What is the Meaning of Mark 12.38-44

“Faithful Generosity Amidst Proud Hypocrisy”

Mark 12:38-44

INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Mark 12.38-44

I invite you back to the end of Mark chapter 12. Mark chapter 12 and our passage will be verses 38 to 44. We are in the last week of the Lord Jesus’ life before his crucifixion. We are on either Tuesday or Wednesday of the Passion Week. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and the scribes already had their turn to attack Jesus. They tried to trip him up in his words so that the Romans would crucify him. And last week we began Jesus’ challenges in return. Jesus is now on offense. He begins to attack them.

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He challenged their teaching, as we saw last week. He challenged their understanding of the Messiah. But now, in verses 38-40, Jesus attacks their behavior. The scribes are proud hypocrites who devoured widow’s houses.

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In verses 41-44, we have an example of a widow. The religious leaders devoured her house! The way the two stories tie together is by the word widow. We have the word widow in verse 40 as well as in verse 42. Clearly, these two stories go together. The widow, in verse 42, gave what was left of her money because the religious leaders had devoured what was left.

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The widow, then, is an example of faithful generosity. The scribes are an example of proud hypocrisy. So this passage is about faithful generosity in the midst of proud hypocrisy.

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And judgment is right around the corner because of this. Judgment is coming because of the hypocrisy of the scribes. Judgment is coming because the scribes take advantage of poor widows. The end of Mark 12:40 says “these will receive greater condemnation.” This is clear even in the next story. Look at Mark 13:2.

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Jesus and his disciples are leaving the Temple. And Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple. He says, concerning the Temple, at the end of Mark 13:2 Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”

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Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple. Judgment is coming. This will happen in A.D. 70 when the Romans come and destroy it. And the Temple has not been rebuilt since.

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Jesus also predicts judgment in our passage, at the end of verse 40. After describing these hypocritical religious leaders, Jesus says that they “will receive greater condemnation.”

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What we will do today is apply these two stories to us and to what’s going on in other churches. We need to be able to recognize proud hypocrites when we see them in pulpits. And because of this message, I’ve been finding myself saying to myself, “Is it I, Lord?” And I trust you’ll have the same heart this morning.

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  1. Jesus Condemns Proud Hypocrisy (12:38-40).

First, in verses 38-40, Jesus condemns proud hypocrisy. Jesus condemns proud hypocrisy. In this case, they happen to be false teachers and false shepherds. He tells us to beware of them . How would you know a false teacher if you heard one? We will see here that false teachers love pride and money, but they hate people and appear godly. False teachers love pride and money but they hate people and appear godly. This is not so easily seen, or they wouldn’t be on the radio and television.

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  1. False teachers love pride (12:38-39).

In verses 38-39, false teachers love pride. False teachers glory in the pride of life, which is strictly forbidden. 1 John 2:16 says that the boastful pride of life is not from the Father, but is from the world. We are to recognize that and turn away. The scribes give a perfect example of pursuing the pride of life. How do the scribes do that?

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  1. Self-importance: They love status symbols to make them appear more important.

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EXP: Verse 38, they “walk around in long robes.” The scribes wore these long, flowing robes and they decorated them with tassels. They were made of special cloth. But they were also status symbols. These robes distinguished the scribes as men of wealth and power. They were status symbols. Scribes loved their status symbols because they made them look important, wealthy, and powerful. And people respected them more because of it.

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ILL: This kind of thing is going on today. Big megachurch pastors who are in the Word of Faith movement or who preach the health and wealth gospel have the same ambitions as the world. They want status symbols. Paula White, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Fred Price and many others. They teach a gospel of bling. “Give money to this ministry and God will bless you with riches.” They literally, actively, purposefully teach this.

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These preachers are high profile. The status symbols among these pastors and preachers are the same as the world’s. Even more, these false shepherds seem to have a taste for the Bentley, these cars that run anywhere from $150,000 to $350,000. I don’t remember how many of these pastors that I saw boasting about their Bentley’s. At least a half dozen, that I saw. One took to Twitter and tweeted pictures of them. They take pictures of them and put them on the front of the advertisements for their churches or sermons.

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And they glory in their million-dollar homes and fancy suits, private jets and real estate property.

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This kind of religion is attractive to a culture such as ours. These false shepherds promise to give what every unbeliever wants. Everybody wants to be rich. And they spiritualize covetousness and materialism. If you come to Jesus, he will make you rich. The more money you give to their ministries, the bigger your wallet will be, so they claim.

