Not Far From the Kingdom

Tom Groelsema, Speaker

Mark 12:28–34 | May 30 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
May 30
Not Far From the Kingdom | Mark 12:28–34
Tom Groelsema, Speaker

Let’s turn in our Bibles today to Mark’s Gospel, Mark chapter 12, and we’ll be reading together verses 28 through 34. Mark chapter 12, verses 28 to 34. What a great song for us to help us approach God’s Word this morning and Jesus’ words to us. Mark 12, verse 28 to 34. Remember that as we read this passage of Scripture that this is God’s holy and inspired Word.

“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall 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: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

Dear people of God, how many of you have heard the quip that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. So if you haven’t heard of that before, just think about it: Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. What it means, of course, is that in horseshoes and hand grenades you do get some points for being close. Even if you haven’t hit it squarely, you get some points for being close. So in horseshoes, it’s great to get a ringer of course, but if you don’t get ringer, just make sure that you are closer than anybody else and you’ll get some points for that. Or if you’re tossing hand grenades, you know, if you don’t hit the target, just get close and you’ll still be able to do some damage. Close works in horseshoes in hand grenades, but close doesn’t work in much else besides those things.

There’s no satisfaction, for example, in being close to landing a job. You said, “Well, I got close to getting that job.” That’s not very satisfying at all, right? You want to be hired for the job, not just get close. It’s not enough to be close to making a putt. In serious golf, there are no gimmes, and so either you’re an inch from the hole, 2 inches from the hole, or 5 feet from the hole, it’s going to cost you a stroke if you’re only close. No team wants to be close to winning a championship. You want to win it. I mean, who after all remembers who came in second place? That’s just gone from our mind.

A year ago Sheri and I were close to landing a new home a few times, but were beat out on our offers, and how good it was to no longer just be close but actually be able to purchase a home. Close, it is not enough in so many things, and it is not enough when it comes to belonging to the kingdom of God, either.

It’s not enough to be close.

Jesus has some important words for us this morning, especially for those of us who live in the context of the Church and the context of Christianity who are so familiar with things Christian, who know so much about Christ and the Bible. It is not enough to be close to Christ.

Our passage begins with another question. The chapter that we’re in here, Mark chapter 12, and the end of Mark 11, is full of questions for Christ. It’s the last of week of Jesus’ life, probably the Tuesday of the last week of His life, and the leaders, the church leaders, come to Jesus with all kinds of questions. Questions about authority, questions about taxes, questions about marriage and the resurrection, and these questions for the most part were a test for Christ.

In fact, Mark tells us sometimes that they were intended to be a trap. Let’s see if we can get Jesus to answer our questions and maybe Jesus will answer them not in quite the right way and we’ll trap him, we’ll have him finally. So they come to Christ with all of these questions and then here in our passage, a teacher of the law comes to Jesus with one more question. But this time it’s not a trap. It is an honest question, it’s an inquisitive question. He comes to Christ wanting to know more. He is drawn to Jesus.

Verse 28 says he saw that Jesus had answered the other questions well. Hmm. Jesus answers them so rightly. It brings to mind another question. This man was a scribe, a teacher of the law, probably a pharisee, a Bible scholar, an expert in the law, what it had to say. We might think about him something like a seminary professor. And he comes to Jesus with this question. He said, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

That’s a great question, isn’t it? Tell me which command, Jesus, is the most important of all the commands? Which one is at the top? Which one is primary?

Those other questions about taxes and marriage at the resurrection, so on, those are interesting questions, but they’re peripheral. They’re the kinds of questions that kind of poke at the outside, not at the core.

But this question, a lot more important, a crucial question. It’s such a vital question, especially if you are trying to measure yourself by the commands of God, and that’s exactly what this teacher wanted to do. His question really was a self-justifying question. He’s coming to Jesus with this question in mind: Which one is the most important question, because I need to know. I need to know if I have kept that one. You see, if I can rank the commands of God, if I can put a priority to them and say, well, here’s the top command, and then here comes the next one, and the next one, and on down the list, I want to know what is at the top because that’s the command that I want to keep. Because if I can keep that command, the top one, the top couple of commands, then I’ll know that I’m right with God.

It’s kind of like, you know, when you take an exam. You ever done this? You take an exam, you take a test, and you begin to kind of look through the exam before you get started, and well, this question’s worth 10 points, oh, here’s some multiple choice, they’re only worth 1 point, oh, here’s an essay question that’s worth 25. That one. That one. I want to get that one right. I mean, I can miss some multiple choice, but I want to get that top one. The highest points. I want to get that one right.

That’s why this man came to Christ. Teacher, tell me, what is the greatest commandment of all? I need to know what that commandment is. That’s the commandment that I’m going after.

