Flashback Episode — Close to the Kingdom: Mark 12:28-34

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During the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, it seems as though all the various groups of religious leaders collectively decided that now was the time to trap Jesus with His own words. Near the end of their challenges, after a religious group known as the Sadducees had given their challenge, the gospel of Mark tells us that one of the teachers of the law had a question for Jesus.

From this teacher’s question, it is unclear if other teachers sent him with this question, or if he had been present earlier in Jesus’ ministry when another leader asks a very similar question, but whatever this teacher’s background, the reaction he gives to Jesus’ response is powerful.

Let’s look a little closer at what happened and at what was said. This event can be found in the gospel of Mark, chapter 12, and we will be reading from the New International Reader’s Version. Starting in verse 28, Mark tells us that:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard the Sadducees arguing. He noticed that Jesus had given the Sadducees a good answer. So he asked him, “Which is the most important of all the commandments?”

29 Jesus answered, “Here is the most important one. Moses said, ‘Israel, listen to me. The Lord is our God. The Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 And here is the second one. ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There is no commandment more important than these.”

32 “You have spoken well, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one. There is no other God but him. 33 To love God with all your heart and mind and strength is very important. So is loving your neighbor as you love yourself. These things are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 Jesus saw that the man had answered wisely. He said to him, “You are not far from God’s kingdom.” From then on, no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.

What stands out to me most in this conversation is that this teacher responds in a way that validates Jesus’ response. In this passage, we hear Jesus give an answer, then it is a little surprising that this teacher backs up Jesus’ response and agrees with Jesus’ words rather than following up with another question or idea to challenge Him.

Part of me wonders who this teacher was, and if this teacher may have been one of the secret Jesus-followers present in the religious elite. The phrase that stands out most in my mind is that this teacher concludes his remarks by saying that loving God and our neighbors are, “more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices”.

Earlier, this same question regarding the most important commandment had prompted Jesus to share a parable related to identifying who our neighbor truly is. In that case, it appeared that the question regarding the most important commandment was simply a set up question for the real one about defining who our neighbor is.

However, in this event, it seems that this teacher was truly interested in focusing the attention of everyone present onto the characteristic of love, and it seems as though Jesus was happy to do this.

Even though the teacher successfully shifted the focus onto the key portions of the law and commandments, Jesus comments at the close of this conversation in verse 34 that this teacher is “not far from God’s kingdom”. On the surface, it appears that everything this teacher asked, said, and replied to was correct in Jesus’ eyes, but even with the right answer, Jesus still implies that this man is still has not found God’s kingdom. Close to God’s kingdom is good, but it’s better to be included in God’s kingdom.

From looking at the nuances included in this passage, I can come up with two things this teacher may have missed prior to this conversation with Jesus that would have led to Jesus stating that he still needed something more to make it into God’s kingdom.

The first is that this teacher had all the right answers, but nothing is implied or stated that said this teacher followed through with his love for God and his love for his neighbor with tangible action. Having the right answers is great, but they don’t mean anything when faced with reality. In my mind, Jesus might be challenging this teacher to live the life that is being described. While the teacher has said that loving God and others is more important than even sacrifices, Jesus may have known that this teacher had been poorly modeling this attitude in his own life. Love is only as valuable as it is visible and helpful to others. Love that is hidden does not have any value in the big picture.

The second thing that I could see Jesus implying with His comment that this teacher was not far from God’s kingdom is that all that was left for this teacher was to accept Jesus as his substitute and to make the commitment to put his hope, trust, faith, and belief in Him. Another way to say this is that it does not matter how much we say we love others, or how much we love God. The key thing that matters is that we have placed Jesus first in our life.

The most loving person in the world who has rejected Jesus will still be lost when faced with the judgment. This is because there is nothing we can do, say, act, or pay that will get us into God’s kingdom on our own merit. Instead, the way into God’s kingdom is by accepting Jesus into our hearts and lives, and perhaps, in the case of this religious teacher, he was not far from God’s kingdom because he was on the verge of accepting Jesus into His heart and life.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave you with:

If you have not accepted Jesus into your heart and life, now would be a great time to do so. We accept Jesus into our hearts when have the realization that nothing we do can earn our own salvation, and we make the commitment to depend on Jesus 100% for our eternity. We then choose to live moving forward with the faith that Jesus has taken care of our past, and that He has secured our future, and that everything we do today is done as our way of saying “Thank You” for giving us the gift we truly don’t deserve.

Also, as I always include in these challenges, be sure to continue study the Bible for yourself in order to grow and strengthen your personal relationship with God and Jesus. When we have a strong connection with God, we will be able to clearly see Him working in our lives, and we will be more in touch with His will for each of us.

And as I always end each set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 39: Cam discusses a religious teacher’s question for Jesus, and what we can learn from their conversation about what the greatest commandment is for God’s followers.

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