GOSPEL OF MARK – ROBBY GALLATY – Program 43
By: Dr. Robby Gallaty
|By: Pastor Robby Gallaty; ©2011|
|Four diagnostic questions to examine yourself in order to test to see if you’re saved or if you’re lost, in the kingdom or out of the kingdom.|
So Close but Yet So Far Away
The title of the message this morning is So Close But Yet So Far Away. This morning I’m going to give you four diagnostic questions to examine yourself in order to test to see if you’re saved or if you’re lost, in the kingdom or out of the kingdom. Last week, we saw how the Sadducees came to Jesus in order to test Him. And, if you have your Bibles, in Mark 12, we came in contact with the Sadducees. They were asking Jesus a question about the resurrection. And Jesus silences the crowd. The Pharisees are overjoyed at this point, watching in the distance because they realized that their view was faulty. They knew the Sadducees were wrong. But their joy was short lived.
You see, the crowd was starting to follow Jesus now. His popularity was increasing. His influence over the people was gaining. The general public was looking for Jesus for guidance and direction and this infuriate the Pharisees. And so what they do is they enlist another man to carry out their corrupt plans and they find this scribe. They put him forward to test Jesus to determine if Jesus can answer a question about what is the greatest commandment. Now, this is an odd combination because up to this point in the Gospel of Mark these two groups have vehemently opposed one another but they came together in order to discredit Jesus.
The four questions we’re going to ask ourselves this morning in order to determine if we are believers or unbelievers, saved or lost, first of all: Am I asking the right question? Secondly, am I listening to the right person? Thirdly, am I living out the right answer? And then fourthly, have I embraced the only way to heaven?
Mark 12:27, Jesus finishes by saying this word: “He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And then we get into this next section.
“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 [What a beautiful answer, Jesus!], 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 [now that’s a key phrase there] 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.”
Here’s the first question, write it down: Am I asking the right question? Am I asking the right question? Who were the scribes? I think we have to ask ourselves that question. Who was this man that came up to Jesus? Well, the scribe was the teacher of the law. This was a man who had a handle of the Old Testament Torah, but also understood the oral and purposeful application of the Word of God. He was the leader of scripture back then. If you wanted know something about the Word, you went to the scribes to ask them questions.
Now, the scribes had power in the first century. They sat on the Sanhedrin and so there was some power associated with this title. The word scribe is interchangeable for the “teacher of the law.” A scribe is interchangeable in the Bible for a lawyer, if you will. These religious leaders, though, loved to split hairs. They loved to sit and debate fine minutia of the Bible. They wanted to determine what were the heavy commandments and what were the light commandments; they wanted to determine what were the weighty commandments and what were the small commandment; what were the greatest and what were the least. And they argued day by day over this.
Now, Jesus understood this well. In fact, if you would have gone to the first century in the time of Jesus you would have thought and heard from the different scribes that there were 613 Old Testament commandments. Put all the commandments into one section, there are 613—248 positive commandments, 365 negative commandments. And what they wanted to know was, Jesus, which one is the greatest? Out of all 613, which one supersedes them all?
Now, the rabbis tried to do this. Jesus isn’t the first one who had tried to do this. Even before Jesus came, Rabbi Hillel took the greatest commandment and put it in the form of a negative term. Listen to what he says. What you would not want done to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the entire Torah. Everything else is interpretation. That was his explanation of the greatest commandment. Rabbi Akiva, A.D. 135, summarized the law using Leviticus 19:8. You can summarize the law as this, Love your neighbor. You shall love your neighbor. That’s what he says. Going on in A.D. 260, Rabbi Simlai quoted Habakkuk 2:4, the righteous shall live by faith. He summarized the Torah that way. Another rabbi even said Proverbs 3:5, In all your ways, acknowledge Him and God will direct your paths. So it’s easy to see that the rabbis tried to encapsulate the law in a sentence.
What sets Jesus apart from any other rabbi is he’s the first person who equates love with God for love for another and love for oneself. Jesus is the first person who actually fuses these different scriptures together into one reference. So the scribe comes to Jesus and, I believe, even though he has the wrong motive—don’t miss this—he asked the right question. What’s the greatest commandment? I want to please the Lord so what’s the greatest commandment?
Secondly, we need to ask ourselves, are we listening to the right person? There are a lot of voices in the world today to tell us what to do and where to go, so not only should we be asking the right question, we should be listening to the right person. The person is Jesus. He goes to the right person. And Jesus draws his attention to what? The word of God. Jesus says, you know the word well. Go to Deuteronomy 6:4, which is the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One,” or the Lord alone. The Shema was the highest form of scripture in all the Old Testament. If the scripture was sacred, the Shema was at the top shelf. They respected the Shema.
