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MARK 12:41-44

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
March 18, 2012

This morning we’re going to be focusing on stewardship.  When it comes to stewardship the first thing on our minds is usually what?  Treasure.  Bucks.  Dinero.  Or, maybe the big three:  Time, Talent, Treasure. 


When it comes to talking about stewardship it seems like most people get this idea that the bottom is that the church just wants me to cough up more money.


(Cartoon:  “The Stewardship Committee’s latest idea for helping to raise the annual church budget.”Not our Stewardship Committee.  Another church far far away.


One of the top 5 reasons people give for not coming to a church is the impression - which is understandable - the impression that, “The church isn’t interested in me.  The church is only interested in my money.”


Please hear this - our goal this morning is not to make anyone feel guilty or to make a pitch for money.  Stewardship is never intended by God to be a guilt thing.  Stewardship is intended by God to help us grow closer to God - to experience His blessings - to live in a deepening - dependent - relationship with Him.  Which is all good.  Yes? 


Please turn with me to Mark 12 - starting at verse 41.  As you’re turning let me bring us up to speed on what’s going on.


During the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion Jesus enters Jerusalem - what we call Palm Sunday - riding on a donkey - people waving palm branches.  Familiar scene.  Right?


On Monday Jesus heads to the Temple and cleanses it.  Jesus turning over tables - driving out the merchants.  In place of the money changers and dove sellers - Jesus heals the blind and the lame - right there in the Temple.


The plaza area of the Temple in Jerusalem was designed by God as a place for His people to prepare their hearts for prayer and worship.  The religious leaders had turned it into something resembling WalMart or Costco.  True devotion to God was missing.  The heart of God’s people had sold out to the system of the world around it.


On Tuesday - when Jesus returns to the Temple - He’s met by a delegation that’s come together in response to Jesus’ actions.  This delegation confronts Jesus there in the Temple.  Its an impressive group.  The Chief Priests - among them Caiaphas the High Priest.  The Scribes - men who’s job it was to interpret the law of Moses.  The Elders - those who served in the Sanhedrin - the ruling body of the nation.  These are the heavy weights - the top of the Jewish religious and political leadership. 


This delegation comes to Jesus - without beating around the bush - they come right to the core of the issue.  The question is asked:  “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?”  (Mark 11:28)


What takes place then is a discussion focused on the issue of authority.  Jesus defending His authority and sending this august delegation away with their tails between their legs.


Jesus doesn’t pull any punches.  While answering the delegation’s  loaded  questions Jesus has been very direct in pointing out the hypocrisy of Israel’s leadership.  Point being that they are seriously out of step with God and God’s plan for His people.  They’re in it for themselves - their egos and what they get out of their positions - and they really don’t give a rip about God and God’s people - except where it benefits them.


Jesus tells His disciples:  “Beware of these teachers of religious law!  For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces.  And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets.  Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public.”  (Mark 12:38-40 NLT)

Mark 12 - look with me starting at verse 41 -
And He - Jesus - 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 coins, which make a penny.  And He called his disciples to Him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you - meaning this is a truth you can build your life on - 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.”

Walk with me through what’s going on here.


This is a photo of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem.  The Court of Women was located here.  To give you an idea of size.  The Court of Women could hold up to 6,000 worshippers.  Women were restricted from going any closer to the actual temple but men could go into the court of women.


The Treasury was located here - just to the side of the Court of Women - in an area where both men and women could go.  In the treasury there were 13 trumpet shaped boxes that were used to collect contributions.


After His confrontation with the delegation Jesus probably went into this court area and sat down on a bench - on the left side of the court - across from where the Temple money is being collected.  Crowds of people are coming by and dropping money into the offering boxes - including a number of rich people.

Josephus - the Jewish historian of the time - Josephus tells us that when the Pharisees came to make their donation they had guy with a trumpet who would go before them and blow this trumpet to get people’s attention.  Then the Pharisees would ceremoniously come and proudly deposit a bag of gold in the treasury box.


The Pharisee wanted everyone to see his generosity.  Because it was crucial for the people - for the Pharisee’s spiritual authority - his place in society - it was crucial for the people to see how large this offering was - how generous was the giver - how worthy of respect and honor.


While Jesus is sitting and watching these crowds of people giving and the Pharisee’s performance - a widow comes - alone - without fanfare - quietly - probably unnoticed by the crowd - and she places her offering - all that she has - these two coins - in the collection box.


