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Mites, Mustard Seeds, and Mountains - Shepherd of Hope

So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.” – Luke 21:3-4

 

Have you ever been down to your last cent? Have you ever been all by yourself, re-singled, widowed, poor and destitute? Do you ever feel like you have nothing to offer? Ever felt hopeless, unknown, alone? If you’ve ever felt like that or this actually describes your life situation right now, then I have some encouraging words for you from Jesus.

After Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem His opponents attacked Him with weaponized questions (cf. Luke 21). Jesus fielded their questions and turned what they meant for evil, into a good opportunity to teach some sound life lessons. At the end of His encounter with His enemies, Jesus warned, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, 47 who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation” (Luke 20:46-47). Jesus saw through the pretentious hypocrisy of His religious enemies, and he exposed it.

As we walk further with Jesus we come to a poor widow who serves as a contrast to the scribes. And it is Jesus’ observations about this poor widow that offers us edifying hope for those who may be in a similar situation in life. This encounter and what Jesus says is important because so much of “Christianity” today is focused on self. Books are written with titles like “Your Best Life Now,” “Empty Out the Negative,” “I Declare,” and a lot of other self-help books or programs with an emphasis on self. The poor widow and what Jesus observed about her, and what we can observe about her, is diametrically opposed to what much of “Christianity” is all about in our day. We are warned in scripture that the Last Days would be filled with apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4). It says the Last Days would see an upturn in self-love emphasis (2 Timothy 3:1-9). This is exactly what we are seeing. The account of the poor widow is a corrective to these wayward paths of today.

The account of the widow’s mite is also recorded in Mark’s gospel (Mark 12:41-44).

21 And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”

Here from the start, we see Jesus is pointing out a giver not a receiver, a giver, not a taker. That’s important. And we learn from Jesus that it isn’t just that a person gives that is important, but the extent and heart with which they give. “This poor widow has put in more than all.” Such total giving was an indication of her faith in God to provide for her needs. She put in her all trusting that God would meet her needs. She didn’t trust God but have a contingency plan just in case. No, her trust in God to provide for her was total. She gave, “all the livelihood that she had.” She gave everything. How do you give? Do you give with a contingency plan? Do you give just enough, or what you feel is enough? Or do you give like this widow who was commended by Jesus.

When we look at the giving of this widow, we see a number of things to be highlighted.

First, the widow had a relationship with God. The widow’s actions and giving flowed out of her relationship with and devotion to God. If this were mere ritual, she would have given only what was expected of her. But she put in all she had. That speaks of a deeper devotion. That speaks of a relationship with God. All that we do should flow from such a deep devotion and relationship with God (e.g. John 17:3-4).

Second, the widow’s faith had been tested. A faith not tested cannot be trusted. But a faith tested and true is trustworthy. This woman was a widow. The word “widow” (Greek cheran) means a widow, without a husband. This word was also used to describe a city that had been stripped of its inhabitants and riches.” Her husband had died. We aren’t told how he died. But the death of her husband put her faith to the test.

If you listen or read what much of the church is focused on today, you’d get the impression that its all about “ME.” In today’s messages Jesus is incidental and reduced to a mere means for US or YOU or ME, MYSELF, and I, to reach our goals, be fulfilled, realize our dreams, be content and satisfied. In a sense, it is about us, but not about us in this world and what we can grab onto and attain in this world. It’s about us in terms of where we are at with God, in our relationship with Him by grace through faith in Jesus. Jesus said to find our life we must lose it (Luke 9:24; 17:33). That doesn’t seem to fit what is being proclaimed from the pulpits of many churches and TV preachers of our day. The Bible says to live is all about Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:21). The Bible says we shouldn’t only life for ourselves, but we should live for the “glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). That is the way to finding life and fulfillment. It’s quite a different message from what is being proclaimed in our day.

The “test” of faith today seems to be the measure of material prosperity and freedom from discomfort. In many “Christian” circles today we run from conflict to comfort. Many discard truth for fear culture will cancel them. But that is exactly opposite of what Jesus taught and God’s word tells us. Such thinking and living leads to a faith that isn’t tested. And a faith untested cannot be trusted. I believe this is a large part of why today’s church seems so anemic and ill-equipped to be a witness for God and agents of His work. We are not reaching the lost, because the difference between the “lost” and “saved” is nearly indistinguishable.

The Bible speaks of the importance of faith being tested:

  • James 1:2–5 (NKJV) – My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

 

  • 1 Peter 1:3–9 (NKJV) – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your

 

  • 2 Corinthians 12:8–10 (NKJV) – Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

This widow woman’s faith had been tested and proven true. There are few things harder to go through than the death of a spouse. Oftentimes, a widow in these days would be looked after by her family. Since she was also poor, it implies she had little to no family to look after her in her widowhood. She may not have had any family willing to watch out for her. She may not have had any family at all. That she was a widow meant she was familiar with loss, grief, and pain. That she was poor meant she knew what it was to suffer need. But such circumstances also put her in a position where she had to depend on God. And that is what we will see.

