Sermon: Beware of Earning God’s Love (Luke 20:45-21:4)

Beware of Earning God’s Love

Luke 20:45-21:4


Last week we heard Jesus ask the Scribes the question concerning His Person,

Luke 20:44 David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?”

Jesus was pointing out their complete lack of Scriptural understanding.  He had already succeeded in showing them that they did not understand the Scriptures when they asked the question about the woman and the resurrection.  He had already said their main problem was that they did not understand the Scriptures.

He alludes to it in Luke, but in Matthew’s account of the same incident…

Matthew 22:29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.

Jesus points out their problem; they didn’t understand the Bible nor the power of God.  What’s more, they were to be the Bible interpreters and teachers of Israel.  The Scribes were Israel’s pastors.  Rather than caring for the people they were lining their pockets.  Rather than studying God’s Word in order to teach Israel God’s commands they were creating human traditions that failed to glorify God and failed to help the people meet God, but did create scenarios whereby they would get rich.   They didn’t understand the Scripture and failed to utilize God’s power.  Their sinful behavior came from their lack of belief in Christ and their lack of understanding.

Most sermons that take this text as their passage end up speaking only about giving.  We will look briefly at giving but I want to take us a little deeper to discover what is really going on in this passage…it’s not what you think.

Primary Claim

Salvation is by grace through faith, neither of works nor of money.

Human Condition

In our fight for faith, we must war against the temptation to base our lives and our security on money.  Our natural inclination is toward money and material possessions and yet all over the Bible, we’re told to give it away and have treasure in heaven.  The only way we can do this is to believe correct things about our Lord.  Faith fuels obedience and faith comes by hearing the Word of God.

Rom 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 

Are you winning or losing the battle for faith?

Notice as I read this passage the difference between the wealthy Scribes who love to be seen of men and the poor widow who has given all she has, her house is devoured and her future bleak.

Luke 20:45 And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples,

46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts,

47 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Luke 21:1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box,

2 and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.

3 And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.

4 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

1.  Don’t Be Like the Scribes Who Love Recognition (Luke 20:46-47)

46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts,

47 who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

It’s not enough for Jesus to point out that the Scribes are inadequate interpreters of Scripture (41-44).  He takes things a step further to teach us that their lack of biblical understanding would keep them from biblical obedience.  In other words they did not understand the Bible, which teaches how we are to live and teaches about the power of God so they failed to live like God wanted them to live. We see that the Bible did not influence them because they did not understand it correctly so; they reverted back to gratifying their own desires.

A big part of their lust for goods came as a result of their religion of works.  They had developed over the years a system of religion that did not resemble much at all God’s original law found in the Bible.  Their system was a religion of works that kept them on top and their pockets full of money.  They were made wealthy and everyone else kept poor.

All this came as a result of not learning and obeying God’s Word.

The same is true for us.  If we fail to allow God’s Word to change us and mold us into the image of Christ then we too will seek our own desires.  We will manipulate and create a system whereby in the name of religion we too can pad our pockets and increase our earthly goods.

When the Holy Spirit is working through God’s Word in a person’s life, that person will seek the things that please God.  When God’s Word is not functioning in a person’s life that person will seek the things that please them.  Always this results in some sort of sin.

We see this very clearly in the description Jesus gives us of the Scribes; their concern was looking good in man’s eyes…

-who like to walk around in long robes

-love greetings in the marketplaces

-best seats in the synagogues

-places of honor at feasts,

Regardless of where they were, marketplace, worship, or even at a special banquet they want the focus on them.

Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

-who devour widows’ houses

Ps 68:5 Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.

-for a pretense make long prayers

Matthew 6:5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.

8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

9 Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us this day our daily bread,

12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

These Scribes wanted to be recognized by people.  They wanted to look and feel important.  They lived for the praise of man.  The Bible had no influence on them because if it had, they would have understood who Jesus was and they would have understood His teaching.

They would have seen that their prayers were actually self-centered and sinful.  They would have taken Jesus’ teaching earlier and obeyed what He said.  They would have accepted Jesus’ teaching and then looked at their life and saw that changes need to be made.

Jesus tells His disciples and tells us, Beware of the Scribes.  Other places He warned us to “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, (Luke 12). 

There are always temptations toward self-promotion.  This shows up as we seek to find security in other things besides God.  When we seek the praise of men and seek to find security in our own efforts, we are not obeying the commands of Christ.

2.  Don’t Be Like the Rich Who Love Money (Luke 21:1 & 4a)

Luke 21:1 Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box,… 4 For they all contributed out of their abundance

Jesus and His followers had made their way into the temple as the worshippers were in the process of giving their temple offerings.  There were 13 trumpet shaped golden containers that the worshipper would drop their money into.  No doubt the rich made a big scene as they dropped theirs into the treasury.

Jesus is not impressed with their gifts.  He remarks in verse 4 that they were merely giving out of their abundance.  This is a good lesson for us.  Jesus is not impressed when all we do is give a little of our excess.  If we are going to be followers of Christ, we must give out of our livelihood.  In other words, our giving must cost us something.

2 Samuel 24:24 But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.     

David was not about to worship God without their being some sacrifice on his part.

The rich that Jesus watched dropping in their offering were not giving in any way sacrificially they we giving their leftovers to God.

