April 29, 2001 Mark 12:41-44
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
When I was in the fourth grade or so, my parents bought me an Iwo Jima army set. It was one of the neatest gifts I have ever received. It had all kinds of tan Japanese soldiers, a couple of army turrets in the side of a hill, tanks, bazookas and everything else to make up a real nice war scene. I had hours and hours of fun with this toy. We would set up the Americans verses the Japanese, and then take rubber bands and try to knock down the other guy’s army.
Did you ever receive a gift like that - something that you could never forget? It’s kind of funny - because those real memorable gifts aren’t always the most expensive or the fanciest - but for some reason they have special meaning to you. Isn’t that something we’d all like to do for God - to give him a gift that would really catch his attention - that would mean something to him - something He’d never forget. Do you think that your gifts to God really grab His attention? Does it matter to you? It’s a concept we’re going to think about today, as we consider the fact that -
The Greatest Giver Judges Our Gifts
I. He looks into our hearts and evaluates what we’re thinking
Several days before he died Jesus sat down in the outer courtyard of the beautiful temple in Jerusalem, opposite the place where Jewish worshipers placed their offerings, “and watched.” From the kind of verb that was used, we can tell that this was an ongoing observing - Jesus was watching with a purpose. You might compare it to when we might occasionally go to mall - and just sit down and watch people. It’s kind of fun. You see people walk by of all makes and sizes and you wonder to yourself, “I wonder where he came from? I wonder what he does for a living.” It’s intriguing. In a sense, that is what Jesus was doing - He was observing people. The only difference is that Jesus didn’t have to think, “I wonder what he does?”, etc., because he KNEW. As true God, he could look into a person’s heart and be able to tell everything about the people he was watching.
As Jesus sat there watching, He noticed two sorts of things. Many well-to-do worshipers placed large sums of money into the offering receptacles. You could almost hear the clanking of the coins on the bottom of the receptacle - the big bags of money being brought up and dumped into the offering plate. You would think that these kinds of offerings would make Jesus say, “wow - now there’s a real believer!” But what was it that moved Jesus to speak up? It was the offering of a poor widow! Mark says, a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. When Jesus saw this lady’s offering - it moved him to praise her. How do you figure that?
Remember, first of all, that Jesus was able to look into her HEART. He could see the motivation behind WHY she was coming. If you think about it - from a worldly point of view - she didn’t have much to be thankful for - did she. She may have dreamed of growing old with her husband - saving up some money and retiring on a hillside in northern Jerusalem. But what happened? Her husband died - and she was left with NOTHING - only able to live day by day. So what was it that drove her to give offerings to the Lord?
Since this lady came to the temple, I think it is safe to say that she was a Jew - a member of God’s covenant people of Israel - the nation that God called “the people I formed for myself, that they may proclaim my praise” (Is 43:21). Therefore, she had heard God’s voice speaking from the pages of the Old Testament - and recognized that she had a special privilege that no other nation had. As one of God’s people she was a part of the ONLY nation to whom God had revealed His ancient secrets. What were those secrets? That God would send a great Champion through the bloodline of Abraham and David - to deliver a world full of people lost in sin. Every time she saw a blood sacrifice get offered on that big seven foot altar in the middle of the temple - she knew that God would some day send a Substitute to be slaughtered for HER sins! When Jesus saw her heart, He could tell that she loved Him for making her a part of His family - for promising her a Savior - for assuring her that she was a forgiven child of God. She was thankful for what God had done for her - and so out of thanks - she gave her offering.
The greatest giver saw something else when he looked into the heart of that widow. He saw that she not only loved him, but that she trusted him. Remember, she was a widow. She had no husband to put bread on her table. St. Mark reports an interesting detail: “she put in two very small copper coins, worthy only a fraction of a penny.” Why the mention of the two coins? Why not simply: “Her offering amounted to a fraction of a penny”? With TWO coins, that widow might have kept one of those two coins for herself. This was not a gift that she could spare - she gave all she had. After leaving the temple, she had to go out and earn some more, if she wanted to eat. But here’s the thing: she trusted the Lord to provide for her. When Jesus saw that trust that she had in him, our holy Lord was actually IMPRESSED!
When God looks at our hearts as we place our offerings in HIS basket - do you think He is impressed? It’s easy enough for us to put money into an offering basket. It’s easy enough to take care of our kids - go to work every day - volunteer at church. Thousands of other people do it - and so can we. But that’s not enough. God calls on us to think about it and do these things out of LOVE to Him, WILLINGLY and TRUSTINGLY. Now, how many of us can say that we have that attitude? Do you enjoy cooking meals for potluck meals? Do you look forward to the opportunity to serving on the church council or doing the cleaning this month? Do you enjoy putting money in the plate? Or do you do it because “nobody else will?” Do you give so that our congregation can pay its bills? Do you give an amount that really requires a TRUST for the Lord to provide?
You know what’s interesting to see - look at your kids - or the kids around you when it comes to the offering. Notice the excitement that they get as the plate gets passed around. This is a part of the worship that they can actively participate in. They can’t wait to put their nickel, quarter, or dollar in the offering plate. They aren’t worried about whether they’ll get more. That’s what God wants from us.
