Close is Not Close Enough

 Mark 12:28-34.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

"The most important one," answered Jesus, "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."

"Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."

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 to ask him any more questions.

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Generally when we read a passage like this, we find the biggest and most significant points from which to glean truth. Within this interaction, they are fairly obvious. The most important command is for us to love God and we are to love him with all our heart, soul, strength and mind. The second point is that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

These are no small commands. I know of no one who does this perfectly.  Indeed, they are goals or targets to shoot at and strive to attain. Loving God perfectly with all that is in us is a tall order. I don’t believe this is something I can do on my own any more than I believe I can keep the Ten Commandments perfectly. The same is true of loving my neighbors. It is obvious I need God’s grace.

I want to focus on a few other interesting but often overlooked parts of this story. First, I note that a teacher of the law is giving Jesus a test to see what Jesus knows. He is not asking because he wants to gain understanding from the Lord. This is clear from his later answer to Jesus’ reply about the two great commandments. The teacher basically graded Jesus answer.   

Consider the patience that Jesus demonstrated with this man. Jesus knew his heart. He played along knowing that the teacher of the law was in a sense testing Him. He even let the man feel superior when in fact he wasn’t. 

The other thing I find interesting is in Jesus’ last comment to the man. He told him that he was not far from the kingdom of God. 

This teacher, much like a Bible college professor today, had a basic understanding of truth. Maybe on this point, his understanding was right on. Yet, Jesus said he was not far from the kingdom of God. This professor was still on the outside. 

So what was needed in his life? It was the same thing needed for you and me to enter God’s kingdom. Individually, we must believe that Jesus is the Son of God and entry into God’s kingdom is through Jesus alone. 

My question: Are you close to the kingdom of God? The promise of scripture is that if we believe in Jesus, we will not perish but have eternal life. Eternal life is life in, not close to the Kingdom of God.