We come to the final teachings of Jesus to the people of Jerusalem. Jesus is teaching in the temple and the opposition has been coming to Jesus with dishonest hearts trying to trap Jesus in his words. In the last paragraph Jesus has declared that one of the problems is that these religious leaders do not know the scriptures nor the power of God. They know the scriptures but they do not know the scriptures. They had the scriptures memorized but they did not read the scriptures in a way that it would transform their lives. They did not truly know the character of God. They rejected Jesus because they are blinded by their hypocrisy, by their dishonesty, and by their unwillingness to submit their lives to the Creator God who made them in his image. Mark 12 ends the Jerusalem teachings with three short pictures that continue to show why the Jewish leaders refuse to receive Jesus.
Who Is Jesus? (12:35-37)
Jesus continues teaching in the temple, according to Mark 12:35. So Jesus offers a question to get them to think about the scriptures. Remember that Jesus said that they do not know the scriptures or the power of God. So Jesus is trying to get them to think about the scriptures in a new and right light. Jesus asks, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?” Now, we know the reason why they would say that the Christ would be the son of David. The scriptures say this, like in 2 Samuel 7:12-16. Then Jesus tells them that they need to consider another passage. Jesus then quotes Psalm 110:1 which are the words of David.
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.’” (Mark 12:36 ESV)
Psalm 110 is the most quoted scripture in the New Testament. Now Jesus makes the people think. David calls the Christ “Lord” in this psalm. So how can he be his son? How can the son have greater status than the father? Now we understand how this could be. The Christ cannot simply be a human son for David to call him “Lord.” The Christ is not only the son of David, but also the Son of God.
Jesus is teaching the importance of thinking deeply about the scriptures. To come to know God and understand his power requires us to reflectively consider what the scriptures say. It is so easy for us to read the scriptures on a surface level. We can know the scriptures on a surface level. We may be able to quote the scriptures like the scribes and religious leaders. God wants us to read his word with greater thought and contemplation. I think about how often we have been taught to read the Old Testament in the same way, where we just examine it as narrative and not for learning about who God is. The scriptures were not given to us so that we would learn the facts about Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, and the like. We are to read to see what God is doing in their lives. We are not supposed to be so much impressed by these people, though their faith is certainly impressive and worthy of our instruction, but to be even more impressed and in awe of God who worked through these men and women of faith. Read the scriptures to see God. Look at what God is doing through these men and women of faith. Look at what God is doing through Israel. Look at what God is promising. It is so important that we do not read the scriptures in such a way that we really do not know what they are teaching at all. One of the reasons that the people of Jerusalem rejected Jesus is simply because they did not know the scriptures. They did not see the divine claims that were attached to the coming of Christ. They did not understand the suffering of that the Christ must experience. We must consider how we read the scriptures. We must be carefully looking and carefully considering all of what God has said.
Blinded By The Show (12:38-40)
When we do not truly know God, then we see this kind of problem happen that is described in verses 38-40. The scribes walk around in long robes so that people will pay attention to them and know who they are. They did not wear clothes like everyone else so that people would know who they are. Further, they like receiving special greetings in public. The Talmud says those who have greater knowledge of the Torah than you must be given a greeting. These greetings included titles like “Master,” “Father,” or “Rabbi.” Honorific titles had to be attached to the greetings you would give to the religious teacher. Not only this, liked to have the best seats in the synagogue. This likely refers to the bench at the front of the synagogue that faced the congregation. Thus, people would recognize their status. Finally, they would have the places of honor during the feasts.
Is it not shocking that many of these same problems still occur in the religious world today? Today there are still religious groups that require that you greet them with a title. You do not greet me with a title. I am just Brent. I am not preacher, pastor, or any other title. We see religious groups have their teachers where special clothing like robes or special hats. I have seen preachers dress up so that people will know that they are the preacher. We see in the religious world that special seats are given to certain individuals or are recognized in special ways. In verse 40 Jesus says that for a show they make long prayers. Again, it was all about the show. Please notice what else Jesus says in verse 40. While they do all these things for the show, they are very happy to devour widows’ houses. They do things for the show while exploiting others when they can. Listen to what Jesus says in verse 40. “They will receive the greater condemnation.”
