We’ve been travelling through the Gospel of Mark for a long time. Today we come to the last seven verses of chapter 12. You may have noticed that there was a painting of Jesus by Rembrandt recently sold for $592 million. More than half a billion dollars for a picture of Jesus, which in my opinion was a fairly effeminate, and unusual portrait. And here, we are looking at a portrait in Mark’s Gospel, which is older, better, more valuable. Not that I want to say anything bad about Rembrandt’s painting ability. But, this is a better portrait, and the more we look at this portrait, the more we benefit.
These seven verses are two little stories or windows, or cameos. Both of them have Jesus looking right through people. The first little section, Mark 12:38-40 he’s looking through religious hypocrisy. He’s looking through what we might call unimpressive godliness or unrecognised godliness. He sees through what is showy, but empty, and he sees through what looks empty but is wonderful. This is Jesus watching.
I want us to first of all therefore to take encouragement and reassurance that Jesus watches everything. Nothing escapes him. Psalm 11 tells us,
“The Lord observes everyone. His eyes examine them.”
And you’ll ask yourself every now and again, why having watch what is happening, why he doesn’t immediately intervene? And I think the biblical answer is that Jesus looks at the whole world as if somebody was watching the world or a city with a million cameras. And he knows exactly when to intervene and to bring a change, and he knows when to hold back, and see the test through to its proper conclusion.
Somewhere in the wisdom of Jesus, and the majesty and the might, and the love there is this watching and perfectly responding. And that’s what we see here in these verses. He sees through religious hypocrisy. The religious hypocrisy of the Jewish teachers. They are showy. He’s not impressed, and he sees through the quiet godliness of a widow, who was probably despised in her day, and he is if I may put it like this, impressed.
You may be a famous person. You may be an impressive person. But, if you are not in the good book so to speak of Christ, you’re in very great danger. On the other hand, you may be a small and despised person, but you’re in good standing with Jesus Christ, and you’re in the most wonderful position in eternity.
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The estimate of Jesus about a person is what really matters. His esteem more than other’s esteem or self-esteem is what really matters. Does He esteem? That’s what matters.
Does He not esteem? That’s what matters. And time will prove this is true. You’ve heard me say many times that what he said at the funeral on this side of the river is moderately important. What he said on the other side of the river, is of infinite importance.
Jesus is in the temple facing a great deal of opposition from the religious leaders. And it’s ironic, isn’t it? That he’s in the temple which is the place where he should be receiving a great deal of esteem and attention. In fact, the whole temple system we see is dead and pretty well finished. And the irony is that standing in the building of the temple is the new temple, the person of Jesus Christ to whom you go if you want to meet God and know him for yourself.
That is a great irony.
Why does Mark finish this section of hostile questions and brilliant answers from Jesus?
Why does he finish the whole chapter with these verses about religious leaders parading out around in their robes, and a widow putting some coins in the treasury?
Why does he finish with this?
Why does the Holy Spirit cause Mark to record verses 38-44? Is it just a little tale piece at the end? Where what the Lord wants us to think about is that we should be not fake, but real. Is that it? Or is it that Jesus up until now has been very discerning, and He’s able to see right through people, and now he is equipping His disciples to be discerning as well and to fall for externals? Is that what this is all about?
I hope that as you read your bibles, you move beyond what does it say and ask again and again, why does it say it? It is so important every now and again to just scratch your head, and not just say what does it say, but why does the text say it? It’s very, very important.
I think that God is using Mark to record for us these two scenes to show us that all people ultimately belong to one of two worlds.
You either belong to a passing world, even if you’re playing a religious game, or you belong to a lasting world even if the world itself doesn’t recognise where you are or where you stand.
Religion is no indication of being safe with God.
- You could be getting your child baptised and not be a Christian
- You could be getting married in this building and not be a Christian
- You could become a reverend and not be a Christian
- You could become the Archbishop and not be a Christian
Religion is secondary. Nor can you measure a person by the way the world measures a person because God measures a person differently as indeed Jesus measured this widow differently.
An Echo of a Passing World
As Jesus was teaching, he said, who did he say this to? Probably those who were listening as opposed to those who are not listening. He said to his disciples and to the common people, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. Some of whom I’ve just been talking to, and they’re hanging around, and they’ve been asking me difficult questions. Watch out for the teachers of the law. The religious teachers of the law, not the legal teachers of the law. The teachers of the religious law. Watch out for them because they like robes, seats, places, greetings, acclaim. Watch out for them.” And he mentioned six things. As I look at these six things, I think to myself they’re fairly harmless on the backdrop of the world. This is not murder and rape, this is people who like robes and seats and greetings.
