The Widow’s Sacrificial Contribution

“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (vv. 43–44).

– Mark 12:41–44

Christ reserved some of His harshest words for those who used religion as a pretense for taking advantage of needy widows and others in desperate situations (Mark 12:38–40). At the same time, some of His greatest commendations went to those widows who willingly and cheerfully gave what they had to the work of God. We read such words in today’s passage.

During the first century, the temple in Jerusalem and the priesthood were funded by the tithes and gifts of the people, in keeping with the Lord’s instruction in Deuteronomy 12:1–7 for the Jews to bring their offerings to the one appointed sanctuary for worship. In Jesus’ day, monetary gifts were deposited in an offering box located in the court of the women, where both men and women could gather. Given what Mark 12:41–42 tells us, contributing monies to this box was in some ways a public act. If people were paying attention, they could see who was giving money when someone placed money in the box. It was evident when wealthy people gave large sums of money, and it was also clear when poor individuals gave meager amounts to the temple. Probably the sound of the coins’ falling into the box was a giveaway as to the amount of money contributed.

In terms of the number of coins, it was clear that the wealthy gave more in total to the temple and to the worship of the Lord than the poor. Yet Jesus indicates that when God considers how much people give to His kingdom, He considers not the monetary sum but the intent of the heart and the sacrifice made. The widow in today’s passage is praised because though her gift was small in amount (one-thirty-second of a day’s wage), it represented a true sacrifice on her part. The wealthy contributors, at least on that day, were giving out of their abundance—they gave up nothing in order to contribute their sums; their donations did not really cost them anything from a material goods standpoint. They did not truly surrender anything in order to worship God. The widow, on the other hand, gave up all she had because of her great dedication to the Lord.

John Calvin comments on today’s passage that “whatever men offer to God ought to be estimated not by its apparent value, but only by the feeling of the heart.” The Lord is less concerned about the total we give to His kingdom (though one-tenth is a good starting point) and more about the spirit in which we give it. He is glorified by any gift we give when our hearts are in the right place.

Coram Deo

  • In his commentary Mark, Dr. R.C. Sproul writes, “God is not so much concerned with what we give as how we give.” Above all, the Lord is looking at our hearts, and He esteems those who have hearts that are willing to make sacrifices for His kingdom. Are you giving to the work of God in a way that pleases Him?

Passages for Further Study

  • Luke 21:1–4
  • 2 Corinthians 9

Devotionals (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals), Copyright 2016, Ligonier Ministries.

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Religious Men Who Prey on the Needy

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

– Mark 12:38–40

Televangelist scandals have routinely made headlines for the past forty years or so. Many of these scandals have been sexual in nature, with preachers getting caught with prostitutes or found guilty of other kinds of sexual immorality. Other scandals, however, have been financial in nature. One televangelist who pledged to pray for those who donated to his ministry was found to have thrown the prayer request cards immediately into the trash after receiving the funds, never praying as he promised. Other televangelists have encouraged people to give money that they do not really have, to take out loans or lines of credit, promising people that if they go into debt “for the Lord,” God will make them millionaires.

Sadly, hucksters often use religion as a pretense for their own-financial gain. We are not talking here about hardworking and godly pastors and leaders who are paid well by their churches or other organizations. Instead, we refer to the hypocrites who see religion as a way to make a quick dollar and who intentionally prey on unsuspecting people, taking advantage of them for their money. This phenomenon, we read in today’s passage, is nothing new. In Jesus’ day, many of the scribes were guilty of devouring “widows’ houses.”

The scribes were highly respected in the first century, and many of them took advantage of that respect to enrich themselves. They would turn to widows in financial distress and make them promises that could not be kept if they would just give them their money. Some people who were not scribes themselves dressed up as scribes and convinced wealthy widows to give them large sums for the temple. Those false scribes then took the money and ran away with it.

Jesus had harsh words for such unscrupulous characters, but He also condemned the scribal class for hypocritical behavior that was not financial in nature. Their religion was all too often mere show. Long prayers were offered and long robes were worn in an attempt to prove their piety. However, ostentatious displays of religiosity were covers for hearts that sought honor for themselves, not for the Lord (Mark 12:38–40).

