And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? 29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. 32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: 33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.
Through our reading, we see a scribe, who is a teacher of the law, who asks Jesus this question, Which is the first commandment of all? Jesus answered: “The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
I want you to please think for a moment not only about what Jesus said to this scribe but also the words of the Scribes. The Scribe affirms that Jesus was scripturally truthful. The scribe knows. He studies the Scripture. He learned that as he reads the first five books perhaps. He agrees that there is true wisdom in the law of God.
That’s why he said: “Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: 33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Here, you will find that Jesus recognised his rather careful answer. It says, Jesus saw him answered discreetly. It means it was tactfulness or diplomatic courteous response. Then Jesus said, ” Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” I want to spend time a little bit in this very fascinating answer, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” Jesus knew that they were more concerned with the observance of the law rather than God’s intentions behind the law.
“Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” These words came from our Saviour, from the one who bears the Kingdom within his very being. But what does Jesus mean, “not far?” Perhaps, another way of putting it is that, “there is yet some distance for you to go. You’re on the right track but you have not yet arrived.”
I came across with a story that in a park somewhere in Europe, there is a beautiful flower garden with three signs written in three different languages: One was in German: if translated in English it have read like this: Picking flowers is prohibited. Next was in English, it simply says: Please do not pick the flowers. Then, in French: Those who love flowers will not pick them.
It seems to me- words are tricky. They can give different meaning as to how it is said. What is Jesus trying to say here: “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” Was it a warning? Was it a plane motivation? Let me ask you, what is our motivation for doing God’s will in loving? What is your motivation for obeying Gods commands?
Quickly, please allow me share a parallel I find in three kind of responses in the beautiful commandment about LOVING GOD:
G- (God hates sin.) People try not to sin out of fear -This won’t last because no one can live forever in fear.
E- (Please love God by not sinning.) People try not to sin to appease – This won’t last either because we cannot always be appeasing.
F- (Those who love God will not sin.) People chooses not to sin because of their love and passion for God -THIS ONE will last because it is out from the heart, in FREE volition and out of gratitude. And this what God honours the most? Which one do you find yourself?
So what does it mean, “To love God” to you? What does it mean, ” love thy neighbour as thyself?” Looking at the answer of the scribe, one wonders if he lacked something in his understanding of the God’s law; if he lacks understanding of God’s will? I cannot help to wonder that perhaps there was too much duty and routine of obedience in his life but not enough eagerness, not enough passion?
Perhaps there was too much holiness in his life but enough compassion and not enough empathy. Whatever it is, there is a distance. There is a gap. There is a separation between the scribe and the Kingdom of God. And the distance was enough for Jesus to say, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.”
Could it be that there was only mechanical obedience for fear of the law but no passion? I can in saying that Jesus was short of saying, “Now you need me, who will die on the cross for you.” See, these people did not know of a Saviour who will die and shed his precious blood for them. They were expecting of a Messiah who will deliver them from all their problems as a nation, not a personal Saviour. They needed Passion to be implanted in our souls. They were all mechanical.
Let me just ask you, “What causes you to be conformed to the image of Jesus?” Is it mechanical following out of fear or of appeasing God? Or is it of your passion of Him that you become like Him?
Let me share you a story: One day, a young disciple of Christ, desirous of wanting to become all that God has for him, visited the home of an elderly Christian. He heard that this old man over all the years never lost his first love for Christ.
The elderly man was sitting on the porch with his dog, taking in a beautiful sunset, when the young man asked this question: “Why is it, sir, that most Christians seems to zealously follow after God during the first year or two after their conversion, but then fall into a complacent ritual of church going…. and end up not looking any different than their neighbours ….. who are not even Christians?”
Sir, I have heard you are not like that. You have fervently sought and faithfully serve God after all these years. People see something in you that they do not see in most Christians. What makes you different?”
The old man smiled and replied, “Let me tell you a story: One day I was sitting here quietly in the sun with my dog. Suddenly a large white rabbit ran across the yard right in front of us. Well, my dog jumped up, and took off after that big rabbit. He chased the rabbit over the hills with a passion. Soon after, other dogs joined him, attracted by his barking. I was a sight! The pack of dogs ran barking across the creeks, up the stony embankments, through thickets and through the thorns!
But gradually, one by one, the other dogs dropped out of the pursuit, discouraged by the course and frustrated by the chase. Only my dog continued to hotly pursue the white rabbit.
Then, he said, in that story young man, lies the answer to your question.” The young man sat in confused silence.
Finally, he said, “Sir, I do not understand what is the connection between the rabbit chase and the quest for God?” The well-seasoned old man answered, “You failed to understand because you failed to ask the obvious question and that is, “Why didn’t the other dogs continue on the chase?” And the answer to that question is they had not really seen the rabbit. For, unless you see the prize, the chase is just too difficult. You will lack the passion and determination necessary to continue the chase.
Have you seen Jesus in your life? It is hard to see Jesus in this book unless first you have a personal relationship with Him and you count the cost of following Him. Is your passion for Jesus engrained in your very soul?
Our Lord Jesus portrays that passion here in Mark 12:30: ” thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Folks, love the Lord. Loving the Lord will show in your interest in coming, in learning, in serving. You are not far from the kingdom because you did these things but because you love Him. Now, you are living in gratitude of seeing the Saviour, nothing will stop you.
Folks, how can we not love Him? Only those who have encountered the Christ and who have seen the Lord in their hearts….. have the commitment to continue the chase. Only then will you passionately LOVE the Lord your God … and Love your neighbour as yourself.
Let me give you another story relating to loving your neighbour as loving yourself: A man who really had no interest in Christianity became a casual friend with the Christian man who lived next door. They talked over the back fence, borrowed lawn mowers, as well as other things. The non-Christian man’s wife was diagnosed with cancer, and sadly died three months later. He wrote this in his diary that was discovered later:
“When my wife died, I was in total despair. I went through the funeral preparations and the service like I was in a trance. After the service I went to the path along the river and walked all night. But I did not walk alone. My Christian neighbour–afraid for me, I guess, stayed with me all night. He did not speak; he did not even walk beside me. He just followed me. When the sun finally came up over the river, my neighbour came over close and said, Let’s go, ‘let’s have some breakfast. I am going to church now’. I hated church but I decided to go with my neighbour to his church.”
Cut the story short, he became a Christian himself. A faith that can produce the kind of caring and loving is something people wants to see in us to know the Christ we see.
Jesus Himself said in Revelation 3:16 that the greatest sin for a Christian is being lukewarm. Having No passion. There is no such thing as moderate Christianity. You are either on fire or “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” and you need Jesus. How is your passion for God? Are you lukewarm? Are you …… going through the motions? Or are passionate for him? Do you have a Passion for God. Do you have a passion for your neighbour? Has there ever been a time in your life when you were closer to God than you are right now?
The truth is you are as close to God as you choose to be. You can be as passionate for God as you desire. God wants us to seek His face and His righteousness, to have a passion of Him, for others. No one can do it for you; it is your decision. He wants us to see Him as our daily bread and as the air that we breathe. He wants us to have that kind of passion for Him.
Folks, I know that you love him. I know that you want to follow him. But perhaps your passion for God has been suppressed by things of the world. If you have left your first love… if you have lost your passion for God, Turn! Recover your early love, that first love you had for God.
Let us not be one of those God says in Isaiah 29:14: Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.
Folks, my prayer for your life and for my life is to ask for Gods Holy fire in our hearts, to let it burn setting each of us on fire with a passion for God. Let’s pray….