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Bible Commentary / Bible Study of Mark 12: 38-44

Matthew Henry's Commentary on Mark 12:38-44

Mark Chapter 12

In this chapter, we have, I. The parable of the vineyard let out to unthankful husbandmen, representing the sin and ruin of the Jewish church, ver. 1-12. II. Christ's silencing those who thought to ensnare him with a question about paying tribute Cćsar, ver. 13-17. III. His silencing the Sadducees, who attempted to perplex the doctrine of the resurrection, ver. 18-27. IV. His conference with a scribe about the first and great command of the law, ver. 28-34. V. His puzzling the scribes with a question about Christ's being the Son of David, ver. 35-37. VI. The caution he gave the people, to take heed of the scribes, ver. 38-40. VII. His commendation of the poor widow that cast her two mites into the treasury, ver. 41-44.

Christ the Son and Lord of David.

35 And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David? 36 For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool. 37 David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly. 38 And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces, 39 And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: 40 Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.

Here, I. Christ shows the people how weak and defective the scribes were in their preaching, and how unable to solve the difficulties that occurred in the scriptures of the Old Testament, which they undertook to expound. Of this he gives an instance, which is not so fully related here as it was in Matthew. Christ was teaching in the temple: many things he said, which were not written; but notice is taken of this, because it will stir us up to enquire concerning Christ, and to enquire of him; for none can have the right knowledge of him but from himself; it is not to be had from the scribes, for they will soon be run aground.

1. They told the people that the Messiah was to be the Son of David (v. 35), and they were in the right; he was not only to descend from his loins, but to fill his throne (Luke i. 32); The Lord shall give him the throne of his father David. The scripture said it often, but the people took it as what the scribes said; whereas the truths of God should rather be quoted from our Bibles than from our ministers, for there is the original of them. Dulcius ex ipso fonte bibuntur aquć—The waters are sweetest when drawn immediately from their source.

2. Yet they could not tell them how, notwithstanding that it was very proper for David, in spirit, the spirit of prophecy, to call him his Lord, as he doth, Ps. cx. 1. They had taught the people that concerning the Messiah, which would be for the honour of their nation—that he should be a branch of their royal family; but they had not taken care to teach them that which was for the honour of the Messiah himself—that he should be the Son of God, and, as such, and not otherwise, David's Lord. Thus they held the truth in unrighteousness, and were partial in the gospel, as well as in the law, of the Old Testament. They were able to say it, and prove it—that Christ was to be David's son; but if any should object, How then doth David himself call him Lord? they would not know how to avoid the force of the objection. Note, Those are unworthy to sit in Moses's seat, who, though they are able to preach the truth, are not in some measure able to defend it when they have preached it, and to convince gainsayers.

Now this galled the scribes, to have their ignorance thus exposed, and, no doubt, incensed them more against Christ; but the common people heard him gladly, v. 37. What he preached was surprising and affecting; and though it reflected upon the scribes, it was instructive to them, and they had never heard such preaching. Probably there was something more than ordinarily commanding and charming in his voice and way of delivery, which recommended him to the affections of the common people; for we do not find that any were wrought upon to believe in him, and to follow him, but he was to them as a lovely song of one that could play well on an instrument; as Ezekiel was to his hearers, Ezek. xxxiii. 32. And perhaps some of these cried, Crucify him, as Herod heard John Baptist gladly, and yet cut off his head.

II. He cautions the people to take heed of suffering themselves to be imposed upon by the scribes, and of being infected with their pride and hypocrisy; He said unto them in his doctrine, "Beware of the scribes (v. 38); stand upon your guard, that you neither imbibe their peculiar opinions, nor the opinions of the people concerning them." The charge is long as drawn up against them in the parallel place (Matt. xxiii.); it is here contracted.

1. They affect to appear very great; for they go in long clothing, with vestures down to their feet, and in those they walk about the streets, as princes, or judges, or gentlemen of the long robe. Their going in such clothing was not sinful, but their loving to go in it, priding themselves in it, valuing themselves on it, commanding respect by it, saying to their long clothes, as Saul to Samuel, Honour me now before this people, this was a product of pride. Christ would have his disciples go with their loins girt.

2. They affect to appear very good; for they pray, they make long prayers, as if they were very intimate with heaven, and had a deal of business there. They took care it should be known that they prayed, that they prayed long, which, some think, intimates that they prayed not for themselves only, but for others, and therein were very particular and very large; this they did for a pretence, that they might seem to love prayer, not only for God's sake, whom hereby they pretended to glorify, but for their neighbour's sake, whom hereby they pretended to be serviceable to.

3. They here aimed to advance themselves: they coveted applause, and were fond of it; they loved salutations in the marketplaces, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts; these pleased a vain fancy; to have these given them, they thought, expressed the value they had for them, who did know them, and gained them respect for those who did not.