Those coins - in Greek are called lepton - plural - lepta.  They were the smallest Jewish coins in circulation in Palestine - about 1/2 inch - at the most - in diameter.  To give you an idea of what these were worth - just how poor this widow really was - 2 lepta - what she put in the offering - 2 lepta were worth 1/64th of a denarius.  1 denarius was equivalent to 1 days wages for the average laborer.  Point being - what’s she’s put in here - even to the average person - is almost worthless.


People drop change and they don’t even bother to pick it up - pennies - dimes - sometimes larger coins.  Maybe you do this when you walk around.  I’m always looking for change.  Even if it’s a penny I’ll pick it up.  Change adds up.  What this widow put in - this is the kind of change that the average person wouldn’t even bother to bend over and pick up.


Jesus calls His disciples over.  We find out later that the disciples were wandering around looking at the building - being tourists.  Being impressed with the architecture - the outward appearance of things.


Jesus calls His disciples over.  It’s a teaching moment.  They - we - need to understand the heart of this widow.  The contrast to the performance of the rich - the Pharisees - to the splendor of the Temple and all the activity going on.  We need to understand the heart of this woman who’s given everything.  Not for show.  Not for recognition - although God has noticed her.  She gives everything because of her devotion to God.  She’s totally sold out to Him - dependent on Him.  Her life is His.  Nothing is held back.


There’s a huge lesson in that for us - thinking about our own hearts before God.  In thinking through what Jesus is teaching His disciples - and our hearts - there are choices to be made.


Choice number one is The Choice of Authority. 


We have two flags here in the sanctuary.   Over here is the United States Flag.  When that flag is displayed it represents the United States of America.  How many of you have recited the Pledge of Allegiance?  When we recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America - we pledge our allegiance to the republic for which it stands.  Allegiance - fidelity - loyalty.     


Over here is the Christian flag.  It’s a white flag with a blue box in the upper left corner - with a red Latin cross in the box.  The Christian flag was conceived of by Charles Overton in 1897 in - of all places - Coney Island, New York.


The idea was to design a flag that would represent Christianity.  There’s even a pledge of allegiance:  “I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to the Savior, for whose kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen and coming again, with life and liberty for all who believe.”


Allegiance - fidelity - loyalty.  Which kingdom do we give authority over our lives? 


Jesus said:  “No servant 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.” (Luke 16:13) 


Two kingdoms.  Two masters.  No one individual can serve both.  Our problem is that we try.  We try to serve both masters.


Let’s be honest.  We all want to be the widow.  Giving our all to God.  But way too often we’re the rich dudes. 


The result of that - trying to serve both masters - the reality of that choice is that we’re getting pulled apart.  We’re dealing with stresses and anxieties and issues that God never intended for us to deal with.


Ultimately we’re living in slavery to the world system of doing and never being able to do enough - never having enough - never being really secure - never really being at peace - content - free.  Even free to serve God freely from the heart.


Its interesting that this widow had two coins.  That means she had a choice.  Choice number one would have been whether to give at all.  But since she decided to give to God she has an additional choice.  Right?  How much?


She could have given one coin and kept the other for herself.


A person could say, “Well, the coins were worthless anyway.  So, she probably just tossed them both in and it really didn’t matter.”


Except that Jesus tells us that those two coins represented all she had to live on.  In other words - while most people wouldn’t have bent over to pick them up - those coins had immense personal value to the widow.


She could have kept one coin for her needs and given the other to God.  Nobody would have known.  And even if they had known they’d probably wonder why she was giving anything at all.  She made a choice - a willful decision - to give them both.


Remember Ananias and Sapphira?  Sold a piece of property.  They had a choice.  Give part or all of what they had.  Two coins.


They wanted recognition by the church so they lied about how much they had sold the property for.  Gave the impression that they were bringing the whole amount as a donation.  But actually gave only part of the income as a donation.  Ended up getting dead.  (Acts 5:1-11)


Reading the account of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts its clear that they were trying to impress the crowd while lying to God.  Do you hear two masters?


The Pharisees - supposed spiritual leaders of God’s people - playing to the crowds - blowing trumpets - their self worth and position in the community tied to the recognition they receive as they give.  Which master are they serving?


The widow - giving two coins.  Which master is she serving?


Who are we serving?  Who has authority over our lives?


