Mark 12:35-44

The Challenge of Jesus

Last week we heard from a scribe who wanted to know which commandment Jesus considered to be the most important. This was the third in a string of questions posed to Jesus in an effort to trap him in his words. Mark tells us that after Jesus gave his response to the scribe no one dared to ask him any more questions. Now it’s Jesus’ turn. He has a question – and a few words – for those who are seeking to trap him.


#1 Wrong-Headed Theology

On the heels of the public exchange with a scribe, Jesus goes into the temple courts to teach. He has a question concerning the scribes: How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? (v.35) The scribes were the teachers of the law and taught that the coming Messiah would be born in the genealogical line of King David. Therefore, they referred to the expected Christ as the son of David. Jesus quotes a line from Psalm 110 (which is the most commonly quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament): The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies at your feet. Psalm 110 is a coronation psalm and would have been used at the coronation of the kings of Israel. This is a bit confusing to modern readers because it uses the word Lord in two different ways.   We could translate this line in this way: The Lord God said to my Lord master, “Sit at my right hand…” Jesus wants to know if there is no greater king than King David, how is it that David refers to his own son as Lord?   The answer to this question is that the Messiah is not only the son of David, he is the Son of God. This, by the way, is the exact title given to Jesus in Mark 1:1, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Notice that Jesus’ words pleased the crowd who heard him gladly (v.37).

The scribes were looking for a human king but Jesus is more than just some human king. He is the divine king – the Son of God. When the Messiah finally came, they missed him altogether because they were looking in the wrong direction! The bottom line is that the scribes held an inadequate view of the Messiah.

We must consider if there is any way in which we have an inadequate view of Jesus. Some people know that Jesus came to be a teacher and an example for us to follow but they fail to see that he came to be our Savior. Others know that he came to be our Savior but fail to see that he is our King as well. Or perhaps the deeper issue is that we affirm these truths with our minds but fail to take them into our heart. Our lives become a mess and what we know to be true about Jesus is replaced with our own fears and anxiety. We affirm Sunday morning that he is seated upon his throne but by Tuesday morning we live as if there is no throne and that we alone must fix the problems of the world.


#2 Two-Faced Living

Jesus continues his assault on the teachers of the law telling the people to beware of the scribes (v.38). The issue here is not what they are teaching, it’s how they are living.   The problem is that they are living hypocritical two-faced lives. They have no issue being seen walking around in long robes (v.38) or taking the best seats in the synagogues (v.39) and making long prayers (v.40) but apparently when no one is looking they devouring widows’ houses (v.40). Their life is inconsistent and therefore Jesus says that they will receive the greater condemnation (v.40). What Jesus is saying here is that not all sin is the same. While it’s true that any sin, big or small, separates us from God, there are degrees of sin. The scribes will receive a greater punishment than others. Just as there are degrees of reward in heaven so there are degrees of punishment in hell.


#3 Whole-Hearted Devotion

Jesus doesn’t just call out an unworthy example to avoid in the behavior of the scribes, he leads us to a worthy example to follow in the life of a poor widow (v.43). This poor and powerless widow stood in stark contrast with the rich and powerful religious authorities. Notice that Jesus has not left the temple but has now moved to the part containing the treasury (v.41). Bible commentator James Edwards is helpful here in his work on this passage. He cites the Mishnah (specifically Shekalim 6:5) which explains that upon entering the treasury there would be 13 different containers which allowed the giver to designate where they wished the money to go. The money would be given a priest who would apparently announce what had been given and for what purpose.

So as Jesus is seated opposite the treasury, he has a full view of what is going on. Many rich people come and put in large sums of money and then comes a poor widow who puts in two small copper coins (v.42). These two small copper coins, lepta in the original Greek, are the smallest known coinage in circulation at that time, equal to 1/64th of a denarius which itself was roughly equal to a day’s wage (c.f. Matthew 20:2).   Her contribution would seem to be inconsequential. It is unlikely that this small amount of money would accomplish anything.

Jesus uses this as a teachable moment for his disciples. He says that she actually put in more than (v.43) anyone else because everyone else gave out of their abundance but she gave out of her poverty (v.44). She gave to God everything she had (v.44). This is a picture of what whole-hearted devotion looks like.   She held nothing back.   There are at least two lessons here for us.

The first and most obvious is that we are to hold nothing back from God.   Jesus has just finished telling us that the greatest commandment is love God with all of who we are. Here he shows us what this looks like in the life of a poor widow. We are too easily impressed with people like the scribes but Jesus directs our gaze elsewhere.

Secondly, we should be encouraged by the sovereignty of God over what we bring to him. This perhaps reminds us of Jesus feeding that immense crowd with only 5 loaves and 2 fish. Jesus took meager provisions, blessed them, and used them for his mighty purposes. Here Jesus says that two small copper coins are more than all the rich had to offer. It makes all the difference if God is in it. We can sometimes feel as if we have nothing of great value to offer the Lord but this passage shows us that God can indeed do a lot with a little.


Discussion Questions

  1. Jesus cites Psalm 110:1 to call out an error in the scribes teaching on the Christ. What was wrong with what scribes were teaching?
  2. While we might confess the right things about Jesus, sometimes we fail to live them out. Why do you think there is a disconnect between what we say we believe and how we live?
  3. Based on Jesus’ comments in verses 38 to 40, what would you say is most important to the scribes? What do they value most?
  4. In what ways do you think the scribes were devouring widows’ houses? What people in our society today are vulnerable to such exploitation?
  5. Explain what Jesus means when he says that the scribes will receive the greater condemnation (v.40).
  6. In what ways does the widow stand in stark contrast with the religious authorities? Name as many differences as you can.
  7. Why might some people have considered the widow’s offering to be of no real value? What does Jesus say about her offering?
  8. What do we learn here about how God views our giving? Why do you think it is important for us to give sacrificially?
  9. What is one thing you will do as a result of studying this passage?