Not Far From The Kingdom Of God

September 10, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Mark 12:28-34

Among The Commandments Which Is Number One?

1. "What is the most important thing in a person's life?" We may never verbalize the question. No one may ever ask it right to our face. But, in a certain sense we could possibly say that this is a universal question that lies in everyone's heart. As an illustration, while doing something, we will mutter out of the blue sensing an emptiness: "So after I do this, then what?" Or there are some people who go about their business of life every day saying, "I'm busy. I'm so busy," but when they sit down all of a sudden they think: "What in the world am I doing this running for!!?" When they are about to get to the end of the game of life, as they look back over the days that they have walked so far, they think: "What have I been living for?" To be truthful, at a certain point this heart of ours will ask questions and seek for answers to, "What is the most important thing in a person's life? What in the world is truly important [to me]?"

2. I think if you were Jewish you would put that question like this: "Among the commandments which is number one?" Among the things "we're supposed to do" which God has given to our lives, what is the most important? How should we live, what should we be doing? As you may realize, it is the question that appears in today's gospel reading. Some scribes of the law asked Jesus, "Among the commandments which is number one?" Probably for the Jews, that question itself, just as in our own case, is one that is always somewhere in one's heart. Furthermore, as a matter of fact, it was also a repeatedly debated theme. Therefore, that this scribe of the law had asked it to Jesus was not in and of itself a particularly special question, [though] at the same time it is an exceedingly important one.

3. In reply to this question Jesus gave the following answer. "The number one commandment is this. 'O Israel, listen. The Lord our God is one Lord. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your mind, with all of your feelings, and with all of your strength.' The number two commandment is this. 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment superior to these two," (verses twenty-nine through thirty-one). This is the answer. It is the answer to "What is the most important thing in a person's life?"

4. That said, even this answer of Jesus hardly seems to be unique. Jesus was not necessarily the first person to have said anything like it. Similar statements can be found in Jewish literary works as well. Perhaps to an extent even this scribe of the law had been thinking something like that. Thus, he applauded Jesus' answer, "I agree with you exactly!" Originally, if you go by the Japanese version, his way of speaking comes out a bit on the humble side. "Master, I humbly agree with you." That's what he said. And then he continues speaking as if to say "I have also thought that way." It is true what you said, that "'God is one. There are no other gods besides [him].' And 'loving God with all your heart, with all your intellect and all your strength, and loving one's neighbor' are by far more excellent than any kind of burnt offerings or sacrifices." In this way then, this question is not any kind of special question.

5. Then for what possible reason was this answer even recorded in the gospels? It is not because the answer was special, but because the one who answered it was special. It is because the incomparable "Jesus" had said it. Even though someone might say the same exact words, the significance of them is totally different depending on the speaker. What comes out of Jesus' mouth is totally different in meaning from what comes out of the mouth of somebody else, [like just] another scribe of the law. Today, if you would with me, let's give this matter some thought.

The One Who Indeed Is Love Calling Out [To People]

6. First of all, Jesus said, The number one commandment is this. 'O Israel, listen. The Lord our God is one Lord. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your mind, with all of your feelings, and with all of your strength.'"

7. What Jesus is quoting is Deuteronomy chapter six and verse four. It is words from scripture that, if you're Jewish, everybody would know. If you're a grown up Jew, every morning and every evening, twice each day it is a holy statement that you would always make out loud. The main thing said is the command to "Love the Lord your God." It was the man Moses who is giving this statement. But, Moses did not command it. It is God himself who commands it. The Lord God is saying to "Love the Lord your God." [He is] saying to "Love me."

8. When you think about this, it is truly a strange statement. To begin with, is the command to "Love me" doable? For example, you will suppose that I have great power. There is somebody weak I'm over. I have legal power and authority over that person. I can give him commands. So, I command that weak person, "Love me." That person will love me because he is commanded to. Does that sound possible? Does that truly call one to love? To begin with is that really a situation in which one ought to be ordered around?

9. So, I would like for us to go back to the setting in which this was originally given and consider it together. I mentioned that it is a quotation from Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is a sermon, of which we ought to call most parts of it the last request or testament of Moses. What is given in it is the setting in which Israel will now cross the River Jordan and is about to go into the land of promise finally at last.

10. Forty years have already elapsed since they came out of Egypt. It was for forty years that they journeyed the wilderness. How did those years and months go? In Deuteronomy it states the following words about it. "Discern this fact that the Lord, your God, is not giving you this good land and letting you acquire it because you are righteous. You are a stubborn people. You must not forget but remember that you caused the Lord, your God, to become angry with you in the wilderness. You have been continuously rebellious against the Lord from the day that you came out of the country of Egypt until [the day] you came here," (Deuteronomy 9:6-7). It was forty years that they had kept up their rebellion against the Lord. The Lord was still speaking to this Israel, which had passed forty years like that. He was saying, "Love the Lord your God."