When we are concerned about what other people think of us, we receive the greater condemnation. When we do things so that people will pay attention to us, then we will receive the greater condemnation. When we elevate ourselves and are willing to harm others, we will receive the greater condemnation. When we are upset that people do not pay attention to us, then we will receive the greater condemnation. Do we see what Jesus is saying? We cannot do anything for the show. We cannot be concerned that people pay attention to us. We cannot be motivated with the concern that people have some sort of regard for us. It does not matter. All that matters is what God thinks. Drawing attention to ourselves receives condemnation. Wanting the praise and attention from others is spiritual disaster. So we must ask ourselves if we do good works to be seen by people? Do we dress so that people know who we are? Do we do things or say things so that people will know who we are or what we are doing for the Lord? Glory belongs to the Lord alone. Pride results in divisions and destruction.
Not About The Show (12:41-44)
Now the gospel shows the contrast. Jesus takes a seat opposite the treasury and watched people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people were putting in large sums of money. But then a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins. Now I want you to have a sense of what she does to appreciate what Jesus will say next. The coins that she gave amount to 1/64th of a day’s wage. Essentially it amounts to about 8 minutes of work. So in our economic terms, people are giving large sums of money and this poor widow comes and gives $1.50. Look at what Jesus says in verses 43-44.
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 has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:43–44 ESV)
The poor widow is praised because she did not give out of her abundance but out of her poverty. Not only did she give out of her poverty, but she put in all that she had to live on. She does not give for the show. She gave out of her heart’s devotion to God. The others gave their leftovers. The others gave from their excess. True devotion gives all it has. She realizes that all of her resources are from God.
Think about how often God praises this kind of heart. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 the Macedonian Christians are praised because they gave out of their extreme poverty. In Acts 2 and Acts 4 we see Christians selling their property to help the other Christians in need. Jesus is not impressed by the rich people giving their leftovers. He was not impressed by giving from their abundance. Jesus highlights this poor widow because she did not give from her leftovers or from her abundance. It was not about show but from her heart for the Lord.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard stories from other churches about people who have money and using it as a means of power to get their way. They threaten to leave with their money if they do not get their way. They indicate that they will stop giving if certain decisions are not made. They expect to have certain pull within the congregation because of the amount they give. It is shocking to me how often I have heard of this scenario. What do you think Jesus thinks about that after reading this passage? You see that we must never do anything for the show, the recognition, or the power.
She did not give for the show. No one would be impressed with a $1.50 going into the collection basket. No one would wander the church building trying to figure out who the big giver was who gave $1.50. In fact, we would have the tendency to look down on that amount. We would look at that and say how little it was. How pointless! How useless! But Jesus praises this act because it was not for the show. Jesus praises the offering because it was from her poverty. She gave what she had to live on, not the excess.
What we need to do is ask ourselves a serious question. Why do we give what we give? If we do not give, then what are saying to God? If we do give, what does our giving reflect? Does it reflect a thanksgiving and dependence on God? Notice that how much you give is not the question. The question is the reason for our giving. The question is if we just give our leftovers or if it is a reflection of a heart that loves the Lord with all our heart, being, and resources. God does not want a particular amount. God wants a heart that overflows in love for God to such a degree that it desires to give all that one can.
The final teaching of Jesus in the temple courts of the city of Jerusalem simply asks everyone to ask themselves why they are doing what they are doing. What is your motivation? When you are working, are you drawing attention to yourself or to God? When you are at worship, are you drawing attention to yourself, or to God? Are our acts of worship so that people will think highly of us or bring attention to God?
Ultimately the question is why we claim to follow Jesus. Do we seek the Lord for selfish concerns and pursuits or for the glory of the Lord? Do we give God our leftovers or our excess? Or do we give God what is first in our lives? Do we give our all to the Lord? Jerusalem is condemned for their failure.