Word By Mail

Not Far From The Kingdom

Mark 12:28-34

Message #47

We’ve witnessed four rounds of the cage fight between Jesus and the religious leaders of Jerusalem, and most scholars agree, all four of these rounds occurred on the same day.

1). They question the authority of Jesus in 11:27
2). He told them the parable of the wicked farmers in 12:1
3). They threw the “Taxes for Caesar" punch at him in 12:13
4). They tried to trip him up with the resurrection question in 12:18

But then, suddenly, today a scribe is going to ask a sincere question and Jesus is going to tell him that he is “Not Far from the Kingdom of God.” And although this ends the attacks from the religious leaders for this particular day, Jesus continues to teach three more great eternal truths on this same day after facing four rounds in the cage with the religious leaders. That makes up one big day, even for Jesus.

Mark 12:28(a) (NLT)
28 One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate . . .

This teacher of religious law was a scribe. Scribes were mostly Pharisees and they were professionals in interpreting and applying the law. And some were members of the Sanhedrin, the group that is orchestrating this cage fight with Jesus. And verse 28 says this scribe had been standing there listening to the first four rounds of this battle.

And then, in the middle of verse 28 we read,

Mark 12:28(b) (NLT)
28 . . . He realized that Jesus had answered well . . .

Now, this scribe was part of the Pharisees and he was there doing his job. But his mind and his heart were open enough that he was actually listening to the words of Jesus.

Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could see more of that in our world today – people listening to the words of Jesus without a pre-determined verdict? This scribe realized that Jesus had answered well.
And then, at the end of Mark 12:28,

Mark 12:28(c) (NLT)
28 . . . so he
(the Scribe) asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

It seems like this was this Scribe’s own question. It seems like it just came out from this Scribe after he heard Jesus answer the other challenges so well.

Because within the Pharisees and Scribes there was kind of an “intellectual game” they played where they challenged each other to sum up the entire law of Moses in a single sentence. And so, this would most likely be the default question this Scribe would come up with for Jesus.

But, the answer from Jesus was like nothing the Scribe had ever heard before, and here’s (at least one reason) why. Because the Pharisees had become consumed with the minute details of the law. They were obsessed with acting right, down to the smallest detail and they were determined in their own strength to fulfill all the religious laws they had set in place. But what this Scribe is about to hear is what R. Kent Hughes calls, “A Marvelous Symmetry of Devotion.” It is a single – two-part commandment – centered on love, in two directions. (One vertical, one horizontal). Let’s read it all then we’ll go back and break it down.

So, again, in verse 28, the Scribe asks, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

Mark 12:29-31 (NLT)
29 Jesus replied, “The most important
(the foremost, the primary) commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord.
30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’
31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

This is the perfect summation of all of the Law of God. 1 John 4:8 says, “God IS love” and Anyone who does not love does not know God. And when Jesus sums up the entirety of the Law of God, he does it in one commandment of love – in two directions.

The greatest commandment in two parts sums up the entire Ten Commandments, because the first four (of the Ten Commandments) are all about loving God, and the second six (of the Ten Commandments) are all about loving others. And so, in this perfect summation, every part of God’s law is encompassed in loving God and loving others.

But there is something even greater here, which is what I think really “opened the eyes” of this Scribe. The Pharisees had gotten so caught up in doing what they defined as right, but they were doing it in their own strength and they were doing it in order to earn something from God. They had gotten very confident in their own effort and in their own determination to do what was right, which made them feel very “right with God.”

And guys, that is exactly what so many people we know are doing. “I just try to do what’s right and be a good person, so I think God will accept me…” This comes from religion. Religion is man’s attempt to reach God. The Gospel is God’s attempt to reach man. And we shun the gospel, and we take our religion because we want to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, we want to do something to make ourselves right before God.

But suddenly, this Scribe heard something that he hadn’t heard before and it’s something that some of us really need to hear and receive. What this Scribe understood and what we need to understand, is this.

A correct love of God first, will produce a correct love of others.
Jesus is saying, when you love God with everything in you, it will enable you (empower you) to love others and thereby fulfill all of the law. In fact, this level of love for others can only come from us loving God with everything we have. The more I love God, the more I’ll be enabled, the more I’ll be empowered to love with his love. He’ll pour his love into me and it will come out of me to the people around me. It is the only way it can come out of you because you don’t have any on your own. You don’t have this love – it is poured into your heart, Romans 5:5 says. It’s poured into your heart by the Holy Spirit. It’s the only way you can have God’s love.

