Jesus Sees the Sincere

Posted: June 30, 2014 in Mark

Mark 12:35-44, “Jesus Sees the Sincere”

It’s been said that the English word "sincere" comes from the Latin "sine cera" = "without wax."  The claim has had doubt cast on it by linguistic scholars and historians, but the thought was that the Romans would attempt to disguise imperfections in marble statues with wax.  When heated, the wax would distort and melt, and the imperfections would be seen.  The highest quality carvings would be sculptures without wax, "sine cera" = sincere.  Though the story is questionable, the idea is illustrative.  Sincerity is akin to purity.  People who are sincere have pure motives – they are pure of heart.  And because God sees the heart, God knows those who are sincere.

Likewise, God knows those who are insincere – those who are hypocrites.  Hypocrisy can take many forms; some of the worst being religious.  The scribes and Pharisees were infamous for their hypocrisy, and The Lord Jesus didn’t pull any punches labeling them as such.  What we read here is a mere summary of what Matthew records in detail.  Mark doesn’t use the word "hypocrisy," but he certainly records Jesus describing it.  The scribes were hypocrites in their doctrine and hypocrites in their actions.  God isn’t fooled by their religiosity, and Jesus knew the difference between the hypocrite and sincere worshipper.  The scribes may have had the recognition of men, but a poor widow woman had the recognition of God.  Which was better?

Remember the context: Jesus had come to Jerusalem, proclaimed by the crowds to be the Son of David – they had Messianic hopes in mind, but thus far Jesus wasn’t acting according to their expectations.  Jesus brought reform, but not so much against the Romans…against the Jewish leadership.  Now the Jewish elders, priests, scribes, and Pharisees were attempting to undermine Jesus’ credibility among the people.  They had tried a direct approach & failed, and now they were trying to stump Jesus with theological questions…and failing yet again.

They had tried tag-teaming Jesus, and the Pharisees went first.  They tried to get Jesus to stump Jesus politically, getting Him to choose between pleasing the people and pleasing the Romans.  Of course, although the Pharisees feared men, Jesus does not.  He could answer honestly, and give an answer that demonstrated the true wisdom of God.

The Sadducees went next, foolishly demonstrating their lack of faith in God’s word and God’s power.  They tried to deny eternal life and the future resurrection, forgetting that God is the Living God, and also the God of the Living.  Jesus had again demonstrated perfect divine wisdom.

The third test came from a scribe who seemed to have been changing his mind about Jesus.  He had seen the wisdom of Jesus in action, and he wanted to know what Jesus thought was most important in the law.  What was most valuable?  Love.  To love God and love others was (and is) the foundation and summary of the law.  Everything it means to be a follower of Christ hinges upon it.

So with all that in mind, now what?  Now Jesus turns the tables.  It’s His turn to ask a question, and what He asks is profound.  It’s a theological question for the premier theologians of the age – and they find themselves completely at a loss.

Mark 12:35–44
35 Then Jesus answered and said, while He taught in the temple, “How is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the Son of David?