But do you know what’s even neater? Watch Jesus go to the cross - and ask yourself - “how many times did Jesus say, ‘why do I have to do this?’” How many times did Jesus complain and say, “I have better things to do with my time!” NOT ONCE did Jesus complain. Jesus didn’t have to go to that cross - but He went there WILLINGLY - because He WANTED to. Why? Out of LOVE for US - an UNCONDITIONAL love for people who gave him no reason to be loved. It took a great trust for Jesus to allow Himself to go through hell - to be put on a cross and put to death. Never before had any person ever raised Himself from the dead. But Jesus trusted that the Father would accept His sacrifice. Jesus gave what He had to offer with a willingness and trust that we can’t even begin to comprehend. With that whole hearted sacrifice - Jesus took our selfish and sinful attitudes and nailed them to cross. His blood washed us from our sinful and selfish attitude.
II. He looks at our hands and measures the gifts we bring him
Attitude is important. Faith is all important. Without faith - it is impossible to please God. But does that mean that we don’t care about actions? I have had at least five conversations with members of different religions - Mormons, Catholics, and Jehovah’s Witnesses - and the conversation usually leads to this main point - if we really teach that all that is necessary for salvation is what Christ DID for us - then we won’t DO any works. They portray us of saying, “Jesus died for you - now go kill someone! It doesn’t matter what you do - as long as you have the right attitude!” Nothing could be further from the truth.
Take for instance today’s text. Jesus preached that whoever BELIEVED in Him would have eternal life. But He wasn’t only concerned about the heart. After the greatest giver looked at the HEART of the widow - He then proceeded to look at her HANDS. He even called his disciples together to teach them about giving from the widow. St. Mark says that Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” Notice what he points to - what was in her HANDS - her OFFERING - and he commended her for it. Jesus cared about her works - what she gave. He wasn’t just satisfied with attitude.
This isn’t a very popular subject in today’s world - but God actually does have guidelines when it comes to giving. He doesn’t just say, “give whatever you want.” He has guidelines! And they are different from what most of us set. You know what some of those guidelines are:
☹ give what you can afford - does God say, “pray, if you can spare the time”, or “listen to my Word, if you can fit it into your schedule”?
☹ give what you gave last year - Christianity either grows or it shrinks and dies. The whole idea is to have more trust and more love for the Lord every year.
These yardsticks are NOT good enough for God. In his Word God gives us the yardsticks he wants us to use when we decide what gifts to bring him.
☺ God wants regular giving - as often as the Lord blesses us with income.
☺ God wants proportionate giving. Even though the widow’s offering was materially smaller than everyone else - it was greater - because in proportion to what she had - her percentage was much greater! She didn’t just give five percent. She gave one hundred percent! If you think about it then - a little child putting 50 cents in the offering plate could be greater than someone putting two hundred dollars in!
☺ God asks for the first fruits of what He has given us. He once told the Israelites - Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops. (Proverbs 3:9). He wants our gifts to come from the TOP of our income, not the bottom. He is serious about this. The Lord of heaven and earth refuses to be the Eater of my Leftovers. When the Israelites brought lame and blind animals to be sacrificed - it wasn’t satisfactory.
☺ as we noted before, he asks for our gifts to be given joyfully. God loves a cheerful giver.
Pastor Jeske was a professor of mine at the seminary. He recalled a story of his when he had just gotten out of the seminary. He was called to a congregation that published what is now popularly known as the “scandal sheet.” They would publicly publish what each member gave in a newsletter at the end of the year. Every member would be able to compare what he or she gave in comparison to the other. This would lead to shame on the part of some and pride on the part of others. When he got there, he had to push quite hard to get rid of the scandal sheet. The council thought that if they got rid of that sheet - nobody would give anything. After all - they wouldn’t have any pressure on them to give. He was able to convince them to get rid of it anyway. But what happened after the year was over? When the people were unleashed to give what they WANTED instead of what they HAD to - they gave MORE than they ever had before!
This is the result of the GOSPEL - knowing that Jesus GIVES us heaven. Not only did Jesus crucify our sinful natures when He was crucified - but He also ROSE from the dead. When you were baptized - not only did God put your sins to death - but He also planted a NEW nature in you. His resurrection freed us to live with new attitudes. When God plants the Holy Spirit in our hearts - which has dominion over our sinful natures - this frees us to give to God regularly, proportionately, joyfully - and to give him the first fruits of what we have. It leads us to say, “God, what do you want me to do!” But God goes beyond this! Knowing that we still have sinful natures to fight against, He continues to build our trust with promises such as 2 Corinthians 9:10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion. God promises us that He will provide us with every need.
These promises encourage us to have a WILLING and TRUSTING attitude in our giving to God. It enables us to say, “I want to give you more than my money! I want to give you my all Lord - for you have given me YOUR ALL! I want you to INSTRUCT me on how to give.” Instead of giving less, we give more! Instead of doing less, we do more!
The other day I was spraying the hen bed around the house - and my son really wanted to help. So he asked me to fill up his 7-Up bottle with water so he could spray the weeds as well. He wanted to help. He wanted the opportunity. It was neat to see him out there pouring water on the weeds I was trying to kill. It didn’t actually do any good to the weeds. But I smiled and accepted his help - because he did it out of love for me. It was the best he had to offer.
That’s the neat thing about how faith works. We don’t need to put up scandal sheets. We don’t need to force you to give to the Lord. All we need to do is tell you about God’s love for you in Christ. And somehow, some way - you will give! Right now, we have people giving their first fruits. We have teachers volunteering their time. We have officers using their talents to the glory of God’s kingdom - without complaining! Even though God or His angels could do a much better job - He lets us get involved - and He wants us to get involved. When we give whatever we give out of love to God - trusting in His promises - it may not be worth much in the eyes of the world. It may not be worth much in comparison with what God has given us. But through faith in Christ - when God judges our gifts, he judges them as acceptable. For that, we can truly be thankful. Amen.