Introduction. Do you ever do some people watching? At a mall or an airport or some other large public venue? I saw all kinds of people in four different airports this past week. People in a hurry, people bored, couples in love, parents struggling with little ones, business men trying to do business, elderly dealing with physical limitations. People in all sizes, shapes and colors. God is creative to say the least. Our text is the final episode of Jesus’ public teaching ministry. He spends His last hour or so in the temple doing some people watching. For Jesus this day had been in human terms a bad day. Perhaps weary from the constant debate, perhaps exhausted by the mental cat and mouse games, perhaps depressed by the sad state of spiritual affairs, He sat down to rest and watch the people go by. Then something happened. Something so small and inconsequential that every one of us would have missed it. At that moment in what had otherwise been a dark, dreary day, a ray of light shined, like the sun shining through a break in the clouds after a storm. Above the din of swelling Passover crowds, above the cacophony of sheep and goats and cows waiting to be slaughtered, above the clanging of handfuls of coins flung purposefully and noisily into the metal spouts of the treasury boxes, above all that Jesus hears the sound of two small thin copper coins about the size of dimes being imperceptibly placed as inconspicuously as possible into the treasury box. A nameless, faceless poor widow perhaps dressed in black, her clothes maybe more like rags, carrying a small purse with only two small coins. What was she going to do? Should she just put in one? Wait, she took them both and put them in the offering box. Both of them. All she had. What was she going to do for supper that night? Jesus sees the only beautiful thing in that temple that day and seizes the moment, “Did you see that, did you see what I just saw? I tell you the truth, that widow just gave more than all the rest.” We know that Jesus always has a good reason for everything He does and He wants this to be a teachable moment for His disciples and for us. But before we get to the lesson, let’s set the background just a bit.
In the last week before His death Jesus was challenged and debated by every part of the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the scribes and He decisively prevailed over them all. It was no contest. He had bested the best. Mark 12:34 in Greek is worded very strongly. “After that no one dared to ask him any more questions.” The fifth and final question of Mark 12 belongs to Jesus. Turnabout is fair play. He has the last word. These are Jesus’ final public words of teaching before His death. “After a day of questions comes the question of the day” (Ralph Martin). Jesus was in the temple, in the center of the Sanhedrin’s power and authority and it was there that Jesus put a question to the intellectual elite of Judaism. Remember these are the highly trained PhDs. Jesus quotes the Bible to the Bible scholars. Jesus challenges the authorities in their place of authority to show who really is the authority.
We come this morning to the fourth and final trap that the Jewish religious leaders tried to set for Jesus so they could have grounds to arrest Him and kill Him. First, the chief priests and teachers of the law and the elders questioned his authority. Second, the Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap Jesus about the paying of taxes. Third, that same day the Sadducees got into the act and tried to trick Jesus with a question about a woman who was married seven times, asking whose wife would she be at the resurrection. Finally, after seeing everyone else crash and burn, an expert in the law baited one more trap. It’s a terrible thing to watch a scribe charged with loving and protecting and faithfully interpreting the Word of God use it as a tool to attack its author. He wasn’t motivated by love for God’s Word, he was motivated to protect his own status or to look good in the eyes of man.
Things are a mess in Washington DC these days. We need someone who can bring the two sides together and bridge the gap that divides them. This sort of thing happens a lot in our world. Management and unions, owners and players, husbands and wives, business partners. Sometimes we need someone to come in and stand in the middle, someone who can listen to both parties and represent both sides and help them resolve the conflict and come back together. The fundamental problem in our world is not disease or greenhouse gases or unbalanced budgets or terrorism. The fundamental problem in our world is spiritual, it’s the broken relationship we have with God. The fundamental problem in our world is the wrath of a holy and just God. We need a mediator, someone who can stand in the middle and represent both sides. We are separated and estranged from God, all relationship and communication is broken. We all like sheep have gone astray. There is none who is righteous, none who seeks God. We are hostile to God and God’s wrath will be revealed against all ungodliness and wickedness of man. Ephesians 2:12 … remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. The OT anticipates our need for a mediator and shows us several mediators. The prophets represented God to the people. The priests represented the people to God. The sacrifices were meant as a substitute for sin, to take away the guilt. But these mediators were inadequate. The prophets came and went and were often rejected and killed. The priests had to make sacrifices for their own sins and the blood of bulls and goats couldn’t completely take away the sins of the world. The reconciliation in the OT was limited and incomplete. The inadequacy of the OT mediation was meant to make us long for and look for a better and greater mediator. To borrow a J.I. Packer illustration, to have a broken down car is better than nothing, but it’s frustrating and makes us long for a better one (Packer, God’s Words, p. 111). We need a better covenant with better promises holding out a stronger hope and a more permanent sacrifice. We need a better mediator.