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The Greatest Gift

Mark 12:41-44

41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.

42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.

43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:

44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.


When Jesus wanted to teach us some of his most important truths, he chose some of the most unlikely people as examples. 

For example, in Matthew 18, the disciples came to him asking, “Lord, who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus put a little child on his knee and he said, “Except you be converted and become as a little child, you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. And he that would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven, must humble himself and become as a little child.” The child was the most unlikely of people to teach us one of the greatest of truths. 

Then they came to Jesus one time and asked, “Lord, who is my neighbor?” Instead of talking about somebody across the street or down the block, he talked about somebody of a different race who lived across the tracks. We call that person the Good Samaritan. Jesus told how this man stopped and rendered aid to a Jew wounded along the roadside, and when he had finished telling the story of just how the hated and despised Samaritan rendered aid to the Jew, he said to all who listened to him that day, “Go thou and do likewise.”

The Good Samaritan was the most unlikely of persons to teach the greatest of truths. So when our Lord wanted to teach us about giving, he did not tell us about the gifts of the rich farmer that he spoke of in other gospels, nor did he talk about the gifts of some successful businessman. Rather, he pointed us to a poor widow who gave only a few cents to the collection plate. And he held up this most unlikely of examples to teach us one of the great truths of scripture about life and about giving. You will find that story in the gospel of Mark 12:41. Jesus sat over against the treasury. This came at the end of a busy day of conflict. The religious leaders of Israel in that day had come to Jesus with one question and then another trying to trap and ensnare him. They asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? Teach us about the resurrection and how people are going to live in that resurrected life.” They asked him, “Which is the greatest of all commandments?” And after battling with them in wit and in word, Jesus was exhausted. So he looked for a quiet place to rest and he found it in the Temple over against the treasury. 

The treasury was located in the courtyard of the women. There were four courtyards in the Temple. The outer courtyard was the courtyard of the Gentiles and inside of that was the courtyard of the women. And inside of that was the courtyard of the Israelite men. And inside that was the courtyard of the priest. This exchange took place in that second of those outer courts—the courtyard of the women. In that courtyard were located 13 trumpet-shaped containers to receive the offerings of the people. They had funnel necks with large openings and people could drop their offerings in these containers.  

Each trumpet was labeled for the particular cause that money would go to. If it was to be used for sacrifices, it was labeled so. If it was to be used for wood to keep the fires burning on the altar, it was so labeled. It could be used for the purchasing of oil, or it could be used for the remodeling and decorating of the Temple. There were 13 different containers and each one was labeled for a specific cause. It always cost money to keep the house of God up, even in those days. And people have always wanted to designate their gifts and so there were the containers and opportunity for people to give.

The Bible says that Jesus sat there for a long period of time and he beheld how people cast their offerings into those containers. As he watched, many rich people came by and cast in much. Then there came a poor widow. The word poor in the original language suggests that she was a pauper. In those days, if a woman was a pauper, there was little possibility of ever reversing her condition. She was poor and she would be that way as long as she lived. She had very, very little to live on.

Jesus saw this woman cast in two mites. A mite was a Jewish coin. It was a small copper coin that was valued at about one eighth of a cent. It was the smallest coin that a person could give. She gave two of them, so it was about a fourth of a cent. Just in case some Roman happened to be reading this letter, Mark computed that two mites would be a “farthing” in Roman coinage.  

This woman dropped in the smallest possible coin in the collection plate. When she did that, Jesus called his disciples over and by that time she was probably walking away. He said to them, “Boys, I want you to look at that woman. She has given more than all of the rest of these people have given.” They could look at the woman and tell that she had no money because she was dressed so shabbily. They could see these wealthy people who walked by and dropped in their money and it was obvious that they had given a whole lot more than she had given. So they wondered, “Lord, how is that possible that this poor widow has given more than all the rest?” Jesus replied, “They cast in of their abundance. But she of her want. She gave all that she had.” In other words, they gave out of the leftovers. They gave money that they really did not need, money that they would not miss. But this lady, being a poor widow, gave everything she had and the suggestion behind all of that is that she may very well have gone without supper that night because she gave her last cent to the collection plate. 