We get so hung up on doing for God - winning people to Christ - serving in the church - giving money - being in a Bible study - giving our time - all of which is good.  But Scripture tells us over and over and over again that what we do is just the channel.  God wants us to serve Him.  But only if the attitude of our heart is right.


We need to ask ourselves - who am I doing this for?  For recognition?  Feeling good about myself because of what others think about me?  Or, because I feel good about myself doing stuff because I have some kind inner need - maybe an emptiness or something - that I’m trying to fill.  Am I getting hung up keeping score?  How much time or money or effort I’m putting into serving God?  Do you hear two masters in that?


We can serve God in the quietness of our homes - in humility in the community - without recognition in the church - stewarding our time, talent, and treasure for God and we’ll have done more to advance the kingdom of God - been more obedient to our master - than those who tweet, twitter,, and text their spirituality.


Hear this:  God measures our stewardship - not by the size of our gift - but on the basis of how much of a sacrifice it was to give and how sincere and selfless the heart was that gave.


It’s the way God sees life.  It’s the stewardship that pleases God.  It’s the attitude of heart that God blesses - that God uses - that frees us from bondage to the never satisfying system of our world. 


Stewardship is never intended by God to be a guilt thing.  Stewardship is intended by God to help us grow closer to God - to experience His blessings - to live in a deepening - dependent - relationship with Him.  That only happens as we stop trying to serve two masters.


Choice number one is The Choice of Authority.  Who has authority over your life?  Which master are you serving?


Choice number two is The Choice of Ownership. 


Please turn with me to Matthew 19 - or you can swipe your finger on your pad there.  Matthew 19 - starting at verse 16.


In Matthew 19 - Jesus has traveled down from the Sea of Galilee - to a place just east of the Jordan River.  While Jesus is teaching there a man runs up to Jesus - kneels before Him - and asks - verse 16 -  “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”  Do you remember this?


By reading through Mark and Luke’s record of this event - we know that this man was probably a rich young aristocrat.  He’s very wealthy - powerful - a man of influence - able to buy and control anything he wants.  He’s probably a member of some ruling council - a mover and shaker - upwardly mobile.  This wealthy young man has been listening to Jesus’ teaching - and about what it takes to enter the Kingdom of God - and he senses that there’s something he doesn’t possess - something that Jesus offers.

Verse 17 -
And He - Jesus - said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good?  There is only One who is good.  If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”


In other words - If you want the life that God offers have you obeyed what God has already said?  Have you kept God’s commandments?


The young man’s response is beautiful.  Without hesitation he says, “Which ones?”


Its almost a challenge.  “Name one.  I’ve kept them all.”


Verse 18 - And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder.  You shall not commit adultery.  You shall not steal.  You shall not bear false witness.  Honor your father and mother, and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”


Commandments that focus on personal relationships - that focus on the attitude of our heart towards others.  Remember this?  Love others sacrificially.  (see sermon on Deuteronomy 5:16-21)


The young man said to Jesus - verse 20:  “All these I have kept.  What do I still lack?”


On one hand there’s a huge pride behind this young man’s answer to Jesus.  Perhaps somewhat justified. 


Here’s an open-hearted -  morally excellent - young man.  Since the point in a young Jewish boy’s life when he became responsible to live by God’s commandments - he’s been obedient.  Which of us could make such a claim?  He’s been sincerely seeking the Kingdom of God. 


And yet - on the other hand - he admits that there’s something still lacking.  He’s tried everything religiously that he knows how to do and he’s still come up short.  He doesn’t have what Jesus is teaching about.  He’s looking for that last key thing to do that will open up to him eternal life.


Jesus observing him and his answer - speaks to him in love.  Here’s a man who’s obedient - he’s teachable - he’s seeking after God.


Jesus said to him - verse 21 - “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and  you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”  When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.


Let’s be careful.  If you had 1% of the interest of Bill Gate’s money - would you be depressed?  Sorrowful?  Grieving?


The young man goes away grieving.  Why?  Because he owned a lot of stuff?  Or because of what the stuff he owned meant to him?


Jesus just nails this guy.  Pierces his heart.  This man had glimpsed a quality of life that he lacked - an emptiness within his spirit he couldnt fill.  He wanted it the life Jesus was teaching about.  But he was sorrowful, because he also knew, at the words of Jesus, that he had to surrender everything - everything he controlled his life with - to have it.  There’s no way to serve two masters.  We can only surrender to one.


