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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The true priests of God give everything they have
Text:Mark 12:41-44 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 98
Psalm 73:9
Hymn 17
Psalm 116:1,9,10
Psalm 148

Reading:  Mark 12:35-44
Text:  Mark 12:41-44
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Maybe you’ve see it on TV or maybe you’ve even seen it in real life.  At any rate, I’m sure you can imagine it:  the man in his car on the way to work in the city.  One hand on the steering wheel, a cordless shaver in the other and cell phone propped against his head with his shoulder.  Or the woman in her minivan with all the kids in the back.  Yelling at the kids, putting on her makeup and trying with one hand to keep the vehicle in her lane.  Well, when I was taught to drive by my Dad, I heard one saying over and over again:  driving is a full-time job.  And if you want to get those great safe-driver rates from your insurance company, you can’t afford to be distracted while you’re driving.  Driving is a job that requires all your attention. 

In our text, the Lord Jesus teaches us the same about our task as his people.  The end was getting closer.  It was a few days before the Friday he would hang on the cross.  Things were starting to boil over.  The Jewish leaders were trying harder and harder to catch the Lord Jesus.  They hated him and they hated his teaching.  They hated it when he showed their foolishness.  They hated it when the Lord Jesus warned the people like he did in the verses before our text. 

Those Jewish leaders were mostly rich.  They were mostly priests or they came from the priestly families.  It was these people that the Lord Jesus probably watched as they put their money into the treasury in the temple.  These receptacles, shaped like a large shofar, or ram’s horn, would be for the offerings over and above what was required with the tithes and temple tax.  Their shape would amplify the sound as the money went in:  clink, clink, clink.  But then along came a woman, an extremely poor widow.  She would have been at the bottom of the social ladder.  She was what Paul would later describe in 1 Timothy as being a true widow:  no husband, no sons, no brothers.  She put in two very small coins – not even worth a penny in today’s terms.  Our Lord Jesus said that this very poor widow had put in more than all the rich people.  In saying these words, our Lord teaches his people what it really means to be a kingdom of priests.  He teaches us about single-minded devotion to duty.  So, I preach to you God’s Word with this theme:

The true priests of God give everything they have.

  1. The identity of the true priests of God.
  2. The reason for their giving everything.

An Old Testament priest was somebody called to make sacrifices in the tabernacle or the temple.  In the time of our Lord Jesus, many of these priests were travelling down the wide road which leads to destruction.  They cared more about maintaining their prestige and tradition than they did about the weightier matters of God’s Word.  They cared more about fattening their wallets than about God’s intended function of the temple.  You can see that in Mark 11 when our Lord Jesus cleared the temple of the money changers and dove dealers.    The priests and their rich families were more concerned about themselves and how they looked to other people than they were about serving God and their neighbour.  Things were so bad that they didn’t hesitate to go after the weak and powerless.  Right before our text, we find out that the teachers of the law, including those from the wealthy priestly families, would devour widows’ houses.   They were greedy and destructive.

These kinds of priests did not make sacrifices that pleased God.  Sure, they cut up the animals and put them on the altar.  But their lives were a slap in God’s face.  And when it comes down to the bottom line, it was their lives that God really wanted.  God wanted them to not only make animal and grain offerings, but to give themselves, to give everything they have to him.  This was true just as much for the average Israelite as it was for the Levitical priests.  In Exodus 19:6, God said to his covenant people, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  What that meant became clear through the history of Israel.  Take the first chapter of Isaiah as an example.  God rebukes his people for bringing sacrifices of rams, cattle and bulls while the hands of the people are full of blood, human blood.  Those people, like the priests in the time of our text, thought they would be right with God if they did all the right things on the outside.  They didn’t understand that God wants a radical commitment, one that goes right down to the roots of our lives:  God wants everything! 

And everything is exactly what that poor widow gave.  She only had two very small copper coins which were worth less than a cent.  But that was her entire savings account.  She didn’t know where her supper was going to come from.  But she had put herself in God’s hands.  She’d given everything she had, including her heart, to her covenant God.  This woman was a faithful remnant in a corrupt kingdom of priests.  So, in a way, we can say that this poor widow was more of a priest than the real priests.  She gave the kind of sacrifice that pleases God.  Without sparing the last of her savings, this woman had given her whole life.  In the Greek of verse 44, right at the end, it literally says, “she from her poverty, threw in everything she had, her whole life.”