11. What does this mean? After spending forty years in continuous rebellion, God still says "I am your God" to Israel. In short, the words, "Love the Lord your God" is not a command that is based on legal authority and power. No, it isn't that; it is a call out to them based on love from God, who is still willing to forgive and receive them, a call made to a people who have been repeatedly rebellious towards the Lord, a call made to human beings who have been contrary. The very act itself of God speaking to them to "Love the Lord your God" is nothing other than God's grace [towards them].

12. Do you know in what form this grace from God has ultimately taken? It has taken the form of [his] sending Jesus Christ into the world. This love from God, this grace from God, indeed, is a love from God and a grace from God in which God has eventually sent Christ into the world. Those are the circumstances in today's gospel reading. Jesus was sent into this world in this manner and so he opened his mouth and said, "Love the Lord your God." What's more, he says "Love the Lord your God" as the one who was himself willingly about to become the atonement sacrifice for sin, as the one who was heading for the cross.

The One Who Loved You Like Himself

13. Then the Lord went on to say, "The second commandment is this. 'Love your neighbor as your own self.'" This is also a quotation from The Old Testament scriptures. It is [from] Leviticus chapter nineteen and verse eighteen.

14. God gave the command this way. But, do you know that there is a loophole in the words of this command? Since it says to love "your neighbor," if you don't want to, you could say "that guy isn't my neighbor." You might draw a line between neighbor and not a neighbor. You might limit your neighbors.

15. Actually in The Gospel Of Luke this kind of story is found. A certain specialist in the law asked Jesus a question, trying to test him. "Master, what should I do to be able to inherit eternal life?" Whereupon Jesus asks him back, "What is written in the law?" The specialist in the law replied, "It has in it to 'Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your mind, with all of your feelings, and with all of your strength; and also, love your neighbor as yourself.'" When Jesus heard this he said, "It is the correct answer. Practice it. If you do, you will obtain life." When he is told again to "Practice it," he saw himself, that he had not been actually practicing it, and probably felt a bit of pain in his heart. In order to justify himself he then said, "So, who is my neighbor?," (Luke 10:25-29). We can understand his mental state. He was ready to solve it by drawing a line between neighbor and not a neighbor.

16. But, for Jesus the question "Who is my neighbor?" made no sense. It is as we see in the gospel account. Both tax collectors and sinners were Jesus' neighbors. Even persons suffering with a severe skin disorder who lived apart separated were Jesus' neighbors. Even persons possessed by demons were Jesus' neighbors. For, Jesus had never asked "Who is my neighbor?" but instead had become a neighbor himself. And the one who had said "Love your neighbor as yourself" did actually love his neighbors as himself.

17. We must carefully consider, something then, as we run our eyes over today's passage of scripture. In the scene that I read to you today, who is the closest neighbor to Jesus when he said "Love your neighbor as yourself?" It goes without even saying, it was this scribe of the law who is conversing with Jesus. Jesus is answering this man's question, as a neighbor of the scribes. He is answering him as a person who is loving him like himself.

18. As I touched upon earlier, this man is somebody who had been thinking the exact same thing as Jesus. "It is true what you said, 'God is one. There are no other gods besides.' And, the acts of 'loving God with all your heart, with all your intellect, with all your strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself' are superior to any burnt offering or sacrifices." He had said that. This very statement, if seen through the eyes of Jesus, was right and relevant. Therefore, Jesus said, "You are not far from the kingdom of God," (verse thirty-four). To say "You are not far from the kingdom of God," if put in other words, means "You are not far from salvation." That's right; he certainly wasn't far from it. However, in saying "You are not far" also means another step is still needed.

19. What was it? What was missing? As the grace and forgiveness of God, he who is calling out "Love the Lord your God" loves me and what a neighbor he is. We are to discover that truth. In loving us as himself, and even in pouring out his life, he was willing then to enter into salvation. After he himself was crucified then he was willing to enter the kingdom of God. He was willing to enter into a world of complete love where human lives with God, where people live with others. We are to know that such an one, the Christ as Savior. It is the first step. He wasn't far from the kingdom of God. And the conversation between them has been left behind as a record so that later generations and we of today might know it; so that we might know the most important step, that we not be lacking in any way.

20. Everyone, Jesus is inviting all of us, though we have been in rebellion, to the kingdom of God. He says, "Love the Lord your God." As our neighbor, and our friend [he calls us]! He speaks unto us and invites us as the neighbor who loved us so much that he gave his life away for us. It is for the very reason that we have received the love of Jesus that from persons "who are not far from the kingdom of God" we are made into persons who live in the kingdom of God, love God, love humanity, and live in God's perfect salvation.