A Serious Warning to the Religious (Mark 12:38-44)
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A Serious Warning to the Religious
Identifying false religious leaders and rescuing their deceived followers
from the gospel of Mark 12:38 to 44
I am certain that many of you have had scary interactions with wild animals. I was walking down a trail in tall grass in the high Sierras, turned a blind corner, and was no more than four feet away, and at my height at that time, I was face to face with a massive, monster, mother bear just four feet away from me, and right next to her were her two baby cubs–all staring at me. I stopped, I froze, I didn’t breathe–I just stood there, still, silent, staring right into her eyes, wondering what was going to happen next, and imagining some pretty gruesome possibilities.
I’ll never forget what my dad, who was about six feet behind me, said to me. Speaking to me almost in a whisper, laced with uncharacteristic nervousness in his voice, my huge, no body fat, made of muscle and held together with gristle dad said, “Chris, slowly, quietly, without turning around, back up, walk back to me, son, walk back up the trail”–which very slowly, step by step, looking eye-to-eye with the bear, I did. No incident occurred, no attack, no mauling, no clawing, and thankfully no chewing on my face.
There are dangerous animals. Some animals you should not pet. You don’t swim with crocodiles, you don’t play catch with lions, and it doesn’t matter how cute the polar bear is, you don’t pet him. Do you remember the last time you were famished/starving, and you looked at that incredible steak almost ready to serve? Taste it–that’s how the polar bear sees you. He looks all soft and cuddly, but he wants to eat you–but you are a steak dinner to him.
A wolf may look like your pet doggie teddy, but you’d never offer a wolf a treat you’re holding in your own mouth—“Here you go, wolfy.” There’s a good chance you’d lose your lips. There are dangerous animals–you don’t pet wolves. And today I want to introduce you this morning to another dangerous animal who is just as deadly as a great white swimming by when you’re bleeding from a cut.
What animal is it? This animal is constantly on TV, and they have taken up residence in our region. They’re everywhere in the USA and around the world, and each of you must beware of them. This dangerous animal is the false teacher, lying leaders, religious deceivers and corrupt preachers who claim to represent God. They are hypocritical liars who assure you they’re speaking divine truth, when in fact they are speaking satanic lies. Our Lord Jesus Christ wants to warn you, because they are dangerous. They can destroy a non-Christian and hurt a Christian. They’ll hurt a senior, they take advantage of women–they prey on widows, and they particularly love to capture the hearts of collegians.
Your Savior, the one who died for you, wants to warn you. This is serious, so you’d better listen. Open your Bibles to the last paragraph of Mark 12, and follow along in your outline to heed the warning of our God who is all-wise, knows people better than you, and understands what’s truly dangerous for you and for me. Read aloud with me from your outline in Mark 12, starting in verse 38.
“In His teaching He was saying: ‘Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, 39 and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.’ 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. 43 Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.’”
Our heavenly Father, open our eyes to see your truth, and change our hearts so we embrace your warning. Help us to embrace your Word that warns us not to pet wolves, nor accept heretics, listen to them, give them a platform, esteem them as believers, but to call them what they are–false teachers, lying hypocrites.
Move us to embrace you as the Savior of truth, empowered by the Spirit of truth, following the Word of truth, and be those who live by, speak only, and think over that which is true alone. We ask, Lord, to change us to be more like your Son, who said some really strong things about lying leaders. And draw those who think they know the truth, but are still enslaved by lies. All for your glory, by the work of Christ for us. Amen
We live in a day of doctrinal error and biblical confusion. Not everyone who attends our church is correct doctrinally. That’s why elders are commanded in Titus 1:9, “Holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” God commands elders to refute anyone here who contradicts truth.
There are also people outside our church who believe error, and God says in 2 Timothy 2:25, “With gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.”
But then there is another category, the false teachers, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus day. Peter says in 2 Peter 2:1 and 12, “There will . . . be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 12 But these, like [what?] unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed.”