God does not want our leftovers, He desires to be first in our lives and in our giving.

What these rich worshippers were doing was a lot like those in the Book of Malachi Chapter 1 when the priests were offering to God the blind and lame animals.  God calls this evil.  Those animals were not needed so they figured they would give them to God as a sacrifice and at least get some good out of them.  However, understand God does not want what costs us nothing.  He’s not interested in leftovers and sick animals.  If we are to honor God with our giving, we must give until it cost us something.

Here’s one way to tell if your giving is sacrificial or not:

Does the amount I give every week to my church, cause me to change my lifestyle?  Here’s what I mean.  If all we do is give from our abundance, like the rich Jesus saw that day, then we are not giving sacrificially.  Giving needs to impact the way we live.  Perhaps I need to give up some things in order to give more to my church.  Maybe, rather than eating out three times a week, I need to eat at home.  Perhaps the movie at the theater is not a necessity.  Perhaps I can shop the sales racks more.  These are small things and really, I don’t know if they are sacrifices or not but at least we must begin thinking in terms of what can I give up that would allow me to give more?

Realize, I’m speaking of giving from the bad example of the rich here in our text…not from the widow’s example.

3.  Don’t Be Like the Poor Widow Who Thinks She Can Buy Salvation (21:2,3 & 4b)

2 and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.

3 And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.

but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

It’s too bad that the translators of our English Bibles placed the account of the widow in chapter 21.  This break in the chapters, remember was not in the original Scriptures.  These two passages, the condemnation of the Scribes and the picture of this poor widow should go together.  When we couple them together the passage really takes on a new light.

Jesus is not praising this widow.  He does state that she had given more than everyone else because she gave from her poverty.  However, in the context of this passage Jesus is condemning the Scribes and their evil religious practices, one of which was to devour widow’s houses through their corrupt teaching and practices.  This widow has just been devoured because Jesus and His followers watch as the false system of works religion has just taken all she has in the world.

Our hearts must go out to this widow because she has fallen into the trap of the Scribes.  She believes that she can by giving buy her salvation.

This is not an example of proper giving.  God would never want a poor widow to give all she has to live on.  This is an example of corruption claiming another victim.

He saw that corrupt system taking the last two pennies out of a widow’s pocket. In desperation, hoping that maybe in that legalistic system her two coins would buy some blessing, trying to be dutiful, the rabbis had said with alms you purchase your salvation, trying to buy your way into heaven, trying to buy relief from your desperation, your destitution, contemporary quote/unquote evangelists call this seed faith. “Give me your money and God will multiply it back to you.” God doesn’t want a widow to give up her last two cents, you couldn’t find that in the Bible any place. That’s the last thing God would want a widow to do.[1]

This scene is the sad picture of the victims that a works salvation system leaves behind.  Does God want us to give all our money away, even to the last penny?  Of course not.

The widow gave all she had under the misguided impression that she was serving God. This is why the Lord said (v. 40) that the scribes were guilty of devouring widows’ houses. The scribes, with no apparent pangs of conscience, actively promoted the kind of extreme sacrifice exhibited by this poor widow. And Jesus clearly is teaching that the coercions and intimidations practiced by the scribes were evil. A further irony–the most tragic of all–is that the scribes of Jesus’ day promoted such a heretical doctrine while this unfortunate person, as well as the rest of the nation of Israel, headed for destruction.[2]

All her sacrifice was for nothing.  The widow could have received eternal life freely had she turned to Jesus.  Only a false, uncaring religious system would ask members who could not afford it to donate to their cause.

The widow’s mite does not teach giving: A better application would be, ”Look out for the scribes and Pharisees in our own time.”

Primary claim refocused

Salvation is by grace through faith, neither of works nor of money.

Jesus teaches a much better way…

He tells us to beware of the Scribes.  Now today, we’re not around any Scribes but their thinking surrounds us.  We must fight against the mentality that I must do certain things in order to earn God’s favor.

The best way to beware of the Scribes is to learn the truth about God and salvation from the Word of God.  They didn’t know their Bibles nor did they see the power of God.  The power of God that they did not understand was the power of God shown as God saves sinners by grace not by works.  When we realize there is absolutely nothing we can do in salvation and that it all is a work of God we see the power of God.

Romans 4:1 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?

2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.

3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.

5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;

8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”   

Human condition changed or Human need met

I am now free from the thinking that I have to do all this religious stuff before God will love me.  I’m His because I have trusted and loved His Son.  I am relying on the work of Jesus to please God.

Our biggest challenge is not how much do I need to do or give but how can I trust Christ more?  How can I make Jesus my treasure and not my possessions?

I must learn Christ rightly from the Scriptures.  Love Him more each and every day.  Not worry about my needs being met but simply concern myself with the Kingdom of God.

The battle is for faith…

Rom 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 

Exhortation in godly living

As a believer, the hard work I must be engaged in is the battle for faith in a world of unbelief.  I do this be renewing my mind with Scripture.  My work is centered around a growing faith not doing certain religious things to earn God’s favor.  God loves us if we are in Christ.

Seek the Lord, battle for faith, and beware of the Scribes.


[1] John MacArthur Sermon on Luke 21:1-4

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