In that way, she points us to Jesus Christ, our only High Priest.  Remember:  on the coming Friday, our Lord Jesus was going to give his whole life.  Our thoughts go back to the Psalm he quoted from in verse 36.  In Psalm 110, the Messiah is described as a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.  This priest was about to make the ultimate sacrifice.  Listen also to what it says about him in 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you, through his poverty might become rich.”  Those are beautiful words reminding us that Christ Jesus emptied himself for us.  He gave up everything, making the biggest sacrifice of all:  himself.  He did it to fulfill all the shadows of the Old Testament, all the promises.  He did it to crush the head of the serpent and bring us salvation.  Jesus Christ is the true priest of God.   

We know from Scripture that we share in Christ’s anointing as a priest.  2 Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  As a response to his love and grace, God calls us to a radical commitment to him.  God is not first of all concerned about your money, though that definitely belongs to him too.  We could do as the widow did and give our last pennies to the church and still fail in giving a radical commitment to the Lord.  This text is not about external actions:  it’s about your heart, your motivations, what drives you.  This text is about your highest end in life.  The point here is that God wants your life, your whole life.  He wants your thoughts, your emotions, your deeds.  Listen to God’s Word in Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy [because of Jesus Christ], to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.”  Those words should be familiar since the Catechism also draws on these words in Lord’s 12 when it speaks about our sharing in Christ’s anointing. 

Through the Scriptures, God is calling us to be true priests.  We have to give up our entire lives for God – there can’t be any part-timers in this holy nation.  If we’re Christians here on Sunday, we have to be Christians all the time.  And that’s not just with how we appear (which is the easy part), it’s also with who we are in our hearts.  So often, we’re failures in both these departments, aren’t we?  As far as appearances go, the world knows who we are and the world watches.   There’s no getting away from it.  The key is to be humble and honest about our failures.  We have to acknowledge our weakness before men and before God.  When we have failed to be God’s true priests and have hurt somebody in the process, we need to seek that person’s forgiveness.  Likewise, we need to seek God’s forgiveness for being less than whole-hearted in these visible ways.

But like I said, we can also fail in more subtle, less visible ways.  People can’t usually see what lives in our hearts.  People can’t usually see what’s driving us.  But we know.  We know that it’s not always wine and roses.  And when we’re convicted of that, it’s time to confess that to the Father and seek his forgiveness for being less than whole-hearted in these invisible ways.

Jesus Christ, our true high priest, gave himself to cover all these sins and weaknesses, both visible and invisible.  God’s grace is sufficient to wipe it all away.  Then we also have to remember that Jesus Christ gave his whole life for our whole life.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to see our whole life as being redeemed and bought by Christ.  We cannot afford to live as double-minded people.  Our whole lives, our time, our skills, our money, our obedience – everything belongs to him in principle.  And in practice, everything has to be brought into submission to him.  Now, let’s move on and ask the question “why?” 

The small southern Alberta town of Taber won’t soon forget April 28, 1999.  On that day, a 14 year old boy came to W.R. Myers High School armed with a .22 calibre rifle.  One student was injured and another, Jason Lang, was killed.  Jason Lang was the son of the Anglican minister in Taber, Rev. Dale Lang.   As you would expect, the sudden, violent loss of their son was difficult for them.  But out of this tragedy came something surprising.  Rev. Lang used the opportunity to witness to the grace of God in their lives and in the life of their son Jason.  Even more remarkably, Rev. Lang spoke openly about the one who murdered their son.  He spoke words of compassion and kindness.  He prayed for the 14 year old, the boy who was later convicted of murder and attempted murder.  Rev. Lang forgave his son’s murderer.  The media took note of this and it was widely reported.  Why do you think that was?  It’s because it was something extraordinary.  It was unnatural and unexpected for a man to forgive the murderer of his son, especially if that murderer doesn’t express remorse and doesn’t seek that forgiveness. 

