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Not Far From the Kingdom?

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Kent Hughes in his commentary on Mark, “Jesus Servant and Savior” wrote this about John Wesley.
Quote From Kent Hughes’
“Jesus, Servant and Savior”
Preaching the Word: Mark—Jesus, Servant and Savior Not Far from the Kingdom ( Mark 12:28-34 )

John Wesley was born in 1703, the fifteenth child of Samuel Wesley, the rector of Epworth, and his wife, Susanna. He enjoyed a good upbringing under his unusually talented and dedicated mother, and went on to a brilliant career at Charterhouse and Oxford, where he was elected fellow of Lincoln College in 1726. There he served as a double professor of Greek and logic. After serving on his father’s curate on two occasions, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1728.

Returning to Oxford, he joined a group of undergraduates led by his brother, Charles, and the later-to-be-great evangelist George Whitefield, a group dedicated to building a holy life. It was derisively nicknamed by fellow Oxonians the “Holy Club.” Though Wesley was not yet truly converted, he met with these men for prayer, the study of the Greek New Testament, and devotional exercises.

He set aside an hour each day for private prayer and reflection. He took the sacrament of Holy Communion each week, and set himself to conquer every sin. He fasted twice a week, visited the prisons, and assisted the poor and the sick. Doing all this helped him imagine he was a Christian.

In 1735, still unconverted, he accepted an invitation from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to become a missionary to the American Indians in Georgia. It was a great fiasco. He utterly failed as a missionary—undergoing miserable conflicts with his colleagues, and almost dying of disease. When he returned to England, he wrote: “I went to America to convert the Indians; but, oh, who shall convert me?” His mission experience taught him the wickedness and waywardness of his own heart.

However, not all was lost, because in his travels aboard ship he met some German Moravian Christians whose simple faith made a great impression on him. When he returned to London, he sought out one of their leaders. Through a series of conversations, to quote Wesley’s own words, he was “clearly convinced of unbelief, of the want of that faith whereby alone we are saved.”

Then, on the morning of May 24, 1738, something happened that Wesley would never forget. He opened his Bible haphazardly, and his eyes fell on the text in Mark 12:34—“You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Wesley said that the words reassured him. And well they should, because before he went to bed that night, he crossed that invisible line into the Kingdom of God. This text was to become Wesley’s life verse, a reminder of the shape of his life for the first thirty-five years of his existence—“You are not far from the kingdom of God.” It is also part of the final verse of the passage under consideration in this chapter.

