Saturday, January 16, 2021

What's REALLY Going on

 Explaining the Action

The best analysts have the ability to tell us what’s REALLY going on. Whether it’s a color commentator on the broadcast of a game or some political guru covering an election, they explain the action and break down what we’re seeing.

So many times, there’s WAY more going on than meets the eye. Whether it’s with a Telestrator or a giant video wall, these analysts tell us just what to look for.

Tuesday at the Temple Treasury

That’s exactly what Jesus does for His team of twelve one Tuesday at the temple treasury (Mk 12:41-44). As they watch folks giving their offerings, the Lord doesn’t want the guys to miss what’s REALLY important.

And it would be easy to miss. Lots of rich folks are making a big show making their offerings. It’s the First Century version of a photo op with a giant check. Ever wondered what it would be like depositing one of those bad boys at the local branch bank?

But the Lord wants His personal posse to pay attention to that inconspicuous woman. Hey, look over there! See that lady in the back? That’s who I want you to see.

Not Just Any Tuesday

Before we hear our Savior’s analysis of the action, let’s back up and set the stage. It’s Tuesday. But not just any Tuesday. It’s the last week of Jesus’ earthly life.  

It’s what we’ve come to call Passion Week. We’re counting down the hours until Jesus’ betrayal, torture, crucifixion, and death.

A Wild Week

It’s been a wild week to this point. The huge hero’s welcome for Messiah’s arrival on Sunday (Mk 11:1-11). Christ’s cleans house at the temple on Monday (Mk 11:15-18). 

Then there were the endless challenges to the Lord’s authority by the Hebrew home office (Mk 11:27-12:34). 
These so-called experts wonder where this Rabbi/Carpenter from the boondocks gets off throwing His weight around on their turf.

But our Savior flips the script on each one of them and then exposes them for the religious bullies they really are (Mk 12:35-40).

The Place is Packed

Which brings us to the temple treasury. Apparently the place is packed. Mark tells us what happens next. 
“Jesus sat down near the collection box in the temple and watched as the crowds dropped off their money” (v41).

Christ Looks Closely

According to biblical archaeologists, the treasury was in the part of the temple complex known as the Court of the Women. This is as far as the ladies are allowed. That makes sense when Jesus points out the person at the center of the story.

Around the outside of the this courtyard are thirteen trumpet-shaped funnels where people put their offerings. For those of us of a certain age, they’re like the bins where you would toss your change in order to pay to drive on a toll road.

Mark describes how Jesus takes a seat and takes a look. The word the NLT translates as “watched” (Gr. θεωρεω/theoreo) means to be a spectator and view attentively. Christ is looking very closely at what’s going on.

Brass in Pocket

He’s checking out the people and their giving. Interestingly, the word “money” here is actually the Greek word for brass (Gr. χαλκος/chalkos). There’s no paper money or plastic back in the day. Just coins made of brass, silver and gold.

It’s easy to imagine that folks with deep pockets are the stars of the show in the temple treasury. “Many rich people put in large amounts” (v41). In the words of the Pretenders, they’ve got brass in pocket. We’re talking LOTS of of brass.

Making It Rain

Because these receptacles are also made of metal, they really ring when wealthy worshipers toss in their coins. Lots of coins mean lots of noise. 

It’s like the lyrics in that old Georgia Satellites’ tune. “Got a little change in my pocket, going jing-a-ling-a-ling.” 

These folks are totally making it rain.

Almost Lost in the Background 

That’s when, somewhere off to the side, almost lost in the background, an unassuming woman has come to drop off her contribution. “Then a poor widow came a dropped in two small coins” (v42).

When we take a closer look at Mark’s choice of words to describe her as well as her cultural context, we see a lady that’s way worse off than at first glance.

Penniless and Powerless

First of all, to be “poor” (Gr. πτωχος/ptochos) paints a picture of someone totally dependent on others for support. She’s destitute, penniless, and powerless.

Maybe she’s just going through a hard time and simply needs a little help to get back on her feet. Sorry. The term indicates a continuous state not a temporary situation. 

