Sermon Transcript February 7, 2021
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Luke 21:1-4 ~ Sunday, February 7, 2021
In their book Super Freakonomics, Stephen Levitt and Stephen Dubner write, “At the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in England, a psychology professor named Melissa Bateson surreptitiously [secretly] ran an experiment in her own department’s break room. Customarily, faculty members paid for coffee and other drinks by dropping money into an ‘honesty box.’ Each week, Bateson posted a new price list. The prices never changed, but the small photograph atop the list did. On odd weeks, there was a picture of flowers; on even weeks, a pair of human eyes. When the eyes were watching, Bateson’s colleagues left nearly three times as much money in the honesty box.” (From Zach Zehnder’s devotional workbook)
Unlike the pair of eyes at the University of Newcastle that were ‘watching’ the ‘honesty box’ as a prod to people’s consciences, as we meet up with Jesus today, his eyes are watching people as they give their offerings at the Temple. But his purpose wasn’t to put external pressure to get people to give (more) to the Temple treasury. So what is he up to?
In Jesus’ day as worshipers entered into the Temple, there was a receptacle where people would deposit their offerings for the Lord’s work. Like the honesty box in the breakroom at the University of Newcastle, it was on people’s honor to put money into the Temple treasury, with one big difference. The breakroom ‘honesty box’ was about giving for something you had taken, while the point of the temple treasury was about giving back 10% (a tithe) from what God had first given to you. And, according to Luke, on this particular day, Jesus himself is watching. “As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins” (vv. 1-2).
If it surprises you that Jesus watches as people give their offerings, then it should surprise you twice as much to realize when he did this. This was TUESDAY of Holy Week. On Friday, he would be hung out to die on the cross. With the clock ticking, why does Jesus do this? It wasn’t to conduct a social experiment. Jesus’ purpose was to impart spiritual truth.
So what did Jesus see? He saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. That isn’t surprising, right? When you’ve been given a lot, you have a lot more to give. What may surprise you, though, is that these rich were doing their giving in a way that drew attention to themselves. They wanted to make sure other people saw just how much they gave. To see Jesus watching them give, built up their egos because they were so proud of what they were giving. But Jesus isn’t so easily impressed simply because of the bottom line amount of someone’s donation.
How do we know? From what Jesus says about another giver that day. Try to picture this scene: He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. Those two small copper coins were worth very little, some estimate that her gift was worth less than a modern-day penny! Yet Jesus calls his disciples together and tells them: “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all the others.” I imagine the disciples scratching their heads at Jesus’ words. ‘You mean to tell me, Jesus, that this widow with her two copper coins gave more than the rich who gave their thousands?’ That doesn’t even make sense! To the eyes of men, it didn’t make an ounce of sense. But Jesus could see what the disciples couldn’t see and he lets his disciples in on what’s going on when he says: “All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (v. 4)
When it comes to giving, Jesus is more moved by the trust of the giver than the numerical amount of the gift. Why would that be? Because for Jesus, giving to the Lord’s work is so much more than an economic transaction. It is evidence of the soul’s transformation, an expression of the heart’s devotion. How so?
Think of it in terms of the givers Jesus was watching on this particular day. As Jesus watched Jerusalem’s givers, he saw the rich give large amounts but they still had large amounts left over for themselves. They gave some of the frosting on the cake, but they still had both cake and extra frosting left over. The widow was different. She didn’t give some frosting off the cake, because she didn’t have any cake. Instead, she gave her daily bread! She gave her bread money, her milk money. She gave “everything—"all she had to live on.” The amount of her offering was tiny, but the sacrifice her offering expressed was total! Though the rich may have given large gifts to the Temple ministry, it was this poor woman whose heart was totally devoted to the Lord. She gave even beyond her ability, because she trusted completely her Lord’s ability to care for her.
Through the example of this poor widow and her total devotion that shines through in her faith-filled generosity, Jesus is urging us to think about our giving in bigger terms than just how much to give. He wants us to look at what he looks at: the heart, the motives, the faith that shapes our decisions of what to give.
Christian pastor and author, Randy Alcorn, explains it so well in his book Money, Possessions, and Eternity:
It’s easy for us to describe someone as a generous giver based solely on the amount given, but true generosity is determined by how much a person gives of what he or she has. A financial counselor wrote to me, saying, “I’ve worked with wealthy couples who are making a million dollars a year, with a net worth of $10 million, but they’re giving $15,000 a year and feel very generous.” Some people would think that anyone who gave $15,000 a year must be generous. But not necessarily. It all depends on what’s left.
One person can give $25 in an act of great sacrifice, whereas another can give a million dollars and not sacrifice at all. If someone makes $10,000,000 a year, gives away $9,000,000 and spends “only” the other million on himself we may be impressed, and it may be a relatively wise eternal investment, but is it really sacrificial in God’s eyes?
In other words, Jesus is instructing his disciples to go beyond just asking, “How much should I give to God?” and also ask the deeper question: “How much do I trust in God?” Sticking with that train of thinking, it would make sense that the more God blesses people with financial blessings the more they would be inclined to trust God, becoming even more generous. Yet… (quoted by Randy Alcorn, in his book, Money, Possessions & Eternity): “One study showed that American households with incomes under $10,000 gave 5.5% of their income to charities, whereas those earning more than $100,000 gave 2.9%. This disparity shows that true sacrifice in giving typically decreases, not increases, as people make more money.” (Alcorn, pp. 209-10)
Has this held true for you? Is this an area of struggle for you? Do you find sermons like these “cringe-worthy”? Do you wish the church wouldn’t talk (so much) about money and keep the focus on spiritual things?