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APP: That’s them, and you’ve been warned. But we are not immune to this, either. We have been born into a world that glorifies stuff. Our world glorifies better stuff, bigger stuff, faster stuff, more technologically advanced stuff. Whether it’s a bigger TV, a fancier car, truck, or tractor, or a bigger house… our world is screaming at us constantly to get it, not for some God-honoring purpose, but to appear more important. And you are listening to it.

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If you tell a lie loud enough and long enough, people believe it. If you’ve been hearing this message since you we’re old enough to talk.You gotta work hard and earn your living to earn enough money to buy that stuff or to secure your future. And we are so captivated by making more and more money that we spend hours and hours trying to get more money.

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And then we spiritualize it. We say, “Lord, if I had more money, I could give more to Your work.” But your heart and your affections are really taken up with the money and the prayer of giving more money is a thin veil attempting to cover up the covetousness of your heart. This is going on while Christ and His Great Commission just get a “tip of the hat.”

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Are you working hard to put food on your table or are you working hard to buy stuff to consume it upon your own desires? Do you desire to work and feed your family? Or do you desire to work and feed your family…for a purpose…in order to further God’s kingdom in your family? Is the working and the eating and the money an end or is it a conscious means to magnify God’s fame and praise on this earth? 1 Corinthians 10:31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

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TRANS: False shepherds walk around in their long robes; they love their status symbols. But these false teachers also love honor. We’ll see here that they love honor in private and they love honor in public. Wherever they can get it, they go for it.

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  1. Self-applause: They love honor in private.

At the end of verse 38, they like respectful greetings in more private settings, in the marketplaces. They love honor when it’s given privately. When the scribes passed through a marketplace, people were expected to stand out of respect. And they love this! They glory in such honor on the street.

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TRANS: Not only do they like it on the street and in the marketplaces, but they also love it in public.

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  1. Self-advancement: They love honor in public.

Verse 39, they love the best “seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets.” The synagogue was a Jewish place of worship where they would meet, kind of like we do in a church building. And these scribes had to have the best seats. They wanted the front row. I can see no one in here covets such honor. But I suppose for us, it would be coveting the back row. No, they want certain seats or anything for the sake of increased honor.

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And whenever they went to a public banquet and there was opportunity, they had to have the seat of honor. If it was a wedding feast, Luke 14 indicates that they would scramble to take the most honored seats. And Jesus condemns that. But they loved it! They love ways of increasing their own honor among the people.

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They love whatever it is that makes them appear more honorable or more important or above the people. In one word then, they are proud. Pride is the sneakiest of sins and the root of all of the others. Someone who is proud will not only exalt themselves, but they will be angry with anybody who gets in their way. Someone who is proud is self-dependent. And so pride not only manifests itself in anger, but also in worry. Worriers are proud because they believe the lie that the situation depends on them. They are self-dependent. So pride is not always revengeful or hurtful, but it can seem innocent. It is the sneakiest of sins.

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And you are proud in areas of your life that you aren’t even aware of. That’s why you must pursue humility. And we went over this Thursday night a little bit, but the solution to pride, as it is with any sin, is first to recognize it. Write down the prideful thoughts that you have.

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And then, after you go through the exercise of “taking heed to thyself,” repent to God of those thoughts. Tell him you failed to believe him for who he is. And then, study humility. Receive God’s teaching on the subject. Recognize the sin, repent of it and your failure to believe God, and receive God’s teachings about it. And Thursday we mentioned for humility, that you could go to Philippians 2 and Psalm 113:5-6. You’re not humble because you don’t understand God’s humility. God humbled himself and came to earth.

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TRANS: Ok, there is some help as it concerns pride and humility or any sin. So, false shepherds are proud. They love status symbols and honor, whether it’s given on the street or whether it is in the public setting like a synagogue. And false shepherds also hate people for the purpose of gaining more money. They hate people for the purpose of gaining money.

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  1. False teachers hate people and love money (12:40a).

Notice what it says in verse 40, they “devour widow’s houses.” What these scribes would do is they would prey on women who had lost their husbands. These women had no managers of their estate. So the scribes would speak kindly to them and persuade them to hand over the management of their estate to them. And then the scribes would convince them to make large donations to the Temple. And eventually these poor widows would be left with nothing. False teachers devour widow’s houses and leave them with nothing.

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ILL: And this is exactly the thing going on in the name of Christ today. Just like Christ told his disciples to beware, so tell I you today that you too must beware. False shepherds today are taking advantage of the people in their churches. These false shepherds manipulate people into giving more and more money by their manipulative powers.

