December 21, 2019 Advent 21, Luke 21- The Widow’s Mite, Destruction, War, and the Coming of the Son of Man

widow's mite

Read Luke 21.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box,  and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.  For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Luke 21:1-4 (ESV)

At this time of year we are often concerned with giving gifts.  Most of us are giving out of our abundance.  It’s neither good nor necessary to give lavish gifts we can’t afford to people who already have too much stuff to begin with.  It is good to give generously and to those who have a genuine need.

God doesn’t need anything of ours.  Even if we were to have the resources to build a fine cathedral or to give large sums of money to the church, we don’t give in order to earn favor with God.  Jesus has done that for us as a gift.

Giving is an act of faith.  Some of us are capable of giving much, but others of us can only give a widow’s mite.  The motive behind our giving is our faith.  Do we trust God with all that we have and all that we are? (the answer is no, we can’t…)

The rest of the chapter is not very cheery.  Jesus foretells the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and of the things that will come to pass in the end times.

And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them.And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once.” Luke 21:5-9 (ESV)

It can be said that there have not been too many periods of time that the world (especially the Middle East) has been peaceful.  Since Jesus walked the earth there have been countless empires that have risen and fallen.  There have been wars, skirmishes, tumults and takeovers, coups, assassinations, intrigues and so much more man-made evil and violence. We long for peace and we pray for justice and mercy, only to see more wars, corrupt governments and injustice go merrily along.

We hear those who come to the table with false gospels- the false gospel of prosperity, the false belief that there is salvation in “social justice,” the name-it-and-claim-it, “best life now” self-help preachers, or the cults led by false prophets such as Jim Jones or David Koresh who claimed to be God, but were anything but. Jesus has warned us against those pseudo-christs that cannot save.

Christian people will face persecution for speaking out for Jesus.  In some places believers are martyred simply for standing up for Jesus and not backing down from their faith..  Jesus has warned us about this also:

This will be your opportunity to bear witness.  Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death.  You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  But not a hair of your head will perish.  By your endurance you will gain your lives. Luke 21:13-19 (ESV)

The Holy Spirit will give us the words to say if we are persecuted for our faith.  Jesus is faithful.  In the grand scheme of things, He has promised to keep us faithful to Him.

“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21:25-28 (ESV)

There will always be war and dissent in this world, at least until Jesus returns.  The natural disasters, wars and other unrest will only escalate until that day. Yet our hope, Jesus is coming to redeem us and remake our world. For believers, this will be a day of great joy.

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34-36 (ESV)

As we come closer and closer to the celebration of Christmas- the Incarnation, Jesus coming to earth as a helpless child, we remember that Advent is also about being ready and awake for Jesus’ return.  He is the One Who holds us up and makes us able to stand. We pray that in Christ we will stand firm and that we will join the everlasting celebration on that day when He returns in glory.

April 3, 2019- The Widow’s Mite, the Shema, and the First Commandment-Mark 12:41-44, Deuteronomy 6:4-8, Matthew 22:34-40

poor widow

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 copper coins, which make a penny. 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 12:41-44 (ESV)

Jesus’ account of the poor widow isn’t meant to guilt trip us into putting all of our money in the collection plate. Jesus isn’t really even talking about just our money.  While we should be good stewards of what God provides us, and we should be mindful of our giving of time, talent and resources to the mission of the church, Jesus is really talking about the First Commandment and what it is to take it seriously.

We can all agree that the shema – which is the primary prayer and petition of the Jewish people- is good.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-8 (ESV)

Jesus underscores the shema as being the foundation of God’s Law as well:

But when the Pharisees heard that he (Jesus) had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40 (ESV)

So the question Jesus asks of us is, “Do you really love God with all your heart and soul and mind? Do you really love other people like you love yourself?”

The answer to this question is, “No, we don’t.”

We don’t love God with all our heart and soul and mind – and we certainly don’t love others like we love ourselves because we can’t. No matter how hard we may try, we fall short.  Cats meow, dogs bark, and sinners sin.  As long as we live this life in these imperfect bodies, we will still be subject to the curse of sin. We are powerless to love perfectly, and we cannot love God and others in and of our own strength.

We can only love God and others, as imperfect and fallen as we are, by the grace of God in Christ.  We, like the poor widow, have nothing to offer God but ourselves in our weakness and poverty.   Jesus loves God, and loves fallen humanity perfectly in a way we are not capable of.  He gives us the faith we need to be able to give even our imperfect selves.

This isn’t to say that the Law is a bad thing. The Law is a good thing because it shows us our desperate need for Jesus.  Jesus lived out the Law perfectly, not only in love toward God, but also in love for us.  He gave His life- which was all that He had here on this earth- so that God would see us as being justified under the Law.  He freely took the punishment that brings us peace (Isaiah 53:5.)

That is what love is, and why it is so difficult for us to trust God so fully that we give freely of ourselves for the good of others. In Christ, we know love.  In Christ – by His grace, through faith, we are free to give all that we are and all that we have to Him.