  • Although Matthew records this as a specific question to the Pharisees, Mark and Luke do not.  They present it as a question open and asked to all who were present.  Mark simply show this to be a part of Jesus’ teaching.  However, there’s no question that Mark presents this as a contrast to what Jesus has been asked previously.  This is asked to the scribes, many of whom were indeed Pharisees.  (The scribe who asked Jesus about the greatest commandment was himself a Pharisee – Mt 22:35.)
  • What the scribes actually taught about Christ (the Messiah) was correct.  They said that "the Christ is the Son of David." And He is! God specifically promised David that the Messiah would come from David’s own bloodline.  2 Samuel 7:12–13, "(12) “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. (13) He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever." []  This is proven out through Jesus’ own bloodline.  Both His physical mother Mary and adoptive father Joseph were of the lineage of David, though through different son.  God promised a physical descendant to David, and that’s what He gave.  The scribes taught this absolutely correctly.  Here, Jesus is not questioning the content of their doctrine; He’s questioning their understanding of it.  Did they grasp the implications of what it was they taught?  Did they truly understand the meaning of the Scripture, or did they just know enough to "parrot" back the correct answers?  Did they have more than just a superficial understanding?  (Do we?)
  • The scribes and Pharisees got many things wrong, but they also got a lot of things right.  There’s no doubt that they were legalists who distorted the heart of God within the law, but they also had a lot of their basic theology correct.  In fact, in different circumstances, Jesus would have found Himself standing on the side of the Pharisees in many issues.  (Certainly Paul did!)  Jesus even commended the Pharisees in their teaching, and instructed the people to heed the things that the Pharisees taught (even if the Pharisees didn’t personally follow through on it themselves). (Mt 23:3)  But with that in mind, it’s obvious that right doctrine doesn’t necessarily equal a right heart.  Correct theology doesn’t necessarily equal true faith.  Someone can know the truth and still not know God.  Balaam was an OT pagan who did his best to curse the nation of Israel, even though he knew the truth about God and God used Balaam to prophesy accurately.  Even Satan has correct doctrine in many areas.  As James writes, even the demons believe & tremble. (Jas 2:19)  In fact, it was the demons that rightly identified Jesus as the Son of God long before most of the people did.  Doctrine is hugely important, but doctrine isn’t everything.  Doctrine without experience is hypocrisy.  Truth without relationship is empty.
    • We don’t want to miss this!  It’s easy to mentally know the right answers, and still not personally know the True God.  Stop anyone on the street and ask them if Jesus claimed to be God who died on the cross and rose from the grave, and the vast majority of people will agree.  They know that much of the truth.  What the majority won’t actually agree to is whether or not they have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ in faith.  They know the doctrine, but they don’t have the experience – they have the doctrine, but they don’t have the reality & substance of it.
    • BTW – this isn’t only a fact for non-believers.  Practically speaking, many born-again believers have a similar experience in their lives.  They know the doctrine about prayer; they just don’t pray.  They know the Bible talks of worship; but they don’t value it.  They know God wants His people in relationships within the church, but they don’t engage in it.  Knowing the truth and living the truth are two very different things.  We need to beware that our right doctrine isn’t a hypocritical experience.