Again, Mark 12:29-30.

Mark 12:29-30 (NLT)
29 Jesus replied, “The most important
(the foremost, the primary) commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord.
30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’

This is the beginning of the SHEMA, which was the spiritual creed for the Jewish faith. The Shema was and still is the centerpiece of the Daily Jewish Prayers (morning and evening). It is the prayer found in the “PHYLACTERIES” (leather boxes) worn (arm and forehead) by Orthodox Jews while praying. And, it is the prayer found MEZUZAH that is fastened to the door jamb of every Orthodox Jewish home.

SHEMA means “hear or “listen.” Hear O Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is one, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. And when you do that, the second half will come.

Verse 31 (through your love of God, you) Love your neighbor as yourself. And no, Jesus is not promoting self-love as our self-centered world would like us to hear or believe.

Jesus is referring to the fact that in your “nature”
You already love yourself
You already think very highly of yourself

And Jesus is saying here to put others in that place instead of yourself.

And so, Jesus rocks this Scribe with this phenomenal summary of all of the Law of God, and the Scribe is standing there with his Pharisee buddies and his religious career is hanging in the balance, and his financial provision for his family is hanging in the balance.

But he was brave enough to ask the question and he was ready to have his eyes opened with the answer. And so now, he has to respond. And he does.

Mark 12:32-33 (NLT)
32 The teacher of religious law
(the scribe) replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other.
33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”

This “teacher of religious law” just put the words of Jesus above the Jewish religious ceremonies. Significantly above them.

Loving God with everything I have and that leading to loving others as if they were myself is more important than following all the religious ceremonies or going through all the religious motions.
The Scribe realized in this instant, that God is a relational God. He realized that eternal life is about a real relationship with God leading to real love for those around us. His eyes were opened and he was getting it.

But with all of his training and with all of his learning and even with all the deeper understanding that he’s displaying here, this Scribe was still just, “not far from the Kingdom of God.”

Look at Mark 12:34

Mark 12:34(a) (NLT)
34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God” . . .

This was a compliment but it was also a warning. This Scribe, even with this new understanding, he was still just close to the Kingdom of God. And guys, there are some things where “close” is just not “good enough.”

If you decide to jump from one roof to the other between a pair of ten-story buildings, you don’t want to just be close to making it.

And when we’re talking about entering the Kingdom of Heaven for eternity, you don’t want to just be close to making it.
I don’t know how many times I’ve had people say to me, “I try to be a ‘pretty good person,’ I think I’ll make it in when I get there.” Listen please, when you “get there” it’s too late to find out that you were just “close” to getting in.

Why would Jesus say to this Scribe, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God”? Because this Scribe with all his knowledge was just eighteen inches away from having a guaranteed assurance of entering the Kingdom of God. Those eighteen inches are the journey from your head to your heart. It’s the journey from knowing about God on the outside, to receiving God’s salvation on the inside.

We make this journey from the head to the heart when we put our full faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation. It’s a heart event, not a head event. We don’t intellectually assent to the assumed knowledge of there existing a God. The demons know better than that.

John 1:10–13 (NLT)
10 [Jesus] came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.
11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.
12 But to all who believed him and accepted (received) him, he gave the right to become children of God.
13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

These are words of the heart – to fully believe that God sent his Son, Jesus to die in our place on the Cross and to pay for our sins so that we could enter eternity with God. These are not words of us trying hard to do what’s right and live a good life because nothing we can do, can wash away the sin that prevents us from spending our eternity with God. Our eternal salvation comes only by God’s grace and only through our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. That is the plain truth of all of God’s Word.

Guys, if you live your entire life in church but never put your full faith in the person of Jesus Christ as your only way to salvation, then God’s Word says you will face that day just outside the Kingdom of God.

If you live the most religious and moral life possible, but you never personally receive Jesus Christ as your Savior, the Bible says you will miss the Kingdom of God by eighteen inches.

The Bible says there is only one way to enter the Kingdom of God, in heaven and that is through believing and receiving Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord because that is the only way God has made for your sins to be forgiven, thereby granting you a grand entrance into his eternal Kingdom.

Please don’t come up eighteen inches short of receiving eternal life with God in heaven. Take that journey from head knowledge about God to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And when you do, your sins will be forgiven through your faith in Jesus Christ and you will have a guaranteed entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven as a son or daughter of God.