If that’s not bad enough, πτωχος/ptochos comes from a root word meaning someone who crouches or cringes. In other words, a beggar. She probably spends most of her day pleading for money and panhandling just to survive.

A Gaping Hole

Chances are she wasn’t always like this. That’s because she’s a a woman whose husband has died. 

The Greek noun for “widow” (Gr. χηρα/chera) comes from a word that describes a huge chasm or vacuum. The loss of her husband has left a gaping hole in her life.

No Life Insurance

Not only is there a massive void left by the death of her husband. It’s worse than that. There’s no one more marginalized in the Greco-Roman than a woman to be left all alone with no husband. 

If her late husband was working class, he would have left her very few resources when died. There’s no life insurance check coming her way.

Two Small Coins

Despite all of that, she’s come to the temple to worship. Remember, this is the Court of the Women. It’s as far as Jewish ladies are allowed to enter. Before she leaves, this lady returns to the Lord what He has given her.

Tink. Tink. That’s the sound of “two small coins” trickling down the treasury trumpet. The original language tells us that these are actually λεπτος/leptos, copper coins worth one half of a quadrant or 1/128 of a denarius.

45 Cents

If you’re like me, you’re probably not up on the latest exchange rates between First Century Palestinian currency and 21st Century American money.

A denarius would be a full day’s wage for a blue collar working stiff. So for comparison, let’s use a day’s pay in the U.S. based on the minimum wage of $7.25 in 2020. That comes to a whopping $58.

Divide $58 by 128 and we find discover that what she gives amounts to right at 45 cents. Those two leptos are less than a couple of quarters. Not very impressive when compared to offerings of the rich clanging all around her.

A Teachable Moment

But when our Savior sees her, He tells His team to huddle up. “Jesus called His disciples to Him and said…” (v43).

Once again, the radical Rabbi/Carpenter sees this as a teachable moment for His team. Look closely, boys. I don’t want you to miss this.

Breaking It Down

He begins breaking down the action by saying, “I tell you the truth” (v43). The smart aleck in me wants to come back with something snarky like, “So You’ve been lying to us before?” 

That’s probably just one of the reasons He didn’t choose me to be one of the Twelve. I mean, really. It may be one of His better decisions when you think about it.

Over and Out

The Greek word the NLT translates as “truth” is actually αμην/amen. Yup, you read that right. Amen. Maybe you thought that’s just how we’re supposed to “hang up” at the end of a prayer. You know, like God’s version of “over and out.”

“Amen” shows up a grand total of 52 times in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Throw in another 25 in John’s Gospel. And get this. Jesus is the only one who says it.

This is the Way It Should Be!

But it’s NOT how the Son of God ends His chats with His heavenly Dad. He uses it as a point of emphasis. Listen to this. Watch this. Are you paying attention? Don’t miss this!

It actually comes an ancient Hebrew that strongly emphasizes the truth of what’s said or done. Think something along the lines of “That’s true!” or “This is the way it should be!” 

Truth from the Truth

Makes sense when you think about it. We can trust the One who is THE Truth (Jn 14:6) to always tell us the truth (Titus 1:2; Heb 6:18). God never lies. Ever.

That’s not all. In one of Paul’s letters to Christ’s followers in Corinth, he refers to our Savior as our “Amen” since God fulfills every single one of His promises in Him (2Cor 1:20).

And did you know that Jesus even calls Himself “the Amen—the faithful and true Witness” (Rev 3:14)? It’s true!

Making It Rain

Meanwhile back at the temple treasury, Christ wants the Twelve to understand the truth of what’s really going on.

“I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions” (v43).
Don’t miss that lady right there, boys. It may not look like much but she’s really making it rain in God’s kingdom!

More Than the Others Combined

Get this. A truckload of Bible experts believe the Lord is actually saying that she’s giving more than ALL THE RICH FOLKS COMBINED!

Hold the phone!  How can that be?!?  All she did was toss a couple of measly coins.  How in the world can what she’s given be more than the massive deposit dropped off by all the wealthy worshipers?!?  

I’m no math major but this does NOT make sense! I’ve got a pretty good feeling the disciples are also thinking this doesn’t add up.