What happens in our text is also unnatural and unexpected.  That’s why our Lord Jesus makes his disciples take note of it.  But we can take this further and ask:  why did somebody like Rev. Lang do the unnatural and unexpected?  Why does this poor widow do something so completely unnatural?  The Scriptures don’t explicitly tell us her motivation.  But notice two things in our text:  first of all, the Lord knows that this woman is an extremely poor widow.  She didn’t wear a sign around her neck telling the world that she was a widow.  People could see she was poor, but our Lord had a special way of knowing that her husband had died and that she had absolutely no family to care for her.  Second, notice that our Lord knows that this is the last of her money.  Again, she did not advertise this fact.  Only the Son of God could have had access to this knowledge.  Our Lord Jesus knows this woman’s position in life.  He also knows what lives in her heart.  Better yet:  he knows who lives in her heart.

You see, this woman could do this unnatural and unexpected act of giving everything because the Holy Spirit was living and working in her.  Even though he hadn’t been poured out at Pentecost, the Spirit was still there working among remnants of God’s covenant people.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, this woman could do something that most people would never think of doing:  giving her all for God.  The rich people put their money in and they knew there was more where that came from.  It was no big deal for them.  But in this woman, the Spirit of God was living and working so that she would make what was her ultimate sacrifice. 

And in this she points us to another in whom the Spirit of God lived and still lives.  Our Lord Jesus did the unnatural and unexpected.  Romans 5 says it three different ways.  Verse 6:  Christ died for the ungodly.  Verse 8:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Verse 10:  when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.   Our Saviour Jesus suffered and died for us, ungodly, sinners, enemies:  we should be surprised!  Christ went to the cross and gave up everything for us.  Why?  Ephesians 1:5 gives us the answer:  “In love, he predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”  Jesus Christ did the unnatural and unexpected because of love, God’s love for us.  

When we reflect on that, doesn’t that give us a good reason to give everything we have and are to the Lord?  Think about it:  we deserve nothing, but in Christ, we get everything.  We have the forgiveness of our sins.  We have peace with God.  We have joy.  We have the Word which is there to guide us through all the seasons of our lives.  And…we have the Holy Spirit living and working in us.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, who you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.”  Our body, and indeed our whole life, has been bought by our Lord Jesus from the old, sinful way of life. 

Loved ones, now we have to live like our whole life belongs to him.  We have to walk in step with God’s Spirit.  Just as God first loved us, so now we also are to love him.   That’s what drives the unnatural and unexpected depth of commitment that we see in our text.  How is that going to work out in our lives?  I’ll give you an example and you’ll have to work with it yourself from there. 

Thankfully, our young people have the blessing of a Christian education.  However, through work and further studies you may get to know many young people who don’t know Christ.  Some time ago the CBC featured a story a few months ago on the sexual habits of teenagers in Canada.  It’s now expected and considered natural that teenagers as young as 12 are sexually active.  The attitude towards sexual behaviours in the world is very casual and flippant.  Things have to be different in the church, with Christian young people.  You can rationalize and make all kinds of arguments in your head for this or that behaviour, but in the end you need to consider the radical and unexpected depth of commitment that our Lord calls us to.  We are a kingdom of priests, a holy nation!  If we find ourselves rationalizing our behaviour, we need to ask whether we have really understood the call of our Lord.  Have we really understood the depth of God’s grace in Christ?  Do we really believe in what Christ has done for us in his life and death?  Then have we really understood what it means to sacrifice our whole life in thankfulness to the Lord? 

There’s natural and then there’s unnatural.  In one sense, it was unnatural for the widow to give everything she had.  In one sense, it was unnatural for our Saviour Jesus to give himself totally for us.  In one sense, it is unnatural for us to be entirely, wholeheartedly committed to the Lord.   But there is another sense in which this is to be expected.  It’s to be expected, because we not only have the remnants of an old nature which inclines us to sin, we also have a new nature.  We were baptized and brought into God’s family.  We received the promises of the covenant and believed them.  By grace, we belong to the Lord.  That means we’re expected to live as those who belong to him.  People who belong to God don’t keep parts of their lives for themselves – that’s really the unnatural thing.  See, we’re on our way back to the way things were designed to be and even more.  We’re on our way back to the natural state of things.  The new heavens and earth will be inhabited by a kingdom of faithful priests doing what comes naturally:  giving themselves entirely and eternally to their God.  Loved ones, get ready for that now by living as a priest, offering living sacrifices of thankfulness for what our God has done for us in the great priest, Jesus Christ.  AMEN.               

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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