It’s popular to make friends with those who teach heresy, but God’s Word says false teachers are dangerous animals. It’s false teachers who say, “Pray this prayer, sign this card, make this decision and you’ll be saved–plus give to my ministry, send in your check and you will receive blessing from God.” It’s false teachers who share a false gospel, leading people to think they’re going to Heaven, when they actually will end up in Hell.
And because of His great love for us and for His men, and for the people of Israel, Jesus now warns all of us to beware of the false teachers–beware of those who lie to you about how to be saved, how to grow in Christ and what the Church is all about. Do not cuddle with grizzly bears. Look at verse 38, and check out point #1, explaining the text.
#1 The Lord’s Warning against False Religious Leaders Verses 38 to 40
Verse 38, “In His teaching He was saying: ‘Beware of the scribes.’” This is not a random comment, but definitive tutoring from God. The Greek verb tells us this teaching is continual instruction, making it lengthy, detailed and important truth. This is dramatic. Jesus says, “Beware of the scribes”—whoa, really? Of all the religious leaders we’ve studied in the last few weeks, the Herodians, Sadducees, High Priests, Pharisees and scribes, the group with the most credibility is the scribes.
These are the super-Pharisees who interpreted the Word, and who taught the Word of God. If all the other groups were like modern day elders, then the scribes would be modern day teaching pastors. So as the Lord names the scribes in verse 38, He is including all the other groups who might be considered less than the scribes.
This is scary–in fact there’s nothing worse than this. Jesus is saying, “Beware of your spiritual leaders.” Ouch! This is bad–when the leaders apostatize, then the nation follows. Beware means to see, to be on the lookout, to be vigilant, to watch their every move for danger that they might bring–just like looking out for a crocodile while crossing a river. These scribes and other leaders were the Shepherds of Israel. They were to feed the people the truth–spiritually protect them. They were to guide them, love them, and be an example for them. But instead of feeding the sheep, they were fleecing them, abusing them, using them and harming them greatly.
Not only by their hypocritical, non-authentic, phony lifestyle–not only by their errant, Gospel-abusing, unfaithful teaching, but also by their active abuse, like charging extreme amounts of money to make their offerings and stealing from the neediest.
It is Wednesday of the Passion Week, the final week of the Lord’s earthly ministry. On Friday they will crucify Him, but only because His crucifixion is God’s predetermined plan. It’s been a long day, filled with hateful attacks. As He moved about in the massive Temple courtyard area, like Rabbis do, in a kind of floating classroom, each group making up the spiritual ruling counsel of Israel, called the Sanhedrin, has come at Christ with their most difficult, intensely controversial question, and Jesus has answered each one of them brilliantly. The leaders have made themselves look foolish, and Jesus has displayed the awesome and perfect wisdom of God.
The Romans knew Christ was a potential danger. After Christ entered Jerusalem on Monday with thousands loudly affirming Him as their Messiah, then Tuesday abruptly cleaning out the Temple area because of corruption they knew Jesus was a potential threat to Rome. But the Jewish leaders failed to demonstrate that Christ as an insurrectionist through their trick questions, so now they’d have to find another way to kill Jesus, which they do. They bribe Judas, and that betrayal will unfold in these final chapters of Mark.
Some of the common people had to know that their leadership was corrupt. I am confident when Jesus wiped out their Temple business on Tuesday that many people were attracted to Christ, because they knew that their leaders were charging them ten times the price they should be paying for a sacrificial animal, and that the exchange rate on the Temple coin was robbery.
Jesus made it clear what He really thought, right? Mark 11:17, “’My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made it a robbers’ den.’” You guys are thieves. That didn’t drive people away–it actually drove them to Christ. Many in the crowds were stuck in a corrupt system, and Christ alone had exposed the leaders’ hypocrisy, and their abuse of the people.
The other gospels inform us that this warning to the crowds is the Lord’s last warning to the people. From now on, Jesus will speak to His disciples. Today is His final word to the people of Israel. Can you picture this? The leaders are licking their wounds. The disciples are surrounding Christ. And there is a massive crowd listening to every word.