36 For David himself said by the Holy Spirit: ‘The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” ’

  • Jesus had asked the question; now He quotes the Scripture that presents the theological issue: Psalm 110.  Mark writes in Greek, so Mark quotes Jesus by using Greek.  However, although the issue can still be seen in Greek, it’s highlighted far more by the Hebrew.  The ancient Greek translation of the OT (the LXX) used by Jesus followed a practice still used by most English Bibles today, by avoiding the use of God’s covenant name “Yahweh” (a reference to I AM, as God revealed Himself to Moses).  The Hebrews took the utmost care in writing God’s name, but they would not speak it often – normally substituting the word “Adonai,” which is the generic word for “Lord.”  As the Scriptures were translated, they followed that practice, substituting “Lord” for “Yahweh.”  In most English translations, the editors demonstrate this when “LORD” is placed in all capital letters.  So now the issue becomes clearer.  When Jesus quotes David by saying: “The LORD said to my Lord,” David isn’t just repeating himself; he’s referencing two different Persons.  This phrase could easily be translated, “Yahweh said to my Lord…”, and that introduces the issue.  To whom is God speaking?  Who is it that David would address as “my Lord”?
  • Biblically, there is only one human that Scripture records David saying “my lord” to: King Saul.  Everyone called their king “my lord”…that was just the proper title.  But once David was anointed and crowned as king of all Israel, who would David call “lord”?  No one.  Sons might refer to their fathers as “lord,” (and thus grandsons to their grand-fathers & so forth), but not the opposite way around.  There is none higher than the king, and none to whom the king would owe his loyalty.
  • Not only does the title that David uses raise a question, but so does the statement from God.  What is it that Yahweh God tells David’s Lord to do: “Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”  Where is the “right hand” of God?  At His heavenly throne.  All of sudden, David’s not in Kansas anymore. J  The throne that David’s Lord is invited to sit is not the throne in Jerusalem, but the throne of the Heavenly Jerusalem; the very throne of God.  God has promised David’s Lord complete victory (“till I make Your enemies Your footstool”), and God is inviting him to sit patiently at His right hand (the place of ultimate honor and authority) until that victory is granted.  At this point, David is writing of heavenly eternal authority and power – something that could never be written of any ordinary king of Israel, including himself.
  • Objection: “But how do we know that David is actually writing of the Messiah?  Couldn’t David be writing of someone else – perhaps using figurative terms?”  No.  There can be no doubt that Psalm 110 was (and is) viewed as a Messianic psalm.  Its ties to the Messiah are so strong, that it is the most quoted psalm in all the NT.  Look at the whole thing in context. Psalm 110. Among other things, it refers to Jesus’ ascension – Jesus’ victory – Jesus’ authority – Jesus’ reign – Jesus’ kingdom & people – Jesus’ physical glory – Jesus’ priesthood – and the Day of Judgment.  None of these things could be written of any other descendent of David, king of Israel or not.  None of these things could be written of any human alone, nor could they be written of any angel alone.  After all, someone might argue that God is speaking to a powerful angel, foretelling his victory…but an angel cannot serve as a priest, nor does the Bible ever show people serving angels as kings.  From a human perspective, not even the most victorious of all of David’s sons (Solomon) was ever said to sit at God’s right hand, nor did Solomon ever judge the nations even at the height of his power.  No – this has to be a reference to Someone else completely, and the implications here are profound!
  • BTW – there are two other theological issues addressed here by Jesus.  Though in passing, they are important: (1) David wrote Psalm 110, (2) David wrote by the Holy Spirit.
    • Jesus affirmed Davidic authorship.  With all of the references in the NT to Psalm 110, it is no surprise that the psalm itself has come under much attack, with some claiming that it wasn’t written until centuries after David’s reign, during the era of the Maccabees (shortly before Jesus).  Yet if Jesus specifically claimed that David wrote the psalm (just as the superscription to the psalm says he did), then we have to believe David wrote it.  If Jesus truly is the Son of God (which He is), then God does not lie, and thus everything Jesus says is true.  Jesus affirmed the creation account of Adam and Eve (in reference to marriage and divorce) – Jesus affirmed the historical account of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish (in prophesying His own death and resurrection) – and Jesus affirms that David wrote Psalm 110.  David’s authorship is actually foundational to Jesus’ whole point, and notice that it’s not argued once by anyone present.  No one doubts that David wrote the psalm; they simply accept what Jesus says as true.
    • Jesus affirmed the inspiration of Scripture.  David penned the words, but Who gave the words to David? “The Holy Spirit.”  IOW, these are not simply the words of man, but the words of God.  That’s what the inspiration of Scripture is all about.  God the Holy Spirit moved upon the human writers of Scripture in such a way that although the people used their minds, personalities, grammar, etc., God the Holy Spirit was the One filling their thoughts.  What came out through the pens of men was exactly what the Holy Spirit intended to come out.  The Bible is not merely a compilation of books written by a bunch of religious people; it is the inspired inerrant infallible word given by God, which is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” that we may be “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17)
  • So with the questions and issues raised by Scripture by David’s Lord, what does it all imply?  That’s what Jesus goes on to ask in vs. 37…

37 Therefore David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; how is He then his Son?” And the common people heard Him gladly.

