Not Far from the Kingdom
October 27, 2019
Prayer for Illumination:
O gracious God and most merciful Father, you have given us the rich and precious jewel of your holy Word. Assist us with your Spirit, that it may be written in our hearts to our everlasting comfort, to reform us, to renew us according to your own image, to build us up into the perfect building of Christ, and to increase us in all heavenly virtues. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the same Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.
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?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 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.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 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. 33 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.” 34 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.
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Since the New Year, we have been looking at the Gospel of Mark. Mark is probably the earliest of the gospels. It’s also the shortest of the gospels. And we’ve been looking at Mark so that we can see the real Jesus. We live in a time and a place where people like to re-imagine stories. One of the movies that came out recently is Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. It’s a sequel to a re-imagined version of Maleficent. If you’re wondering who Maleficent is, she is the evil queen in Sleeping Beauty. But in the new movies they have re-imagined Maleficent to be someone who is jaded by scorned love. In this re-imagined story, she is a tragic hero.
We do this with other stories as well. Pay attention the next time you see a movie preview. A lot of movies are re-imaged stories that we’re all familiar with. We do it with TV shows as well.
It doesn’t just stop with fiction either. We try to re-imagine who Jesus is. About fifteen years ago, there was a movie Talladega Nights. It’s a comedy about racing. About halfway through the movie, one of the characters says “you can pray to whatever Jesus you want”. While it’s played for laughs, we often try to re-imagine Jesus into someone more to our own liking.
That’s why we have been looking at Mark. We have been looking at Mark so that we can see the real Jesus. We want the Jesus of history not some re-imagined version.
At this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is in the last days before his sacrificial death and resurrection. Jesus has entered Jerusalem to fanfare. He has thrown the money changers out of the temple because they were preventing people, mostly Gentiles, from being able to worship God. And because of this action, the Sanhedrin has sent various groups to Jesus asking him to explain himself and hoping to trap him. The Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees have all tried and failed. Now it is the Scribes’ turn. One of the Scribes comes and asks Jesus a question. As we examine this passage, we’ll look at it under three headings; first, the question of moralism; second, the requirements of the law; and third, the one who fulfills the law.
The Question of Moralism
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 has just defeated the Sadducees in debate over whether or not there is a resurrection. We looked at this last week, remember? The Sadducees were materialists. They denied the supernatural. They denied angels, spirits, and the resurrection. And they denied the supernatural because they didn’t know the power of God. And that’s what Jesus said.
Undoubtedly the Sadducees had used that question on numerous people and made them look foolish. It was not an easy question. It was a tough question. But Jesus handled himself wonderfully. He answered with wisdom because he is wisdom incarnate.
And seeing that Jesus had answered that tough question well, the Greek actually says “seeing that he answered them beautifully”, this scribe wants to give Jesus another tough question. He’s thinking, “You handled those Sadducees beautifully by pointing out the power of God and the promise of God. Let’s see if you can settle a debate we Scribes and Pharisees have been having for centuries.” The scribe asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment.
See the Scribes and the Pharisees had found 613 commandments in the Old Testament. They found 613 distinguishable commandments in Scripture. And you thought 10 was hard enough. They said there were 613 commandments in the Old Testament.
The debate that was happening within the Pharisees and the Scribes was trying to figure out which of those 613 commandments was more important. They were debating which commandments were of lesser importance and which were of greater importance. Which of those commandments were the important ones that we need to keep so that we can enter heaven. That was the debate.
We even do that ourselves. We know there are laws against jaywalking and speeding yet we do them anyway. We think, “We shouldn’t jaywalk, it’s not safe. But it’s not as bad as murder.” Or “Yes we shouldn’t speed, but what’s five miles over the limit? It’s not as bad as treason.” We think like that.
At the heart of the question for the Scribes and the Pharisees is “what is the bare minimum I have to do so that God will accept me? I know he’s given us 613 commandments that we are obey and live by but that’s a lot. I can’t keep all 613. Can you narrow that down? Can you give the bare minimum I must do to be saved?”
We call this moralism or sometimes legalism. Moralism is the idea that if you are good enough then God will accept you. Almost every other religion teaches this. Hinduism teaches this. It teaches that if you are good then you will be reincarnated in a better position in the next life until you live a completely moral and perfect life. Islam teaches this. And sometimes even Christians believe this.
Moralism ultimately wants to lower the bar. Moralists believe that they can earn their salvation. They believe they can keep the law well enough to earn their salvation. But they recognize there are a lot of commandments and they want to know which commandments are of greater and lesser importance. While moralists believe all of the commandments matter, they want to know which ones really matter. They want to know which commandments are of the upmost importance to keep.
They want to know which commandment they really need to keep so that they can say, “I’ve done the important things. I’ve kept the really important commandments, the important one or two. You’ve got to take me. I’ve even kept some of the lesser commandments.” That is the question of moralism. Moralism wants to know what the most important commandment is so they can say they’ve achieved it. They want to lower the bar so they can make sure they’ve cleared it.
The Requirements of the Law
Jesus hears the man’s question. And instead of lowering the bar as the man wants, Jesus raises it. He raises it and it amazes and astonishes the people. The very last verse of this section says, “And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.” No one dared to ask him anything else. This could be translated as “no one had the heart to ask him any more questions”. They were scared. Jesus’ answer to this scribe’s question scared them.
This is what he said. “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 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.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Jesus begins his answer by quoting from Deuteronomy 6:4. This is something that every Jew would have known. It’s called the Shema. Jews would have said this each and every morning when they woke up and each and every night before going to bed. It was a creed. It was a basic summary of the Jewish faith. It’s similar to the Apostles’ Creed in that regard.