Sadly, the crowd is not responding to Christ as their Savior or their God. They enjoy listening to Christ (verse 37), but they’re not submitting to Christ as the only way of salvation. So Christ gives them one final word, which is “beware”. Watch out for your leaders–they are dangerous to your faith.
What a sad commentary for them, and heavy warning for us. Don’t be that guy, don’t be that girl–which one? The one who loves hearing about Christ, but doesn’t heed Him–the one who listens to preaching, but doesn’t love their Lord through their own reading of God’s Word. Don’t be the man or woman who is loyal to a church, but that church doesn’t preach the Word or uphold sound doctrine. Don’t be tolerant of false teaching or false teachers. How do we identify those leaders we are to avoid? How can we be careful to identify those who might be a wolf?
First Identify them by their PRIDE Verses 38b to 39
Jesus tells you four clear signs of pride–what are they? Verse 38, “In His teaching He was saying: ‘Beware of the scribes.’” How do we see their pride? In four ways . . .
1 “who like to walk around in long robes”
2 “and like respectful greetings in the market places”
3 verse 39, “and chief seats in the synagogues”
4 “and places of honor at banquets”
The way false religious leaders manifest pride is different today, but it is still all pride. Jesus exposes their proud hypocrisy in ways that are familiar to the people. It almost seems cruel, until you realize these men are wolves in sheep’s clothing who have a corrupted view of Christ and of the Gospel that is directly responsible for people ending up in Hell. People who follow their example and teaching results in their condemnation, so these warnings from Christ are an expression of mercy.
Their false virtue is all external. Matthew 23 tells us they clean the outside of the dish, but the inside is filthy. Jesus says, “On the outside you’re a whitewashed tomb. On the inside you’re corrupt, rotting flesh.” So He exposes their fake outside. What do they look like? Look at verse 38, “who like to walk around in long robes.”
These were special robes, scribal robes that went all the way to the ground. The Greek word stole is where you get the English word stole, sometimes referring to a cape a woman wears. But these robes were often white, expensive, and had special tassels. Long ago, according to Numbers 15, the Jews were to attach blue tassels to the bottom of their robes to identify themselves as Jews. These were little reminders on the bottom of their robes that they belonged to God and were accountable to His Word.
As centuries passed, the people in religious positions decided these tassels would be the symbols of their own glory. So they enlarged their tassels. Matthew 23:5 tells us, “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.” We can only imagine just how ridiculously large those tassels became. But it did cause people to stare at their robes, causing normal folks to assume these men were holy men.
It quickly morphed into a big show–outward symbols with no inward reality. There was no inward passion to love God or follow His Word–they just wanted to look like they did through tassels. Pride is fueled by external show and feeds on outward appearance. Pride quickly focuses on clothing, appearance, looks and style.
It is part of the reason as a church we minimize a dress code. Some of our leaders may ask those up front or ushers, etc., to stay away from dress that is distracting. We may dress a certain way for special events like Good Friday, but we don’t care how you dress–and don’t insist on you wearing a suit, or dress, or jeans, since as soon as that happens it quickly leads to externals, and ultimately fuels pride. “They like to walk around in long robes”–but robes were not enough.
Verse 38, “and like respectful greetings in the marketplaces.” Luke says they loved them. As they moved about in public life with their special, fancy, one-of-a-kind fancy tassel robes, everybody knew who they were–everyone knew. And they came to expect special greetings, and titles which reflected their status. What were the greetings they expected? Jesus tells us in Matthew 23.
They wanted to be called Rabbi, which actually means doctor, exalted teacher, excellency, most knowledgeable one, or great one. Jewish literature tells us they loved hearing, “O Great One, O Knowledgeable One, O Excellent One, O Exalted Teacher.” They loved to be called Father, as if these hypocrites were the source of life. They wanted to be called the leader, as if they were the determiners of direction and outcome.
They didn’t want to hear, “Hello, Abraham.” They expected people to say, “O Exalted Teacher, Father, Leader.” Sadly, this title thing is still with us today. Dr. MeSoSmart, Father O’FlatterMe, and ImaLeadPastor. And now you know why I hate titles–I run from them. I correct people. Hey, Pastor. No, call me Chris–unless you want me to call you servant John, teacher Phil, leader Tom, exhorter Todd.
