She out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on. Mark 12:44
My dad, the wisest man I’ve ever known, told me, “Bud, there are three areas of life every one of us must hand over to Christ: our reputation, our sexuality, and our money. If we will give these to him, he will use us powerfully for his glory. If we refuse, we will waste our lives.” Our reputation, our sexuality, our money all matter deeply to us and to Jesus. How can we say we’re following him, if we give him those parts of our lives we care less about but withhold from him everything that matters most to us? Jesus said, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19). Then he made it clearer: “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39). In other words, whoever attains his or her ideal designer life is a lost opportunity. But if we will abandon our dreams in order to follow Jesus, we’ll get everything we really want.
Jesus gives all, and Jesus claims all. Why? C. S. Lewis explained it: “He cannot bless us unless he has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death. Therefore, in love, he claims all.” Jesus is calling us to follow him with our reputations, our sexuality and our money, because he wants to flood our lives with blessing precisely where so much is at stake. Then we’ll know he really loves us in all the ways that matter to us.
Today let’s think about following Jesus with our money. We’re ramping up for our year-end giving to Immanuel Church. We want to be catapulted into 2015 with the resources to advance our ministry strongly. I’m so glad we offered the Paul Tripp seminar to our city at no cost. There was a cost. But Immanuel Church paid the price, so that it could be free for others. And we have more events coming. Plus, in December we’re going to raise $35,000 for the orphans in India being cared for by Bombay Teen Challenge, and our giving to that cause will be over and above our year-end giving to Immanuel. So it’s a good time to think about following Jesus with our money.
He clearly taught us to tithe – that is, give the first ten percent of our gross income (Matthew 23:23). But the amazing thing is, Jesus didn’t see tithing as radical obedience. He saw it as entry-level. Here in Mark 12, the Lord takes it further. Now he isn’t talking about ten percent. Look at verse 44 – that word “everything,” and that word “all.” Here our Lord is claiming everything, all we have to live on. Can we admit how threatening that is? Jesus comes into our lives like an outlaw riding into a town in the Old West, with a six-gun in each hand, shooting the place up, and all of us law-abiding citizens are running for cover. Of course! Jesus must destabilize us, because he’s calling us out of comfortable boredom into the beauty of true humanity and the adventure of radical generosity. We naturally think in the wrong categories, and we need to get shaken up. For example, if I told you, “I’ve given Jesus ten percent of my sexuality. I’ve made a radical commitment – ten whole percent of my sexual behavior and thoughts. But, of course, having made that mega-commitment, I’m going to do what I feel like with the other ninety percent of my sexuality” – if I said that, would you say to me, “Wow, Ray, you are really following Jesus. Ten percent?!? Dude, you are so radical”? So how can we limit Jesus at all and still think of ourselves as serious Christians? Did we get that way of thinking from the Bible? Are we following Jesus in the ways that Jesus considers following Jesus?
Everything about the real Jesus is massive. It’s a good thing. Everything about our need is massive: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). A small Savior cannot help big sinners. That is why we are so glad our Savior is this massive: “And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). He doesn’t love us with ten percent of his heart. He doesn’t bless us with ten percent of his willpower. He isn’t preparing a place for us with ten percent of his imagination. Jesus is giving us his all: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). “Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing” (Philippians 2:6-7). “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). The Bible speaks of “the immeasurable riches of his grace” (Ephesians 2:7). The Bible says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is his faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). The Bible speaks of “such a great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3). The Bible speaks of “the immeasurable greatness of his power” (Ephesians 1:19). The Bible speaks of “the riches of his glory” (Romans 9:23). The Bible speaks of “the riches of his kindness” (Romans 2:4). The Bible speaks of “the great love with which he loved us” (Ephesians 2:4). Real Christianity – not this watered-down religion that passes for Christianity in our historical situation – real Christianity is the totality of Jesus reclaiming the totality of us. He isn’t holding back. How can we? Real Christianity is not complying with petty rules. Real Christianity is falling in love, and we’re swept away. Here’s how Jesus himself summed it up: “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8, NIV). That is the message of the whole Bible in six words. “Freely you have received” – that’s his grace, in four words. “Freely give” – that’s our response, in two words. And that’s a good proportion – lopsided with his grace. But his real grace creates true followers – imperfect, stumbling but sincere followers who long to do his will with all that we are.
