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Not Far From The Kingdom Of God
Key Verse 12:34
“When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.”
A certain teacher of the Law was there listening to the religious leaders debating with Jesus. Mark comments that this teacher had noticed that Jesus had given a good answer. Jesus’ answers had been good in the sense that they had been simple answers, given from the Bible, and pointing to certain Biblical truths. Jesus’ answers had been good in the sense that they had been spiritual answers to otherwise unspiritual problems of life. And this teacher of the law had discovered that Jesus’ answers were like a hidden treasure to be unearthed by those who would but listen. And finally, when the debates were over, he stayed behind because he too had something on his mind to ask Jesus himself. “Tell me Teacher! What is the most important commandment of all?” Actually his question outweighed all of their questions in content and in magnitude. For one, his question was spiritual! So, Jesus indulged him.
So then what is the most important commandment in the Bible? In other words, what does God consider to be the most important commandment? And we emphasize “what does God himself consider to be of most importance” because for the most part, human beings direct and organize and live life according to a measure of importance of things. What is important to you; what is important to me; what is of importance to him, and what is of great important to her— all these dictate human life. And that sometimes also filters into our Christian lives as well, such that the way we live our Christian lives— the way we think and behave— hinges on what seems to be important, or unimportant or most important to us. If a person considers wealth to be of great importance, then making money takes a priority over God’s call to serve God or to worship him. Someone may consider personal safety or security to be of greater importance than God’s call to a life of self denial or to self sacrifice. What is important or most important is not a trivial matter, because it isn’t a trivial matter to God. Rather it’s a critical matter, especially when we consider what is important in the sight of God. And of all the important things in life— especially in Christian life— and of all the important commands in the Bible, Jesus said, “The most important one, is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (29-31)
Jesus considered “loving God” as the most important of human virtues as well as of human needs. He considered “loving God” as a necessity of human existence. Existing is to love God and to love God is to exist. To be a virtuous person, or to be an honest person, or a man or woman of integrity, being responsible or dependable, are all very important to our being human. But there is nothing more important to the core of what makes us truly human and in the image of God than loving God with our whole self. If loving God is “low” on the scale of importance in someone’s life, you can be sure that the heart of that person is also low on all that makes a human noble and godly— rather it makes the heart ignoble and subject to corruption. Where “loving God” is on our personal “scale of what is important and what is not” surely effects and determines a lot of things in our lives. When we think about it, we can see that those who “loving God” is “high” on the scale of what’s important, grow and mature as normal Christians, people whose struggles take them out of selfishness and lands them where God wants them to be. They know how to overcome desires for what is “not so important” or of “what is of lesser importance in life”, and give priority to what is important— and in most cases these people begin to value the word of God above their own wants and desires and understanding. Their value system experiences a change: “God comes first— others come next— and I come last.” Today in the world there are many things that seem of most importance. And people pursue them and get them, while their humanity and inner person degenerates sometimes even to a sub animal level (they think and behave like animals). They get what’s important. They become rich and famous for it. But if they don’t “love God first”, their life is tragic.
Jesus didn’t stop by telling this teacher that loving God with all one’s being is the most important commandment. Jesus extended the most important commandment to loving one’s neighbor. He told this man: “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (31) What Jesus is saying is that the second commandment is as important as the first. He was teaching him that to God, the second is like the first— in fact they are one. In reality Jesus was saying that these two commandments are so intertwined that one cannot exist without the other; that they are inseparable. It’s interesting that Jesus thought it was absolutely necessary to tell this man about loving others too! Maybe Jesus wanted to test his understanding of what it really means to love God! Let me explain. Many people claim to love God. Many also claim to love others. Some also claim to love everything and everyone. “Love” seems to be the theme of the young generation. But as soon as the drug effect wears off, love turns into hate, and hate turns into rebellion. In Jesus’ time, the shepherds of the people claimed to love God. But they despised the sheep. Jesus challenged this man by pointing out that loving God is intertwined with loving his neighbor.
Let’s read how he responded to Jesus in verses 32 and 33. He responded well. He agreed with Jesus that to love God and to love your neighbor is of first importance. This shows that he was a man of truth. It shows that he understood the heart of God and the point of the Bible. What exactly did he understand about God and the Bible? Well, first of all he understood that God is God! And he understood that to love God is the foundation of man’s relationship with God. This is an amazing truth. God is God, and the foundation of our relationship with God— from the beginning— was love, to love God! It’s what God intended for all of us from the beginning of time— a relationship based on love. This man also understood something else. He also understood humanity very well— the kind of relationship God would have us have with one another. We express our love to God— but we express it best in loving one another. Loving others is an expression of our loving God. He was right! Of all the teachers, he’s the one who understood the heart of what Jesus was teaching. Jesus could have praised him for this and let him go. But he didn’t. Why? Because the man needed help.
The teacher of the law understood the Bible well, and understood the heart of God through the commandments. Yet he was still missing something very importance. He was missing eternal life and the Kingdom of God.