Christ is our Pastor, Christ is our Lead, God is our Father. False teachers are never humble. They always need to be elevated. They live with guilty consciences, because their false religion can’t restrain their own flesh. It can’t kill their pride, so they become self-promoting. That is why in all those false religions you have leaders parading around in all kinds of crazy clothes, weird hats, robes, demanding to be called Father, Doctor, Reverend, and Most Holy. Please call me Chris (but you can call Nigel Righteous Reverend).
Verse 39, “and chief seats in the synagogues.” In every synagogue, there was a platform, like there is here, and they loved to sit on the platform. They wanted to be recognized as elevated above the people—looking down upon them, as if they were true shepherds watching over their sheep. Plus, all the benches of the synagogue were flat stone, but the chief seat in the corner was usually carved out for your bottom, and was in the front corner so you lean your back against the wall–the best seat in the house.
The first church I was a part of had an elevated platform, and two gigantic chairs that looked like thrones for the pastors to sit in, as they watched over the congregation. Watch out for those who expect special treatment. So now you know why I’m called Chris, and I don’t sit up here.
Verse 39b, “places of honor at banquets.” False religious leaders want to be nearest to the host, in order to be the center of attention, the most honored and revered. In Luke 14:7, our Lord was aware of this kind of behavior going on. He began speaking a parable to the invited guests, when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table. Jesus went to a dinner, and there was this mad fight to find the places of honor.
They want to be on the right and left of the host–just like James and John wanted to be on the right and left of the Lord Jesus in His Kingdom. This is the place of honor, the place that received the best food, most attention, and was the center of all conversation. Pride demands attention–it’s all about me, my, mine. You’re sharing a story, but they’re on the edge of interruption, ready to jump in so they can dominate the dialogue–why? In order to talk about me–I want the place of honor.
There is a difference between a dangerous animal and a domesticated pet. There is a difference between a wolf and a dog. And you can tell the difference between a dangerous false teacher and a real Bible teacher by the manifestation of pride. Jesus tells us here in verses 38 to 39, the false seek externals, love flattery, demand special treatment and want special positions. But you can also . . .
Second Identify them by their GREED Verse 40a
Verse 40, “who devour widows’ houses.” They devour widows’ houses—wow, that is awful, evil, harsh, creepy, and the worst sort of greed. If I witness a poor, fragile child being beat up by older kids just for fun, I get mad. When men physically abuse their wives, I become furious. When a company takes advantage of its employee, leaving them penniless, I get upset.
This is how you should feel about this phrase, “devour widows’ houses.” It’s horrible. These leaders are supposed to be the shepherds of God’s people, and if there is any one kind of person who needs more protection than others, it’s widows. The Old Testament repeatedly commands the righteous to protect the widow, to care for the widow, to be responsible for the widow. And the New Testament says in James 1:27, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress.”
What were these religious leaders doing? They devoured widows. They consumed them. They plundered them. They literally ate them up. How did they do that? Their own records tell us how they did it. One way is, these false leaders would ask for contributions so they could minister without having to work a trade. Even though it was forbidden, they’d seek support from multiple persons and widows to the extreme, where they received so much income they lived in sick luxury.
They’d also take money from older widows with declining mental abilities. As the widow lost the ability to reason and became unaware of what was going on, the scribe would steal her blind. Next, they devoured widows by abusing their hospitality, living in their houses, eating their food, and making excessive demands because they were religious leaders, as they literally leeched off them.
Another way they devoured widows was to cheat them out of their estate. A widow with a large estate would want to make sure it was secure and safe. So she’d ask a scribe to take care of all the legal work to protect her estate. Then, while pretending to protect her estate, the scribe would legally take it. They would often take the house of a widow in pledge for the debt the widow owed for the legal services of the scribe. So when the widow died they’d own the house, and nothing would be left for the children.