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Their taking advantage of people even has a name; it’s called “fleecing of the flock.” These pastors just line up the sheep and shave off their hair and send them on their way. False teachers rip off the sheep.

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And this is not uncommon. In fact, it is the most popular form of Christianity today. More people attend these kinds of churches than any other church in the world. These false shepherds teach their people that if they “sow a seed of faith,” that is, if they give more money, God will multiply that offering back to them. In other words, if you give $1000 to a particular false shepherd, the false shepherd promises God will give back to you exponentially more than what you gave. And you will be rich. This is “fleecing the flock.” The false shepherds take the money and run.

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Joel Osteen is doing this. He leads the largest “church” in North America. Some 30,000 people attend his church. He writes in his book Your Best Life Now,

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[Quote] “If you’re struggling financially, go out and help somebody who has less than you have….If you want to reap financial blessings, you must sow financial seeds in the lives of others….If you want to see healing and restoration come to your life, go out and help somebody else get well” (224, 250–51). Osteen teaches that you should give in order to receive. But Christ would have you give and expect nothing in return. Luke 6:35 “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.

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ILL: I saw a video on the web yesterday. Two false shepherds, Creflo Dollar and Leroy Thompson, are leading a church service inside of Madison Square Garden. Tens of thousands of people are there. The men hype up the offering and people are instructed to sew the seed of faith and give. Thompson declares, “They are going to have to listen to us. We’re going to have all the money.” He claims that there is going to be what he calls a “wealth transference” when they give money. In other words, when they give, God will give abundantly more back to them.

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The music continues and the people file by the front of the church and they throw their dollar bills and their checks at the feet of the preacher on the widened staircase. The offering lasts for at least 10 minutes. And at the end of the offering, Thompson excitedly stamps and dances back and forth on the money declaring “I’m putting anointing on this money.”

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I paused the video at one point. At one point I saw a picture of exactly what this first phrase of verse 40 is talking about, “devouring widows’ houses.” When I paused it, there was an elderly lady. She reminded me of a widow. Along with the crowd, she had walked to the front of Madison Square Garden in New York during this meeting. When she got there, she saw the stairs leading up to the platform, which were covered in royal blue carpet and this meek old lady in her little green dress was putting, as it were, her living at the feet of the man in that classy pin-stripped suit.

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These false shepherds are pressuring and manipulating people to give, which is expressly forbidden in 2 Corinthians 9:7 Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion (or pressure. Don’t give under pressure…), for God loves a cheerful giver.

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False teachers love money and they hate people. They will devour widow’s houses to get their money.

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TRANS: If this was all of what was going on, it would be very easy to expose these people for what they really are. If these are just proud people who are exalting themselves and loving their status symbols and respect from others and loving money, then you would think it would be easy to determine who these people are. But the problem is that they appear to be godly. In the middle of verse 40 now, false teachers appear to be godly.

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  1. False teachers appear godly (12:40b).

It says that they offer long prayers for the sake of appearance. These false teachers in Jesus’ day would stand on the street corners and pray such long prayers and others would walk by notice them. They wanted others to see them praying a long time so that they would appear to be godly.

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Now, keep in mind that long prayers themselves are not wrong. Jesus himself on would pray all night. Long prayers in public are not wrong either. The problem is the motivation. They pray for appearance’s sake. That’s the issue. Why are you praying? Are you praying so that others will think that you are godly or are you praying to God with a genuine and real heart?

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And because these health and wealth preachers talk about Jesus and claim to tell people what Jesus says, it masks the true intentions that they have of “fleecing the sheep.” They appear to be sheep, but they have really sharp teeth and they are devouring people’s lives, not only now, but for eternity.

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And so I hate this prosperity gospel. Jesus in Matthew 23 pronounces damnation on such individuals who hypocritically appear godly yet live of life of covetousness. And at the end Mark 12:40, Jesus declares that these will receive greater condemnation.

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  1. False teachers will receive greater condemnation (12:40c).

False teachers receive greater condemnation. All judgment, Jesus says, has been handed over to him from the Father. The judge of all the Earth says that greater condemnation is for false teachers like these. Moses declares in Exodus 22:22 “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.” It’s found throughout the prophets as well. Listen to…

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Micah 3:11-12 Her leaders pronounce judgment for a bribe, Her priests instruct for a price And her prophets divine for money. Yet they lean on the Lord saying, “Is not the Lord in our midst? Calamity will not come upon us.” 12 Therefore, on account of you Zion will be plowed as a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins, And the mountain of the temple will become high places of a forest.