You notice Jesus’ response. Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God, and then to love others, to love your neighbor. Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6, verse 4 and 5. We see this in verse 29 and following. He quotes, “Shema Israel, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad, ve’ahavta et Adonai eloheykha bekhol-levavkha bekhol nafshekha u’vekhol me’odekha. ve’hayu ra-akha kamokha.” “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, with all your mind and with all of your strength.”

Jesus quotes the Shema, kind of Jewish pledge of allegiance or something like a Jewish Apostles’ Creed, the heart of Israel’s confession about God and their life before God. Something that was recited every morning and every evening, every synagogue service opened with the words of the Shema. God had said you’re to bind those commands of God upon your forehead, bind them on your hands, and so good Jews would run around with little box on their forehead, the summary of the commands tucked in so that the commands of God would always be before their eyes, and sometimes put them on the doorframes of their houses, called a mezuzah, take the summary of the commands, put it in a little scroll, in a little box, put it on the doorframe of your house so that when you go out and when you come in, you’ll be reminded of what God’s commands are.

Jesus adds to this a quote from Leviticus 19:18: Love your neighbor as yourself. And Jesus says there’s no other commandment that is greater than these.

It’s really startling what Jesus said here to this teacher, this teacher of the law who knew the law so well. Jesus brings a summary of it all. The first rabbi to fuse these two scriptures together, from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Teaching here a comprehensive love that God requires. Love God with complete, whole-hearted devotion, love Him with all your heart, the center of our being, with all your soul, with our affections, with all your mind, love Him with your thought life, all of your strength and energy.

God is asking for a completed, undiluted love for God with every ounce of our being. As you love God, so you must love your neighbor. You cannot divide those two things, those two commands whole together. There are no halvsies. You cannot say, “Well, you know, I love God, but, yeah, my neighbor, I just don’t do really that well at that.”

You remember the Apostle John would say you cannot say that you love God whom you haven’t seen if you do not love your neighbor, whom you have seen. They go together, loving God, loving our neighbor.

And as Jesus puts these two commands together, of course, we and; understand that He is summarizing the moral law, the 10 commandments that God had given, the first four commands all about loving God, the next six all about loving our neighbor.

And then a positive thrust to what Jesus said here, that obedience to God isn’t just about not doing this or that. So we might say, well, you know, the command says you shall not kill. Well, I haven’t done that. And Jesus says, well, wait a second, what about loving your neighbor? Have you loved God? Have you loved your neighbor? Are you loving as you ought to love?

These had to be powerful, impactful words to this teacher of the law. He comes to Jesus, “Tell me which is the top commandment? Just tell me that one, ’cause that’s the one that I want to go for.” And does Jesus so? He summarizes the commands of God and says, “What you must give to God is total devotion.” He unfolds for this teacher of the law, who knew the law so well, just how radical and comprehensive a love for God is.

You see, it isn’t just, pay attention to the fifth commandment, pay attention to the ninth commandment, pay attention to the sixth commandment. No. You must think about all of these and all that God is asking for, all that God is requiring. This complete love that God wants from you for Himself and then to love your neighbor as yourself. That is what God is seeking. That’s what God is requiring.

How did this teacher respond to all this? To what Jesus said? Well, verses 32 and 33: : “The scribe said to Him, “ You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.””

He says to Jesus, “Teacher, you’re right. Good job. You’ve nailed it.” Loving is most important, more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. He brings more Scripture into his answer, probably quoting, or at least referring to Psalm 51:16 & 17: For God, you do not delight in sacrifice or I would give it. You would not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. More than sacrifices and offerings, God wants a humble heart, a broken heart, a contrite heart.

So he comes back to Jesus, having the Scriptures down cold, more important than acts or sacrifices, God wants our heart and He wants a heart of love.

People of God, it seems like all has gone well, doesn’t it? In the conversation that this teacher of the law has with Christ. A good exchange over Scripture, good answers to good questions. But then Jesus brings it all home here at the very end, and really almost in a surprising way, I think, as we’re sort of looking on from the outside.

Verse 34: “When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God,'” you’re not far from the kingdom of God, “And after that no one dared to ask Him any more questions.”

Wow. Really? Teacher, you’ve answer well, you’re right. That is the greatest commandment, and then Jesus drops the bomb: You are not far from the kingdom of God.

A compliment in a sense, but also, of course, a deep warning. Here’s a man Jesus says was close. He got close, he was near the kingdom. He had answered wisely. This man knew his Bible. He had broken ranks with so many of the other teachers of the law, the pharisees who throughout these chapters are asking questions, trying to trap Christ, trying to trip Him up. He comes genuinely interested in seeking truth for Christ. He is near the door stop of God’s kingdom, Jesus says. You’re right there, there it is. So close. You are not far from the kingdom.

