When Religion Meets the Approval of Jesus

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  • And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “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 haws put in everything she had, all she had to live on. – Mark 12:41-44

    Jesus entered triumphantly into Jerusalem, presenting himself as the long-awaited Messiah-King. His first official act was to disrupt temple business. They made the house of prayer a den of thieves. The religious authorities did not understand the meaning or magnitude of these events. They only cared that their approved “order of service” had been changed. 

    When Jesus returned to the temple the next day, the religious leaders challenged his authority. Who gave him the right to do these things? Their question began a long day of controversy. Religious delegations posed questions to discredit or accuse Jesus. The Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, and Scribes all took their best shot. They all failed miserably. The back and forth ended with Jesus having the last word. They knew the tradition but not the truth. They were religious hypocrites more concerned about impressing people than pleasing God. Verse 40 says, “They will receive the greater condemnation.” 

    In our text, Mark records one last scene from this day of controversy. After spending the day in the Court of the Gentiles, Jesus entered the Court of Women – where the temple treasury was located. He took a seat and watched as people gave tithes and offerings. Wealthy people gave large offerings. But Jesus’ interest was piqued when he saw a poor widow place two copper coins into the offering box. Jesus called his disciples together. With solemn words, Jesus commended the widow’s offering more than all the others because she gave her all. 

    It was Tuesday of Passion Week. It was the end of a long day of disputes with the religious leaders. It was the last time Jesus would enter the temple in Jerusalem. Since his arrival in Jerusalem, Jesus found nothing in the temple to commend. But on his way out of the temple, Jesus stopped to memorialize this poor widow.

    In verses 38-40, Jesus told the people to beware of the scribes. Verse 40 says they “devour widows’ houses.” Then Jesus eulogized this poor widow who gave her livelihood to this corrupt institution. This story is about more than sacrificial giving. It is an example of true devotion that wins divine approval. The point is this: The approval of Jesus is the only thing that matters.

    A twenty-dollar bill did a lot of good. A father used it to buy groceries for his family. A senior citizen used it to pay for her medicine. A church member put it in the offering plate. But when it arrived at the bank, it was discovered to be counterfeit and shredded. 

    In an infinitely greater way, you may do a lot of good things in your life. But the approval of Jesus is the only thing that matters. Is the Lord pleased with what he sees? Mark 12:41-44 makes its point by telling us what Jesus saw and said.

    The Lord’s Observation

    Many acts of worship took place in the temple that day. But Jesus chose to go to the court of the temple, where financial contributions were offered. Jesus watched the people give. 

    • Verse 41 says Jesus saw what rich people gave. 
    • Verse 42 says Jesus saw what a poor widow gave. 

    How did Jesus know what they gave? Mark 1:1 answers: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” As the Son of God, Jesus is omniscient. He knows everything known, unknown, and knowable. His personal observation was rooted in divine omniscience.

    The People Watcher. Verse 41 says, “And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box.” Jesus took a seat at a strategic location in the treasury. There he “watched the people.” It was no casual observation. It was a careful examination. The grammar indicates he sat there for a while, carefully and continually watching the people putting money into the offering box.

    Jesus has not moved and has not changed. The Lord is still watching at giving time. The Lord was watching in Genesis when Cain and Abel presented offerings of worship. The Lord was watching in the Acts when Ananias and Sapphira lied about what they gave in the offering. The Lord is watching what you give today. Jesus saw who gave a littleand who gave a lot. He did not just see what they gave. He saw how they gave. 

    • He looked past the amount and saw the attitude. 
    • He looked past the cash and saw the cost. 
    • He looked past the money and saw the motive. 

    Verses 38-40 condemn scribes who do religious things as “an outside show to an unfriendly world.”Then Jesus commends a poor widow who gave two copper coins. The Lord approved of her offering because it was an expression of wholehearted devotion. 1 Samuel 16:7 says: “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” The Lord is looking at what is in your heart, not what’s in your hands.        

    The Wealthy Givers. Verse 41 says, “Many rich people put in large sums.” Mark reports this as a simple fact. It is an observation, not a condemnation. Rich people who put in large sums are to be commended. It is not necessarily wrong to be “rich.” Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

    • Jesus said you cannot serve God and money. 
    • Jesus did not say you cannot have God and money. 

     It is not a sin to be wealthy. The Bible mentions many who were rich and righteous. 1 Timothy 6:17says, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” Mark says, “Many rich people put in large sums.” 

    Here is a subtle affirmation of proportional giving. 1 Corinthians 16:2 says each one should give “as he may prosper.” Our giving should reflect God’s goodness to us. Proverbs 3:9-10says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with new wine.” You can’t be God giving, no matter how hard you try.

    The Poor Widow. Verse 42 says, “And a poor widow came.” Mark identifies this woman as a “widow.” She had lost her source of position, provision, and protection because of her husband’s death. She did not have a father, son, or brother to care for her. There were no social safety nets. She was on her own. As a result, she was “poor.”