Even today, the Jewish people still recite the Shema every day. They’ll take it and put it together on a piece of parchment and two leather boxes. They will tie these boxes around their head or put them on their forearms, called phylacteries. They respect the sacred writings. They even take the parchment of the Shema in its extended form, them put it inside of a metal box or wooden box. They will nail it to the doorpost of their house—Deuteronomy 6—and they will put it in the form of a mezuzah to protect the doorway, to say this house is devoted, consecrated unto the Lord. They respected the Shema. They understood the Shema well.
It’s important to understand that the Shema says God is one. God is one is not speaking against the Trinity—don’t miss this—God is one is showing the unity of the godhead. The Trinity is the idea that we have one God in three persons; the unity of the godhead. Some translations translate it as you shall love the Lord Your God, God alone. Not God is one but God alone.
What He does is He basically divides the commandments into two. Jesus said you shall love the Lord your God; you shall love your neighbor. There are 10 commandments or the Decalogue, if you will, of the Old Testament. And what Jesus does is He divides them into two sections. Now, some have said 1-5 go together, or 1-4 go together. Regardless, He divides them into two. The first set have to do with your relationship with God; the second set have to do with your relationship with other people.
First of all, Jesus says, your relationship with God flows out of a love with all your heart. Now, that word heart—lelab in the Old Testament—is the word that means it’s everything you have, your thoughts, your actions, your deeds, your attitudes. Proverbs 4:23, Guard your heart above all else, for out of it flows the wellsprings of life. So out of the heart we shall love the Lord. You shall love the Lord with all your strength. You shall love the Lord with all your soul. What basically He’s saying there is you shall love the Lord with all your emotions and your intellect. You shall give everything you have that God created back unto Him.
Now Jesus adds, if you caught it, from Deuteronomy 6:4, He adds with all your mind. What is Jesus saying there? Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is what Jesus is saying. Everything you have, you shall love God with. Your emotions, your intellect, your actions, your deeds, your words, your thought, every faculty that’s been given to you by God you shall love Him with it.
Then you shall love your neighbor as yourself, commandments 5-10. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Now, what’s interesting is Jesus puts on the same platform love for God with love for another. He equates it. You shall love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, but also love your neighbor as yourself. And what He’s saying is this: in order to love your neighbor in a horizontal way—your wife, your spouse, your kids, your co-workers—watch this, your vertical relationship has to be right. So if you’re having issues in your horizontal relationships, you need to check—don’t miss this—your vertical relationship with the Lord.
In Luke 10:25 Jesus explains who’s your neighbor, because that’s what they’re asking. Jesus, who is our neighbor? Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. Remember the story? The Jewish people were thinking that the man beside the road would have been a Jewish man. And that a Jewish man would have helped a Jewish man, but this man was not a Jewish man. He was a Gentile. He was an enemy of God. And Jesus said your neighbor is anyone that God puts in your path who needs help, friend or foe, ally or enemy. That’s your neighbor. What’s the common denominator for the two passages, love God and love others? What’s the common denominator? Love. It’s what He says. We need to have a true, genuine love towards God and towards others.
Now, in the Greek we miss this but there is a beautiful exegetical picture that is painted, and it comes out of the two prepositions out of and all of. It’s interesting how this picture flows out of it. So let me read it to you in the Greek translated into English. This is what the Greek says, You shall love the Lord your God out of all of your heart, out of all of your soul, out of all of your strength, out of all of your mind. Do you see it? C.S. Lewis captures it best, the great writer and theologian, Every Christian would agree that man’s spiritual health is exactly proportionate to his love for God. Did you hear that? A man’s spiritual health or a woman’s spiritual heath is proportionate to one’s love for the Lord.
Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, was on a train to France one day and as he was sitting in his car, in the boxcar, a young married couple who had just gotten married walked into the car. And they were oblivious to Hudson Taylor because they were looking and gazing into one another’s eyes. They were talking and whispering things to one another. Mr. Hudson Taylor is looking at this couple and he’s noticing the intimacy between them, oblivious to their surroundings, and this is what he says, Oh, I wish, he cried out, that I had such love for my Lord. Do you love the Lord like that? That you’re single minded upon Him, loving Him with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength.
See, this man comes to Jesus. He asks the right question; he listens to the right person; and then he responds to Jesus, almost repeating what Jesus says. But the question we need to ask ourselves is, will we live out the right answer? Jesus gives the answer. But the question you need to ask yourself: Do I live out what Jesus says to do? Notice what this man says. He says, Jesus, you’re right. What a beautiful explanation. That’s lovely. And then he repeats it back to him.