Truly, impenitent hypocrisy is one of those sins that mark us out as fools. When we pretend that we are more godly than we actually are, we might trick others, but we never mislead God. We must guard our hearts lest outward piety become a vehicle for hiding self-advancement.

Coram Deo

  • None of us fully lives up to God’s standards, but we are not hypocrites for trying. We are hypocrites only when we pretend to be holier than we are, when we present ourselves as humble when in fact our hearts are proud and conceited. Let us repent daily for any true hypocrisy that we might find in our hearts, and may we ask God to give us the grace to be honest about ourselves with others.

Passages for Further Study

  • Psalm 26
  • Matthew 6:1–4
  • Luke 12:1–3
  • 1 Peter 2:1–3

Devotionals (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals), Copyright 2016, Ligonier Ministries.

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David’s Prophecy of Christ

“How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’ David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” (vv. 35b–37a).

– Mark 12:35–37

Following Jesus’ conversation with the scribe about the greatest commandment, Mark notes, “And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions” (Mark 12:34b). Essentially, the second evangelist calls our attention to Christ’s having not only answered effectively those who tried to trap Him but having answered them so definitively that they would not even try to argue against Him (see vv. 1–34a). That does not mean, however, that the question-and-answer sessions were over. Instead, Jesus took His place of rightful authority and began asking questions of His opponents.

In the temple, the seat of Jewish religious authority, Christ called that authority into doubt by questioning its understanding of the Messiah’s identity. Implicitly, Jesus said the scribes missed the mark in calling the Messiah the “son of David” (v. 35). Jesus was not saying that the title was itself inappropriate, for He Himself is the Messiah and the Son of David (Matt. 1:1–17; 16:13–20). He was saying that the scribal understanding of what it means to be the Son of David and the Messiah was inadequate. Many Jews expected a Messiah who was merely human—a great man, but only a man. But this view was—and remains—inadequate, as Jesus demonstrated on the day He posed the question about the Messiah and the son of David.

Jesus turned to Psalm 110, the single most frequently cited Old Testament text in the New Testament. In this psalm, written by David, the king of Israel makes reference to two Lords. In the original Hebrew of the psalm, the first “Lord” translates the Hebrew word Yahweh, God’s covenant name. The second “Lord” translates the Hebrew word Adonai, a title usually given to Yahweh in the Old Testament. Jesus is pointing out that the Messiah, who is one of the sons of David, is also much more. He is one to whom God Himself gives the title of deity. In other words, the Messiah is truly man and truly God.

Thus, we cannot help but conclude today’s study with the words of Augustine of Hippo from his sermon on the parallel to today’s passage in Matthew 22: “Christ is both David’s Son, and David’s Lord: David’s Lord always, David’s Son in time: David’s Lord, born of the substance of His Father, David’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Ghost. . . . Unless our Lord Jesus Christ had vouchsafed to become man, man had perished. He was made that which He made, that what He made might not perish. Very Man, Very God; God and man, the whole Christ.”

Coram Deo

  • The church’s confession that Jesus is both truly God and truly man goes right back to the self-understanding of the Lord Himself. He proclaimed His humanity and deity; therefore, so must we. We are not preaching the whole Christ unless we proclaim His true manhood and His true deity. Because He is man, He could atone for the sins of mankind. Because He is God, this atonement can cover all of our sins past, present, and future.

Passages for Further Study

  • Isaiah 7:14
  • Micah 5:2
  • John 1:1–18
  • Romans 1:3–4

Devotionals (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals), Copyright 2016, Ligonier Ministries.

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Close to the Kingdom of God

“When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions” (v. 34).

– Mark 12:32–34

Even though Jesus often opposed the Jewish religious authorities of His day—at times quite harshly (Matt. 23)—He did not disagree with or condemn everything they taught. When these authorities were correct, our Savior affirmed them. We see this in today’s passage, wherein Mark concludes his account of Jesus’ exchange with a scribe about the greatest commandment.