Jesus wanted his disciples to see what she had done, because if he had not called their attention to it, they would have missed it. They were enamored by the buildings of the Temple. In fact, in the very next chapter—Mark 13—these disciples are going to say to the Lord, “Lord, look how wonderful and how beautiful the buildings of this Temple are.” But while the disciples were looking at buildings, Jesus was looking at people. Buildings are important. The house of God ought to be the most attractive and the best-kept house in town. It is not right that your house and my house should be better kept and more beautiful than the house of God. But what happens in the hearts of people in the house of God is more important than the house itself. And so, while the disciples were enamored with the building, Jesus was looking into the hearts of people who had come to worship, and that is what impressed him. He did not want his disciples to miss an object lesson in giving. So he called them over and said, “Boys, I want you to look at that lady, she has given more than everyone else.”

The blazing truth we dare not miss in this passage of scripture is this: no gift counts unless it costs. Some gave out of their abundance, and they really didn’t miss it. They gave out of the leftovers and made no sacrifice. But this lady gave out of her very living. She needed what she gave. She would miss what she gave. It cost her something to give. And it is on that basis that Jesus said, “She has given more than all the rest.”

You see, the Lord does not calculate as we do. He does not calculate in the numbers of dollars that we give. He calculates in the amount of sacrifice that is involved. And the one who makes the greatest sacrifice is the one who gives the greatest gift. It is not the one who fills out the largest pledge card; it is the one who misses what he gives the most, who needs it the most, and who could use it the most. Our giving is always measured in terms of sacrifice; it’s never measured in terms of amount alone. 

No person who seeks to walk with God can read this passage of scripture without a sense of uneasiness. You cannot take seriously what Jesus has to say here and pass lightly over this scripture. If you are serious about walking with God and serving God, then you must know that God weighs our gifts—he does not count them. The thing that impresses him most is not how much you give, but how much you sacrificed for the kingdom of God. 

I have been thinking about this lady this week. There could have been so many reasons for her not to give that day. There was certainly no compulsion upon a person to ever give everything that they had. If anyone was looking for an excuse as to why they were not going to give, she had it. She might have said in her own mind, “Well, what difference could a penny make? Nobody will ever miss what I’m going to give.” She might have said in her mind, “Well, I really don’t have a penny to spare. I’ll just let those who have plenty give for me.” Or she might have said, “I think that those who have more ought to be the ones who are supporting this work and if I don’t give, nobody is ever going to notice it. Nobody will ever say anything about it so I’ll just keep it.” She had all the reasons in the world and could have mustered up all the excuses anybody ever wanted to muster up as to why she ought not give or was not going to give. But she gave because she wanted to. She gave out of deep abiding love of God and his house. And because of the spirit of her gift, and because of the sacrifice involved, Jesus not only observed her giving, he analyzed it and evaluated it. And he said to his disciples, “Men, she has given more than anybody else. They gave much, but she gave more.” 

I think the truth of this passage is even more impressive when we realize that it follows the warning by Jesus about the wrong kind of religion. In the verses that precede this, Jesus warned his disciples to beware of the scribes who liked to walk around in the marketplace in their long flowing robes showing off their religious dignity. He said to watch out for those men who liked to be called “doctor.” They loved to be called “rabbi.” They delighted in titles that made them feel important. Those men who under the guise of religion cheated and stole from the innocent—from widows just like this lady. Those who stood and prayed long prayers for a pretense, for a show to call attention to themselves. Jesus was warning us about the wrong kind of religion. Right here he tells us about the lady who had the right kind. She obviously was not there for any show. She was not trying to catch the eye of anyone except the eye of God. He was the only one she cared about seeing her that day. She was not a grabber, nor a greedy person; she was a giver. She was not the kind trying to take advantage of somebody else out of religious motives, but she was one who sought to give to the work of God. What she did was not for show; it was out of a deep heart of sincerity. If they are examples of the wrong kind of religion, she stands as an example of the right kind of religion—the right kind of giving. 

As you think about your life, and as you think about your giving—not just of money but of self, the total stewardship of life—there are some lessons for us to be learned from this lady and from her gifts. If you are taking notes on the sermon as I encourage you to do, then this is the outline; these are the thoughts you want to write down. We are going to drape our thinking around these three ideas about giving. 