Third, the widow knew about hope. That she was a widow and poor would have either led her to deep depression and despair, or, as it seems to show here, she looked in hope to God. That she was still giving to God is evidence of the latter. She did not let her circumstances hinder her walk with God. She stepped forward and contributed regardless of how little she had. That’s evidence she was hoping in God.

This woman didn’t let her loss or her singleness, or aloneness, deter her from trusting and hoping in the Lord. There’s no indication that God’s will was that she re-marry. There is no sign of her singleness deterring her from doing what god had put on her heart to do. There’s no evidence of a pity party. Somehow I can’t picture this widow choosing a church based on relational prospects for marriage. Yet, that is the standard many use in our day. Somehow I think she would have based her choice of church on the truth being taught from God’s word and a more substantial standard to gauge by.

And up to this point she was in a state of poverty. But her act of giving demonstrated she was hoping in God. Her focus wasn’t on what she didn’t have, but on what she did have. She had God! Like David, she didn’t fixate on and fear her Goliath, she trusted in her Gigantic God. She didn’t know what her future held, but she certainly knew Who held her future. That’s hope sorely missing in many of our day.

Fourth, the widow acted on what she had been taught. She brought her two mites and gave them to the LORD. Why did she do this at all? Because that is what she had been taught. She was living out God’s word. She was acting on and obeying what she had been taught from God’s word. That is a perfect example for us to follow. We should watch and walk with God based on His word (2 Timothy 2 and 3).

Now women of Jesus’ day had limited access to the word of God. Many people had limited access because the scriptures were only in the places of worship. They didn’t have the Bible I all the different shapes and sizes we do today. They didn’t have the Bible and a powerful search engine and innumerable study resources to call upon. But for a woman, access to God’s word was even more difficult. And yet this woman found a way. She knew in her heart what she needed to do. She knew in her heart because God had revealed His truth to her. And that was present because she had a relationship with God. What she had heard and been taught was that she should give. What little she received in terms of teaching, she acted in faith upon.

Fifth, the widow stepped forward; she did something. A “mite” (Greek lepta) is a fifth of a cent. She put in her two mites or 2 fifths of a cent, next to nothing. She had next to nothing to give, but she gave it anyway. The word “poor” (Greek penichran) means poor, needy. She had next to nothing, but she did what she could do.

The widow didn’t stay on the sidelines. She wasn’t negligent of what God commanded her to do. She stepped forward and was involved. She did her part no matter how much it was. She didn’t have a lot, but what she had she made available to God. She did what she could do.

Sixth, the widow was not intimidated by those who had more to give than she did. She didn’t think, “I only have a mite, what’s the use of me giving?” No. She simply gave. She did what she could do rather than shrink into obscurity because what she could do was not as much or not seen as being very much by others. It’s better to do something than nothing. It’s better to do what you can do, than to allow what you can’t do to stifle your faith.

Seventh, the widow had a heart to give. She did what she knew was right for her to do. She was committed to give to God’s work. To her it wasn’t a matter of what she had as much as it was to do what was right with whatever she had. Even though she was indeed poor, and a widow with no visible means of support, she still gave. She didn’t let her circumstances keep her from contributing to God’s work.

Eighth, the widow went beyond what was expected of her. She wasn’t thinking, “I must give a tithe (or a tenth).” She was thinking, “I only have a little bit, but I will give it all to the Lord.” The widow gave her all. Two mites, two fifths of a penny, that’s all she had. But that’s what she gave. Do you have a heart to give like that?

Ninth, the widow acted in faith. The widow demonstrated her faith in stepping out and acting rather than shrinking back in obscurity. She demonstrated her faith in not letting herself be intimidated by others. She demonstrated her faith in doing what she was supposed to do; she demonstrated her faith in obedience. And she demonstrated her faith in giving her all and trusting God to provide for her.

Lastly, this widow, who the world may have seen as feeble, was, because of her “least” position, of great worth to Jesus. As the rich passed her by putting their much larger amounts into the offering, they likely looked down on this widow as feeble and beggarly. They didn’t likely think she was worth much. And by their worldly standards she wasn’t. But God’s standards, Jesus’ standards, are different.

Mites, Mustard Seeds, and Mountains. The widow and her two mites are an example of mustard seed faith. And such faith can move mountains. Earlier in Luke Jesus is recorded to have said:

  • Luke 17:6 (NKJV) – So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Matthew records another occasion when Jesus said something similar while instructing His disciples on why they weren’t successful delivering an epileptic boy from a demon. Jesus said:

  • Matthew 17:20 (NKJV) – 20 So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.