The scribe who asked Jesus about the greatest commandment was decidedly less hostile to Him than were the Pharisees and Sadducees who opposed Him in Jerusalem (Mark 12:1–27). This is particularly evident in verses 32–33 of today’s passage, as we see the scribe affirm and commend the answer our Lord gave him. He demonstrates a good knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures in his approval, for he quotes from Deuteronomy 4:35; 6:4; Leviticus 19:18; 1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 45:21; and Hosea 6:6, all of which reinforce the truth that the greatest commandments in the Torah are the love of God and the love of neighbor. Note that the scribe’s response receives a commendation from Jesus Himself. One commentator notes that our Lord’s words in Mark 12:34 are an implicit revelation of our Lord’s authority. It is hard to conceive of the ancient rabbis’ offering such a firm estimation of the state of a person’s soul, but Jesus tells the scribe that he is “not far from the kingdom of God.” Clearly, Jesus understood Himself to have the authority to judge people and their citizenship in God’s saving kingdom.

Importantly, Jesus did not tell the man he was in the kingdom of God but that he was not far from it. We do not know what happened to this scribe after his meeting with the Lord, but we do know that at that point he was on the verge of receiving salvation. Elsewhere in Scripture, the gospel is referred to as “the gospel of the kingdom.” The gospel message has reference to a kingdom and its King, namely, the Lord God Almighty. Like earthly kings, the heavenly King has a law to which men and women are accountable, and one cannot enter His kingdom unless he recognizes the authority of His law. Of course, the gospel says more—that all people have broken this law and must trust in Christ alone in order to become citizens of God’s kingdom. But to do that, we must first realize that we are obligated to keep the Lord’s commands. The scribe understood that, so he was not far from understanding the rest of the gospel and entering the kingdom of God.

Coram Deo

  • In our day, many people will not preach the law of God because they believe news of God’s judgment creates a barrier to people’s entering the kingdom. Yet Jesus Himself shows us that we cannot come close to the kingdom of God unless we first know God’s law and what it demands. Let us encourage our pastors and teachers in their endeavor to preach and teach the law of God.

Passages for Further Study

  • Joshua 24:19–28
  • Mark 10:17–22
  • Romans 3:9–31; 7:7–25

Devotionals (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals), Copyright 2016, Ligonier Ministries.

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The Greatest Commandments

“Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these’ ” (vv. 29–31).

– Mark 12:28–31

According to rabbinic Judaism, the Torah (the law of God) contains 613 commandments. Of these commandments, 365 are negative in form (“you shall not”) and 248 are positive in form (“you shall”). Given this complexity, it is unsurprising that the ancient rabbis frequently sought ways to summarize the law and to identify the most important laws, those commands that incurred the harshest penalties when violated.

Thus, when the scribe identified in today’s passage came to Jesus to ask Him which of the commandments was the most important, he was not posing a question that he or Jesus had never thought about before (Mark 12:28). Moreover, Jesus’ first response was not unique to Him. Quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4–5, the fundamental creedal statement of Judaism known as the Shema, Christ replied that love for God above all else is the most important of all the commandments (vv. 29–30). Our Lord’s second response, that love for neighbor is the second greatest of all the commandments, was also not unheard of, for many rabbis before and after Jesus’ lifetime summarized the Torah as teaching the love of neighbor. What was unique about Jesus’ response was the way in which our Lord combined the commandments. Though He gave a certain logical priority to loving God by mentioning it first, answering a question about the greatest commandment with two commandments shows that Jesus regarded the commands as distinguishable, not separable. That is, Christ held that we cannot truly love God without loving our neighbor and we cannot truly love our neighbor without loving God.

Jesus’ response indicates that we must love God in four ways—with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in his commentary Mark that loving God with one’s entire heart means loving Him from the very root of our being; that loving God with one’s entire soul means loving Him passionately, not in a tepid manner; that loving God with all of one’s strength means loving Him with all of the power we can muster; and that loving Him with all of one’s mind means loving Him by studying His ways and His character as revealed in His Word. If we are honest with ourselves, we will confess that none of us has loved God in such a way. We might love God more today than we loved Him yesterday, but we still do not love Him as we ought. That is why we must repent daily for our failure to keep the greatest commandment.