There is one in the list which is quite serious, in verse 40, and that is that they devour widows’ houses. I presume this means that there were those within the religious establishment who would squeeze defenceless widows for their property or their money because they wanted to profit, and their conscience didn’t care. I presume that’s what’s going on behind this.
Apart from that serious sin, the rest of them are fairly odd, would you not agree? I mean, if you see somebody wondering around church and he or she loves robes, and a special seat in the building, and loves to be greeted in a special way, and loves to the front and make very long ostentatious prayers, would you think of that person as being a very dangerous citizen in the world? You would probably think of them as being a sad person. That’s the way I think we’re meant to be looking at this.
So, why do the religious fakes want these particular things? And I think the damning answer is that they actually belong to this world, and they want everything now. Their little world is a religious part of the world, and they want their glory now because this is the world they really belong to. They’re an echo of a passing world. They get their glory, their honour, and their power here in this world. It just happens to be in a religious part of the world.
I was asking myself, whether religious robes are a way to get glory in our city. I suspect they’re not the way to get glory anymore. I think the days are gone of respecting clergy walking around in their robes with their collars. And so, I wondered now whether it’s actually sometimes a more courageous thing to be wearing your collar or your clergy robes in the street. But, I guess the question is your motive.
In the old days, you might have done this because you wanted to display yourself and be seen to be somebody who is very holy. I’m not sure why people would do it today, but it could be that they’re doing it for courageous reasons to indicate this is my job, and this is my uniform. But, in some religious context, in church buildings among the gullible, and among the pious, and among the religious, robes and that sort of thing could be highly esteemed and applauded.
I can’t think of anybody on the staff at St. Thomas who actually likes wearing them. I think we’re wearing them because it’s part of a tradition of the church which we’re honouring, and we’re hoping that the people who come don’t think for a second that anybody who’s putting on the robes actually likes it or thinks that they’re a notch above anybody else.
The point, I think is that in religious circles, and we’re in the religious circle this morning, you know that it is possible to try and impress people as if this world is your goal. This is possible for all of us.
- It could be the words that we speak
- It could be the bragging about our performance
- It could be the way in which we conduct our piety in public
- It could be the way we use our body language in the singing so that the person looks and says, “They must be more spiritual than me.”
And it seems Jesus sees everything. The question that we should be asking is, why do we do what we do? And where are we looking for our glory, because Jesus sees everything?
I do think it is strange, and I’m sure you do too, that in light of a passage like this, the Church of England has actually created special and colourful robes for clergy. I think it’s unusual that in a building like this we set aside a seat, like the ones that are behind me, in special places in churches for clergy when Jesus has specifically said this is a danger for those who want to parade. And some clergy possibly love that sort of stuff, and some lay people possible love that sort of stuff as well.
Watch what Jesus says, he says, “Those religious people who are pretending and are living for this world will be punished,” verse 40, “most severely. They will receive greater judgment.”
We have to ask ourselves, why would you say something about something that’s so harmless? This is not murder, and depravity, and immorality. Why would Jesus be so tough on somebody who likes to wear robes, or likes a special seat, or leads long prayers?
Would Jesus, in a building like this, at the end of a service, having listened to somebody pray in a very ostentatious way, or parade in a very ostentatious way, would Jesus come up to them, and say, “It will be very serious judgment for you.” That’s the word that’s used here. That person will receive greater judgment. I think the answer is yes if Jesus knows that the person’s heart has never been given to him. And therefore, there is something wise and loving about the warning, isn’t there, to say to that person, “Your heart obviously belongs to this world, and you’re in very great danger.” So, he’s not overreacting to something harmless. He’s reacting rightly to something dangerous. And that is to withhold your heart form Christ, and to plant it in the world, and to attach your soul to this world even if it’s a religious part of the world. And therefore, you see the power of what’s going on here that the religious world has got its own dangers. It could be Christian ritual has its dangers. It could be the world of Islam has its dangers, of Buddhism, has its dangers. Every religion that takes your heart into this world and locks it in is an absolute tragedy. An absolute tragedy.