What then is our audacious Savior saying here in Mark 12:41-44? It’s a profound passage. I don’t understand it completely. But three simple insights are obvious.
1. Jesus notices how much we give
Verse 41 says he sat down in the temple there in Jerusalem and did some people-watching. The disciples were absorbed in other things. But Jesus watched as people filed by the temple treasury and put their money in. Jewish tradition says that these offering boxes were shaped like rams’ horns. The people put their coins into the narrow end of the horn at the top, and it widened out to connect with the box below. They were made of metal. So the coins made quite a sound when the rich people poured in their “large sums,” all those coins rattling their way into the chest below. And Jesus doesn’t criticize those rich people. But he does get excited about this widow. She stood there in line, finally got up to one of the boxes, opened her purse, put something in, and Jesus heard the faint klink-klink of those two tiny coins. The Lord called his disciples over to him and said, “Guys, did you hear that? Did you see that? That woman’s gift is amazing!”
One way we change as Christians is we stop being impressed in some ways and we start being impressed in new ways. Jesus was more impressed with her amount than with the large amounts given that day. Why? Because the wealthy gave an amount they could afford. This widow gave an amount she couldn’t afford. The extravagant grace of God had landed on her. She loved God. She loved his temple. She knew why it mattered. It was where God gave his presence. It was where sinners were forgiven and could live and thrive again. The temple was ground zero for the kingdom of God renewing a broken world. There was no other place like that on the face of the earth, no other hope. Above all, the temple embodied everything that the promised Messiah would be to us forever. Little did this woman know, the Messiah was standing a few feet away, watching her, commending her. He knew that she loved him, and it meant a lot to him.
Sometimes we hear people say, “God doesn’t care how much you give; all he cares about is the heart with which you give.” Really? God doesn’t care about or notice our amounts, but only our hearts? Where is that in the Bible? The amounts being given here in Mark are the whole point. There is a word play in the Greek text. In verse 41, the word polla is translated “large sums.” In verse 44, the word panta is translated “everything.” Those two words take us into the heart of the passage. There is polla-giving of large sums, and there is panta-giving of everything. It’s about the amounts. But Jesus calibrated the amounts not as sum totals; he calibrated the amounts in relation to what each person was able to give. The wealthy gave out of their margin, what they could afford. The widow gave what she couldn’t afford. Have you ever known the thrill of giving God a crazy amount you really can’t afford? This widow did. Jesus noticed, and he was thrilled.
2. No gift is too small to matter to him
Verse 42 says the widow’s gift was just two small copper coins. Not silver, not gold, just copper. They were the cheapest coins then minted, amounting together to only a penny. This widow might have thought, “God doesn’t need my measly little coins. These big important people with their large sums – God’s lucky to have them. But what difference can I make?” In fact, a rabbinic rule at this time prohibited the giving of only one copper coin. It wasn’t enough to be recognized – like a donation that isn’t worth the administrative cost of a receipt. So this woman’s gift was the minimum allowed. But God meant everything to this lady. She must have known that she meant everything to him. So she gave everything, small as it was. And her gift was huge in the sight of Jesus.
