The Scribes and the Widow – Mark 12:35-44
Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the Gospel according to Mark, where we are going to be looking at Mark 12:35-44, this morning.
This past Tuesday, Ravi Zacharias, one of the greatest Christian apologists of our day, died from cancer. Ravi was born in India and came to faith in Jesus through the ministry of Youth for Christ. He had a passion for evangelism and felt that God was calling him to reach out to the intellectually resistant. Eventually, Ravi started what is called Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), whose basic principle is to “help the thinker believe and the believer think.”
I had the privilege of hearing Ravi speak at Crossroads Church in Red Deer, a number of years ago. During the Q & A time, the question was posed to him, and I imagine he heard this question many times over the course of his life: Why is there so much evil in the world? And I remember sitting there, mesmerised, as he handled the question with care and precision. It was truly extraordinary how he was able to rationally articulate the problem of evil from a biblical perspective.
Ravi’s legacy is substantial, having helped millions of Christians all over the world to defend the rationality and relevance of the gospel in public debate. I believe there will be many great men and women who will rise up to take his place in the public sphere of debate, as a result of his influence.
But as great a ministry as Ravi had, I am sure that he would want the point of his life, not to be about his accomplishments, but to be about His Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. I don’t believe there was ever a question that Ravi did not have an answer for, and yet, Jesus not only had an answer for all of the tough questions He faced, but He had the words of eternal life.
And so, I turn our attention now, not simply to a great debater in human history, but to the greatest debater in human history—Jesus Christ. Over the past few weeks, we have seen Jesus address the issue of His authority, obedience to the government, life after death, and most recently, the greatest and most essential commandment. And we are told that Jesus has “answered them well.” In fact, it got to the point where “no one dared to ask him any more questions.”
And now, it’s Jesus’ turn to ask them a question. But Jesus doesn’t ask them just any question; He asks them the most important question: Who is the Christ? At the heart of the question is the identity of Jesus. Who do you say Jesus is? And we are going to see two radically different responses to this question that are intended to point us to who we say Jesus is.
I’m just going to begin by reading our passage for us, and then we will dive in. Mark 12, beginning in verse 35: “And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, ‘How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’” 37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?’ And the great throng heard him gladly.
“38 And in his teaching he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces 39 and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, 40 who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’
“41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 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. 44 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.’”
“Who do you say that I am?” This was a question that Jesus asked His disciples, back in Mark 8:29. And do you remember Peter’s response? He says to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
You see, Peter understands that Jesus cannot say and do what He is saying and doing, apart from God. We have seen it over and over again, throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry. Whether we are looking at the teaching of Jesus or the miracles of Jesus, the logical conclusion is that Jesus is the divine Son of God.
The Jewish leaders, however, did not come to the same conclusion. And so, Jesus puts this question to those in the temple: “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?” Jesus is asking them a question concerning the Christ, the Messiah, the Spirit-anointed Deliverer of God’s people. Who is he? What will he be like? What are you looking for in him? And what Jesus is doing is highlighting two significant characteristics about the Messiah:
1. First, the Messiah would be fully human. If you were to ask any Jew who they thought the Christ, the Messiah, would be, they would say, “the Son of David.” Every Jewish man, woman and child knew this.
In fact, back in Mark 10, we encountered a blind man by the name of Bartimaeus, who, when he heard that Jesus was walking past him, started crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus, like every other Jew at that time, associated the Messiah with the Son of David. But what is so striking about Bartimaeus’ pronouncement was that he knew something about Jesus that the Jewish leaders refused to believe, and that is that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the promised Son of David, who had come to deliver God’s people.
But the Jewish leaders believed there was a disconnect between Jesus’ claim to be the promised Messiah and what they believed the promised Messiah would be like. And they were basing this on 2 Samuel 7.
