Summary: It is possible to be very near the Kingdom of Heaven and yet never step into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Title: Not far is too far
Proposition: It is possible to be very near to the Kingdom of Heaven and yet, never step into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior and LORD!
What a joy to have all of you here this wonderful Lord's Day!
Let's open our Bibles to Mark 12:28-34 where Mark has much to share with us this Lord's day. As you know Jesus has been on His way to Jerusalem to celebrate His final Passover. He has already enjoyed the Triumphal Entry as the crowds proclaimed Him Messiah, Son of David. However, in just a few more days, others will be crying out far different words - Crucify Him! Crucify Him! In the span of a week, the heavens will have heard both the praises and curses for Jesus of Nazareth.
Our passage takes us near the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is there with His disciples. He is teaching and sharing the Good News to all that will hear. As He is teaching, some teachers of the Law, some Pharisees and Sadducees approach Jesus. They have some questions that they would like to put before the young rabbi.
These men had been watching and seeing how people were drawn to Jesus teaching and they wanted it to stop. They wanted to see if they could put Jesus on the defensive. They wanted to see if they could trap Jesus with His own words. They wanted Him to look bad in the eyes of all who have been listening to Him. They wanted people to see Jesus as some buffoon rather than a man of great insight and wisdom.
These Pharisees and Sadducees believe in their hearts that they are far smarter, wiser and even closer to God than this so-called prophet from Galilee. And so they begin to probe Jesus with all kinds of sticky questions. They ask questions dealing with politics, with taxes and even with controversial theology. Each question was designed to trip Jesus up. Each question was designed to get Jesus to say something that will cause Him to look bad in the eyes of the Romans, the Herodians and the faithful followers of God. However, as Mark shares, Jesus answers each question with supernatural wisdom and grace. Instead of looking bad, Jesus comes away with more and more people amazed with His wisdom and grace.
In our passage, Mark 12:28 - 34, our writer shares with us an encounter that Jesus had with this one particular scribe. This individual scribe wanted to know what commandment Jesus thought was the most important commandment of all. Let's pause here and remember that for a faithful Jew there were some 613 individual commandments that they were to obey.1 What makes a good Jewish man or woman? One who is faithful to obey all 613 commandments.
Can you imagine? And so, this scribe was asking Jesus of the 613 commandments, which one is the most important. Which one is the greatest of them all? If you had to obey just one commandment which of the 613 has the highest priority?
In verses 29-31, Mark shares Jesus' response. What Jesus does here is amazing. Jesus does much more than what the scribe asks. Jesus takes all 613 of the commandments and reduces them to one single commandment. Jesus tells the scribe to simply love God, love oneself and love others. In essence, Jesus told the scribe that one can fulfill all the laws of the commandment by simply having a right relationship with God, a right relationship with oneself and a right relationship with all those around them. It is just that simple.
The scribe is impressed and applauds Jesus for his insight and wisdom. He fully understands what Jesus is sharing and agrees with Jesus. He believes Jesus has answered correctly.
Jesus quickly responds to the man's applause in a rather interesting way - in verse 34, Jesus tells the man that he too is wise in what he has understood. That the scribe has answered wisely. And then Jesus says these words in verse 34 that I would like for us to lift up this morning - "You are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven." YOU ARE NOT FAR FROM THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
Think about Jesus words this morning - You are not far - You are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven.
For the reality this morning is simply this:
+ Not far is still too far.
+Almost in is altogether to be both forever near but still lost.
+It is being in the Kingdom of God that saves our souls, not simply being near the Kingdom of Heaven.
+ Being near the Kingdom of Heaven is not a guarantee that one possesses the Kingdom of Heaven.