I remember thinking back a number of years ago to a couple that I worked with, Jeremy and Amanda, visited our church, seemed interested in Christ and the Gospel. Worked with them for many months. Took them through the Scriptures, took them through Christian doctrine, teaching them about God, their sin, Christ, salvation, the Christian life. Doing that mostly just by turning to the Bible. They barely knew their Bible when they started, you know, go to Ephesians, you know where Ephesians is? But just going through the Scriptures, time after time after time, just digging into the Bible with them, and they stuck with it. I mean, we did this for months.

And then it came time to make a commitment to Christ, to walk with Him, and they began to hedge, kind of pulled back, stepped away. Had been coming to our church, quit coming to church and drifted off and just didn’t see them anymore. A couple that had seemed to close to the kingdom, just right there at the doorstep.

That’s where this man was. And Jesus, like I said, in a sense gets a complimentary word. Well, we understand, don’t we, that this is not just a complimentary word, this is really a warning that Jesus laid out. You are not far from the kingdom of God. You’re so close to the kingdom, but you are not in the kingdom.

Close may mean something for horseshoes and hand grenades, but it does not count when it comes to the kingdom. You cannot just be close to the kingdom. You cannot just be on the doorstep. You can’t just be a few inches from the kingdom. You must enter the kingdom of God. You must see the kingdom of God. You must belong to the kingdom of God.

We understand Jesus to be saying that, don’t we? What was it about this man that had him so close but not in? I think the answer is this: That he wanted to know, as we said before, the most important command so that he could keep that one. That’s all I need to do – just tell me what is that command. I will do it and I’ll be good.

So even in answering Jesus rightly about the all-important command to love, he had not realized how much he had failed at this. The way to enter the kingdom of God isn’t finding the most important command and then you just keep it and you’ll be fine. Don’t you understand? You can’t even do that, let alone love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, or to love your neighbor as yourself.

This is a man who’s trying to justify himself and as a result, he recognized that Jesus was a good teacher. He came to Jesus asking these questions: Jesus, I want to know. You’re the one who has the answers.

He came to Christ as a great teacher, but he did not come to Christ looking for a savior. That is not what he needed from Christ, at least in his own mind. Therefore, he did not throw himself upon Christ.

Mark’s Gospel here at the end of chapter 11 and chapter 12, these sections that are full of questions, he seems to be mirroring the Passover liturgy in which there were a series of questions asked in preparation for sharing the Passover. So when the Passover meal would come, there’s be these series of questions, questions about the Law, questions about conduct, questions about the Scriptures.

How does Mark seem to be paralleling that? Well, we have to remember this is the last week of Jesus’ life, and so the Passover is only two or three days away. The Passover is about ready to begin, and here come all of the questions, just like in the Passover, this time, however, being asked by the teachers of the Law, by the scribes, by the Pharisees. Questions about the Law, questions about conduct, questions about Scripture. Question after question after question. Why does Mark parallel what was happening in the Passover meal? Because I think this is Mark’s way, at least one way, of sharing with us that there is only One who can answer all the questions that the Passover did not answer, or even more, this is the One who can fulfill the Passover itself.

Or to put it very simply, here in Christ is the Passover lamb. This is who the Passover was all about. He is the Lamb that was slain. His blood is what has been spread out so that behind His blind we can safety and life. It is Jesus, and you see, people of God, that’s the tragedy here.

This teacher of the Law says to Christ, to love God is more important than burnt offerings and sacrifices. He is standing with Jesus as he speaks those words. He is standing in the temple courts. That’s where this takes place. He is standing in the temple courts, and with the Passover coming soon, no doubt even on this dais, he is speaking to Jesus and Jesus is speaking to him, that these courts are already beginning to be filled with lambs that would be sacrificed. There is buying and selling that is going on. People going to purchase the lamb that they’re going to sacrifice in two or three days at the Passover. This teacher of the Law, too, would sacrifice his own.

What he did not see right in front of his nose was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. The Passover Lamb is standing right there. And that’s what he did not see in Christ.

I mean, this is how close he was to the kingdom. A foot away from Christ, 2 feet away from Christ. You are not far from the kingdom of God, but you do not belong to the kingdom.

Jesus is ready to give His life as a ransom for many, and He is the One who did what we could never do, what this man could not do, what we cannot do, and that is to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourself.

But He is the One who did do that. This teacher had not come to Christ for that. Therefore, was not far from the kingdom, but was not in.