The famous King David had this desire to build a house for the presence of God to dwell on the earth. And God tells David, through the prophet Nathan, that David would not be the one to build this house, but instead, gives this promise to David, in 2 Samuel 7:12-13: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
God is saying to David that a son would come from his lineage, who would have an everlasting kingdom. And so, the scribes, especially, because they were interpreters of the Scriptures, drew the conclusion that the Messiah would simply be another David—one who would be a military and political conqueror. This was what the Jewish people of Jesus’ day hoped for, in the Messiah—one who would come to defeat the oppressive Roman Empire and establish his everlasting kingdom on the earth.
And Jesus doesn’t challenge this. He agrees with them that the Messiah would be the Son of David, that is, a fully human descendant of David. But Jesus is challenging His hearers and us to rethink the nature of the Messiah. The Messiah would not simply be just “the Son of David” or simply another “David,” although he would be that, but that he would be the Son of God.
2. And so, the second characteristic about the Messiah that Jesus gives is that the Messiah would be fully divine.
Jesus points this out by quoting Psalm 110:1, which says, “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” In Hebrew, the verse reads, “The LORD (Yahweh) says to my Lord (Adonai).”
One commentator writes, “Psalm 110 was originally a coronation hymn that would have been sung, chanted, or recited at the inauguration of the kings of Judah and Israel…. The first Lord refers to God and the second to the king…. The Psalm thus originally referred to God and the king of Israel.”
However, the scribes took this Psalm and made it about the promised Messiah. In other words, they viewed this as God speaking to the Messiah, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”
But the problem that Jesus points out, that the Jewish leaders seemingly hadn’t noticed before, is that “David himself calls him Lord,” which points to more than just the humanity of the Messiah, but also to the divinity of the Messiah. The Messiah is not simply David’s son, but David’s Lord, who sits enthroned at the right hand of God as King over all of Creation. The Messiah is not just fully human, but also fully divine. He is not just David’s son, but also God’s Son.
And we find this problem reconciled in Jesus. In Mark 14:61, as Jesus is on trial before the Jewish council, they ask Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus replies, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”
And this immediately sparks outrage among the Jewish leaders, because they couldn’t comprehend a fully human, fully divine Messiah. They had a different picture of the Messiah in their minds, and Jesus wasn’t it.
But this is exactly what the disciples preached about Jesus, after His ascension to the right hand of God. In Acts 2:29-36, the apostle Peter says to the crowd, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. 34 For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Another text, which quotes Psalm 110:1, speaking of Jesus as the promised Messiah, who is seated at the right hand of God, is Hebrews 10:12-13, which says, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.”
Jesus is fully human. Both Matthew and Luke, in their respective genealogies, identify Jesus as “the son of David.” As the Apostles’ Creed says, Jesus “was born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.” He had a human body. He was hungry. He was tired. He wept. He “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” He had no money and place to rest His head. This is the humanity of Jesus.
But then, Jesus is also fully divine. One of the greatest Christological texts in Scripture is Colossians 1:15-20, which says, Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” This is the divinity of Jesus.
So, who is the Messiah? And what is He like? He’s more than just the Son of David, although He is that, but He is also the Son of God. And this is what makes Jesus’ question so significant to the people of His day, but also for us, today. It’s why Peter makes the declaration he does about Jesus being “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It’s what caused the demoniac, in Mark 5, to cry out that Jesus was the “Son of the Most High God.” It is what caused the disciples to wonder at who this is, “that even the wind and the sea obey him.” It’s why God the Father calls down from heaven at the transfiguration of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
If Jesus is both David’s son and David’s Lord, then what this means is that everything I am belongs to Him. Whatever Jesus says, I must believe. I must worship Him with all my heart and soul and mind and strength. This is Jesus, the Christ, the promised Messiah, the Spirit-anointed Deliverer of God’s people, the Lord of all Creation. How will we respond to His Lordship? That’s the question.
In verse 37, it says that “the great throng heard him gladly.” How will we respond to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? In the remaining verses, we see two radically different responses:
1. First, we see the response of those who view their position as privilege.
In verse 38, Jesus says, “Beware of the scribes…” Literally, be on the lookout for these individuals. One commentator writes that Jesus “exposes some of their notorious practices,—their ostentatious manner of dressing,—their love of the honour and praise of man rather than God,—their love of money, disguised under a pretended concern for widows,—their long-protracted public devotions, intended to make men think them eminently godly. And He winds up all by the solemn declaration, ‘these shall receive greater damnation.’”
