Sunday, November 9, 2003

Twenty-two Pentecost
1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in Jehovah his God.

Have you ever looked at your pets for examples of spiritual truths? Our cat Felix often does things that make me think about God and my relationship with Him. I have seen myself in his folly. He desires things he does not need and goes after things he should not have. Our pets do not care that they own nothing, they are grateful for the things they do have. They love unconditionally, forgive easily, and give everything without wanting anything in return. Perhaps you can recall times when your dog or cat has brought you a present. That half eaten bone or dead bird is their way of showing you their love. It is all they have, and yet they are willing to give it to their master.

Imagine what life must have been like for the widows in today's stories. Widows in today's world have it much better than they did in the ancient days. Life is still not easy, but at least they have rights, property and the financial resources to care for themselves. The widow of Zarephath and the widow in the Temple had a much different life. Women did not hold property, they were under the care of their male relatives - first the father, then the husband and if God so blessed, the son. If the husband dies and there is no son, they may go into the care of an uncle or brother. Many widows were left with nothing, homeless and without means to support themselves.

In the time of today's Old Testament lesson, everyone was in dire need. There was a drought in the country, brought on by the Word of God against His people who had turned to Baal worship. Baal was the god of fertility, but Elijah announced that God would withhold the rain to show that He has the power of life and death. Then God sent Elijah into the pagan nation where the false worship began, to the home of a widow. When Elijah found the woman, he asked her for food. She replied that she had only enough to feed herself and her son one more time, and then they were going to die.

Everyone was starving. She could not even glean the fields for a few precious grains of wheat because there was nothing left. Elijah told her not to worry. If she gave him her last cake, she would have plenty to last through the drought. She made the cake and gave it to Elijah then made some for herself and her son. The jar of flour and jug of oil were not used up until the day the Lord made it rain again. She gave everything she had, even her final meal, so that Elijah could live. She obeyed the Word of God and God blessed her in a miraculous way.

The temple was filled with people giving their offerings. Jesus sat and watched the crowd and noticed that the rich people put in large amounts of money. Yet, it was not those who Jesus pointed out to His disciples. A poor widow came in and gave her last two coins, worthless compared to the great gifts of the others. Yet, Jesus told His disciples that she gave the greater portion because she gave everything while the rich gave only a small portion of all they had. That was all that the widow had to live on. The rich would go home and eat fabulous feasts celebrating their obedience to God while the widow would probably die of hunger.

Both of these stories are foreshadowing of the work of Christ Jesus, an example of the sacrifice Jesus would make for His people. The widows gave even their lives for the sake of others, in obedience to the Word of God. The widow of Zarephath was blessed with life through the drought as the flour and oil seemed in endless supply. We do not know what happened to the widow in the temple, but through her self-less giving Jesus showed us what it was like to sacrifice everything.

For generations the priests in the temple had provided ministry to the Lord by offering sacrifices for the people. Over and over again they approached the altar with blood to atone for the sins of the people. They were paid well for their services, eating of the offerings of grain and meat, enjoying the fruit of the people's labor. They benefited from the wealth of the rich and oppressed the poor. They demanded much more than was necessary, claiming it to be given to God. Yet, they walked with handsome robes and had fine homes. They thought themselves greater than others because they served God, yet they still needed to provide sacrifice for their own sins before they could provide for the people. The temple was not heaven, it was merely a copy of the heavenly. The priests could never bring salvation, they were gifted and chosen to point toward the One who would truly save.

As the crowds brought their gifts to the temple, the priests undoubtedly watched those with great wealth and rejoiced over their offering. The poor were ignored, the worthless coins cast into the ditch with those who had nothing left to give. But Jesus saw something much different. He ignored the shiny glitter of the coins and saw the hearts of those who gave. He knew the heart of the widow, giving everything because she loved the Lord and she knew that everything she had belonged to Him. She trusted that God would have mercy and be with her through her pain and suffering.

The offerings of the rich did little good; money never lasts. In another year, the priests would demand more temple tax to support their ministry to God. They would demand more animals for sacrifice, more grain and oil to present to the Lord. Only Christ could offer the perfect sacrifice. He is the only one who could enter into God's presence and bring salvation from sin and death. He died once and we are forgiven of all. He did not have to die again and again, as the priests who had to offer lambs every year. Christ finished the work of atonement on the cross. He gave all for the sake of others, making the ultimate sacrifice so that we might have eternal life. Now, in Christ, forgiveness is like the bottomless flour jar and oil jug. The Word of God is true and He is faithful. When we live trusting in His promises we see incredible things.

"Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in Jehovah his God" writes the psalmist. This is not a giddy kind of happiness, but rather the blessedness of knowing that everything we are and everything we have comes from God. The widows knew that God takes care of those who look to Him for help. They knew the promises of this psalm - that He will lift those who are bowed, sustain the fatherless and widows and frustrate the way of the wicked. They did not put their trust in men, they submitted willingly to the Word of God and were greatly blessed. Jesus sacrificed Himself for the sake of the world, and in Christ we can join in the chorus of praise lifted by the writer of today's psalm. "Praise ye Jehovah. Praise Jehovah, O my soul." Thanks be to God.

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