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NOT FAR FROM THE KINGDOM: Seeing Things the Way God Does

Volume 14, No. 12 (December 2019)


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And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that He answered them well, asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall 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: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

And the scribe said to Him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that He is one, and there is no other besides Him. And to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:28-34)

Here’s a rarity in the gospels: a scribe coming to Jesus with an honest question! Far more often, the scribes and the other Jewish leaders are trying to criticize, entrap or trick Jesus (cf. 12:13 in this very chapter), and turn the people away from Him.

The scribes and Pharisees are of course also the object of Jesus’ most scathing denunciations (see the whole of Matthew 23, and here in Mark 12:38). Jesus condemns them especially for the externality of their religion: practicing their rites for public view (Matthew 6:1-6; 23:27-28).

God always detests mere externality of practice without internal reality. Usually when we think of worship in the Old Testament, our thoughts go first to the rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices of the Mosaic system; yet there is clear testimony throughout the Old Testament of the priority God places on the worship of the heart (see, for instance, 1 Samuel 15:22; 16:7; Psalm 15:1-2; 40:6; 50:13-14; 51:16-17; 69:30-31; 103:1; 141:2; Isaiah 29:13; Hosea 6:6; Joel 2:13a; Micah 6:6-8; also see Worship Notes 1.11; 14:2; 14:6; 14:7; 14:8). In the prophets God criticizes the people for the very sacrifices He had Himself commanded of them, because they were going through the motions without a true heart devotion to Him. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, it is not “that He really needed the blood of bulls and goats;” He wanted the outward sacrifices to be an outward expression of an inward reality.

In this account we see a stark contrast to the usual challenging and critical approach of the scribes to Jesus.

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that He answered them well, asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall 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: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

And the scribe said to Him, “You are right, Teacher.”

In some ways, this is quite humorous: of course He’s right, He’s Jesus!!

The scribe is not not taken aback by Jesus’ answer (as so often the Jewish leaders were by Jesus’ responses), but rather fully endorses Jesus’ point of view. And then the scribe goes on to add this profound commentary on the significance of the two Great Commandments that Jesus has just cited:

“You have truly said that He is one, and there is no other besides Him. And to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Often in the gospels we find the people marveling in wonder at the things Jesus does and the things He says: they are amazed at the power and wisdom of God working through Him (see, for example, Matthew 8:27; 9:33; Mark 12:17). But on a very few occasions we find Jesus Himself marveling at the work of God in someone else’s heart, for example in Matthew 8:10:

When Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who followed Him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

And here in Mark 12, Jesus commends the scribe’s deep spiritual understanding:

And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

What a commendation indeed! Why is the scribe not far from the kingdom? Because the scribe is looking at things the way God does; he has a spiritual perspective in keeping with kingdom values. He sees the spiritual priority of love for God and for neighbor over all outward expressions of worship.

One can only wish Mark had told us what happened with the scribe, whether in fact he became a believer in and follower of Jesus. It seems likely, because of the spiritual trajectory he was already on, which Jesus Himself identifies. This is surely a sign that the Holy Spirit was at work in his heart, showing him this most important of spiritual realities.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2019 in ., Heart Worship

 

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