The setting of the passage is during Passover. Thousands had flocked to Jerusalem to celebrate. Jesus and the scribes had been going head to head for most of the day. They had been questioning Him about doctrinal matters. Their goal was to force Jesus to incriminate Himself. Jesus went on the offensive and began to question them.
The questions He asked and the observations He made reveal the true heart of worship. These two paragraphs are all about worship. This was a time of worship. They were in a place of worship. The scribes were the worship leaders of the day. Jesus takes this opportunity to cut through the façade of their ritualistic worship and gives us a glimpse of what true worship really is.
True Worship Rejects Self-Righteous Religion
The scribes’ worship had become corrupt and man-centered. In fact, it was not really worship at all. Jesus told His disciples to beware of them. They were to guard against their evil influence and reject their model of worship.
They valued prestige. They wore long loose robes and loved to appear religious. They often were given the best seats in the synagogues and wanted to be greeted as rabbis or teachers.
They sought after profit. They often served as estate planners for widows. They would convince widows that they would be serving God by funding the temple or the scribes’ own holy work—sometimes to the point of selling or deeding their houses to them.
To these power-playing, prideful pretenders, Jesus issued a stirring rebuke. They would receive greater condemnation.
Today, we suffer from an epidemic of self-righteous religion. People show up in God’s house to appear religious. They love to be recognized by their titles. They love the prestige and profit that an appearance of religion can bring. Such religion is not God-centered or Christ-honoring. Self-righteous religion exalts the worshiper, not the Creator. Self-righteous religion is a farce and parody of what true worship is about.
True Worship Responds with Sacrificial Living
Verses 41-44 contain one of the most extraordinary stories in the New Testament. Jesus contrasts the self-righteous religion of the scribes with the humble and heart-felt worship of a poor widow. She gave more than money; she gave herself. True worship is offering all we are to God. Romans 12:1-2 admonishes believers that in view of the great mercy and grace of God, believers should be living sacrifices to God. This is our only reasonable response to grace that has been given us in Christ Jesus. Notice two characteristics of this widow’s worship.
Her worship was extravagant—she gave more than all the others. In one sense, her gift was small. Two copper coins would have equaled about 1/8 of a cent today, but in Jesus’ eyes it was more than all the offerings of the rich.
Her worship was honored—of all the people at the temple that day, she caught the eye of Jesus. Her act of giving was so impressive that Mark, Luke and Matthew recorded it. When the humblest Christian responds to Christ with sacrificial devotion, it always catches the attention of the Savior.
A pastor once dreamed of being escorted by an angel to a worship service. The sanctuary was large and grand. Every pew was filled with worshipers. At the piano and organ the musicians played, but strangely no music was heard. The people appeared to be singing, but no voices could be heard. The pastor approached the pulpit and seemed to be preaching, but there was only silence. The pastor asked the angel guiding him the meaning of it all. The response was shocking. The people were not really worshiping, but only going through the motions. The pastor was hearing with heaven’s ears, and there was simply nothing to hear.
Remember what we said about Jesus watching the people as they gave in the court of the women. He is here this morning. He is watching us. He knows our motives, our hypocrisy; He knows our hearts. What Jesus is listening for is the humble heart of a sacrificial life. Such is the true heart of worship.