Read verse 34a. “When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’” He was a educated teacher in the law. He knew the Bible well. He was well respected by his peers and by the public for his knowledge. He was a model of what a religious man should be like. Maybe young men who aspired to be teachers aspired to be like him. Everyone including himself was confident that he would enter heaven. But when Jesus spoke to him he spoke to him as a child, an infant in the faith and only as a candidate for eternal life and the kingdom of God. Jesus recognized his understanding of the word of God, and his love for truth. But Jesus didn’t confirm this man’s own assurance of eternal life and the kingdom of God. Jesus simply congratulated him for coming near to the kingdom of God. But “near” the kingdom of God is not the same as “in” the kingdom of God. It was a challenge to take a step of faith and enter the kingdom of God— to go beyond what he knew in his head to believe it from his heart.
How then could he get in? What hindered him from entering the kingdom of God? It may be many factors. In his discourse later at the temple, Jesus exposes the stumbling block which kept this man and many others from gaining eternal life and entering the kingdom. Look at verses 35-37. Surely Jesus had this man in mind when he spoke these words in order to help him.
Read verses 35-37. “While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, ‘How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’” David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?’ The large crowd listened to him with delight.” Initially, Jesus’ words appear to be confusing and a little out of place. But they’re not. What he means is very clear. The religious teachers considered the coming of the Messiah to be the son of David. They were right in the sense that the Messiah would be the descendant of David. But if the Messiah was only a descendant of David and nothing more than that, then he would also be nothing more than a political and social Messiah. And that is what these teachers of the law believed and were teaching. It was their blind spot. It made them self righteous because when they looked only for some savior to relieve them of their social problems, they never thought about their real problem which was the sin problem. So they never repented. They never realized that it did not matter how much Bible they knew and taught, if they did not live by repentance and faith and the hope of the Messiah who would cleanse their sins, they were dead men.
Jesus agreed that the Messiah would be the son of David. But David also confessed that the Messiah would be David’s Lord. “The Lord said to my Lord” defines the Messiah as the Lord, equal to the Lord God whom David worshipped— a spiritual king— come to help his people spiritually, come to save them from their sins which blocked their way from eternal life and the kingdom of God. Jesus’ discourse on the identity of the Messiah and what the Messiah would come to do was the truth which challenged these men to the core of their being. Outwardly they were learned, righteous, and religious. But inwardly they were wretched, dead at heart and soul. They desperately needed the Savior’s grace who came to help them and to show them the way of life and salvation. But sadly they opposed him at every turn.
According to what Jesus said regarding the Messiah, what did they need to do? What did this teacher who was not so far from the kingdom need to do? Jesus’ words had been very simple to everybody ever since he began his ministry. “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” There can be no simpler more beautiful words of hope than these. They are not a set of complicated theologies nor of complex philosophies. They are the simple and profound Bible truth— the way of eternal life to the kingdom of God. Anyone can understand them, and accept them, and believe them in the heart, and then live! Certainly, this is the way of eternal life and the kingdom of God, and there is no other. How is it that so many have missed it! Through these few words countless people have found their way to the heavenly kingdom.
“Repent” and “believe” Jesus declared to all people, especially to this teacher of the law who agreed that the most important commandment is to love God and to love his neighbor. But his knowledge of God and of the Bible was not enough to gain him life in the kingdom. He was a holy man of the law. But he still needed to repent. What might he have needed to repent of I wonder? Maybe all that he knew in his head about God and the Bible and ask God to help it settle into his heart instead. He needed to repent of his self-righteousness and accept the righteousness that comes from faith in Christ Jesus through his grace. (Rpm.1:7; Eph.2:5-8) He needed to believe the good news as well. He needed to believe that Jesus is God, the Savior God, who came to be the Savior of sinners of whom he— a Bible teacher— was the worst of sinners. (1.Tim.1:15) He needed to repent of his self confidence— he thought he was able to love God with his whole heart and love his neighbor as himself. He needed to repent of that because in truth in our sinful selves we cannot love neither God nor others as we should. He needed to believe that God alone can enabled him to love God and others. And through repentance and faith, he would make that final step from “near” the kingdom and enter into eternal life in the kingdom of God.
[Jesus’ words to the man as he taught in the temple were words of life because they held the keys to the kingdom. To say that we love God and that we love others is not enough. Love does not come naturally to us. We need deep cleansing from sin. We need repentance, daily repentance, and we need faith, day by day faith to believe that the Messiah has shed his blood to forgive our sin and to give us renewal. Ezekiel the prophet foretold what the son of David would do for those who humble themselves before God through repentance and faith in Jesus. He foretold what God would do for loveless hearts that put their trust in Jesus. God promised them saying: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ez.36:25-27) It is God’s promise to everyone who repents and believes in Jesus. To such a person, loving God and loving our neighbors is the marvelous work of the Messiah’s grace and the promise of God.]