  • The question is two-fold.  First, it’s one of authority: who can have more authority than the king of Israel?  And beyond that, how is it that the authority extends even to the heavens to the point that David’s Lord can sit at God’s right side?  Second, the question is cultural: How can a descendent of David be a ruler over David?  The younger always serves the elder, without exception.  How is it possible in this case?  There was no doubt that the Messiah is physically descended from David, and rightly called his son.  How then are all these things possible?
  • There can only be but one solution to this theological puzzle: the Messiah is a man, but He must be more than a man.  The only solution is the incarnation.  The Son of David just also be the Son of God.  Only the Son of God can sit at the right hand of God, and King David can only legitimately refer to one Being as Lord: God Himself.  Thus the Person to physically descend from David’s loins as the heir to the covenant promises of God must somehow Himself BE God…and that is exactly what Jesus is.  The very truth against which the scribes and Pharisees constantly rebelled is what is proven within the Scripture itself: the Christ/Messiah must be God.  If Jesus is indeed the Son of David, then He must also be the Son of God.
  • Keep in mind that Jesus isn’t giving the scribes and Pharisees a brand-new psalm to pour over.  This is something that they had read all of their lives – something that they had always believed.  They just hadn’t ever stopped to think about the implications of what it was they believed. They knew the right doctrine, but they never knew the right reason for the doctrine.
    • Do you know why you believe what you believe?  There are many Christians who know that they believe that Jesus is God, crucified for their sins, & risen from the grave – but they can’t begin to tell someone WHY they believe it.  If questioned, they just say, “I don’t know…I just do.”  What makes that Christian different than a Muslim raised in an Islamic country?  Or a Hindu in India?  Like the Christian, they were just raised in a culture where what they believe is simply the norm – it’s culturally acceptable.  They believe it because they were told to believe it.  Why do YOU believe?  Be careful that your faith is not a mile-wide and an inch-deep – where you have all sorts of religious answers like the scribes & Pharisees, but no real substance upon which to base it.
    • BTW – quick reasons to know why we believe what we believe: (1) Jesus is historically risen from the dead…this is foundational! (2) The Bible is historically sound…no other religious text comes close. (3) The Bible prophetically accurate…it reads like a history book before the history actually occurred. (4) Christianity is experientially true…the relationship we have with God is real, beyond question and real lives are changed as a result. (i.e. Saul to Paul)
  • Notice that the crowds were happy to hear Jesus.  “The common people heard Him gladly.”  What we’re not told was whether or not the common people had faith.  Were they glad that this Prophetic Teacher was able to best the premier theologians of Jerusalem – or were they glad to hear the truth of the identity of the Messiah?  It’s quite possible that the majority of the crowd was just as hypocritical in their faith as were the scribes and Pharisees.  Many of them likely had a veneer of religion, but no depth of relationship with God to accompany it.

38 Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, 39 the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”

  • What Mark records in three verses took Matthew an entire chapter.  Matthew 23 contains some of the most blistering words uttered by Jesus, and there is no doubt how He views the scribes and Pharisees.  Seven times Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites – He calls them fools & blind – He calls them a brood of vipers & whitewashed tombs, and more.  If Jesus was trying to make a point, He made it! J  Mark summarizes Jesus’ litany of their crimes here.  Again, Mark never uses the word “hypocrite,” but that is exactly what is described.  The scribes appeared one way on the outside, but their inside was completely different.  They had an appearance of holiness – even desiring the benefits that went with it, yet acted in a way that was completely unholy & evil.
  • The scribes were publicly complimented and commended.  They loved their own honor, seeking the recognition that went with their position.  They would wear “long robes” distinguishing them as scholars and rabbis, in order that someone would know immediately upon seeing them that they were looking upon a supposedly devout man.  They loved the “greetings in the marketplaces,” where people would call out to them “Rabbi!” and give them special treatment.  They would clamor for “the best seats in the synagogues,” eagerly taking the seats closest to the Torah scrolls, which were the seats of greatest honor.  They would be right up front in full view of all the people, ensuring all eyes would be on them.  They wanted the “best places at feasts,” always seated next to the guest of honor (if they themselves were not the guest of honor), again having their public egos puffed up.  These were supposed to be the teachers of Israel, leading people into the proper knowledge and worship of God, but they didn’t ever put the focus upon God; they put it upon themselves.
    • Sadly this practice did not vanish with the dawn of Christianity.  Priests and pastors brought it right into the church, and it can be found among all denominations (and non-denominations).  Leaders of churches put themselves front & center, plastering their pictures and/or name over everything, desiring all kinds of titles, ensuring that everyone gives them the respect they believe they deserve.  Call it what it is: hypocrisy.  Jesus condemned it among the scribes, and He would condemn it among Christian pastors today.
  • The scribes were corrupt.  Not only did they have sin in their public persona and ego; they engaged in more inward sin as they took advantage of the helpless.  God consistently stated His desire to protect the widow and orphan in Scripture, and yet those who were responsible for teaching the word of God used their position to “devour” the widow.  Quite often the rabbis would be the ones to help widows determine how to use their inheritance (if they had one).  The widows would look for someone they could trust, so they looked to the teacher of God’s word.  Instead, they would find someone who took advantage of them, convincing the widows to give their money to the rabbis.  They would have their “long prayers” supposedly interceding for the widow, but it was just a way of conning more money out of them.  (Saw this among Buddhist monks in Cambodia – basically blackmailing the small shopkeepers for prayers…)
    • And again, this is often still seen today among hustlers calling themselves “pastors.”  People are told to put forth their “seed money” in order that God would bless them and give them a hundred-fold return…
  • The scribes were condemned.  God wasn’t fooled by any of this.  As Mark summarized Jesus saying, “These will receive greater condemnation.”  Teachers will be held to a stricter judgment in general (Jas 3:1), simply for the responsibility we have to rightly teach the Scriptures & things of God.  But those who use their role as a teacher to hypocritically benefit off of those in their care will be sternly (and rightly) judged by the Lord God Himself.  One day every teacher of the Bible will have to look into the eyes of the Master Teacher and be forced to give an account for not only our doctrine, but also our actions.  That thought ought to be a powerful motivation to be a servant to God’s people & not a slave-master.