Of course, the other reason why the teachers of the law will receive stricter judgment is that they mislead people. In Matthew 23, Jesus spent a great deal of time talking to the religious leaders about their hypocrisy and the danger to the people. When people teach by example, or by their speech that this world is everything and the next world is irrelevant, they deserve condemnation.
I read some words recently from a pastor from the 19th century. A man called John James, and this is what he wrote towards the end of his ministry, and I love this little paragraph. Every time I read it, it stirs me again, and he says this;
“Standing as I now do in the prospect of the close of my ministry, of the eternal world, and of my summons to the presence of the great Lord of all, the salvation of souls as the object of the ministry appears to me more than ever before in all of its awful sublimity. Everything else that’s compared with it seems but as the small dust of the balance. And to my younger brethren, I say, you’re engaged in the greatest work in the universe. And to you believers, I say exactly the same. We must see everything in the light of eternity.”
As Mark is recording Jesus’ ministry and you know that Jesus is about to go to the Last Supper, and then he’s about to be crucified, and then he’s about to be raised from the dead. He records this warning on the very edge of all of this supper, cross, resurrection to beware and warn people that you belong to one of two worlds. And it’s a great tragedy to be one whose heart is in this passing world. People in this passing world, even in the religious world may get what they want. They may get their praise. They may get their applause. They may win the vote across the world. They may win the applause in the churches, but if they belong to this world, if they’ve said no to Christ, there’s only judgment to come. That’s what Jesus is saying through this particular tiny little section. Such an important thing to remember.
Let’s look at the second little window or picture which is more positive, and more lovely. And that’s where in verses 41 to 44, very famous verses, Jesus is watching the offertory in the temple. There are some wealthy people putting a lot of money in. Jesus doesn’t necessarily criticise them, but he points out a poor widow who’s putting in two coins.
We’ve got to read this carefully. Mark is not getting to end of chapter 12, and saying, “Okay. The last thing is it’s offertory time.” That’s not what he’s saying. Nor is he saying that a wealthy person who puts great contributions to the work of the Gospel is making a big mistake. Nor is he saying, “Be a fool with your money. Give it all away. Make yourself dependent on everybody else.” He’s not saying those things. Nor is he saying that this widow is to be applauded for being irresponsible herself.
Something is going in with this widow, and I want you to think about it with me.
What is going on as she goes to the offertory box and she puts in her two coins? Something very strange is happening, something which the world would consider to be ridiculous. Here is a woman whose behaviour is nothing like the religious leaders of the temple. What’s the mark of the religious leaders of the temple? They want. They want, they want, they want.
What’s the mark of this woman? She puts. She puts, she puts seven times in those few verses is this word “putting.” As some of them are disguised in the English translation, but in the original, it’s actually putting seven times. And we can only assume that this woman who is interested in putting, is quite different from the world. In fact, we would have to assume that her heart is very different. She belongs to another world. She’s an echo of a lasting world.
An Echo of a Lasting World
You see everybody’s putting something in. Some who are wealthy are putting a lot in, that’s fine. But, she puts in all, verse 44, and the all doesn’t mean she puts in everything she owns. It’s not meaning that she has sold her house, and sold her cutlery, and sold her crockery, and sold her car, and sold her CD collection. And now, she’s putting the whole thing in the offertory. What she’s putting in is her daily allowance. What she lives on, or possibly even her weekly allowance, and the equivalence of the two coins, I did the math is that she’s approximately putting in two $5 notes. So she’s so poor that the daily allowance is two $5 notes. And she hasn’t said to herself, “Five for him, five for me,” she said, “I’ll put them both in.” So she’s unusual, something’s happened to her. And she’s not like the religious leaders who are interested in getting and keeping. This lady is giving and putting.
In a nutshell, I want to suggest to you that her heart has been changed. Her heart has been changed in the background to this event. She’s been transformed. The world has lost its power for her. And the next world has gained her priority. She’s like the woman in chapter 14 who’s about to break the bottle of perfume, which is so expensive, and poured it on Jesus’ feet because she’s actually not so interested in the values of the world anymore.