You see, it only takes a little bit of faith for God to do big things. Whether it is a problem that is deeply rooted, or a mountain that needs to be moved, if you bring your mustard seed faith to the Lord and trust in Him, problems can be uprooted, and mountains can be moved. Everything about this widow speaks of small, not much, little. But she stepped out in faith with what she had. And Jesus commended her for that. That is what we need to do. We need to watch with faith like this widow. We need to bring what we have to Jesus, no matter how small, not much, or little it is, and he will take it and do great things. Do you have only a little faith? Come to Jesus with what you have. You’ll be surprised by what He can do and does do, when we step out in the faith that we have.

Earlier in Luke we saw Jesus taught the value of “the least.” He said, “For he who is least among you all will be great” (Luke 9:48). He said, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10). The world tempts and urges us to try and be the most, the biggest, the greatest, the center of attention. Jesus taught us that we excel in God’s ways and standards when we adopt the least position. It is when we serve in obscurity that we become great for Him. It is when we come with what little we have and give Him our all, that’s when we approach true greatness.

The Apostle Paul is an example of this. He testified:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:9–10 (NKJV) – For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

When you think of yourself as “the least” like Paul did, all you can do is worship God for what his grace can do in you and through you. That’s what Paul testified to when he said:

  • Ephesians 3:8 (NKJV) – To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,

The only boasting Paul did, the only credit he took, even in all his achievements, was that he was the chief of sinners who God had mercifully called into service by His grace:

  • 1 Timothy 1:12–17 (NKJV) – 12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

The key to greatness in God’s kingdom, is recognizing one’s leastness.

Therefore, it can be said of this poor widow, like Abraham who answered God’s call to go out (Genesis 12), like Moses who was humbled, then restored and commanded to lead (Exodus 2 and 3), like Joshua who defied his fears and stepped forward (Joshua 1 and 3), like David who stepped up to slay the giant (1 Samuel 17), and like the other members of God’s Hall of Faith (Hebrews 11), this poor widow, the least of all on the scene, with her two mites mustered her faith to step forward and give her all. In doing this she became great in God’s kingdom.

We might look at this poor widow and think she doesn’t belong in the same class as those pillars of faith just mentioned. But the admiration with which Jesus pointed to her tells us different. To Jesus, this widow and her mites was a pillar of faith, not the wealthy and rich who made their donations. This woman gave her all. Others might have looked at her and thought her feeble. Not so Jesus! He pointed her out. He saw her as exceptional. In faith she gave what she had. And like her, when we do that, when we give what we got, we too, with her, according to Jesus, receive a commendation and a bust in God’s Hall of Faith.

Years ago someone sent me a story of a church with a mountain moving problem. I share it now to see what God is able to do, even when it means moving a mountain.

A small congregation in the foothills of the Great Smokies built a new sanctuary on a piece of land willed to them by a church member. Ten days before the new church was to open, the local building inspector informed the pastor that the parking lot was inadequate for the size of the building. Until the church doubled the size of the parking lot, they would not be able to use the new sanctuary. Unfortunately, the church with its undersized lot had used every inch of their land except for the mountain against which it had been built. To build more parking spaces, they would have to move the mountain out of the back yard.

Undaunted, the pastor announced the next Sunday morning that he would meet that evening with all members who had “mountain moving faith.”  They would hold a prayer session asking God to remove the mountain from the back yard and to somehow provide enough money to have it paved and painted before the scheduled opening dedication service the following week.

At the appointed time, 24 of the congregation’s 300 members assembled for prayer.  They prayed for nearly three hours. At ten o’clock the pastor said the final “Amen.”  “We’ll open next Sunday as scheduled,” he assured everyone. “God has never let us down before, and I believe He will be faithful this time too.”

The next morning as he was working in his study there came a loud knock at his door. When he called “come in,” a rough looking construction supervisor appeared, removing his hard hat as he entered.

“Excuse me, Reverend. I’m from Acme Construction Company over in the next
county. We’re building a huge new shopping mall over there and we need some
fill dirt. Would you be willing to sell us a chunk of that mountain behind the church? We’ll pay you for the dirt we remove and pave all the exposed area free of charge, if we can have it right away. We can’t do anything else until we get the dirt in and allow it to settle properly.

The little church was dedicated the next Sunday as originally planned and there were far more members with “mountain moving faith” on opening Sunday than there had been the previous week! Would you have shown up for that prayer meeting?

Have you got a mountain that needs moving? Does it seem like an impossibility? Bring your mustard seed faith to Him and watch what God can do. There’s a lot of mountains that need moving in this world. Rather than cower and close our doors, we need to step up and out. We need to have a bit of this widow-like faith. We need to take our two mites and step out with our mustard seed faith and move those mountains.

 

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