41 Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. 42 Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans.

  • Jesus had been spending much time in the temple, both in His confrontation with the scribes, and in His general teaching.  He seems to still be at the temple at this point, though the scribes are not mentioned as being around.  There seems to have been a bit of a break in time, with Jesus concluding His remarks to the Jewish leadership and having gone off by Himself.  Now He’s sitting somewhere in the court of the women (which was open to both men and women), where 13 trumpet-shaped containers were located that basically served as offering receptacles for the temple treasury.  At this point, Jesus is engaging in simple observation, and things are proceeding as they might be expected.  Those “who were rich put in much” – this is not something that is commended nor condemned; it was just the normal.  Some have thought that the rich scribes and Pharisees were making a show of their giving, ostentatiously showing to others the amount of money they dropped into the trumpet.  Although in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did point out the hypocrites who made a show of their giving (Mt 6:2), there’s no indication from the text that it happened at this point.  It just seems to have been a normal day (as normal as things could be so close to Passover) with people giving according to their normal practice.
  • In all the people who did drop in a financial gift, there was one person that stood out among the rest.  It wasn’t someone that would be expected on anyone’s “major donor” list, and her gift would have barely registered in the overall count for the day – but it was someone that stood out to the Lord Jesus.  In contrast to all of the well-off honored scribes to whom Jesus was speaking with earlier, there came an impoverished “widow” – perhaps one of the very widows whose house was devoured by a corrupt scribe or Pharisee.  She didn’t bring gold or silver, but two small copper coins: “mites” per the KJV, λεπτὰ (“lepta”) in the Greek.  These were the smallest coins in circulation at the time of the Roman empire…just bare slivers of copper.  As Mark records for his Roman readers, two leptas would make a “quadrans.”  Some Bibles translate this as worth a “penny,” but that can be misleading due to inflation.  One quadrans was 1/64th a denarius, which was the average daily wage for a day-laborer.  The modern US equivalent might be close to a dollar.  Think of her having two 50-cent pieces (which was all the money in her possession), and putting them both into the offering.  It was a pittance in comparison to what else was being given, but it made a massive impact upon Jesus as He watched her give.
    • BTW – Jesus did not establish a precedent for pastors to follow.  You’re not going to find me (or any other elder here) keeping an eagle-eye on the offering box to see who drops in a check.  Financial records are kept by trusted people for Biblical accountability, but I personally never see who gives what.
    • Jesus has the right to observe the giving because Jesus is God.  Financial giving is indeed taught in the Scriptures, and guidelines are provided as to teach how much we ought to give, but ultimately giving is something between you and the Lord.  God knows how much we give, and God knows with what heart and attitude we give.  And of course, that’s what Jesus goes on to demonstrate in this passage.

