Sermon Summary and Discussion Questions | "Near, But Not In"

Summary: 

Jesus interacts with a scribe, who asks for clarification pertaining to the “first command above all others” (Mk.12:28). Jesus first answers by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4—“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mk.12:30). Additionally, he provides the second greatest commandment from Leviticus 19—“you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk.12:31). This interaction shows the scribe’s remarkable response of agreement (Mk.12:32-33) followed by Jesus’ extraordinary statement that the scribe is not far from the kingdom of God (Mk.12:34). In this sermon, C.J. explores two subsequent questions that help us discern the meaning of this passage.

Two Questions:

1. Why near and not far?

2. Why near and not in?

Why Near and Not Far?

What sets this scribe apart that Jesus would consider him near the Kingdom of God? This passage shows that the scribe’s attitude and inquiry were different in both intent and content. First, his attitude was not adversarial like the previous interrogations given by the Pharisees and Herodians (cf. 12:13-17) or the Sadducees (cf. 12:18-27). Secondly, the response of this particular scribe was remarkably humble, agreeing publicly with Jesus’ response (“well said, Teacher!”). Lastly, the scribe’s response is described as discerning and “wise,” because he perceived that burnt offerings and sacrifices are subordinate to loving God and loving one’s neighbor (12:34). Jesus commends the scribe with an extraordinary statement, asserting that the scribe is not far from the kingdom of God.

Why Near and Not In? 

But why just near and not in? Jesus’ commendation is intentionally ambiguous. It functions as a sobering warning and provocation for further response. Despite the sincere question and the scribe’s remarkable response, Jesus’ ambiguous approval show that mere agreement with his teaching is insufficient. The scribe, perhaps, fails to see that Jesus’ clarification of the commands leads to an obligation of obedience. The obligation in the commands is a comprehensive love for God, which is made clear in the repetition of the term “all” in this passage. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (cf. Deut. 6). The scribe is not in the kingdom of God because he fails to recognize that he is not able to keep this command based upon his own human achievement. Comprehensive love for God, in accordance with the commands, is impossible without divine intervention. The scribe needed a Savior, not just a teacher.

Conclusion

 This passage shows the inadequacy of sacrifices and the law for a comprehensive love toward God. Additionally, mere mental ascent and agreement with Jesus’ teaching is insufficient. We cannot love God comprehensively by our own strength. It is only the Son of God who is sufficient to provide the ultimate demonstration of these two commands. Jesus’ supreme demonstration of divine love is seen at Calvary, where he was crucified for the sins of his people. This text shows our inadequacy to completely love God, but it also anticipates God’s love completed for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Discussion Questions:

1. How has this passage shaped the way you think about the love of God and loving God?

2. C.J. mentioned how this passage shows that agreeing with Jesus is insufficient. Jesus’ commendation of the scribe’s response was a provocation for obligation to love God comprehensively. How does this challenge you?

3. Undoubtedly, we know various people in our lives that are far from the kingdom, but also those who are perhaps near the kingdom. Who are some of these people in your life that we can pray for?

[by Andrew Preston]