As Jesus moves to Calvary, and Jesus is going to put everything he has into the salvation of men and women. He’s going to put his body into it, and he’s going to put his blood into it. And he’s going to put his fellowship with the Father, here’s is a woman who obviously believes in him, and she’s obviously put her faith in him and her heart is being changed, and she now has values that are not like the world, but actually belong to the next. She can enjoy this world, but she sees it in the light of the next. She has been changed. She is an echo of a lasting world. How does Jesus know that she’s a widow? How does Jesus know that this all she has for her daily allowance? Well, because He’s the son of God. Why is this woman like this? Why would she do this? Well, because she’s been enriched by Jesus immeasurably. She’s so grateful for what she has received in terms of let’s say forgiveness and adoption, and an inheritance to come. She looks at her life, and she looks at what she’s received, and she looks at her opportunity to give, and she says, “It’s an easy deal. What I’m going to give is small bickies compared to what I’ve received. I have received so much.” That’s the way she’s thinking.
While the religious leaders who have turned their back on Jesus, they just an echo over passing world. They can’t get enough of this world, that’s all there is. But the widow who has turned her back on the world and has taken hold of Christ is an echo of a lasting world. Now, I don’t think these two people are being set up as models. I don’t think you meant to walk out of here and say, “Don’t robes, do give away everything that to you’ve been given today to live on.” I think they’re being set up as examples of old life, new life, death, life, passing world, lasting world. They’re just being set up so that we’ll understand this is what happens when a person has turned their back on Christ. This world is all they’ve got. That’s why they’re so passionate to get their votes in. But a person who has come face to face with Christ and has received Him, and has been enriched can look at the world with all its beauty, and all its pleasure, and all its enjoyment, and say, “You know what? I’ve received even more.” So, I want to ask you to ask yourself whether Jesus Christ has done this work of enriching you because you’ve put your faith in him, and you’ve received forgiveness, and adoption, and one day, inheritance. I wonder whether you’ve been set free from the grip, and your grip of this world, so that you can pass through it and be thankful for everything without being a slave.
I want to remind you also this morning that if you do know Christ, you’ve been infinitely enriched. The one who is rich, 2 Corinthians 8, “In heaven became poor… a man and then a cross so that you the believer, though poor spiritually, might become infinitely rich.” You’ve been enriched. You and I have been enriched. More searchingly I wanna say to you that you can work out what you believe by what you do. That’s what this little section tells us. Behavior teaches beliefs. Behavior reveals beliefs. These teachers do things because that shows what they believe. This widow does something because it shows what she believes. Brothers and sisters, watch what you do and you’ll work out what you believe. Don’t assume that what you’re seeing or say is necessarily what you believe. It’s your behaviour that will tell you what you believe. So don’t tell me what you think of the Bible, tell what you do with your Bible. Don’t tell me what you think of Jesus, tell me how you relate to Jesus. Don’t tell me what you think of your work, tell me where your work occupies, what place it occupies. Don’t tell me what you think of church, tell me what you do. That’s the key. Don’t tell me what you think of your money, tell what you do with your money. Now Bishop Ross [SP] says, “If your life is giving pounds to self and pence to Christ, it’s time for the alarm bell to go off.” And we might update that and say if life is all about cruising and has very little to do with generosity to Christ, or it’s got very much to do with spending everything on the kids and very little on the Kingdom, that speaks volumes.
So what do you desire and what do you demand? It’s entirely natural for us to go through this world and want to be healthy, absolutely. It’s entirely natural for us to go through this world and want to have a loving family, to be happy, of course. The Lord himself gives us all these things richly to enjoy, but you’ll remember that Jesus Christ put all that aside in order that we might be saved. And when he saves us, something of his heart begins to resonate in our heart, and we can more and more turn our back on just on what we want, and think about what is really pleasing to Him and helpful in eternity. So the teachers, they preferred themselves to Christ. The woman obviously preferred Christ to self, and they echoed either a passing world or a lasting world. And you and I think will do well to look at this transformation that takes place by Jesus and ask us ourselves whether we received it, in which case, we are very blessed and very grateful, and very new.
Let’s pray. Loving Father, we give you thanks for the Lord Jesus and for the heart of the Lord Jesus which turned his back on everything which was to do with self in order that we might be saved. We thank you for the salvation which He brings to us, which is so precious in the past, the present, and the future. And we thank you for the way in which you changed hearts that we might be set free from the grip, and the trap, and the prison of a passing world, and be set free for the joy, and the values, and the eternity of a lasting world. We pray that you’d help us to live in this world and to pass through things temporal, losing not things eternal. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.