The Source of Our Giving

Luckily for them and for us, our Savior breaks down what’s going down. “For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has to live on” (v44).

Did you catch that? Jesus points out that the key here is the source of our giving. When we give from our leftovers, it’s really no big deal to God. On the other hand, He loves it when we return to Him what we think we need.

Finding Change in the Couch

Let’s take a closer look. And once again, a great way to do that is with dive into the original language of Mark’s Gospel. Ready? Cool. Let’s go.

First of all, the Lord says those who are loaded give from “a tiny part of their surplus” (v44). The Greek word here is περισσευω/perisseuo. It paints a picture of excessive abundance, overflow, and more than enough.

In other words, these high rollers may toss in impressive amounts but it really makes no dent in their budget or lifestyle. They can easily find a huge chunk of change digging around in their couch or in the cupholder of their chariot.

Lacking the Essentials of Daily Life

On the other hand, Christ reminds us of just how broke this widow really is. Behind the phrase “poor as she is” is the word ‘υστερησις/‘usteresis. It means poverty, deep need, and says she lacks the essentials of life.

Despite zero resources, this lady is contributing all she has “to live on” (Gr. βιος/bios). Does the Greek word look familiar? Yup, it’s where we get the “bio” in biology.

In this context, it’s talking about her livelihood, what she needs to live an earthly life and function in society, or her resources for making it through the day.

Putting Her Money Where Her Faith Is

The Lord says here’s the deal. These rich folks give from what’s left over. They’re trusting in themselves and their bank account to handle what life throws their way.

Meanwhile, the broke widow gives sacrificially from what she’s going to need. That might sound crazy but she’s really putting her money where her faith is. She’s trusting that God will provide.

Trusting and Tithing

That’s actually the principle behind what’s known as tithing. While the word basically means “ten percent,” it’s way more than that.

Tithing is trusting that 90 percent with God is WAY more than 100 percent without Him. It turns our generosity into an act of faith and dependance on the Great Giver to provide what we need. 

You Can’t Out-Give God

You may have heard folks say, “You can’t out-give God.” And you can take that one to the bank. He already gave His best so that we could spend eternity with Him (Jn 3:16).

Did you know that, as a general rule, the lower the income, the greater the percentage of generosity? And the reverse is true as well.  The higher the income, the lower the percentage of generosity.

That’s what’s going on when Paul tells the Corinthians how the people in the churches of Macedonia are flat broke but have “overflowed in rich generosity” (2Cor 8:2). He says get these folks who didn’t have anything gave WAY more than they could afford.

Our Ultimate Example of Generosity

The former Pharisee goes on to say that our Savior is our ultimate example when it comes to generosity. “Though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty He could make you rich” (2Cor 8:9).

But wait. Wasn’t Jesus a homeless Galilean rabbi who at the high point of His working career was a blue collar construction worker? 

The Dumpster Dive from Heaven

Yes, but rewind even further. Before Nazareth, before Bethlehem, the Son of God lived in the heavenly palace in the lap of ultimate luxury. We can’t begin to wrap our brains around how amazing this is. It makes Sandals look like tent camping.

Yet the Lord was willing to leave it all behind in order to make the dumpster dive and save us from our sin and rebellion. He chucked it all in order to come to our rescue.

Three days after this Tuesday at the temple treasury, Jesus pay the price for you and me and give all He has for all of us. 

Look Closer

Meantime, He wants everyone to see what real generosity looks like. Don’t get distracted by the glitz and glamour of people wanting to put on a big show of how much they give.

Okay, here’s where it gets dicey. Would my Savior circle me with His divine Telestrator as one to watch when it comes to giving? Can I get back to you on that one?

The Lord says we need to look closer. Look for those who give sacrificially. Just like that widow over there in the corner.

Jay Jennings 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

A Shot to the Temple

In boxing and ultimate fighting, there is nothing as devastating as a shot to the temple.  A well-placed punch to the side of the forehead usually crumples your opponent into unconscious heap.  

Knock out.  Lights out.  

Here, Stephen concludes his testimony before the ruling Jewish council with a shot to the temple (Acts 7:44-53).  He reminds the Sanhedrin of their misplaced worship of the man-made temple.  