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Jeremiah 6:13-15 13 “For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, Everyone is greedy for gain, And from the prophet even to the priest Everyone deals falsely. 14 “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace. 15 “Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; They did not even know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; At the time that I punish them, They shall be cast down,” says the Lord.

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And God did indeed punish them. Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple during Jeremiah’s ministry in 586 BC. And in our passage, Jesus is standing in the 2nd Temple and He’s watching this exact same covetous thievery of the people among the religious leaders once again. And when He and the disciples leave the Temple in Mark 13, in the next chapter, just like Micah and Jeremiah, Jesus too will pronounce judgment on Jerusalem. And it will come to pass in AD 70. Judgment for taking advantage of the helpless among God’s people.

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And now, we’re seeing this exact thing in the church. The largest segment of Christianity today is filled with exactly the same things for which God destroyed Israel. And is it any wonder then that Jesus discusses the end times beginning in the next chapter? Could God be setting up the end times because He sees the greedy gain that’s going on in His church?

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Well, this kind of thing has been happening a long time. If you study church history, you’ll read how the Catholic Church has, in its past at least, purposefully taken advantage of people.

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But for these false teachers in Jesus’ day, not only is judgment coming upon Israel in just 40 years, but they will receive greater condemnation eternally. Hell will be hotter for people like this. Not the drunkard, not the prostitute…the religious false teachers get a hotter place in hell.

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The religious people who commit violent injustice against others will receive the greatest condemnation.

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ILL: Isaac Asimov was a popular science fiction writer in the 20th century and he knew something of these TV preachers that we’ve been talking about. Isaac Asimov was an atheist. In his autobiography, he imagines the kind of God he would believe in, if he believed in a god. He writes, “If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words.” He continues, “I think [this god] would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul.” He died in 1992 at age 72.

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And according to these words of Jesus, he is right. It’s the false teachers who have the greater condemnation before God.

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APP: You know, we’ve been talking a lot about false teachers. And rightly so, that’s exactly what is in the passage. But Isaac Asimov is touching on something that has infected the church more than we think. You’ve heard it before. When you ask about why someone is not going to church, they tell you, “Well, the church is full of…hypocrites.”

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And what we mean by a hypocrite is exactly what the scribes were. They were like caskets. They look good on the outside in their long flowing robes, but on the inside is rotting humanity. Their religiosity on the outside was a mere cover for the covetousness on the inside.

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You preach one thing but you live another.

You tell your kids, “clean up your room” but your office is a mess. Guilty preacher!

You sing in the choir, but you yell at your kids.

You give to the church, but you cheat on your taxes.

You teach the young marrieds, but you’re cheating on your wife.

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You say you love God,

but you only bless someone when they sneeze.

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The people you work with think that you’re great,

But it’s you coming home that your kids really hate.

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And those are some of these easy ones. Our understanding of hypocrites can be flipped on its head. Usually its people who have strict standards who are called hypocrites or legalists. But those who despise people’s standards are hypocrites, too. You’re a hypocrite if you despise those who don’t have a TV in their house, but you yourself don’t watch rated R movies. Both have a standard, but you draw the line in different places. Who are you to judge someone else’s standard.

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You call legalistic those who won’t listen to rock music, but you yourself won’t listen to Marilyn Manson. Hypocrite. You have a standard, they have a standard. Why despise them? The reason is you are proud. You think everyone else should hold to your looser standard. Whoever holds to a stricter standard then me is a legalist. This is hypocritical because you both hold to a standard.

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Romans 14:3 speaks out against exactly this, “The one who eats is not despise the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.”

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Hypocrites judge others’ convictions and standards when they have standards, too.

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TRANS: So, Jesus condemns proud hypocrisy. Secondly, now, in verses 41-44, Jesus commends faithful generosity.

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  1. Jesus Commends Faithful Generosity (12:41-44)

In 12:41-42, Jesus observes the giving of money. Mark 12:41-42 41 And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent.

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  1. Jesus Observes Giving Money (12:41-42).

Jesus and the disciples have moved now to a place in the Temple where only the Jews can go. And it is here where there are offering boxes and they are fastened to the wall. There are 13 of them. Each are shaped kind of like of large funnel. And people would come by and throw their money in. And of course they didn’t have paper money. They had coins. And when you threw coins into these offering plates, it would make noise. And the more coins you put in, the louder the noise you made. And so the scribes and the hypocrites would try to make a louder sound to appear as if they are giving more money.

And Jesus is sitting opposite of the treasury and he’s watching who puts money into it. Rich people are putting money into it and they’re putting in large amounts of money. But verse 42, there is a poor widow comes and she puts in two small coins. And what she puts in hardly amounts to anything.