And get this–these so-called holy men demanded certain rich widows give to them in order to purchase blessing from God, just like they demanded all others to do in this broken system. Their whole system was built on the fact you had to bring your money to the Temple. There were thirteen receptacles in the Court of the Women, where you dropped your money in. That’s how you purchased your salvation. The rabbis said with alms you purchase your salvation. The money went in and it came out the bottom into the pockets of these greedy leaders. The more money that was given, the richer they got.
So people were literally pouring money into those receptacles to buy redemption. That is why when our Lord came in, He said, “You’ve turned my Father’s house into a den of robbers.” Doesn’t that make you think about the false TV preachers who’re doing the same thing today? Fleecing widows with promises of health, wealth, healing, prosperity—“Send me your money, and God will pour out blessing to you.” In the same way, they’re taking advantage of the weak, the desperate, the despairing, the lonely, and the helpless. They are dangerous animals, because you can also . . .
Third Identify them by their spiritual HYPOCRISY Verse 40b
Verse 40 continues, “and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers.” They don’t want to really talk to God–they don’t have anything to say to God, but they’ll extend their prayers so they’ll appear holy. They want to build their reputation, and especially want to deceive the most vulnerable and the most wealthy–the rich widows.
But Jesus warned in Matthew, “Do not pray to be seen, and do not go on and on repeating phrase after phrase with your prayers.” Matthew 6:5 through 7, “’When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. 7 And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words.’”
Their long, impressive prayers were pretense–it was all fake. And that is true of all people in a false religion–all of them. They all do it in different ways, but they are merely hypocrites who are dangerous to others and dangerous to themselves.
Fourth Avoid them, for their coming CONDEMNATION Verse 40c
The Lord is helping us to expose the fake leader, and now Jesus warns us of what’s going to happen to them at the end of Verse 40. “These will receive greater condemnation.” There are people who think if you’re religious, you’ll receive less condemnation. Sometimes you hear people say, “Well, I’m sure I’m going to Heaven, cause I’m a very religious person.” Really? Hell will actually be the hottest for religious people, especially religious false teachers, agents of Satan, who are sons of Hell, who disciple others to be sons of Hell. They are leading people by the hand to Hell. Of course, verse 40, “These will receive greater condemnation,” not a lesser condemnation.
False teachers will receive more judgment. If you hold the idea there’s good in all religions, and God loves all religions, and we need to find God in all religions, and find the good that’s there–Jesus pronounces a greater condemnation on the religious leaders of Israel, who are monotheists, believe God is creator, and did embrace the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But they had apostatized the true faith, turned it into a self-righteous works system leading them to reject Jesus Christ and the Gospel, causing others to continually do the same.
Friends, their Hell will be hotter than everybody else. You don’t want to get close to the truth without embracing it, because if you’re close to the truth without embracing it fully the potential for greater judgment is even greater. False religions, even false forms of Christianity, are dangerous. False teachers will stop at nothing to ruin your life–think about it. If they will intentionally steal everything from a widow, there’s nothing that will stop them from destroying you. Don’t pet wolves. And Jesus makes that very clear by . . .
#2 The Lord’s EXAMPLE of their hypocritical greed Verses 41 to 44
“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. 43 Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.’”
Verse 41 is a strange turn–can you see it? This warning about the spiritual leaders in Mark is also found in Luke, but it is fully laid out in savage detail in Matthew 23. You’ve read the passage many times, as Jesus repeatedly says in Matthew 23:13, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.”
As soon as He’s done, the Lord moves to another spot, where he can observe people giving their money to the Temple treasury. As He watches, along comes a poor widow who drops two coins into the offering receptacles. Jesus comments, “She gave more than everybody else, because she put in everything she had.” What is going on here? Did Mark transition from warning about hypocritical leaders, to suddenly describing sacrificial giving?
Most people you read immediately draw that conclusion. They say this woman is a model of faithful giving against the ugly backdrop of the corrupt religious leader thievery. Most say this widow is viewed as a breath of fresh air–the window in a dark room. She’s the contrast to the hypocritical religious leaders. She is the godly woman who gives sacrificially.
