Luke 20:41 - 21:4 - Jesus' Warning about the Jewish Leaders; The Poor Widow's Gift

41Then Jesus said to them, "How is it that they say the Christ is the Son of David? 42David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:
" 'The Lord said to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand
43until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet." ' 44David calls him 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?"

45While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, 46"Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. 47They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely."

1As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3"I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."

Main Points

1. Jesus is not merely a human descendant of David; David's own testimony reveals this.

Then Jesus said to them, "How is it that they say the Christ is the Son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms: " 'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." ' David calls him 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?"

"How is it that they say...? - Who says? The Pharisees, if indeed Luke 20:41-44 is a parallel account of Matthew 22:41ff, which it probably is. It may be that the law-teachers say the same thing too.

Jesus' question in Lk 20:44 seems strange on the surface, as if Jesus seemed to be denying his special human relationship to David. But by quoting David's words in Ps 110:1, His main purpose is to assert His divinity, or deity. This is because, in Mt 22:41, by saying "the Son of David", the Pharisees are likely insinuating that the Messiah is special only by virtue of being a human descendant of David and nothing more.

Here again we're reminded of the selectivity and ignorance that the Pharisees - and, indeed, all human beings - are prone to when approaching the Scriptures (in this case, being the Psalms), as J.C. Ryle explains:

"They did not see the mighty truth, that Messiah was to be God as well as man, and that while as man He was to be David's son, as God He was to be David's Lord. Their ignorance of Scripture was thus exposed before all the people. Professing themselves to be instructors of others and possessors of the key of knowledge, they were proved unable to explain what their own Scriptures contained. We may well believe that of all the defeats which our Lord's malicious enemies met with, none galled them more than this. Nothing so abashes the pride of man, as to be publicly proved ignorant of that which he fancies is his own peculiar department of knowledge." (Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke)

Reflection question: What important truths that the Bible makes clear about Jesus are ones that I tend to ignore or at least overlook?

2. Disciples of Christ must be on their guard against all leaders who practice hypocrisy under the guise of religion.

"walk around in flowing robes", "love to be greeted", "have the most important seats", "places of honor" - while the law-teachers (and, for that matter, the Pharisees) claimed to be serving God and worshiping Him only, the ways in which Jesus describes them here prove that they really ultimately concerned about themselves, and how well they were received by others.

"devour widows' houses" - "Jesus exposed the greedy, unscrupulous practice of the scribes. Scribes often served as the estate planners for widows, which gave them the opportunity to convince distraught widows that they would be serving God by supporting the temple or the scribes' own holy work. In either case, the scribe benefit monetarily and effectively robbed the widow of her husband's legacy to her" (MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1490).

"for a show make lengthy prayers" - this is precisely what Jesus warns His disciples against doing in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 6:1, 5-15).

"Such men will be punished most severely" (NASB: "They will receive greater condemnation") - It is hard to come to any other conclusion but that the LORD condemns pride and hypocrisy as two of the most wicked sins of all. Recall how the entire chapter of Matthew 23 is devoted to the "seven woes" through which Christ pronounces judgment on the Pharisees and law-teachers.

Reflection question: What can we learn about the kind of leadership that Jesus wants his disciples to have through the negative example that he provides of the law-teachers?

3. God measures the greatness of gifts not by their size, but by the sincerity of heart and selfless sacrifice shown on the part of the giver.

"As he looked up, Jesus saw....He also saw..." - It's important to observe how Jesus takes notice of all that goes on in the world - even the little things. As Ryle says:

"We read that 'He looked up and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw also a certain poor widow casting in two pennies.' We might well suppose that our Lord's mind at this season would have been wholly occupied with the things immediately before Him....And yet at a time like this we find Him taking note of all that is going on around Him! He thinks it not beneath Him to observe the conduct of a 'certain poor widow.'....Let us remember, that the Lord Jesus never changes. The thing that we read of in the passage before us is the thing that is going on all over the world. 'The eyes of the Lord are in every place.' (Prov. 15:3.) Nothing is too little to escape His observation. No act is too trifling to be noted down in the book of His remembrance. The same hand that formed the sun, moon, and stars, was the hand that formed the tongue of the gnat and the wing of the fly with perfect wisdom. The same eye that sees the council-chambers of kings and emperors, is the eye that notices all that goes on in the laborer's cottage. 'All things are naked and opened to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.' (Heb. 4:13.) He measures littleness and greatness by a very different measure from the measure of man. Events in our own daily life, to which we attach no importance, are often very grave and serious matters in Christ's sight" (Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke).

"two very small copper coins" - about one centimeter in diameter.

"All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in all she had to live on." - Jesus sets before us a contrasting pair of images between one kind of giver and another. What Jesus accomplishes by doing so is described well by Bock:

"Jesus turns the tables of evaluation here. We tend to appreciate the amount of the gift, not necessarily the sacrifice that went into the giving. As in other Lucan texts, the example comes from a person on the fringe of society, a woman who would have been a nonperson culturally. Yet God sees her gift as among the most significant. His evaluation of resources differs greatly from our way of reading giving. A seemingly poor gift can actually be rich in what it costs and represents" (Bock: NIV Application Commentary: Luke, p. 527).

"I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing." (2 Sam 24:24)

Reflection question: Does my giving - not just of money, but of time and energy as well - cost me something? If not - or, at least, not very much - what does this reveal about my heart before the Lord - whether I take his commands seriously, and how much I am willing to trust Him?