Now there are just two variations; actually three. The first one is, notice he doesn’t use the word God. He doesn’t insert that. He just says do you know He is one? Secondly, he changes or substitutes the word understanding for the word mind. And then thirdly, he leaves out the word soul all together. He doesn’t include that. The scribe’s response displays a medley of Old Testament text. I mean, you can just see how much this man understand the Old Testament and the grasp he has on scripture. He quote from Deuteronomy 4:35, Deuteronomy 6:4, Leviticus 19:18, 1 Samuel 15:22, Isaiah 45:21, Hosea 6:4. I mean, this guy understand the Bible. He has a grasp of the scripture and a reverence for the holy Word of God that is unmatched in his day.
He understands the Word and I’ll prove it to you. The scribes in the first century were the copiers of the Word. And so what they would do is they would get into a room, a writing room. If you go to the Dead Sea and you go to the Qumran, you can see some of these writing rooms. The Essenes were masters at copying the Word. And what these scribes would do is one man would sit to write, but there was a man who would hold the parchment and he could call out the Hebrew words: “Baruch atah,…” and there was a man over his shoulder who was a scribe looking at the paper to make sure that he called it out exactly. We want to make sure we get the Word of God exactly right. Then the man at the writing table would write down the Hebrew word, and as he was writing there was a man over his shoulder to determine if he wrote it down exactly right. There was a holy reverence for the Word of God that is unparalleled.
These men would wash themselves before they began the writing process, not to clean their bodies but to clean the mind and the heart and the soul and to cleanse ceremonially and spiritually unto the Lord. When they would get to the word Jehovah, which is the word God, before they would call the word out, the scribe would put the pen on the table. He would get up from his seat. He would walk outside to the mikveh, which was the baptismal. He would walk down into the mikveh, cleanse himself spiritually, walk back out, cleanse the pen, then he would write the word God. What respect for the Word of God. These men loved the Word of God.
This man understood the Word of God. In fact, he displays that because he adds something to Jesus’ response. He says, Jesus, I know you should love God. I know you should love others. And this is greater than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. Look at it in the text. Now, what he’s saying there is probably a reference to Leviticus 1:9, which talks about burnt offerings. And what he’s probably saying there is the whole sacrificial system can be summed up in the fact that you shall love God and you shall love others. But what’s interesting is he quotes an Old Testament passage. Did you catch it? What is he quoting?
Thankfully you can get insight if you have a Bible with little letters next to the passage. He’s quoting 1 Samuel 15:22. If you turn there, let me show you what’s happening. God has given a direct order to Saul through the prophet Samuel. Samuel has given him an order. Saul decides to only fulfill half the command of God and leave the rest and he’ll get to that later. When God approaches him through Samuel, Saul waffles, in a sense, and he’s disobedient, even lying in verse 13 and in verse 20 by acting like he obeyed the orders but didn’t know. I thought I did that, God. Because of this misstep, because he didn’t carry it out to a “T”, because he didn’t fulfill the command of God, he’s suffered the penalty for his sin. He eventually confessed his sin. He admitted the truth and he suffered the consequences. Basically what this passage is showing is that to be the king of Israel, you have to obey the Lord your God or, if not, you suffer the consequences.
Now, we do the same thing, right? There’re some people that think that we can do what we want to do and then on the back end just make up for by doing a bunch of things for God. Or, in the sense of the first century, trying to offer sacrifices to atone for our sin. I can live the way I want to, just so on back end I can do things to kind of gloss over it. God will forgive me, right? I can live like a heathen. I can act the way I want as long as I do things on the back end and I can a sacrifice as unto the Lord to cover my sin, right? And God is saying to us, I’m not pleased with your empty worship this morning. I don’t care if you wore your Sunday best today. I’m not interested in hypocritical attitudes. I want you. I want all of you. I want your time. I want your devotion. I want you to spend time with Me not because you have to, not because you want something from Me. I want you. Don’t do a bunch of things to clean up for a mess you made. Just don’t make the mess. I want you to obey Me. I want you to follow Me.
Friends, you see, the scribes knew the Word of God but they didn’t know the God of the Word because they didn’t know Jesus. See, he asked the right question; he listened to the right person; but he didn’t live out the right response. And, ultimately, it cost him, because the final question every person this morning has to ask themselves is this: Have I embraced the only way? Have I embraced the only way?
Verse 3: “And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him [here’s the key], ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.”
Isn’t it amazing that we don’t know the end of the story. We don’t know what happened to this man. I mean, it’s like a cliffhanger. It’s like a modern day drama, a Lifetime movie, if you will. I mean, we don’t know the end of the story. And I think God purposely allowed that to happen for us to speculate and, more importantly, apply it to our own situation today.
Where are you at today, this morning? Jesus tells him, My friend, you’ve answered wisely. This is what Jesus is saying, You showed good judgment. You responded in the right manner. If you will, you passed the written test, but you didn’t pass the practical test. See, the scribe knew all the specs. He understood that he should love God. He knew that he should love others. He knew, probably, that God was atoning for sin for mankind. He understood what love was. But he never put his faith and trust and love in Jesus as Savior and Lord of his life. See, what Jesus said to him is you’re close to the kingdom but you’re not in the kingdom of God. What’s the kingdom of God? The rule and reign of God in one’s life through accepting the gift of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus said your time has come. The kingdom of heaven is near. Repent and believe in the gospel. Jesus embodied the kingdom. The door to the entrance of the kingdom was Christ and this man was knocking on the door but Jesus said, you’re close, my friend, but you’re not in.
