else. That largely did not arrive until the Christian era when the early church took it upon themselves to make a relief ministry to widows a priority (Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 5:3-16). Therefore if a widow in Israel was destitute she had few options except for maybe remarriage, or labor as a household servant if she could find work as such (Deut. 15:12-18), or hope someone would have compassion on her as God commands (Deut. 10:16-18; Deut. 15:7-11). But there was no guarantee of any of that.

Therefore what this widow did was an incredible act of self sacrificing faith, for she put in her whole livelihood. That is why Jesus thought her offering needed to be acknowledged to His disciples. For though the rich were putting much into the treasury; they were giving as Jesus said, from their abundance, and thus their giving though appearing like much, was in that regard, proportionately very little. Or least not something that anyone should make a fuss over, especially if they already were. Yet that is precisely what often occurs. When the rich give much there is usually deferential treatment extended to them. They are placed on a special donors list and given special communiqué’s only for those "generous" supporters of the ministry. While if a poor widow today wrote a check to a ministry which essentially amounted to her whole livelihood but was relatively small in comparison, do you think anyone at the ministry office would notice her? Or invite her to sit with the ministry leader at the next fundraising dinner function as an honor to her? Yet we are commanded as members of Christ’s Body to bestow greater honor on those who lack, since God composed the Body so that was to be the norm, not the exception (See 1 Cor. 12:18-27, vs. 23-26).

There is then something terribly wrong or "worldly" when ministry becomes focused on appealing to and or catering to its wealthy supporters, while neglecting or outright ignoring those whom Jesus Christ clearly notices (Consider James 1:9-11). For you can build a church or ministry around serving the wealthy and externally achieve much. But internally there can be an utter lack of the Spirit life and power. Just as it was when the Lord Jesus visited the Temple, though a magnificent structure that marveled all who saw it. Yet all its grandeur; which was largely financed by the Herod’s and Israel's upper classes, could not make up for, nor conceal, the religious complacency and impropriety that dwelt within its confines, and thus Jesus having been rejected by the overseer's of it, when He visited the Temple, having rebuked their business practices within it (Matt. 21:12-14). He wept over it, but He also warned His disciples of what was to come of it all (Matt. 23:37-24:2).
Now in the Book of Revelations the Glorified Lord Jesus Christ in His Messages to the seven churches has a message that says something quite similar. In His finial address to the churches He says to the church of the Laodiceans: 14 “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: 15 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. 17 “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked— 18 “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. 19 “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. 20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. 21 “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. Rev. 3:14-21

Notice first that they were spiritually lukewarm, neither cold nor hot. They hadn’t turned cold in their faith lives, but neither were they living dynamically in the power of the Holy Spirit, instead their faith had largely become just routine. And thus they had stopped growing, yet Spiritual life always entails spiritual growth. For anyone who has experienced Christ in their lives is to be always moving forward. Therefore the Lord Jesus gives them an ominous warning, “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Vs. 16 Now immediately following that exhortation the Lord Jesus states likely the cause of their Spiritual complacency revealing it to be rooted in their attitudes about themselves. Which Jesus reveals by saying: “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” vs. 17

Notice they were self confident, not God confident, and their confidence was that they were rich and had become wealthy. And because they had become wealthy, they thought they had need of nothing, which is the most pitiable of all states to be in. Given that the Lord Jesus says in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 5:3 Therefore prosperity either in our lives and or churches means nothing if our hearts are not right about ourselves and our need for and or dependency on Jesus Christ. For the Scriptures do not endorse those who boost in their wealth and or make that their confidence or lives pursuit (Job 31:25-28; Psalm 49:6-20; Matt. 6:24; Luke 6:24; James 5:1-5). And thus the Laodiceans were the opposite of being humble, something that is explicitly commanded of the rich, not to be haughty, or trust in uncertain riches (See 1 Tim. 6:17-19; James 1:9-11; 4:13-17), which very likely was the cause of their spiritual lukewarm state and blindness. For though they were externally rich, and likely their faith lives and assemblies reflected this. Jesus says they were utterly poor, for they didn't even perceive their own poverty and need. Therefore Jesus says rather frankly to them, do you not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. Five things, none of which implies being wealthy in the eyes of God as they were so sure about themselves. Now these five rebukes taken in order are, first: wretched. That is Jesus’ first exhortation to them about their spiritual condition. The word Jesus uses here appears only here and in Rom. 7:24 where the Apostle Paul having realized his own sinfulness and helplessness because of it declares himself a wretched man. Therefore though the Laodiceans saw themselves as "rich" and in need of nothing, Jesus essentially declares them bankrupt. For there is nothing worse for us, who having sinned and a sin nature within us, to be in a state of self satisfaction about ourselves; the acknowledged sinner always has hope. But the smug, arrogant, and or self assured stand in a perilous place (Luke 18:9-14).

The next word Jesus uses to describe them is miserable. In the original language this word often means to be pitied. Ironically the Apostle Paul uses it antithetically to reinforce his confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection in 1 Cor. 15:19 where he describes himself and his living and suffering for Jesus Christ as his being the most pitiable of all men, if Christ did not rise from the dead; since then there would be no life to come. Nonetheless Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and thus the Apostle Paul being supremely confident of this and the glorious future for all who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ wants us all to realize this truth for ourselves as well. Now in regards to our context and Jesus’ using that particular word, He is saying of the Laodiceans though they considered themselves all right in the sight of God, they were actually to be pitied. Since their focus seems to have been on themselves and their own prosperity rather then on the Lord Jesus and His plan and purposes for them. Similarly today there are people who thinking themselves “rich” are actually spiritually impoverished. It’s never wrong then to take a spiritual inventory as the Apostle Paul said, to make sure that one is in the Lord (Rom. 8:9).