Beautifully, not only the verse, but its setting (the Lord conversing with a scribe, a lost clergyman of the house of Israel), bears remarkable parallels to Wesley’s own lostness. Both were clergymen. Both were highly educated. Both were Bible scholars who knew the Scriptures inside and out. Both were confronted with Christ, who said to both, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Although John Wesley was a clergyman today’s text is not just for the clergymen. Today’s text from Mark is not just for the clergy, it is for all of us. It makes no difference wether you are a clergy person, or a lifelong church goer. This text calls to everyone. It makes no difference if you were baptized if you were confirmed or even if this is your first time in a church, this text, calls to all.
Scripture Reading
Mark 12:28-34
Our text is from Mark 12:28-34, let me pray before reading God’s word.
pray
Psalm 19:14 NIV
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Mark 12:28–34 NIV
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
Mark 12:28 NIV
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
The religious leaders back then, theologians or scholars, the people in charge of the jewish faith were really bothered by Jesus. Jesus had followers, there were miracles, there was this talk of the kingdom of God, yet something was different then the religion they knew. They were trying to figure out who Jesus is, and what is all this commotion about. Is Jesus from God, or is Jesus a heretic? Is he a prophet or a madman. What is Jesus all about. This has been heating up for quite some time, so they debate him.
Before this question the religious people asked Jesus other tough questions.. They ask him about paying taxes. Do they owe the government anything for should they give their money only to the church. Jesus replied, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” To that response Mark records were amazed at him.
Then they asked him a tricky question about marriage and what happens after you die, and again Jesus again responds brilliantly. So the man who is questioning Jesus here is impressed but, this scribe, or law expert tries to come up with a stumper of his own. “Of all the commands, he says which is most important” Of all the stuff that we are doing Jesus what is really important?
Understand this, the scholars at that time studied the Old Testament. They identified 613 laws that they were supposed to keep. 365 of those laws were things you should not do, while there were 248 laws of things you should do.
This by the way was not the first time such a question has been posed, and the scholars knew it. According to J.A. Brooks in his commentary on Mark, there was a famous rabbi named Hillel. He lived from about 40 BC to about 10 AD. Approximately 20 years or so before Jesus. A non-jewish man, attempting to throw off Hillel, and point out the folly of religion questioned Hillel. He challenged Hillel, by asking him to recite the whole law while standing on one foot. Hillel responded with, “
This rabbi Hillel, a great rabbi at the time, focused only on how you treat one another. He says all of the law is focused on loving your neighbor. Be kind to one another, rabbi Hillel says. Love one another, that is the most important.
Does it seems like something is missing to you? Be kind to your neighbor, is that all of religion summed up? Is that all we are supposed to do? Maybe you even here that today. People today still claim that all we are to do is love one another. And while that is true. While we should love another, Jesus points out something that is missing in rabbi, Hillel’s response.
Mark 12:29 NIV
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Jesus on the other hand starts with God. Jesus answers with a passage from the Old Testament, from the book of Deuteronomy. But not just any random verse this was a very important verse to the Jews. This is the first verse of something called the Shema.
The Shema is from Deuteronomy chapter 6, it is the same verse we started worship with this morning,. It is actually the way the Jews started worship in the temple. The full Shema is from Deuteronomy 6, verses 4-9 and chapter 11, verses 13-21 and Numbers 15 verse 37-41. Pious jews recited this twice daily. They even place there hans over there eyes when they say it to increase their concentration on God. "Hear Oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” Unlike the brilliant rabbi Hillel, who only said to love your neighbor, Jesus begins with the Shema.
Jesus continues,
Mark 12:30 NIV
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
Love God with everything you have. Love God with your heart, soul mind and strength means to love God with your whole being. Do you have desires? Love God with your desires, everything you want or desire must be based first on loving God. Do you think? Love God with your thought life. Hold every thought captive to the word of God. Do you have the ability the strength to get up in the morning ? Love God with the with the strength that you have. In all ways and in everything you do, and think, and feel and are capable of,---Love God. Love Him with your whole being.
That is a a large command. That is hard to do. Why? Why should we love God with everything. Because everything we have we owe to God. God gave us life. God gave us the world, the stars, the plants the animals. the children, food. Everything we have is from God, He has given us everything so we should love Him back.
This is the first commandment, to Love God with our whole selves. There is a second commandment.
Mark 12:31 NIV
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Love your neighbor as yourself. This is very similar to rabbi Hillel. He was close, he just missed the fist part.
This command is from Leviticus 19:18
Leviticus 19:18 NIV
“ ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
Jesus is saying that the most important thing the thing you start with is to love God with all your heart, soul mind and strength. When you do that, you cannot help but love your neighbor as yourself. Love of God is not separate from loving others. Love of your neighbors is important, it s the second command Jesus says, but apart from loving God first it is empty. It is humanism, it is not Biblical Christianity.