Coram Deo

  • Dr. R.C. Sproul also writes in his Mark commentary, “We do not really progress in the Christian life until we understand that we are to love God simply because He is lovely and wonderful, worthy of every creature’s unqualified affection.” Love for God on account of who He is in Himself is the highest form of love that creatures can show. Let us pray that the Lord would give us such love for Him.

Passages for Further Study

  • Deuteronomy 11:1
  • Hosea 6:6
  • Matthew 22:34–40
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:5

Devotionals (http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals), Copyright 2016, Ligonier Ministries.

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Butterfly, Botanist, or Bee?

“Take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17).

Your attitude toward Scripture will determine your effectiveness in spiritual battle.

I remember enjoying the observations of a perceptive man who was gazing at a beautiful garden. First he saw a butterfly flitting from flower to flower. It spent a few seconds on the edge of each, but derived no particular benefit from any of them.

Next he saw a botanist with large notebook and microscope in hand. As the botanist carefully observed each flower and plant, he made copious entries in his book. But after hours of meticulous study, most of what he learned was shut up in his book. Very little remained in his mind.

Then came a little bee. When it entered a flower, it emerged laden with pollen. It had left the hive that morning empty, but would return full.

When it comes to Bible study, some people are like butterflys, going from one favorite verse to another, one seminar to another, or one book to another. They’re very busy and expend much energy but have little to show for their efforts. They remain unchanged in any significant way because they never really delve into the Word wholeheartedly. They’re content to simply flutter around the edges.

Others, like the botanist, may study in great depth but never apply it to their lives. I know of entire commentaries written by unbelievers. In some cases their grasp of Scripture is exceptional, but they know nothing of true love for God and obedience to biblical truth. What a tragedy! But you don’t have to be a biblical scholar to make that mistake. You need only to fail to apply what you learn to your life.

Rather, strive to be like the bee, spending time in the Word—reading, studying, taking notes, then emerging fuller than when you began. Your mind will be filled with wisdom and biblical insights. Your life will be sweeter and purer because the Word has done its work (1 Cor. 2:13).

Are you a butterfly, a botanist, or a bee?

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Thank God for the opportunities He gives you to study His Word. Take full advantage of them.

For Further Study

  • According to James 1:22-25, what’s the difference between someone who merely hears the Word and someone who obeys it?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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Learning From Christ’s Example

“Take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17).

To wield the sword of the Spirit is to apply specific Biblical principles to specific situations.

Jesus gave us the perfect example of skillful and precise use of the sword of the Spirit. Following His baptism, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread'” (Matt. 4:1-3).

Satan was challenging Christ’s trust in His heavenly Father’s power and provisions. God had just announced that Jesus was His Son (Matt. 3:17). Would He now abandon Jesus to starve in the wilderness? Satan urged Jesus to take matters into His own hands and supply for His own needs. After all, Satan implied, doesn’t the Son of God deserve better than this?

Jesus might have acted on His own authority or demanded that God give Him what He deserved. Instead, He demonstrated His trust in God and rebuked Satan for his evil intents: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God'” (v. 4). That’s a specific verse applied to a specific situation. Jesus responded the same way to Satan’s other temptations (vv. 7, 10).

Scripture gives many general principles for Christian living, but the sword of the Spirit is a precise weapon. We must learn to apply the appropriate biblical principles to any given situation. That’s what the psalmist meant when he wrote, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Thy word. . . . Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee” (Ps. 119:9, 11).

Do you know where to go in the Bible to defend yourself against sorrow, discouragement, apathy, lust, or pride? If not, you’re attempting to do spiritual battle unarmed.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Thank God for His precious Word and the study resources that are available to Bible students today.
  • Renew your commitment to daily systematic Bible study.

For Further Study

  • Read Psalm 119:97-105. Is that your attitude toward Scripture?

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, http://www.crossway.com.

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