Verse 23 - And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.”


Not because they’re wealthy - but because wealth represents self-control over our lives - our security - what we cling to and trust in - and that’s very hard for us to surrender.


Genesis 1:27 tells us, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female He created them.”


Somehow in our minds we get this confused.  We get this backwards.  We think that we’re the creator not the creation.  That what we possess is what we’ve created.  Like we have ownership over what God has created and what God has entrusted to us.


As soon as we have the mindset of an owner not a steward we get ourselves into trouble.  We start to experience bondage.  We become servants of this world - what’s been created - rather than God - our creator.


Ownership means that everything depends on me, myself, and I.  My wisdom.  My understanding.  My effort.  God can have what I choose to give Him.


When we’re owners we become anxious over which way the stock market is going.  We loose sleep over how bad the economy is.  Whether the mortgage is worth more than the house.  We stress because the price of gas keeps going up.  We wonder what will happen to us if we loose our job.  Who will pay the bills?  Does your mind ever go there?     


That’s just thinking about stuff - possessions - how we try to control our lives.


Ownership tears up our heart.  It eats at our relationships - making it a struggle to trust God with our kids and families and friends.  It rips at how we think about ourselves.  Our failures and weaknesses assume huge proportions in our thinking.  We see only where we fall short.


Grab this:  If we’re seeing ourselves as owners - the stuff in our little worlds that we’re trying to control ultimately has control of us.


God - our creator - is the ultimate owner of everything.  We’re fooling ourselves to think otherwise.  Life is about God - not us.  Its about what our loving Heavenly Father desires to do in us and through us and why He’s blessed us with time and talent and treasure.  Stewardship is about managing the resources that God has entrusted to us. 


When we move from being owners to stewards we begin to do what the rich young man wouldn’t do - let go and trust God with our lives.  When we choose to be stewards we’re set free to enjoy the life that God offers us.  Life where we actually trust Him to provide everything we need for each day.  Life where we get to have a front row seat watching the living God work in in us and through us to His glory. 


Ownership starts with us.  Stewardship starts with God.  Are you an owner or a steward? 


Let’s be honest.  When we think about our own lives we have to admit that we seldom start with God.  Almost all the time it seems like we start with the demands that are made of us and then we look to God to somehow lead us through the maze - to help us with the problems and pressures that confront us.  Most of the time it seems like we get so wrapped up in the problem that we struggle to get our minds off of the issues and onto God.


When we’re getting stressed because we’re seeing more month than money and we don’t know what to do.  When we look at what we have and what we need and we’re seeing that we don’t have the resources to handle things and we’re getting puzzled and bewildered.


The place to start is not with us.  Its with God.


Mark 12 - verse 28 - the delegation that came to Jesus - there in the Temple - just before Jesus sits down and is watching what’s going on in the Treasury.  A scribe from the delegation asks Jesus - Mark 12:28:  “Which commandment is the most important of all?”  Jesus answered, “The most important is, “Hear, O Israel:  The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  (Mark 12:28-30)


Remember this?  Love God… supremely (see sermon on Deuteronomy 5:1-15)  The place to start is with God - the creator - our creator.  Love God with everything we are.  That means stewardship not ownership. 


That’s why this widow is such a great example for us.  This widow with the two small coins.  The choice to be made.  Giving everything to God.  She’s not caring about the architecture - the impressiveness of outward appearances.  Or recognition - the accolades and applause of the crowd.  Its just her and God.  Her coins given in devotion from the heart.  Authority.  Stewardship not ownership.   


Hold on to this:  Our lives will always follow our heart.  When we get the vertical right - our hearts surrendered to God - the stuff on the horizontal  God takes care of.  God will guide us through.  God will provide for.  God will use us in the midst of as His stewards for His glory not ours.


God’s bottom line isn’t our bank balance.  God’s bottom line is our heart.  Giving of the time, talent, and treasure that God entrusts to us is all about responding from the heart to God - Who so deeply loves us - even dies for us that we might have our sins forgiven and live in a restored eternal relationship with Him.  Responding from the heart to God who gives purpose and meaning to our lives and uses us in His plan of redeeming mankind.


Stewardship is never intended by God to be a guilt thing.  Stewardship is intended by God to help us grow closer to God - to experience His blessings - to live in a deepening - dependent - relationship with Him.


Last question:  Who owns your heart? 




Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®  (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.