The Plink of Genuine Devotion
Topic: Dedication Passage: Mark 12:38–12:44
We are continuing our journey through the book of Mark so please turn with me to chapter 12. As we come to the end of chapter 12 we also come to the last public teaching of Jesus’ ministry recorded by Mark.
Though we’re focusing on the widow this morning, it’s important that we see the contrast Jesus is making between the pretension of the scribes and the devotion of the widow. The scribes were religious phonies. They pretended to love God but really what they loved was being known as loving God. They got a lot of honor and prestige because they were considered the experts on God. I wish this kind of religious hypocrisy was something we didn’t even need to worry about, but our sinful hearts are so capable of the same kind of religious phoniness – I know mine is - and I mentioned last week that one weapon Jesus gives us to combat this kind of pride is to walk in the fear of the Lord. Jesus’ condemnation of their pretense is meant to warn us not to be like them – “beware the scribes” – because their hypocrisy is hurdling them towards judgment.
The fear of the Lord helps us see life in the light of eternity and that motivates us to keep it 100. The fear of the Lord is a purifying agent that presses us to be authentic and genuine. And when we see the seeds of pride and pretense in ourselves, the fear of the Lord causes us to flee, not from God, but to God for mercy and forgiveness. Ultimately our faith isn’t in the purity of our religion, but in the purity of our Savior. We trust that Jesus’ blood is able to cleanse us even from our pride and hypocrisy as we confess those sins to God. But even as we confess our hypocrisy and pride we are moving us out of the shadows of deception into the light of truth. The fear of the Lord is a wonderful purifying agent that always moves us towards the cleansing light of reality. So that is one weapon Jesus gives us to fight pride and pretension.
This week, from this beautiful passage about the simple devotion of a poor widow we find a second weapon: to walk in simple and humble devotion to the Lord.
Here’s the scene: Jesus enters the temple and sits down across from the treasury and quietly watches as people give their offerings to God. The receptacles that were used to collect the offerings were brass chests that were narrow at the top and flared out at the bottom and since there wasn’t paper money back then, as people dropped their coins into this chest, it would have been a pretty noisy event.
Mark tells us that there were many rich people in that line putting in large sums of money – which meant a lot of coins! Which meant a lot of noise for a long time! So it would have been easy to see – and hear - who was giving a lot into the offering. Each klunk of a coin would have been an audible declaration of how much they were giving to God, and seem to be a declaration of just how much they loved God. The rich were used to their noisy offerings calling a lot of attention to themselves.
But Jesus ignores them. That doesn’t mean that everyone of them gave from selfish or impure motives. It just means that none of their offerings caught Jesus’ attention…until a poor widow comes up and puts her offering in the brass receptacle. She gave two very thin copper coins called leptas that were worth about 1/128th of a denarius – which was a day’s wage. There would have been no loud klunk. More like a soft “plink” that probably wasn’t even heard above the noise of the crowd. From a monetary viewpoint it was an insignificant gift and yet Jesus stops everything, calls his disciples over to him and points her out as the biggest giver of them all! Her gift outshines them all in the eyes of Jesus. Her gift outweighs them all in the eyes of Jesus. Because she gave her gift out of true and humble devotion – and that is precious to God. Let’s consider three reasons why the “plink” of her gift is worth so much in the sight of God.
I. The widow gave out of her poverty
In biblical days widows were among the very poorest of the poor with no way to make more than a bare subsistence. Not only were they needy but they really didn’t have any recourse for meeting that need on their own. That’s why James writes in his epistle that pure religion in the sight of God includes visiting orphans and widows in their affliction – the two most helpless categories of people in society. There is irony woven throughout the contrast between the scribes who devoured widows’ houses – the very people that true religion would have been seeking to help – and this poor widow who had genuine devotion for her God.
So she gave out of her poverty. The others gave out of their abundance and their gifts declared “I have a lot to give” but she gave out of her poverty and her gift declared “I am very, very poor”.