43 So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.”

  • The woman had not trumpeted her giving, and neither did Jesus.  Jesus “called His disciples to Himself” and gave them a private lesson.  He didn’t call unnecessary attention to the woman, nor did He embarrass her in any way.  He knew the truth of her giving and her heart, and although He wanted the disciples to learn the lesson, He did so in a way that preserved the purity of her gift and worship.
  • What had she given?  Everything.  Her two lepta was a pittance in comparison with the gold & silver & other coins dropped in the offering, but God saw it as a massive gift that overshadowed everything else that was there.  The rich were giving as they may have been expected to give.  We’re not told an amount, but surely many gave a 10% tithe that day – others may have given more or less.  But the widow?  She gave 100%.  100% trumps 10% any day of the week.  She gave absolutely everything that she had to give, “her whole livelihood.”  Think about the trust that this entails.  What would this women eat for dinner that night?  How would she eat the following day?  Everything she had, she gave in her worship of God, trusting that God saw her and would provide for her needs.  Consider the choice that she had in her gift.  She didn’t have to give BOTH lepta coins, but she did.  Even giving one coin would have been a massive gift (50% of her livelihood is no joke), but she chose to give both and to give them freely.  She held nothing of herself back – whatever it was she had, she gave.
  • This is an example of a sincere heart!  This is an example of whole-hearted giving & ultimately whole-hearted worship & trust.  Jesus had said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your mind, and with all of your strength.  It had not been seen among the scribes and the Pharisees, who were complete hypocrites – but the disciples just got a glimpse of it among the poor widow.  She gave everything she had to the Lord, and was apparently glad to do it.
  • Question: is Jesus saying that His true disciples will empty out their bank accounts in the church offering box, and that those who don’t demonstrate they don’t truly love the Lord?  Of course not.  What Jesus IS saying is that this widow demonstrated a sincerity and trust that the others had not.  She showed (in a very practical way) her trust in the Lord because she literally gave to God every single cent she had.
    • How could you describe your trust in God?  Is it sincere?  If it is, it’s going to show.  It’ll show in our obedience to the command of God to love Him and our neighbor.  It’ll show in our willingness to forgive others as Jesus forgave us.  It’ll show in our willingness to believe the best about our neighbors.  It’ll show in the sharing of our faith.  It will show in our attitude – in our mercy – in our compassion.  And yes, it will show in our financial giving, and our trust in the Lord’s provision.

God sees the sincere.  He alone is able to look upon the heart, and He knows who is sincere and who is playing games.  He knows who has a real relationship with the living God through Jesus, and who merely has a pretense of it all.  It was all on display with the scribes and Pharisees.

  • Jesus confounds the scribes.  He posed a question that exposed their lack of understanding.  They had doctrine, but not true faith.  Their knowledge of the Scriptures was superficial without real relationship with the Living God.  They were too busy rebelling against Jesus to see and understand that He is exactly who the Scriptures proclaimed Him to be.
  • Jesus condemns the scribes.  Their lack of faith was demonstrated in their actions.  Their egos showed the hypocrisy of what it was they otherwise proclaimed.  They desired the glory for themselves; not for God.  They took advantage of the helpless and set up judgment for themselves.
  • Jesus contrasts the scribes.  The impoverished widow demonstrated more sincerity for God in a brief moment than they did in all of their pretenses.  She held nothing back…she gave it all.  It was the outcast that was held up as the example for us all; not the honored.  Te scribes may have been honored by men, but the widow was honored by God.

Is our faith sincere?  Or do we dabble in hypocrisy…knowing truth about God without actually knowing God Himself? What is there that you need to lay before the Lord today?  In what areas have you been holding back?  Give it all.

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