So the question for us this morning, of course, is how close are we to the kingdom? Are you near the kingdom? Or have you entered the kingdom? Are you close to the kingdom? Or have you by faith in Christ Jesus entered the kingdom?

I don’t ask that question this morning to shatter assurances, or to lead us to doubt, and no doubt there are some who have come here this morning and you’re already doubting, you’re fragile in your faith, wondering do I belong? I know. I know that there are some here like that this morning.

This is not a warning so much for sensitive sinners. Your pangs of conscience may very well, in fact, be a sign that you are in the kingdom, that the Spirit of God is working within you, as He stirs you up. In fact, you might not even care at all about these things, if you did not belong to Christ.

What is the answer for you? Friend, the answer is look to Christ. Just look to Christ. That’s all you must do. Look to Christ. No longer look in and doubt, but look up and out, to Christ.

As the Puritans used to say, for every one look at yourself, you take ten looks at Jesus. Look to Christ. Look to Christ. Look to Christ. You’re doubting here this morning, look to Jesus. That’s all. Just look to Christ and rest in Him and His cross and His sacrifice for you.

There are others of us here today who may be close and we are not troubled at all. Become self-assured, doing a pretty good job, God ought to love me. What a word for us who’ve been part of Christian community for a long time, we know the Scriptures. I think God would say to us this morning not only must you know your Bible, but you must know the Christ of the Scriptures. Do you know Him?

Or we might have a generational connection to Christ. Your parents are Christians, and your friends are Christians. Maybe your doctor is a Christian, your auto mechanic is a Christian. Everybody that you hang around with is a Christianity. Even your dog might be a Christian, right? That’s all I got is Christians everywhere around me.

Are you a Christian? Is your hope, your singular hope, upon Christ Jesus alone?

Don Carson said it once, he said, “One generation believes the Gospel, the next generation can assume the Gospel, and then the third generation loses the Gospel.”

So easy, isn’t it, to go from believing to assuming? And then to losing. Every generation anew, believing the Gospel and resting in Christ. Or maybe you’re close. Your relationship with Christ is like a therapist. You know, Jesus is the One who can fix all my problems. Or maybe you see Jesus as an example, just shows you how to live the Christian life. Or maybe you see Him as a good teacher, somebody who’s filled with fine moral principles. But you’ve not looked upon Him as a sacrificial savior who died to atone for your sins.

What would you do if you’re self-assured, if you are close? And the answer is the same: Look to Christ. Do not look to yourself. Look to Christ, rest in Christ, believe in Jesus.

You see, Jesus’ warning to us this morning is this, that it is possible to be within an inch of heaven and to go to hell forever. It is possible to be within an inch of heaven and to go to hell. But His good news is this: It’s also possible to be within an inch of hell and to go to heaven. It is possible to be within an inch of hell and to go to heaven.

You think about the thief on the cross, his entire life apart from Jesus, but today you’ll be with me in paradise as he confesses faith in Christ.

Friends, in other words, it is not too late. Today is a day of salvation. Today is a day not to just be close to the kingdom of God, but to enter the kingdom.

John Wesley lived from 1703 to 1791, born in a Christian home, ordained into the Church of England in 1728, part of a group at Oxford known as the Holy Club. So there he is studying and he’s dedicated himself to building a holy life, fasted, would set aside an hour a day for prayer, visited prisons, the poor, the sick, became a missionary to Georgia, and in fact it was on that trip that he became convinced of his own unbelief and the waywardness of his own heart. In 1738 he came across our passage. He stumbled across those words: You are not far from the kingdom.

And those words troubled him so much. Realized he’d been doing all these things but did not really know Christ, and that night before he went to bed he crossed the line into the kingdom of God. He says, “That night I was reading Luther’s commentary on Romans. About a quarter to 9, while Luther was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me.”

Friends, this morning don’t look for a feeling, but look to the Savior. Look to Jesus, look upon Christ. As we sang a moment ago, all I have is Christ. Is that true for you this morning? Can you say, “All I have is Christ. In having Christ, I have enough, it’s all I need, He is all I need. All I have is Christ and He is my life. I have all I need in Jesus.”

Let that not be true of you, that you are not far, so close to the kingdom. Put your hope in Christ today.

Let’s pray. So, Father in heaven, we do thank You for the Gospel, the Gospel that says Christ did what we could never do, perfectly obeyed Your Law, that Christ suffered in our place at the cross and all we must do in order to be right with God is to accept with a believing heart all that Christ has done for us. So simple, yet so profound. So glorious, so good, Your Gospel is. So Lord, may we not be someone who is dabbling on the edges of the kingdom, but may our hope and trust be in Christ alone so that we might be in the kingdom and we ask all these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.