The first is this: the Lord wants every gift.

The second is: the Lord watches every gift.

And the third is: the Lord weighs every gift.

And in those ideas—he wants, he watches, and he weighs every gift of yours and mine—we get an idea of what Jesus is wanting to teach us in this passage of scripture.

1. The Lord wants every gift.

The first and most obvious truth in the passage to me is that he wants every gift. He is pleased, and he is delighted with the fact that this woman comes and drops her offering in the collection plate even though it is so small and so insignificant that nobody would take much notice of it. The reason the Lord is interested in your giving and in mine, and the reason he wants every gift is not because the money matters so much. It is rather because money is a god. Money bids us to come and worship it, and the poor can worship money as though it were a god just as quickly and just as surely as the rich can. The only difference is that they don’t have as much of it. And Jesus, knowing that money is a god that bids us to worship it, taught us in this experience that he wants every gift that we can give.

Though it were small, Jesus knows that you put enough small things together they can equal something significant. Bricks together make a wall; shingles together make a roof; links together make a chain; drops together make a river; trees together make a forest; flowers together make a bouquet; soldiers together make an army; players together make a team. And if people give enough, it becomes significant in the work of God. We cannot serve both God and mammon, but we can serve God with mammon. He knew that. That’s why he is interested in your giving. Not because the kingdom can’t survive, and not because the church won’t go on without it, but because you cannot survive spiritually without leaning out to give. In spiritual economy, it is not what you stack up, but it’s what you give up that adds up on the eternal ledger. Jesus, knowing how important money can become to you and me, provided an avenue of deliverance from the materialism by teaching us to let life be a channel for blessings. Learn how to give like this woman. The story teaches us he wants every gift. 

2. The Lord watches every gift.

There is a second truth: he watches every gift. The scriptures say that he sat over against the treasury and beheld how people gave. He not only saw the fact that the woman gave, but the scriptures make it very clear that Jesus saw the precise amount she gave. Isn’t it interesting that he knew exactly how much money she gave? I want you to know that nothing in your life and mine escapes the sight of God. It is a sobering truth to know that God sees and knows everything.

David said in Psalm 139:1-6, “O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.”

It literally blew David’s mind to stop and contemplate the fact that God knew everything about him. He said that when I sit down God knows it. When I rise up God knows it. God knows not only my actions, God knows my thoughts; God hears every word that comes out of my mouth. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that escapes the seeing eye of God. It is a sobering truth to realize that God has you thumbtacked to the wall. 

David should know that from his own experience, because Samuel the prophet was going to anoint the wrong man as the king of Israel, but God came and said to Samuel, “Look not upon his countenance nor his height of stature, for I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees, man looks upon the outer appearance but God looks upon the heart.” So the Lord not only sees our actions and he not only hears our words, but God knows the very thoughts and the intent of our heart. This passage of scripture teaches us as few others in the Bible, that God not only wants our gifts, but he also watches our gifts.

The book of Revelation says that Jesus’ eyes are like a blazing fire. We have been talking about that some on Sunday nights. He is pictured again and again as having eyes flaming as fire, meaning that he can pierce into the innermost being to see and to know what we are, what we do, and what we say. 

There was a preacher trying to motivate his congregation to give. He didn’t use the highest of motivation. He got up one Sunday morning and said, “Folks, we have to take a collection today, and if I don’t get a twenty-dollar bill I am going to tell who I saw out with somebody else’s wife the other night.” They took the collection and they got three twenty-dollar bills and one ten with a note attached saying, “Don’t tell. I’ll pay the rest next week.” Well, to know that somebody else knows often affects our behavior. Let me tell you this, God knows. He knows. He watches every gift.

3. The Lord weighs every gift. 

The third truth is this: he not only wants every gift and watches every gift; he weighs every gift. He doesn’t count it, he weighs it. He said the rich have cast in much. She has given more. Here is their much and her more. How do you figure that? There is no way that she could have given as much as they gave. No, she didn’t give as much, she gave more. And the reason is that it tells us they gave out of their abundance; she gave out of her poverty. The thing that counts is sacrifice, ever and always. And unless the gift costs, it does not really count in the sight of God. Unless it costs, it doesn’t count for very much. 