4. They herein aimed to enrich themselves. They devoured widows' houses, made themselves masters of their estates by some trick or other; it was to screen themselves from the suspicion of dishonesty, that they put on the mask of piety; and that they might not be thought as bad as the worst, they were studious to seem as good as the best. Let fraud and oppression be thought the worse of for their having profaned and disgraced long prayers; but let not prayers, no nor long prayers, be thought the worse of, if made in humility and sincerity, for their having been by some thus abused. But as iniquity, thus disguised with a show of piety, is double iniquity, so its doom will be doubly heavy; These shall receive great damnation; greater than those that live without prayer, greater than they would have received for the wrong done to the poor widows, if it had not been thus disguised. Note, The damnation of hypocrites will be of all others the greatest damnation.

Christ Commendeth the Poor Widow.

41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. 42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. 43 And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: 44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

This passage of story was not in Matthew, but is here and in Luke; it is Christ's commendation of the poor widow, that cast two mites into the treasury, which our Saviour, busy as he was in preaching, found leisure to take notice of. Observe,

I. There was a public fund for charity, into which contributions were brought, and out of which distributions were made; a poor's-box, and this in the temple; for works of charity and works of piety very fitly go together; where God is honoured by our worship, it is proper he should be honoured by the relief of his poor; and we often find prayers and alms in conjunction, as Acts x. 2, 4. It is good to erect public receptacles of charity for the inviting and directing of private hands in giving to the poor; nay it is good for those who are of ability to have funds of their own, to lay by as God has prospered them (1 Cor. xvi. 2), that they might have something ready to give when an object of charity offers itself, which is before dedicated to such uses.

II. Jesus Christ had an eye upon it; He sat over against the treasury, and beheld now the people cast money into it; not grudging either that he had none to cast in, or had not the disposal of that which was cast in, but observing what was cast in. Note, Our Lord Jesus takes notice of what we contribute to pious and charitable uses; whether we give liberally or sparingly; whether cheerfully or with reluctance and ill-will; nay, he looks at the heart; he observes what principles we act upon, and what our views are, in giving alms; and whether we do it as unto the Lord, or only to be seen of men.

III. He saw many that were rich cast in much: and it was a good sight to see rich people charitable, to see many rich people so, and to see them not only cast in, but cast in much. Note, Those that are rich, ought to give richly; if God give abundantly to us, he expects we should give abundantly to the poor; and it is not enough for those that are rich, to say, that they give as much as others do, who perhaps have much less of the world than they have, but they must give in proportion to their estates; and if objects of charity do not present themselves, that require so much, they ought to enquire them out, and to devise liberal things.

IV. There was a poor widow that cast in two mites, which make a farthing (v. 42); and our Lord Jesus highly commended her; called his disciples to him, and bid them take notice of it (v. 43); told them that she could very ill spare that which she gave, she had scarcely enough for herself, it was all her living, all she had to live upon for that day, and perhaps a great part of what she had earned by her labour the day before; and that forasmuch as he knew she did it from a truly charitable disposition, he reckoned it more than all that put together, which the rich people threw in; for they did cast in of their abundance, but she of her want, v. 44. Now many would have been ready to censure this poor widow, and to think she did ill; why should she give to others, when she had little enough for herself? Charity begins at home; or, if she would give it, why did she not bestow it upon some poor body that she knew? What occasion was there for her bringing it to the treasury to be disposed of by the chief priests, who, we have reason to fear, were partial in the disposal of it? It is so rare a thing to find any that would not blame this widow, that we cannot expect to find any that will imitate her; and yet our Saviour commends her, and therefore we are sure that she did very well and wisely. If Christ saith, Well-done, no matter who saith otherwise; and we must hence learn, 1. That giving alms, is an excellent good thing, and highly pleasing to the Lord Jesus; and if we be humble and sincere in it, he will graciously accept of it, though in some circumstances there may not be all the discretion in the world. 2. Those that have but a little, ought to give alms out of their little. Those that live by their labour, from hand to mouth, must give to those that need, Eph. iv. 28. 3. It is very good for us to straiten and deny ourselves, that we may be able to give the more to the poor; to deny ourselves not only superfluities, but even conveniences, for the sake of charity. We should in many cases pinch ourselves, that we may supply the necessities of others; this is loving our neighbours as ourselves. 4. Public charities should be encouraged, for they bring upon a nation public blessings; and though there may be some mismanagement of them, yet that is not a good reason why we should not bring in our quota to them. 5. Though we can give but a little in charity, yet if it be according to our ability, and be given with an upright heart, it shall be accepted of Christ, who requires according to what a man has, and not according to what he has not; two mites shall be put upon the score, and brought to account, if given in a right manner, as if they had been two pounds. 6. It is much to the praise of charity, when we give not only to our power, but beyond our power, as the Macedonian churches, whose deep poverty abounded to the riches of their liberality, 2 Cor. viii. 2, 3. When we can cheerfully provide for others, out of our own necessary provision, as the widow of Sarepta for Elijah, and Christ for his five thousand guests, and trust God to provide for us some other way, this is thank-worthy.

See Also: Sermons, Analysis and Bible Commentaries on Mark 12:38-44

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