    “Poor widow” is redundant. That she was a widow assumed she was poor. But Mark’s word choice is emphatic. “Poor” translates the strongest Greek word for poverty in the New Testament. She was a pauper, not a peasant. It is one thing to barely have enough to make ends meet. It is another thing to have nothing at all. That was the woman’s pitiful condition. 

    Verse 42 says she “put in two small copper coins.” These copper coins – which the KJV calls “two mites” – were lepta, the smallest coins in circulation in Palestine. Our English word “leaf” is derived from this Greek term. It indicated something light and thin. Mark explains this Jewish currency to his Roman readers by saying the two small copper coins “make a penny.” A “penny” was a quadrans, the smallest Roman coin. Sixteen quadrans were equivalent to one denarius – the daily wage for field workers. 

    She could have claimed her offering would not make a difference. She did not. Verse 40 says the scribes “devour widows’ houses.” She could have refused to give because the temple was corrupt. She didn’t know where the money was going. Yet she gave anyway. What excuses do you have for not giving to God?  

    The Lord’s Commendation

      Mark 12:41-44 is a pronouncement story. The point is found in the words of Jesus.

    • Verses 41-42 record what Jesus saw
    • Verses 43-44 record what Jesus said

     We would recognize the rich people’s donations and overlook the poor widow’s offering. Heaven’s accounting formula is different than our earthly value system.

    The Authority of Jesus. This text shows an obvious contrast between the poor widow and the scribes who devoured widows’ house. But the point of this text is not to highlight the religious exploitation of the temple authorities. We see that in the statement of Jesus. It is not addressed to the religious leaders, the assembled crowd, or the poor widow. Note: Jesus may be talking about you, and you don’t know it! 

    Verse 43 says, “And he called his disciples to him and said to them.” At this point, the attention of Jesus is focused on his disciples. He will prepare them for his crucifixion and resurrection. That starts here.

    • Jesus is not teaching here how to give. 
    • Jesus is teaching us here how to live. 

    Mark 1:17 says, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Mark 10:28 says, “See, we have left everything and follow you.” Jesus will soon be taken away from them. He prepares them by calling them together to show them a poor widow who gave all she had. Here is a fundamental lesson of Christian discipleship: It will cost you everything! 

    Mark 8:34-38 says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” The Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of it all. What does it cost you to follow him? J.C. Ryle said, “A religious that costs nothing is worth nothing.”

    The Arithmetic of Jesus. Verse 43 says, “Truly, I say to you.” This solemn assertion is how Jesus speaks when he says something he especially wants his disciples to trust and obey. Then the Lord makes two observations about the poor widow’s offering. 

    She Gave More. Verse 43 says, “This poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.” Jesus saw what the people gave, including rich people who put in large sums. Yet Jesus said the poor widow gave more than everyone else. It may mean she gave more than everyone else put together. What an encouragement!

    • Jesus sees what others overlook. 
    • Jesus counts what others discount.
    • Jesus cares about what others ignore.  

    John Phillips wrote: “Jesus sees the little things that most people never see. The hand that formed the sun and moon and stars is the hand that formed the wing of the fly and the tongue of the gnat.” Jesus saw what this woman gave and deemed it to be more than all the other offerings. How is that? My dad said she gave two mites and an IOU statement that read: “What I would if I could.” 

    That’s how the Lord counts your offering. By the willingness of your heart, not the amount of the gift. 2 Corinthians 8:12says, “For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” 

    She Gave All. Verse 44 explains the divine logic behind the strange arithmetic of Jesus: “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.” The rich people gave large sums “out of their abundance.”

    • They were rich before they gave large sums. 
    • They remained rich after they gave large sums. 

    Their offerings cost them nothing. Nothing changed in their lives because of what they gave. They gave out of the overflow of the great wealth. May the Lord help us to say with David in 2 Samuel 24:24, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.” Jesus gave a twofold commendation of this poor woman’s offering. She “put in everything she had.” Translation: She gave everything in her checkingaccount. She gave “all she had to live on.” Translation: She gave everything in her savings account.

    • The widow’s mite is not about giving a little thing
    • The widow’s mite is about giving everything

    Jesus commanded the Rich Young Ruler to give up all his possessions in Mark 10:17-22 to test him. Jesus does not command us to do what this widow did. But he does commend what she did as an example of the costs of discipleship. It is what Jesus did when he died on the cross for our sins. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

    • You did what? 
    • What possessed you to do that? 
    • Don’t you know what’s going on in the temple? 
    • Why did you give both coins? 
    • How are you going to take care of yourself? 

    I imagine that’s how this widow’s neighbors responded when they heard she put all her money in church. They did not know about the poor widow’s trust account. Do you have a trust account? Saving faith provides sufficient grace. Romans 8:32 asks, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”


    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.