The next word Jesus uses to describe them is poor; not as people who acknowledged their poverty; that would be commendable, for the Lord loves the repentant sinner, (See Luke 15:11-32). Instead they thought themselves rich and as needing nothing. Yet the word Jesus uses to describe them here is the lowest state of poverty, the destitute beggar. Now this word is frequently used to describe moral or spiritual poverty as well. And thus its use here is to refute their self-satisfaction about themselves. Yes they were rich and wealthy and members in the church. But that does not save anyone. Only repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ does.

The fourth word that Jesus uses to describe them is blind. The word Jesus uses is the common word for a blind man. But it is also frequently used to describe someone who is spiritually blind or lacks discernment. In this sense Jesus uses it to describe the Pharisees as “…blind leaders of the blind” also as “…blind guides who strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel” (See Matt. 15:14, 23:16, 24). The Apostle Paul also uses it in his refutation of the Jews for their spiritually blinded and unrepentant state. Yet somehow they considered themselves a guide to the blind, i.e. the Gentiles. Those they considered ignorant of the things of God; yet these had largely embraced and obeyed the teachings of God amongst them (See Rom. 2:19). Therefore though the Laodiceans were not literally blind; like the Jews, they were actually spiritually blind about themselves and their true spiritual condition. Their “riches” and likely their “prosperity” having so puffed them up that they were no longer able to discern their own spiritual poverty and need. And it’s not just them. We too can fall victim to that sort of spiritual blindness. Riches and prosperity, successes and achievements, intellect and giftedness can all have that affect on us and make us think more highly of ourselves then we really should, just as Moses warned the Israelites of that tendency, to drift from our dependency on the Lord and become self-sufficient when prosperity comes and we forget from whom it comes from (Deut.18:17-18).

Now the last word Jesus uses to describe the Laodiceans is naked. No doubt there were some finely clad men and women in that church, but that’s not the type of clothing God is looking for on us. God is looking for the Spiritual underlayment of righteousness. For that is what must lie beneath all of our fine apparel. Therefore both the Apostles Paul and Peter emphasized character, rather than mere outer adornment. For fine clothes can never be a substitute for Godly character (See 1 Tim. 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:3-6). That’s one aspect of being spiritually clothed. However the other and far more important, at least from a salvation point of view, is Christ’s Righteousness. For unless we are clothed in Jesus Christ’s Righteousness, no matter how hard we strive to obey Him we are only naked before God the Father. For no one can stand approved before God in their own righteousness (Gal. 2:16, 19-21). In order to stand approved before God we must have a righteousness that is equal to His own, which mortally is impossible for us. Since God is eternally Holy without sin, and we are all born into sinful flesh. Therefore we all need not only a Substitute to die in our place to pay for all our sins through the shedding of blood which Jesus Christ has done for us all by His death on the cross. But having all our sins atoned for once and for all time (Heb. 10:14) we need a righteousness that is on par with God's own. And that is why we need Jesus Christ’s Righteousness. Since Jesus being the Son of God, He is equal with God. And thus when God imparts Jesus Christ’s Righteousness to us by our faith in His Person, we can stand forever approved in His Presence (2 Cor. 5:21). That is what Jesus is commending to the Laodiceans to do when He says to them, "I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see." vs. 18
That is get salvation wholly from the Lord Jesus Christ and wholly give yourselves to the Lord in faith, love and obedience. For before practical righteousness can take lasting root in our hearts and lives there must be a change in our person, and that only happens by Jesus Christ’s Person coming into our persons and lives. Therefore Jesus says “…buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich…” For apart from Him and our having faith in Him crucified for our sins remission and raised from the dead for our justification, and thus our being clothed by His Righteousness and Person dwelling inside us, we are spiritually naked (2 Cor. 5:1-5). Therefore Jesus says rather than pursuing a faith life which only leaves you wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked; one which never sees its need to invite the Lord Jesus Christ into ones heart and life, nor sees ones need to live righteously or passionately for Him. “…buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich…” for that faith endures forever (See 1 Peter 1:7-9 and 2 Peter 2:1-11, vs. 5-8).

Finally the Lord says in verse eighteen that they Laodiceans need to anoint their eyes with eye salve that is get spiritual discernment, so that they may see. Not only themselves as they really are, but others as well (Matt. 7:1-5). For there are many things that can blind a person’s eyes to the nature of false gods, and or the true cost of discipleship, but also there are those who propagate such things as well (Matt 7:13-20; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 2:15-17). For there are lots of things that can blind us to the righteous and self denying lives we are to live as Christ's disciples. So I’m going to close by saying apart from Jesus Christ we are all wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—That is our true spiritual condition apart from Jesus Christ and our standing before God the Father until when come trust in Jesus to save us and cleanse us from all our sins (John 3:16). And having done so Jesus imparts not only a new nature by the Holy Spirit into us but also everlasting life. That is why Jesus in verse twenty extends His invitation to all. Saying to everyone, from the "best" of men and women to the "worst" of men and women to all open our hearts and yeild our lives to Him, 20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. 21 “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. Rev. 3:20

Scripture Quotations
The Holy Bible, New King James Version, (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc.) 1982.

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