We believe this. We believe that there is one God. But in this one God eternally exists three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; all three living in community, living in harmony; moving around the other. God the Father is eternally begetting God the Son. God the Father and God the Son are eternally breathing the Holy Spirit. How those three persons are one God and this one God three persons is a great mystery.
There has never been a time when any person of the Godhead did not exist. There has never been a time when God the Son was not present with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. There has never been a time when God the Holy Spirit was not present with God the Father and God the Son. The Triune God has exists since before time and all three persons have been together in this one God. God is unique.
Because God is unique, we are to love him with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and all our strength. We are to love God with every aspect of ourselves. We are to love him with every thought, every word, and every deed. There is nothing that we are to hold back from God. We are made in his image, Genesis 1:26-27. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And because we bear God’s image we are to give everything about ourselves to God. We saw that a few weeks ago when we were looking at the challenge by the Pharisees and the Herodians. They challenged Jesus on paying taxes and Jesus said “give to God what is God’s”. Because we bear God’s image, we are to give ourselves wholeheartedly to God.
We are to love God and so we are to do as he asks. We are to live in a manner that is consistent with who God is and how God has designed all things. When God told Adam and Even not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they were supposed to not eat of it because they loved him. They were to love him enough to obey simply because he asked. That’s the first and the greatest commandment.
The second commandment is that, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. Normally when you see a “you” in Scripture like this it is plural. Here it is singular. This is something that each and every individual is to do.
While Jesus doesn’t explain fully what loving your neighbor as yourself looks like here, he does in Luke 10:25-37. Luke 10:25-37 is the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In the parable, Jesus shows us that our neighbor is anyone we come across even if they are political and cultural enemies as Samaritans were to the Jews and that loving them often costs us.
This is what Jesus says are the first and second commandments. In Matthew’s gospel account, Matthew records these words. There Jesus says, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets”.
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. 33 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.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
The scribe recognizes that is the best summary of the law he has ever heard. He was amazed. And he is probably looking for a pat on the back; an attaboy. But instead Jesus says, “You are not far from the kingdom of God”. Jesus is saying, “You recognize the law but you don’t actually fulfill it”.
We know that we are to love God wholeheartedly and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves but we often don’t. Each and every one of us fail to meet the requirements of the law. We fail to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, and all our strength. We fail to love our neighbor as ourselves. Is there any hope?
The One Who Fulfills the Law
There is one who fulfills the law. There is one who has loved God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind, and with all his strength. He never waved in loving God. He loved God with all that was within him. He knew God’s law and kept it, even to the most minute degree all because he loved God. He lived his life consistent with how God said life is to be lived. He never deviated from that in anything or in any way. He loved God with all his heart, with all his soul, with all his mind, and with all his strength.
He also loved his neighbor as himself. He came to a people who were not his own and loved them. He saw that they were sick and dying and cared for this people. He cleaned out their wounds, he bandaged them up, and he made sure they could rest and recuperate. He loved this people enough to go to the cross and die in their place. Jesus is the one and only one who fulfills the law.
It is only when we understand this that we begin to fulfill the law ourselves. It’s only when we have been renewed heart, mind, and soul to see that we can never meet the law’s requirements ourselves and that Jesus has that we begin to truly love God. It is only after having been awakened to our sin and seeing that Jesus paid the penalty for us that we truly love God.
Once that happens, we then want to love God with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our minds, and with all our strength. It is then that we want to live our lives in such a way it is consistent with who God is and how God says life should be.
We see that we are to worship God and God alone, and we want to do. We love to worship him and him alone. We see that we are to not have idols and images, and so we get rid of them. We do it because we love him. We see that we are to be truthful and honest, so we stop lying. We do that because God is truth and we love the truth so we stop lying. We see that we are to reserve sex for marriage and that marriage is to be between one man and one woman. Because we love God we remain chaste outside of marriage.
This is worship. Loving God wholeheartedly is worship. That’s what Paul says in Romans 12. There he writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Living a life wholeheartedly for God, seeking to honor him in all we say, think, and do is worship. We worship him because we love him.
When we understand that Jesus loved us as someone is supposed to love their neighbor, we begin to love our neighbor. We love them even if they have different politics than us. We love them if they have a different culture. We love them even if society says that we should hate them.
Right now tension is quite high in our society between various groups and parties. And often if there is disagreement, the sides become mortal enemies. Just look at the backlash Ellen DeGeneres received for joking with President Bush at a Cowboys game. As Christians, we should love those who hate us. We should treat them as neighbors just as Jesus treated us as neighbors in dying for us. We have an opportunity to show a “still more excellent way” to our culture. We have an opportunity to show love to our neighbor even and maybe especially when they disagree with us.
As Christians we are to love God wholeheartedly and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are to do both them. We cannot do not and not the other. We cannot love God and hate our neighbor. We cannot truly love our neighbor and hate God.
Moralism always wants to know what the bare minimum is. In moralism we recognize that law is important but we’ll never actually completely and perfectly fulfill God’s laws. So we try to find the bare minimum and meet that. But the law requires that we love God wholeheartedly and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. The only way that we begin to love God wholeheartedly and love our neighbor as ourselves is if we understand Jesus. When we understand how he loves God wholeheartedly and perfectly kept the law and how he has loved us by going to cross, then we will love God wholeheartedly and our neighbor as ourselves.
Let us pray. God, help us to understand Jesus better. Help us to understand how he loves you completely; how he desired to keep your law out of love. Help us to understand how he has loved us by going to cross and dying our place. Help us to know that and be transformed by that. God, help us to love you wholeheartedly. Help us to love your ways and desire to live life consistent with how you say it should be lived. Help us to want to live that type of life. Help us to love our neighbor, sacrificially giving to meet their need. Help us to love them even when they hate us. In Christ, amen.