Jesus has just talked about how the commandments of God, summed up, are to love God and love others. And here, Jesus is warning us of individuals who harm others rather than help them, and who want to be served rather than serve. But worse, they use religion as both a means and justification of their harm.
I was talking with an older man, a few weeks ago. And when he found out that I was a pastor, he told me that he was an atheist. I don’t know why people feel the need to justify themselves to me when it’s God to whom they will one day give an account. But his reasoning for being an atheist I found both interesting and alarming. He said that he has seen too much hypocrisy in the church. And he wasn’t just talking about those who go to church, but those in church leadership.
And that’s where you will find much animosity towards Christianity. We expect leaders in the church to be held to a higher standard, not that they will be perfect, because there is still the presence of sin that we wrestle with, on a daily basis, regardless of whether or not we are in church leadership, but that those in church leadership would be held accountable when they flaunt their position as privilege.
Luke 12:48 says, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required.” And James 4:17 says that “whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
Here, Jesus has some strong words for the scribes. These were the experts in the Law, interpreters of the Scriptures, the ones who should have known their daily need of a Saviour, but instead, who practiced religion for the purpose of becoming prominent and lording it over others.
It reminds me of James and John, back in Mark 10, who asked Jesus if they could sit at Jesus’ right hand and left hand in glory. But what the scribes and the disciples and even us sometimes fail to realize is that Jesus is the One sitting at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, in all prominence and honour and authority, from where He will come to judge the living and the dead.
Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” One commentator writes, “His all-seeing eye pierces through the paint, and varnish, and tinsel, which cover the unsound heart.”
It’s not a matter of hypocrisy, because the Church is full of hypocrites. It’s why we need a Saviour. If we were perfect, then we wouldn’t need a Saviour. We shouldn’t be surprised when we can’t live up to what Jesus is teaching, because only Jesus could perfectly live up to it. It’s why Jesus is our Saviour. It’s not a matter of hypocrisy; it’s a matter of viewing position as privilege, which is a greater level of hypocrisy, and thus, deserving of “the greater condemnation.”
Do we see the seriousness of what Jesus is saying here? This is not the response of those who understand the Lordship of Christ. This is the response of those who want to be their own Christ, their own Messiah, but who will find themselves on the day of judgment, saying, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And the Christ, Jesus, will say to us, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
2. This is the first response to the Lordship of Christ—those who view position as privilege. Second, we see the response of those who view Christ as privilege.
Mark now turns our attention to “a poor widow.” In contrast to the many rich people putting in large sums, Mark notes that this widow “came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.” Unlike the rich young ruler, in Mark 10, who loved his money and possessions more than he loved Jesus, this woman gives two of the smallest coins in circulation to God.
In financial terms, the value of her offering is insignificant. But it’s not insignificant to Jesus. Jesus sees past the amount given and into her heart. He sees the cost of these two seemingly insignificant coins to this woman. He even calls His disciples to take note of this extraordinary act of worship.
Jesus says to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.” And we think to ourselves, “More? What are you saying, Jesus? Are you saying that my larger contribution doesn’t matter as much as the contribution of this widow? Everything about her is ‘less than,’ and you’re telling me that she has given ‘more than’ what everyone else has contributed?”
But such is the economy in the kingdom of God. It’s not about a right dollar amount or a right percentage. There is no such thing as tithing in the New Testament, because what giving looks like in the kingdom of God is radical.
In Acts 2:44-45, we are told that the early church “had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
That’s extraordinary giving. But notice, that it’s not about a right dollar amount or percentage; it’s about a heart that is set on Christ. And that’s why Jesus is promoting the giving of this widow. He sees her heart. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
Jesus knows how much this widow has to give. He’s not looking at her, with her two copper coins equaling a penny, and going, “I can’t believe she isn’t giving more than that.” No, Jesus knows her situation, and how much she has to give, and commends her on what she has given to the kingdom of God.