It was a knockout punch.

Stephen wraps up his Spirit-filled, sermon-on-the-fly before the Sanhedrin.  He's walked through the OT describing how Almighty God worked in and through an unending parade of misfits, murderers and malcontents to bring about salvation through Messiah Jesus (Acts 7:2-43).

They have originally charged Steve with slandering and blaspheming God, Moses, and the holy temple (Acts 6:11-14).  The high priest demanded that he answer these charges (i.e. "How do you plead?").  

Finally, in these verses, the church's soon-to-be first martyr answers his accusers.

Stephen once again reminds the council of the history of the temple.  He recalls, "Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness" (v44).  

Before the temple was the tabernacle.  Instead of a brick and mortar building, God camped in a tent among His people.  This was just the way He wanted it (Ex 25:8-9, 40).  

He commanded Moses EXACTLY how to put together this one of a kind, portable sanctuary-on-the-go.  God's Tent contained the Ark of the Covenant, the great reminder of God's everlasting promise to His people.

Moses built the tabernacle because God told Him to.  This is God at work.

Steve goes on to remind the Sanhedrin of the critical role the tabernacle played as God's people came rolling into the Promised Land.  

Joshua was God's handpicked successor to Moses.  He led the charge into this land of milk and honey.  

Notice the specific phrasing of the sentence.  "They dispossessed the nations that God drove out before our fathers" (v45).  

The children of Israel played an active role, but it is God who drove out those living in the land (Josh 18:1; 23:9).

Just as God instructed Moses to build His tent, He also was the One who drove out the enemies of His people as they conquered the land.

Next, Steve recalls "the days of David" (v45-46).  He reminds his hostile audience that the great king was nothing until God showered him with grace.  

The phrase "found favor in the sight of God" can just as easily be translated as David "found grace in the sight of God."  That’s because the Greek word translated here is χαρις/charis, which can mean grace, kindness, mercy, goodwill, favor.  

God used King David only because He blessed him.  David did nothing on his own.  This no doubt includes the gracious promise the Lord made to David that one day his Descendant would sit on the throne of Israel forever (2Sam 7).  

That's what scholars call the Davidic Covenant.  Jesus is that direct Descendant and the fulfillment of that promise.

So let's recap.  God was the One who commanded Moses to build the tabernacle.  God was the One who drove out Israel's enemies in the Promised Land.  God was the One who placed David under His waterfall of blessing.  See a trend?

King David badly wanted to build Yahweh a permanent temple.  Instead, God chose his son Solomon for the project (v47).  The Scripture goes into great detail about this massive undertaking (1Ki 6; 8:17-21; 1Chr 22:7-10).

There's just one problem about temple building.  "The Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands" (v48).  

Solomon understood this irony of constructing a man-made temple for an uncontainable God.  

"Who is able to build Him a house, since heaven, even cannot contain Him?  Who am I to build a house for Him, except as a place to make offerings before Him?" (2Chr 2:6).

Stephen understood what Solomon did.  The temple might be great, but God is greater!  

He quotes Isaiah 66:1-2, where God Himself mocks the idea of trying to limit His presence to brick and mortar.  This is the same thing that Jesus shared with the Samaritan woman.  

Christ Himself announces that the time "is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth," not in any kind of a building (Jn 4:21-24).

Stephen finishes his sermon by swinging haymakers.  He accuses his accusers of being "stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit" (v51).  POW!!  

He says they have rejected God just like their fathers before them.  Israel was following in their fathers' sinful footsteps.  BANG!!

Stephen said that their fathers made sure they persecuted every prophet that God sent (v52).  They killed every last one of God's messengers who had announced "the coming of the Righteous One."  They batted 1.000.  CRUNCH!!

Steve has them on the ropes and goes for the knockout.  He finishes this wicked (and TRUTHFUL!) combination by accusing them of murdering Messiah.  KAPOW!!!!!!!

A shot to the temple.  From a standpoint of salvation, the Sanhedrin was out cold.  Stone cold.  All thanks to Stephen's Spirit-filled shot to the temple.


Jay Jennings