I wonder this morning how many people are close. See, that’s the question you and I have to answer. It’s the eternal question that has bearing on your life and my life forever. And like I said last week, my friends, eternity’s too long to be wrong. So the question is, what does it mean to be close? Jesus says—look at it—you’re not far, my friend. The guy was put up to test by the Pharisees. It says it in Luke, in a parallel Gospel, that the Pharisees put him up to test Jesus. Now, we don’t know if it was against his will. We don’t know if he wanted to debate Jesus. I mean, he was a scribe. He knew the Bible. He wanted to see if Jesus knew the Word. We don’t know.
Regardless, we do know that he was out to test our Lord. And in the process of the conversation, Jesus responds to him. This is what it means. This is the greatest commandment, love God, love others. The scribe—watch this—responds to Jesus in the same manner and then adds something to show that he understands it. And I imagine in my mind Jesus sees a change in the countenance of this man. This man was seeking to attack him and in the process of the conversation, I think he’s starting to get it. And Jesus says, my friend, you’re not far from the kingdom of God. You’re not in, but you’re close to the kingdom of God.
See, to be close to the kingdom of God is to be out of the kingdom. Don’t miss this. To not be far from the kingdom is to not be in the kingdom of God. Even though this guy was close, he was lost. Don’t miss that. Even though he was knocking on the door, even though he was heading in the right direction, even though he was affirming the teaching of Jesus Christ, even though he was right there, he was lost because he wasn’t in the kingdom of God.
Chattanooga, Tennessee. We’re in the Bible belt. We’re plagued by cultural Christianity. Right? Cultural Christianity is the idea that you grow up in church. I mean, everybody goes to church around here, right? Everybody grew up around church. And so we have people who understand the Bible. They understand, maybe, even theology. They’ve experienced the ordinances throughout their life. They’ve been in business meetings around churches. They go through the motion. They wear the dress. They act the part. But many people are lost. Did you hear what I said? Many people are lost.
How do you know that, Robby? Well, I know it from scripture. Go to Matthew 7:21. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. [Listen to the words of Jesus.] On that day many [church attenders, many people who were raised in church, many people who looked like Christians] will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Hey Jesus! It’s me, Mike! Do I know you? Hey, it’s Susan, it’s me! Who? They practiced. They preached. They prophesied. They looked the part. They were lost. Verse 24: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. [The Word of God.] And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” They had all the outward appearances. They looked the part. They looked like believers. They were lost.
I’ll give you another example. Acts 8. Simon the magician heard Philip the apostle preach the Word of God and the kingdom of heaven. Verse 12: “and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” Verse 13. Notice what it says. Catch this: “Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized [himself] he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.”
Simon sees the power of the Holy Spirit working among the apostles and he says to the apostles, I want to buy some of that. Put that in a bottle and give it to me. I want to use that for my own purpose, my own power, my own glory. Notice what Peter says. Verse 20: “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.”
I believe he’s still lost. But Pastor, he was baptized. Pastor, he followed the apostles. Notice what it says, verse 22: “Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.”
What about the rich, young ruler? He did everything right. What is the greatest commandment? Jesus said, do you know the commandments. He said, I’ve kept them all. Jesus said, Good. You’re on the path. You’re knocking on the door. You’re close to the kingdom. But there’s one thing you still lack. Go sell it all. Give to the poor. Saddest verse in the Bible—the man went, sad, for he had too much money.
I believe every person in here this morning is on the right path. I believe if you’re watching by television, you’re on the right path. But not everyone is in the kingdom of God. I believe you’re in the right direction, but you could be out of the kingdom. See, to be in the kingdom of God is to know the King of the kingdom, who is the Lord Jesus Christ. To enter the kingdom of God is to repent of your wickedness and your lawlessness, depending on Christ. It’s not performing a bunch of rules and regulations. It’s not checking boxes or showing up at church or doing all these religious duties. It’s repenting of your sin and realizing that you are a sinner in desperate need of God’s grace through faith in Christ. To be in the kingdom is to know the King.
Friends, to be 95% close to the kingdom is to be 100% out of the kingdom. Did you hear that? To be 95% close is to be 100% out. Are you near the kingdom of God but not in? There are many people today who that’s all it takes is a single step to make a difference. One step is all it takes toward to the kingdom of God to change your life for eternity. And my friends, if you’re close but not in, I beg of you today to repent and believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to enter the kingdom of God.