To walk in humble devotion to God, we need to remember how poor we are. What we bring to God isn’t our assets but our poverty. At its core, Christianity isn’t about what we give to God, or do for God, it’s about what God has given to us and done for us. The gospel of Jesus confronts us with our poverty and calls us to embrace the humbling message that we are helpless beggars with nothing of value in God’s sight –but we are worse than poor, we are debtors with no ability to ever repay what we owe to God. Our ledger isn’t in the black by a few pennies, it’s in the red by millions of dollars. Our sin and rebellion against God has accumulated a debt far beyond what we could ever repay and that debt is an unbreakable bar across the entrance to the kingdom of God.
The other day I was reading an article about real estate in Southampton, Long Island and because I used to live near Southampton and landscaped there for a couple years and even had friends who owned homes there I found the article very interesting. But while reading I learned that in a town that already has a rich heritage of golf clubs, they recently added a new golf club called the Sebonack Golf Club. It features beautiful views of the Peconic Bay and it’s difficult course has a wild and natural look as if it designed itself naturally. But before you pack your golf clubs and plan a weekend at Sebonack GC, to be a member of the club you need an invitation…and an entry fee of one million dollars. It’s what you call exclusive.
Most of us in this room are under no illusion that we’ll ever golf at Sebonack. We don’t have a million dollars and we haven’t a prayer of getting an invitation. So we two strikes against us. If you add in how I play golf, I strike out. But when it comes to the entrance fee to enter the kingdom of God, I think a lot of people have a vague assumption that it’s easier to enter than Sebonack Golf Club. People who know their bank account is far too small to make the Sebonack grade think their good works account is sufficient for entrance into God’s kingdom. Or they assume that God gives the invitation freely – “c’mon in, no entrance fee necessary, it’s free!”
The frightening truth of the gospel is that the invitation to enter the kingdom of God comes at an infinitely higher price than a million dollars. It’s a fee that is as far out of reach for the wealthy as for the poor, as far beyond the “good, religious people” like the scribes as it is for the murderer and the prostitute. The beautiful truth of the gospel is that Jesus paid that entrance fee for us on the cross. There he offered his perfect and sinless life in payment for our own sinful lives and he satisfied the entrance fee perfectly. He paid the debt we owed, he took our red ledger and blotted it all out with the red of his blood. And so the invitation to enter the kingdom does come to us freely – as a gift to be received by faith in Christ. If you are not a Christian, God invites you to enter eternal life by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Genuine devotion doesn’t begin with what we give to God, it begins with what He gives to us. Like the widow, genuine devotion offers God our poverty, not our abundance, and receives God’s riches through faith in Christ.
II. The widow gave out of devotion to God
“She has put in more than all of them.” Not more than all of them individually - more than all of them combined. In God’s eyes her gift of two insignificant coins is a massive amount. The plink of her thin little coins gift hitting the brass receptacle made a loud, loud sound in God’s ears. Because they were given in devotion. It cost her a lot to give it. Others were giving great amounts, but didn’t really cost them anything because they gave out of their abundance – and on top of that, they were applauded for their gifts – so in terms of PR, it was money well invested.
But this poor widow gave at tremendous personal sacrifice, and there was no public admiration or even notice of what she gave. She gave at great cost and got no earthly benefit but what she dropped in that offering plate was worth so much more to God because it was given out of genuine love and devotion for Him.
And this reminds us of a wonderful tension that we need to keep in balance: when we give our lives to God out of love and devotion it is precious to God. But it’s not necessary to God. That’s the tension: precious to God, not necessary to God. He loves us, He doesn’t need us. Walking in humble devotion reminds us that He delights to use our lives for His glory, and no one is insignificant, and no gift is insignificant. The least is the greatest in God’s economy. This poor widow and her insignificant gift that made NO difference in the temple finances whatsoever was precious to God and He has used her example to teach believers like us what genuine devotion looks like for two thousand years now.
Do you think you have so little to offer God? Do you feel like your life is one soft “plink” that no one hears and makes no difference whatsoever? If you devote it to God out of love, He will take it and multiply it and use it for His glory. In God’s economy, the insignificant can make an eternal difference.