I came across this story about a church-going man who struggled to see the connection between his faith and his finances. He had been taught tithing, giving 10% back to God. He told his pastor, “I don’t see how I can give ten percent to the church when I can’t even keep on top of our bills.”
The pastor replied, “John, if I promise to make up the difference in your bills if you should fall short, do you think you could try giving that much for just one month?”
John thought about it for a moment and then replied, “Sure, if you promise to make up any shortage, I will try giving ten percent for one month.”
“What do you think of that?” mused the pastor. “You say you’d be willing to trust a mere man like me, who possesses so little materially, but you couldn’t trust your Heavenly Father, who owns the whole universe!”
That conversation reveals the heart of it, doesn’t it? Money is a spiritual topic because the kind of generosity the Lord desires of each of us is about more than making the math work. It requires faith to actually practice such generosity! You can’t fake it with giving. It really is the bottom line! God knows that our hearts follow our treasure. Invest a chunk of your treasure in the stock market and your heart will be in the daily stock report. Give God your treasure and your heart will be in the things of God. If God truly has your heart, giving him your treasure is something you want to do too. But if giving your treasure to God is tough, might it be an indication that your heart is wrapped up too tightly in this world and what it offers? Is it possible that’s why this topic is a real challenge for many Christians? Is there discomfort with this conversation because by it God dares exposing a lack of faith? Is this revealing something about yourself that you’d rather not see?
While it’s important to identify the heart of the issue, this is only part of the fix. The key to really resolving this issue is to intently focus on how much you’ve been given. The more you do the more you’ll see that it isn’t what God asks us to give that is hardest to believe. It’s God’s giving to us that really is gloriously difficult to comprehend! That the Holy One of Israel would give himself completely for those who are tempted to hold back on him doesn’t logically add up. That’s why it’s called grace. And God’s grace is simply amazing. Jesus didn’t give 10% of himself for you. He was in it 110% for you and your eternity! What dedication to your salvation did it take for Jesus to leave streets of heavenly gold for the cow manure of Bethlehem’s barn? Think of what Jesus willing to leave behind for you, willing to leave the mansion of heaven to live much of his ministry as a traveling preacher/teacher! How full is Jesus’ sacrifice for your forgiveness, willingly parting with the riches of heaven, volunteering to go all the way to the cross for you!
You have heard the phrase “Put your money where your mouth is” right? Now there is a phrase even an atheist will understand! It means that when you are really serious about something you will be willing to bring your money into the situation. Jesus is dead serious about you. That’s more than just an expression. It’s not an exaggeration either. How do I know? He paid for your freedom with something even more valuable than silver and gold. He shed his own blood. It cost him his very life to buy you back from the eternal hell you deserved in order to make you an heir of heaven!
Our generosity to God comes as a response to God and his incredibly generous giving to us. The most famous verse in the Bible says it so well: “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have eternal life.” God showed his love for us by giving His Son. Jesus showed his love for us by giving up his life. When we give, we reflect the heart and character of our God. Giving like Jesus will definitely challenge you.
But when God challenges you it’s because he wants to bless you. It is a rare thing in in Scripture to hear God invite us to “Test Him.” Yet that is exactly what he urges his people to do with their giving: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. ‘Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.’”
An American pastor was teaching in Africa on this passage and God’s invitation to “test Him” by giving generously. Afterwards, one of the men explained to the American pastor how African fathers teach their children to trust them. When a child is around 3 years old, a father will take the child and place him high up on a tree branch. The father will then go below the tree branch and tell the child to jump. The child is normally too scared to jump, but the father encourages him by saying, daddy is big enough, strong enough, and daddy will catch you. Finally, the child will push off from the tree branch and fall safely into the father’s arms. This African Christian told the American pastor when God invites us to give, he's encouraging us to push away from our financial fears and learn that God is big enough to safely catch us.
Do you believe that? Do you trust God will provide for you? That he’s strong enough, his heart big enough to supply you with what you need? Let me shoot you straight: Giving is a practical way of expressing your trust in him. As you give, you are expressing your faith in God’s provision for you. Punch fear in the face. Take a step of faith. Put your treasure where you want your heart to go!
What might that look like for you? Let me suggest some practical ideas. If you aren’t currently giving to the Lord’s work, hear this as the Lord’s invitation to follow the example of the widow and give something to the Lord as she did to the Temple. If your giving is currently sporadic, in the widow’s example see God’s loving invitation to trust him to provide for you by regularly returning to the Lord a generous percentage of the blessings he entrusts to you. If you are already giving a proportion back to the Lord and his work regularly, in the widow’s example and Jesus’ commendation hear the Lord’s grace-filled encouragement to “test him” even more by challenging yourself to become an even more generous person, expressing your full trust in God by devoting even more of what he’s given you to him and his ministry work.
Remember, God is your provider. From the air you breathe to the money you make, the Lord provides you with what you need. When this same generous God invites you to test him by generously giving back to him and see how he will open heaven’s floodgates on you and through you, that’s something to really get excited about! How exactly will God fulfill this promise to us? What will it be like to have heaven’s blessings rain down on us in even greater measure? I look forward to finding out together with you! Amen.