The apostle John, in his letters to the church enforce this idea. Several times in the book of 1 John, John talks extensively about loving one another as a result of loving God.
1 John 3:16–18 NIV
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
and,
1 John 4:8 NIV
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
and,
1 John 4:10–12 NIV
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Brothers and sisters, if we do not know God and his love through our savior Jesus we will not be able to love another. If you know the Love if God in Jesus Christ you will love one another.
Rabbi Hillel missed it. He was close but he missed it. He had this assumption that heading to temple completing sacrifices was loving God. He thought that going to church, doing the right things was what God was looking for. But God wants us to love Him. God is seeking worshippers.
The scribe questioning is close also.
Mark 12:32–33 NIV
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
The scribe is close. He knows his Bible, he is thinking of
He is saying that you can be pious all you want on the outside, and you can do all the right actions-but if you are not loving God and if you are not loving your neighbor you aren’t doing what God requires. The sacrifices the things you do are not what is important following God with your heart is what is important. The scribe is starting to get it.
Mark 12:34 NIV
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
Jesus said the Scribe was not far from the kingdom. He is close he is right there, he is almost in the kingdom of God but not quite. How can that be? You can come to church, you can even to good things for your neighbor and be not far from the kingdom, because there is something more to the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is in your heart, it is inside of you.
Luke 17:21 NIV
nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
If you are not far from the kingdom of God you miss the things of the kingdom of God. You may be doing the things that are important but you miss the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. You miss love. Real love of God. Not doing things for the church out of duty and responsibility but doing things because you love God. People come to church so often out of duty and responsibility. That isn’t it. Come to church because you love God, and you want to worship him. Come to church because you love Jesus and this is how you get close to Him.
When you are not far from the kingdom you help others without loving them. You give them handouts because you are supposed to not because you love them You are missing really loving one another. It is possible to give someone a handout and not love them. It is possible to do good things and not be loving in doing them.
When you are not far from the kingdom, the fruit of the Spirit escapes you, Peace that passes understanding is not a part of your life. Patience, escapes you and kindness and gentleness are rare, as is self control.
These things escape you like they escaped John Wesley. There is an emptiness in your life. You are missing something. You trry and get back to your duty and responsibility but eventually your satisfaction your peace, are fond outside of and apart from Jesus.
You must move from being “Not far from the kingdom to being “In the Kingdom” Jesus talked about this in the book of John chapter 3.
John 3:3 NIV
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
No one- That is not anyone, that is it is not possible to be part of the kingdom of God UNLESS you are born again. And again
John 3:5 NIV
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.
To enter the kingdom of God you must be BORN AGAIN
You cannot, NO One can enter the kingdom of God, You cannot be a part of that full love for God, you cannot have the Fruit of the spirit in your life, the peace, and patience and kindness-unless you are Born Again! If you are not Born Again you remain not far from the kingdom. You are no different than the rest of the world.
To enter the the kingdom of God, you have to die to your old self. This means that you let go of the old way of thinking, your old way of doing things, your old desires. You turn from following your ways, You turn from your sin and you turn toward, you now follow the Lord Jesus Christ and what He says.
Your faith is not in a principle of doing the right things, your faith is now in a person a real Person a living person the person of Jesus Christ, who is fully God and Fully Man. One God three persons, God the Father God the son and God the Holy Spirit. You follow this person Jesus, and trust this person Jesus as your Lord Savior and king.
This is what John Weseley did.
Finally it was May 24, 1738, and as Wesley randomly opened his Bible he read that beautiful statement which in nine words condensed the progress of his spiritual pilgrimage: ”You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Then came evening, and the famous statement in his journal tells the story: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
The rest of the story is well-known history. Wesley became a dynamo. He preached in Saint Mary’s in Oxford. He preached in the churches. He preached in the mines. He preached in the fields and on the streets. He preached on horseback. He even preached on his father’s tombstone. John Wesley didn’t tire! John Wesley preached 42,000 sermons. He averaged 4,500 miles a year. He rode sixty to seventy miles a day and preached three sermons a day on an average. When he was eighty-three, he wrote in his diary, “I am a wonder to myself, I am never tired, either with preaching, writing, or travelling!”
Hughes, R. K. (1989). Mark: Jesus, servant and savior (Vol. 2, p. 119). Westchester, IL: Crossway Books.
You can do that today, You can be Born Again today. we will have silent prayer after the message before communion, Take that opportunity to go from being Not far from the kingdsom to in the kingdom, By praying to Jesus. Tell Him you are turning from your sins to Him Ask Him to be your Lord and savior and to help you to love God and Love your neighbor. If you are doing that for your fiorst time today or as a moment of rededication tell me I want to know and help you follow Jesus.
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