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So here is this woman. She is poor. She does not have a lot of money. She is a widow. She has lost her husband. She is destitute. She has no capacity to earn any money on her own. Poor widows in those days relied on the kindness of others for their financial well-being.

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So this woman has a complete opposite life as compared to the religious leaders. She’s poor; but they are rich. She does not know the Law of Moses like these religious leaders do. She’s a woman, they are men. In that society, gender equality wasn’t exactly on the political front burner. But the most important contrast of all is that these religious leaders have no saving faith and actually steal money from God and man. But she is commended by Jesus. Jesus condemned these religious leaders, but commends, or praises, this poor widow.

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  1. Jesus Commends Sacrificial Giving (12:43-44).

Jesus commends this widow is verses 43-44. He declares in verse 43 that this poor widow has actually put in more than all the rich people. In Jesus’ estimation, she has put in more money into the offering then all of the rich people.

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You say, “how can that be?” Because if you look at the actual dollar amount, obviously the rich people gave more. How can Jesus say that this widow has actually put in more than the rich people?

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And Jesus explains why he can say that in verse 44. “This poor widow has put in more money than all of the rich people” for or because “they all put in out of their surplus” or they put in out of their abundant wealth. “But she out of her poverty put in all that she owned, all she had to live on.”

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Jesus is teaching that the economics in God’s kingdom are opposite of that of the world. In business, big orders are always best, no matter the financial status of the customer. But in Jesus’ kingdom, the smallest offering can amount to the most.

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The smallest offering in Jesus’ kingdom can amount to the largest offering if…get this now…if someone gives truly sacrificially. In other words, giving in Jesus’ kingdom amounts to more if you give a higher percentage of what you own. And notice it’s what you own, not how much you make. Notice Jesus’ focus there in verse 44. The poor widow, end of verse 44, “put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” Jesus’ focus is the percentage of what you give versus what you own, not what you make.

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Jesus is clearly not teaching a principle of tithing here. Let me give an example. Say a man is retired. And say when he was working, he had acquired $10 billion. And now he is not working and he is not earning any money at all. That $10 billion is just sitting in a checking account, not earning any interest.

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And this person gets saved and the church they are in teaches tithing to mean that you should give 10% of what you earn every year. Well, this man does not have to give any money. He’s not earning any money. That’s why Jesus’ focuses on what you own, not what you earn. Verse 44 again Jesus commends the woman because she gave a larger percentage compared to what she owned. She “put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”

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And this is an extreme example to prove the point. Another case of hyperbole, as we’ve described on many occasions in Mark. The situation is an extreme example to prove a point. In other words, this passage is not teaching that you should give all that you own. Jesus’ point here is to commend faithful, generous giving. And we know it is generous when our offering is measured up against what we own, not our annual income.

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The tithe is part of the Old Covenant. When Jesus died, Eph. 2:15 teaches that the Law of Moses no longer operates. It’s not binding. Romans 10:14 says that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness.” The Law of Christ is now in place and we give as 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion (or pressure), for God loves a cheerful giver.” I can’t tell you to give because God commands you to tithe. No pressure!

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Good well-meaning pastors do teach you must tithe as a good principle of what God expects, but it can lead to pressure. But at least one health and wealth gospel peddler teaches that you must tithe or you’re under a curse! But the New Covenant in Christ does not demand tithing . It commends faithful generous giving. You see, this poor widow had faith that God was going to support her. We don’t know all of her circumstances, but she must have had some thought that what she was doing was giving to God in faith, or the Lord Jesus would not have commended her.

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She gave this generously, because God had her heart.

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CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Mark 12.38-44

So beware, be careful, be wise to observe false teachers. You must be careful today, more than ever. More than ever in the history of the world can you access any kind of false teaching at the click of a button. And it’s becoming harder and harder for pastors to guard their flock because of the filth that is so easily accessible within the privacy of everyone’s homes.

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And if any of this has hit home to you today, or you have an issue in your life, seek God! I’m here to help as well. Please feel free to call me! I’ll try to make sure the speck is out of my eye before I try to pull the log out of yours, but please come and see me. Recognize your sin, writing it down. Repent of it to God. Receive His teaching on the matter from the Bible.

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So if there is any hint of humility in your heart you must recognize that, except by the grace of God, you too will get sucked into false teaching. Be careful who you let you shepherd you from the Internet. You need a Good Shepherd. You need a true shepherd and the true shepherd for us today is the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

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Let’s sing about that. Number 503, “Savior, like a shepherd lead us.”

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