You know that sacrifice is one of those forgotten words among most of God’s people today. Honestly now, how long has it been since you made any kind of sacrifice for God? I’m not talking just about money, but we can start there. That’s a good place to start. Or how about your time? How long has it been since you put yourself out? A lot of people won’t take a Sunday school class. They don’t want to get tied down. They forget that Jesus got nailed down for them. How long has it been?  

It is one of those forgotten words among us. And we are working with all of our energy to get away from sacrifice. The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome in Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” The whole temperament of the world is to get away from our bodies making any kind of sacrifice. Our goal is to make our bodies comfortable. The health and wealth syndrome is predominant in our world today. We want to take care of the body and make it last forever. While we are making the body comfortable, Paul tells us to make our body a living sacrifice. Do we know what it is to labor for God until we are exhausted? To work and sweat in his kingdom until we have laid some kind of reasonable and sensible sacrifice on the altar to him? I submit to you that we need to move out of the realm of the superficial and into the realm of the sacrificial. We have an awful lot of superficial saints right here. Instead we ought to be sacrificial saints. We are, as George Elliot said, willing to make any sacrifice for him so long as it is not an inconvenience.

Two drops of water will keep three of you away on Sunday morning. I don’t know what keeps you away on Sunday night and Wednesday night. We aren’t going to make any sacrifice. We are not going to put ourselves out. And that’s the curse of the New Testament Church today, or at least one of the curses. 

One of the signs of the decadence of our church is that people have to be coaxed so much into giving what they ought to give freely. If you want to see the church coax people for gifts, turn on the television. You think I’ve got a thing against television preachers nowadays—and I am one. Write in and get TV Offer #37. Send us an extra gift, and we will send you a leather-bound premium. Come in and join the inner circle of my contributor’s clubs. We have to coax people into giving what we ought to give freely when the Lord Jesus who gave his life upon the cross for us comes into our life. It ought to make us want to be sacrificial and not superficial.

David once was to make a sacrifice unto God. When he talked about what he was going to do with the man who owned the threshing floor and the place for the sacrifice, the man wanted to give him the threshing floor on which to make the sacrifice, the threshing instruments, and the oxen and grain for the sacrifice. This way the sacrifice to God would have cost David nothing. That’s a good way to go; make the sacrifice and it never costs you anything. But David said, “I will not make sacrifices unto God of that which cost me nothing.”

Folks, you can’t read about this widow and leave here today without feeling a bit uneasy. Jesus wants every gift. He watches and then he weighs it and he weighs what you give against what you have got. He knows what you keep and how much you will miss what you give. He weighs what the surplus is. It is within that context that he said, “Here is the lady who gave the most.” 

It is not easy to give all that you are and all that you have over to the Lord Jesus. But you can do it. When you learn and come to the place where you will surrender all that you have and all that you are to him, the world has one last candidate for misery. The appeal of scripture—the appeal of this passage is that we give ourselves wholly and completely to the Lord Jesus. He has taught us that you gain by losing, you reap by sowing, and you live by dying. 

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Paul W. Powell - www.PaulPowellLibrary.com

Today's Devotional

Major on the Basics

Knute Rockne was one of the greatest football coaches ever. In his 13 years at Notre Dame, his teams won 105 games, lost 12, and tied 5. He never had a secret practice. In fact, he sometimes put up a sign for visitors that said, “Secret practice. Come and bring your notebooks.”

On one occasion when an Army scout missed a train connection and didn’t get to the Notre Dame game he was to cover, Rockne obligingly sent him the plays he planned to use against the West Point men. He explained his actions by saying, “It isn’t the play that wins; it’s the execution.”

All great coaches agree: champions are made by majoring on the fundamentals – blocking and tackling. They execute well. Teams seldom win by trick plays or gimmicks.  

The same is true of life. Tricks and gimmicks will seldom get you to the top in any endeavor and can never keep you there. Major on the basics in all of life – work hard, honor God, be honest, kind and helpful to others, and go to church regularly.

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