I hope you’re teaching your children to tithe, as soon as they start earning money – doing chores around the house, for example. Children can’t give much. But no gift is too small to matter to him. My parents taught me to give as early as I could. I brought my little dime to Sunday school, because they taught me to. I’m grateful. It didn’t make much difference in the worldwide cause of Christ at that time. But a child’s gift, however small, is precious to God. Your gift is precious to God. As we get ready for our over-and-above giving in December, why not this week make a deal with your kids? Explain to them that they can show the love of Jesus to a child in India. Work a deal to pay them a certain amount for certain extra chores. It might come to only a dollar. But a dollar to a child is a fortune. Teach your children now to give a fortune away for Jesus’ sake. And when they’re adults, they will continue. But do not disciple your children to be semi-Christian. Do not despise your children. They matter to God. Let them serve him. Teach them how. No gift is too small for him.
3. All he asks of us is everything
Verse 44 is the punch-line of the whole passage: “She out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Some commentators find a way around that by saying that these two coins were all she had to live on for that day. But our Lord’s words here in verse 44 just don’t square with that diminished interpretation. She would presumably have more income in the future. She wasn’t going to starve to death. But the point is, she gave everything she had without knowing in advance how it would all work out.
Do you realize that Jesus is not going to come down to us and say, “I want you to give radically. But first, I will explain up front how it’s all going to work out. I will answer all your questions in advance. So you never need to wonder, you never need to take a risk, you will never have to do anything scary. I will always fill in the blanks ahead of time. Then you can judge on your own terms whether I’m worth obeying.” Jesus doesn’t say that. He never says, “Scrutinize me.” He says, “Trust me and follow me and put me first always, even when you can’t foresee the short-term outcome, because the long-term outcome is assured and glorious. But for now, short-term, I’m calling you to live by faith. Live by my promises, and you’ll be able to follow me. Live by your fears, and you’ll always find a reason to hold back.” Have you ever, even once, obeyed Jesus according to Scripture in such an outlandish way that without his direct support you’d be in trouble? Or do you calibrate your obedience so that you have a way out in case it gets hard? That latter way of life isn’t Christianity. It has no grandeur, no joy, no adventure, no cost. It’s religion. And it’s boring. Some of you are bored. Maybe here’s the reason why. You’re clinging to your money. Money is boring. Giving is thrilling. The early Christians understood this. They were like this widow. Paul wrote, “Their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity, for they gave according to their means and beyond their means” (2 Corinthians 8:2-3).
Real Christianity is always like that, because the real Jesus is like that. He gives everything. He claims everything. Isn’t it time right now this morning to say to the Lord something that maybe you’ve never said: “Lord, I see those two words in verse 44 – ‘everything,’ and ‘all.’ I give you my everything, my all”? Is there any reason not to say that to Jesus? This widow couldn’t think of a reason. She was glad to be free from fear, glad to worship God. Jesus said to us, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Something is going to come first in your monthly budget. If not Jesus, then what? And why that? What has that ever done for you in comparison with Jesus? The only freedom and joy we’ll ever know flow out of putting Jesus first. And the more we keep him first, the more freedom and joy we’ll feel. But Henry Drummond used to say, “Don’t touch Christianity unless you are willing to seek his kingdom first. I promise you a miserable existence if you seek it second.” So many people here in the Bible Belt know enough of Jesus to feel guilty about their sins, but they don’t have enough of Jesus to feel forgiven and freed and wholehearted for him.
I don’t know what’s going on in other churches in our city. So this is not about them. It’s about us. And I am convinced that our city must see at least one church where a bunch of stumbling sinners are so blown away by the massive grace of Jesus that they’re actually happy about him and they give themselves completely to him – their reputations, their sexuality, their money – one church where the power of the gospel so grips us that we aren’t holding back any more, we aren’t cool and guarded any more, we aren’t limiting Jesus any more, because he hasn’t limited his mighty heart toward us. And in that church, our city will see the glory of God coming down in power. And many will come, desperate people will come, because they can see in us, their fellow desperate sinners, what only God can do.
Is there any reason we can’t be that church? Is there any reason we can’t say right now to our Lord and Savior, “Take my everything, because I long to see what you can do with my little all”?