There is no gift, whether money or time or talent, that is too insignificant to give, if it is given to God. On the other hand, what seems like a great gift may be little in comparison with what one could give, like all those who “contributed out of their abundance.” They could have given more than they did, but didn’t.
1 Timothy 6:5-8 says that there are those who imagine “that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”
And here, we see the contrast between the scribes, in the previous verses, and this widow: You have the scribes who consider godliness as a means of gain, and who lord their position over others, but then, you have this widow who is content in whatever situation she is facing, and who freely gives out of her poverty, knowing that Jesus is Lord over all.
But it’s even more significant than that. When Jesus says that she “has put in everything she had, all she had to live on,” He is referring to her life. It’s like what Jesus says, in Mark 8:35, that “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.”
Here is a woman who was laying down her life, in a financial sense, for the sake of Christ and the gospel. But little did she know that she was pointing to a future time when Jesus would “give his life as a ransom for many.” In just a few days from this event, Jesus would be falsely accused of blasphemy, and would be beaten and whipped and mocked, and would eventually be sentenced to death on a cross, where He would lay down His life, so that we may have eternal life. In the greatest act of sacrifice, Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, the Spirit-anointed Deliverer of God’s people, would be sacrificed for us.
If this widow teaches us anything, it is that we don’t sacrifice out of emptiness, but rather, out of the sacrifice of Christ. This is the second response to the Lordship of Christ—those who view Christ as privilege.
It’s why we can say, along with the apostle Paul, in Philippians 3:8-11, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
And so, what is our response to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? I think we more often live like the Jewish leaders who are grasping for prominence. But the good news of Jesus Christ is that we don’t have to grasp for this. In Christ, we already have all the recognition we need. It is the sufficient sacrifice of Jesus that allows us to give away our copper coins and our pennies and our abundance. Jesus isn’t going to expect more than what we are able to give, but as we give it away, He continues to supply our needs.
Through Jesus, we have everything we need for life and godliness, because we have Christ as our treasured possession. And I know that we are in perilous times. With this pandemic has come job loss and wage decreases and budget cuts and financial uncertainty. I’m not saying that this is easy by any means.
But as Jim Elliot, one of the five missionaries killed by the Huaorani people of Ecuador, once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
We can trust Jesus with everything: our finances, our jobs, our spouses, our families, whatever it might be, even during a pandemic. We can trust Him with all of it, because He is Lord of all of it. And He will continue to give us what we need and will continue to use our precious gifts, however big or small, for the building up of the kingdom of God.
Last month, Helena and I paid off the last of our student loan debt from Bible College. It was a huge weight lifted off of us, but it now meant that we had some extra money, each month. And if we don’t put that money towards something, we will put it towards anything. And so, we decided to sponsor our third child with Compassion, our fifth sponsor child in total. And it is a privilege of give what God has entrusted to us towards a child who needs to hear the good news of Jesus.
And who is this Jesus? What is He like? Jesus is the Son of David and Son of God, who did not “count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
I started off by talking about Ravi Zacharias, and I want to leave us with the closing remarks of an article by The Gospel Coalition about Ravi. It says, “In the final days battling cancer, Ravi continued to make time to receive guests, urging each person to remain steadfast in proclaiming the gospel. This past week, as his strength was failing and he could barely utter a sound, Ravi gently repeated one word over and over again: Gospel…. Amidst the constant bad news, Ravi’s dying words—like all his words—point us to the one thing we desperately need to hear again and again: the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Who do you say Jesus is? If Jesus is Lord, if He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Spirit-anointed Deliverer of God’s people, then we have the privilege of laying down our lives, in a financial sense, for the One who laid down His life for us.
May we be a people who do not consider position as privilege, but who consider Christ as privilege and worthy of everything we are and have, because He is Christ the Lord. Let’s pray…