And at the same time, God never needs what we bring. Need to keep that balance: precious to God, not necessary to God. Because our hearts can pendulum to the opposite extreme and start to think that we’re pretty important to God. When God does use us we can start to be impressed with the klunk that our lives make. We can start to think that if we were to stop what we were doing, it would leave a gaping hole in God’s work on earth. We would never say that, but we might begin to think it. I remember a poem I heard years ago that reminds us that we’re just not that important.
The Indispensible man
Some time when you're feeling important,
Some time when your ego's in bloom,
Some time when you take it for granted
You're the best man in the room;
Some time when you feel that your going
would leave an unfilled hole,
Just follow this simple instruction
And see how it humbles your soul.
Take a bucket and fill it with water
Put your hands in it up to your wrist;
Pull them out and the hole that remains
Is a measure of how you'll be missed.
You may splash as you please when you enter;
You may stir up the water galore
But stop and you'll find in a minute,
That it looks just the same as before.
The moral of this is quite simple
Do just the best you can,
And as you do, remember;
There’s no indispensable man
You know what this tension can help do in our hearts? Make us content with obscurity. Make us satisfied when what we offer to God doesn’t get much earthly notice. When our lives seem insignificant, un-noteworthy, we’re not even sure that we hear a “plink”. I think people can begin to wrestle with this as they get older (not that I would know about getting older from personal experience) but they begin to weigh their lives and can sink under this sense of insignificance.
The good news is that what we have to offer God is insignificant – and so is everyone else’s gift. And the the further good news is that nothing offered to God out of devotion is insignificant to God. God doesn’t weigh our lives on the scale of the size of what we give, but the depth of love with which we give it. No one is insignificant to God. And no one is indispensible to God. Give what you have to God and trust Him to use it in the way He sees best.
III. She gave out of dependence on God
Jesus says in verse 44 that she gave all she had to live on. This is even more amazing when you consider that all she had to live on was 1/128th of a days wage. She could have kept one coin for herself, but she gave it all. This not only demonstrates extraordinary devotion, it demonstrates extraordinary faith. It left her completely dependent on God.
Now as she walked away, having given everything in the offering – and Jesus having seen her great devotion and commended her to his disciples, there are two things that I doubt happened to her as she walked home: the first is, I doubt that she hit the lottery and suddenly became rich. There are teachings that would lead us to believe that if we give we will get back the money we give many times over. According to that theology this widow received her two leptas multiplied a hundred times over. I don’t think so.
In fact, I don’t find it hard to believe that she might have gone to bed hungry that night. God might have accepted the personal cost that was so dear to Him and let her suffer the consequences for it. Jesus said that she had given everything she had to live on.
But I also doubt that God allowed this dear woman to starve. Can we doubt for a moment that God cared for her all the days of her life? She probably never became rich, but she was watched over. She was cared for. She was provided for. Her heavenly Father fed her and clothed her and no way He was going to abandon or forget this woman or her precious gift. She lived in dependence on God and He was faithful to provide for her.
The Lord calls His children to walk in humble devotion to the Lord and we learn some beautiful and valuable lessons of what that looks like from this poor widow whose small gift has echoed through the centuries because of the size of her devotion.
Let’s take a moment to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and to cleanse our hearts and to fill our hearts with a fresh devotion to God.
• To walk in humble devotion to the Lord, we need to begin with humble. We bring our poverty to God and receive Christ’s riches through faith. Let’s humble ourselves before the Lord.
• Will you offer to God a fresh commitment to offer what gifts, talents, resources, and life you have to the Lord’s service, regardless of how insignificant you may think they are. Learn to love obscurity. Love to give to God in secret so no one hears the klunk of what you give.
• As we do, let’s lean hard on God in dependence and faith – knowing that He is our Father and our Provider.
More in Gospel of Mark
March 31, 2013Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
March 31, 2013Shock and Awe at the Empty Tomb
March 24, 2013A Glorious View from the Mt Everest of Our Redemption