The Question Jesus Got Right: Mark 12:28-34

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Immediately following Jesus’ encounter with the Sadducees, we learn that another religious teacher brings a question to Jesus. However, unlike other challenges, this one ends in a unique way that is worth us paying attention to. Instead of ending the discussion with the religious leader looking foolish or scratching his head, this discussion ends on a positive note, which is very unusual.

Let’s read about what happened from Mark’s gospel. Our passage is found in chapter 12, and we will read from the New International Reader’s Version of the Bible. 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.

We’ll stop reading this passage here, because Mark includes the transition statement about Jesus not receiving any more questions after this. However, it’s possible that the questions stopped after what we will read about in our next episode, which covers one last question we find in a different gospel record that may have taken place immediately after the event we just read about.

In many ways, this passage appears to set the stage for what Jesus is about to say next. However, if we too quickly jump there, we might miss something profound Jesus says in this portion of the discussion.

From the question this religious teacher asks, from Jesus’ response, and from the way the religious leader restates Jesus’ words, part of me wonders if this wasn’t the first time Jesus received this question, and I wonder if this religious leader was already expecting this answer. When Luke’s gospel records a similar event, the person asking a question is described as a lawyer and he wanted further clarification regarding who we should consider as our neighbor.

That event likely happened before this one, so it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that this religious teacher already had a good idea of what Jesus’ response would be.

However, this teacher says something profound as he restates Jesus’ answer. When wrapping up Jesus’ words, the teacher concludes by saying, “These things are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (v. 33b)

What we discover from this teacher’s words is an amazing, big truth: Love for God and love for our neighbor are more important than our offering, our sacrifices, and anything we give to God. This response teaches us that before we even think about bringing something to God, we should first have love for Him and we should have love for others. If these two foundations are not met, then our offerings and sacrifices will be tainted and we risk God not accepting them.

While the context of this discussion deals with the requirements of the sacrificial system, the language that we have with us today can also be used for all other types of giving and giving up.

When we bring something to God, whether it is money, time, an object or possession, or even our hearts, we call this an offering. These offerings are not burned on an alter like the burnt offerings in the Old Testament era, but we still call them the same word. I don’t think this is an accident. Instead, I believe these categories of modern offerings are equivalent, especially in the context of our discussion.

In a similar way, when we sacrifice something, we are removing it from our lives. While sacrifice is closely related to giving offerings, offering focuses on the giving act and specifically where our gift goes, while sacrifice focuses on the giving act and what we are giving up or removing from our lives.

Both aspects of giving are key to our discussion and to this teacher’s concluding statement. We must have love in our hearts before we give up anything from our life, which is called sacrifice, and before we give anything as an offering to God. Having love for God and love for our neighbor “are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (v. 33b)

This passage wraps up with one more statement from Jesus. Verse 34 begins by telling us that “Jesus saw that the man had answered wisely. He said to him, ‘You are not far from God’s kingdom.’

This is interesting because it implies that while this teacher knows the right answer, he was missing something that was needed for entrance into God’s kingdom.

Assuming that this teacher had love for God, love for his neighbor, and a solid track record of sacrifices, what could Jesus have been referring to in His final response? If all these other things are in place, the only thing missing is a belief in Jesus.

This man was not far from God’s kingdom because he knew all the right things, and he likely lived them out. But when challenged on whether Jesus was the Messiah God sent, this man sided with the traditional religious culture who believed Jesus to be an imposter. This man wasn’t far from God’s kingdom, but He was missing the key needed for entrance. Faith and belief in Jesus is that key.

In our own lives, while we might say and do all the right things, if we aren’t placing our faith in Jesus, we forfeit the life we are promised that comes through Jesus. In the end, being not far from God’s kingdom might then mean that we are close, but being close to the kingdom is still being outside of it. Accepting Jesus into our hearts and lives is the key we use to enter God’s kingdom.

While life inside God’s kingdom includes doing and saying the right things, the motivation for what we do and say is different. Those outside of God’s kingdom seek entrance through their actions. Those inside God’s kingdom live righteously as a thank you to God for everything He has already blessed us with – and these blessings and gifts rest on the foundation of the most important gift ever: Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to pay for our sins. Nothing is more important than this. It is the key for entrance into God’s kingdom.

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

If you are worried that you aren’t good enough for God or that you cannot reach His standard, accept the fact that this is true. However, also accept the fact that Jesus came to live the life you couldn’t live, and to offer His life as a replacement for yours. Accept Jesus’ gift and change your focus from living righteously trying to please God to living righteously as a Thank You to God.

When we are living life from a Thank You perspective, we might stumble, but when we stumble, this doesn’t change our attitude of thanks. Instead, when we stumble or fall, our thankfulness towards God is increased, and we get back up and press forward. Living with a “Thank You” perspective is a completely different perspective than what many people are use to.

Also, as I always challenge you to do, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow personally towards God and towards Jesus. Personal prayer and Bible study grow a personal relationship with God, and a personal relationship with God leads to eternal life.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or wander away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 11: When a religious teacher asked Jesus a question, we discover that Jesus answers correctly, without sidestepping the question or being tricky in any way. From this brief discussion, we discover some amazing truths about offering, sacrifices, and entrance into God’s kingdom.

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