Friends, wake up–the most important interpretive rule is context. What Jesus has just been saying, and what Jesus is about to say that will tell you what’s going on here–Jesus just talked about judgment on those who take advantage of widows, and will continue in Mark 13 on judgment. The widow is not an example of giving–this poor widow is an example of being taken. She is not a model of sacrifice, but a horrible illustration of what these evil leaders were doing to widows.
We don’t know anything about this widow, we don’t know her motives or heart, except that she’s poor and just gave all she had. She is not a model for you to give ‘til it hurts, nor an example of giving sacrificially, then trust God to meet your needs. No, she is not a hero of giving–this widow is a victim. A victim of what? She is a victim of the system.
Look back at the context–verse 40, this widow is one of the widows who has been devoured by the greedy religious leaders. That’s the context–that is the connection here. This widow has nothing to do with Christian giving, unless you think Christian giving is to give everything you have. I love it! Plan A is take a vow of poverty, give all you have, go home, then die. Do you really think that’s Christian giving?
Or Plan B, give everything you have, take a vow of poverty, then spend the rest of your life leeching off everybody else to survive. Where does the Bible instruct us that giving means to give away everything you have, go home and die? That is not in the Bible. As Jesus is watching, He doesn’t condemn the rich for giving large sums. Jesus doesn’t say the rich gave too little. He doesn’t say the widow gave exactly the right amount. He doesn’t say the rich had too much left and the widow had the right amount left.
He doesn’t say the rich had a bad attitude when they gave a lot, and the woman had a good attitude when she gave everything. Jesus doesn’t say anything about motivations or attitudes at all. The widow’s outward actions are simply evidence of what that evil system and greedy leaders did to widows. And that evil system taught, “if you want the blessing of God, you’ll give your money.”
This widow is destitute. She’s got two coins left. She says to herself, “Either I take my two cents and buy my last meal, or I do what they tell me, give them the money and God will bless me.” That sounds like TV preachers, doesn’t it? That’s the system. “Send me your money. If you’re down to your last penny, send it all, open the floodgates, God will bless you, just send me your money.”
It was a den of robbers, and they were stealing it from the most destitute and the worst off–the widow. This isn’t here to teach you about attitudes in giving, or amounts in giving. This is here to teach you about corrupt religion. Beware of the false shepherds, the false teachers who will take the last coins out of a widows’ purse from greed.
Neither Mark nor Jesus says anything about the Lord loving her, now that she was in the Kingdom. There’s nothing directed at the disciples to follow her example. Jesus didn’t say, “Okay, Judas–take the moneybag with all the money we’ve got, and go in there and give it all just like this godly widow. In fact, all you disciples, do what she did–empty your pockets and give all you have as well.”
It would have been a perfect time to do that, right? Jesus is going on the cross–this would be a great time to test your faith and dump it all in. Come on! That’s the last thing Jesus would have told them.
Why would you put your money in a robbers’ den. You wouldn’t command that, nor would you commend that. This widow was a victim. This context is not the place for the Lord to inject a lesson on giving. This observation isn’t about giving, this is about taking.
This is listed here in verses 38 to 40 in the context of judgment, and is immediately followed by coming judgment in chapter 13. Judgment before (which includes all the woes of Matthew 23) and judgment after, means this observation is about judgment, not giving. All those woes pronounced on the leaders we just studied here and found in Matthew 23 are literally justified and validated by this one woman’s act.
So look at the text more closely with me. Verse 41, “And He sat down opposite the treasury.” The treasury was in the Court of the Women–a place everyone could go, so no one would be stopped from giving. There were thirteen upside down, trumpet-shaped money receptacles where people gave their offerings. The money was used to provide sacrifices for the poor, and to keep the Temple functioning with incense, wood and more.
But the driving motivation for offerings through the teaching of these dangerous false leaders had become to get blessing and gain salvation. And the main motive of the false leaders was greed. Jesus said in Luke 16:14 that the Pharisees were lovers of money. So Jesus sat down, probably the first time that day, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury. I believe it caused Jesus immense pain, verse 41, to watch them giving their money to this corrupt system, under the assumption they were doing something for God that would produce blessing.
So He comments, verse 41, “many rich people were putting in large sums.” They weren’t being stingy–they were putting in large sums. They had a lot, and they gave a lot–that was the system. They were literally putting in large sums–pollo, much is great amounts. That “earn your way to heaven” corrupt religious system demanded that.
Over against that, verse 42, a poor widow comes and Jesus watches her put in two small copper coins, which amounts to a cent. The word for poor, poor widow, is where we get the English word penurious, which means destitute. Jesus sees her as one of the widows who’s been devoured by the system. Severe abuse–she puts in two cents, one sixty-fourth of a denarius, which was a day’s wage. That’s all she had left. The smallest coin used by the Jews, and she put two of them in–that was it. She dropped them in the shofar/trumpet-like receptacle.
As He watches this, Jesus called His disciples in verse 43 and 44, and says to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” This poor woman–relatively speaking, comparatively speaking, her gift was greater because it was a hundred percent. That system can’t be more corrupt–devouring widows like that.
Old Testament and New Testament Scripture commands us to care for the widows. It is one of the duties our elders have assigned to our deacons, like the apostles did in the Early Church, because it is crucial to the heart of Christ–therefore it must be crucial to us. But false religion has no interest in caring for widows at all. They abuse widows, and they do it in the name of Christ. This is a tragedy, and the Lord will not tolerate it.
The Lord will tell them in the next chapter–do you see this incredible Temple? It’s all going to be torn down. I will not stand for a system that misrepresents God and abuses widows–all these dangerous leaders, these thieves, fakes, all these prosperity preachers who get rich on the gifts of desperate people looking for wealth and health will be judged.
Woe to you TV preachers who become rich on the backs of the lonely, poor, disillusioned, diseased and desperate. Woe to you false teachers who stay in thousand dollar hotel rooms, fly around in private jets, and do it all in the name of Christ. Judgment is going to fall for how you abused this widow, and judgment will fall on your false religion very soon. Forty years later, the Temple was torn apart–their religious system was destroyed and never recovered. Therefore . . .
One Be WARNED of the Danger
False teachers do not announce, “Hi, I’m a wolf! I’m here to destroy your faith. I am here to take you by the hand and walk you into Hell.” No, you have to know your Bible. You have to study the Scripture–the Bible must be your lens. Study it, love it, get into it every day, listen to solid expositors, and check everything you hear by the written Word of God, including me.
Two Stop being tolerant or accepting of ERROR
You only judge people when you try to guess their motives. Correctly calling into question someone’s stated belief or known behavior is not judging them, friends. No, that is called speaking the truth, hopefully in love. Warning Catholics of their system, which teaches a works salvation; warning so-called Christians who accepted Jesus once but live for themselves and don’t want to obey God’s Word; or exhorting church-attenders who don’t serve, give, disciple, or connect with people in the church is loving and merciful. Stop being tolerant or accepting of error in their lives, and stop being tolerant and accepting of error in your life.
Three Hate PRIDE and GREED in your life
Watch out for pride manifested in the way you dress. Beware of your desire for compliments or flattery or titles. Never demand special treatment or special position. Beware of greed in all its forms, especially taking advantage of those weaker and in greater need than you. James 4:6, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Four Take Christ’s Eternal WARNING as the most important
Christ is warning you against false teachers. Their basic message is this–you can make it to Heaven on your own. You can live good enough to get to Heaven. You can decide to choose God and get enough religion for God to accept you now and forever. That’s a lie. But the good news of Christ is, to get to Heaven you have to be perfect. None of us are, so we can’t go. We are corrupt with sin and God must judge sin. But God has provided a way to judge sin and accept you. He punished His Son for the sins of His children. When you give Christ your life through repentance and faith, He gives you His righteousness, which gives you a perfect standing with God now and forever. But you must turn to Christ. Cry out for His mercy today.
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