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I am sure you have heard the expression: “Close never counts except in horseshoes.” We have all played the game of horseshoes at one time or another. We understand that the object is to throw a ringer around the pole. But there are other ways to score points as well – such as a shoe that ends up leaning against the pole or throwing one closer than the other competitor. But there are a wide range of situations where close just doesn’t cut it. My wife teaches math. I doubt if she gives much credit for an answer that is close to correct. In math, 2 + 2 = 4 – you had better come up with that unique result. When it comes to getting into the college of your choice or getting the promotion you want, being close is not very satisfying. When you are in a horrific car accident and the surgeon at the emergency room comes out to bring the tragic news to your family – “We were so close to saving him, but he just didn’t make it” – being so close is actually so far away.

Jesus has been interrogated by a number of different groups of individuals representing various segments of the leadership of Judaism that would have been members in the elite Sanhedrin. The questions brought to Jesus were designed to trip him up – to expose his inadequacies in the 2 realms of Authority and Wisdom. They were attempts to discredit him before the people and before the Roman authorities.

1) 11:27 – chief priests., scribes and elders – an attack against the Authority of Jesus Christ – “by what authority do you do these things” – like the cleansing of the Temple — who demonstrated that He is actually greater than the Temple

– Followed by a parable of judgment – showing what will happen to those who don’t respect the authority of the Son of God

(grouped these next 2 together because of their similar motivation and approach)

2) 12:13 – Pharisees and Herodians – strange bedfellows – attack on Consistency –

Trying to pit Spiritual loyalties against civic responsibilities – regarding taxation

“Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”

3) 12:18 Sadducees – taking their turn — attack based on Argument of Absurdity –

Introducing some convoluted, hypothetical case study – regarding the after-life;

Jesus pointed out their lack of knowledge of the Scriptures and their lack of connectivity to the power of God – then affirmed the reality of the Resurrection

4) 12:28 – now instead of a group – it is a single scribe that interacts with Jesus – a question related to Wisdom

Jesus is going to end up characterizing the scribe with the curious expression: “you are not far from the kingdom of God” – That seems to be the focal point of the interaction – but what is Jesus saying here? Let’s start this morning with consideration of this key phrase. Certainly the scribe did not come to Jesus looking for affirmation that he was a member in good standing in the kingdom of God. He did not think Jesus was even qualified to make such a judgment. That was not the point of his question —

– Most people take this statement of Jesus as a very positive, encouraging note that recognizes that this intelligent and sincere and open-minded scribe is progressing in his quest for spiritual truth so that he is right at the cusp of salvation

o But if this is the interpretation – why the conclusion at the end of vs. 34 that this interaction with Jesus closed the door to any more interrogation – wouldn’t it have opened the door for additional positive dialogue?? Since by listening attentively to the wise doctrinal answers given by the Teacher, one would be able to make great progress on their spiritual journey towards entrance into the kingdom

– I don’t think the scribe would have taken it in this positive way – to be told that he was still outside of the kingdom would have been a slap – how more positive could the scribe have been than to repeat back the very words that Jesus had taught and to describe those words as good and well-taught; yet Jesus was still judging him to be outside of the kingdom?? Who was more self-confident and deceived about his standing in the kingdom than the Dr. of Theology who taught others as a respected scribe – and here you have probably one of the most intelligent and most respected scribes – He thought of himself as not just a fixture in the kingdom, but one of the true elite

– I think Jesus is speaking in cryptic language here as he addresses the major issue that the scribe has ignored – and that is the true Messianic identity of Jesus as the Son of God, the Son of David, the King of the Jews, the one who came to provide salvation and deliverance for His people – because the scribe is standing in the presence of the King – he is “not far from the kingdom of God”

o That is why Jesus goes on in the next paragraph to speak more pointedly of his true Messianic identity which involves his Deity as the Son of God

o That is consistent with how Jesus had been introduced at the beginning of the Gospel of Mark

 Testimony from the Father at the baptism of Jesus: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased” (1:11)

 Initial ministry of Jesus following the imprisonment of John the Baptist as he “came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (1:14-15) – this is the message that the scribe was still missing – as we study our passage today we will see no signs of repentance and faith on the part of this scribe


You see this scribe is close to the kingdom, not because of his intelligence and his sincere desire to understand God’s law; not because of his performance at trying to obey the law and fulfill the command to Love God and neighbor; but he is only close because of the presence before him of the very King of the Kingdom – and yet how far away he really is!

Let’s work through the short account – noting details from both Matthew’s version and Mark’s


A. Discernment – Appreciated the Wisdom of Jesus

1. Listened Well

“And one of the scribes came and heard them arguing,”

Cf. Matt. 22:34-35 – has a different tone to it than Mark’s account; asked a question “testing Him”

Certainly not the hypocrisy and malicious venom we saw in the earlier attacks – which is why we grouped those 2 together

Probably heard both of the hypocritical attacks:

– That by the Pharisees and the Herodians – attack on Consistency – trying to pit civil responsibilities against spiritual allegiance

– That by the Sadducees – attack on Absurdity – trying to make Jesus look silly for his beliefs about the resurrection and afterlife

Hiebert: Matthew told the story form the standpoint of the Pharisees as a group, while Mark related it from the standpoint of the questioner himself.

Hendriksen: Is it not possible that his own motivation and that of those who put him forward did not entirely coincide; that is, that with him approval had triumphed over misgiving and a desire to discredit?

Listened carefully to both sides of the discussion – evaluating the points being made;

Able to be objective and not be swayed by the prejudices of his fellow scribes (who were condemned as a group by Jesus at the end of chap. 12)

How well do you listen?

Illustration: In work, we have training sessions to have our customer-focused personnel improve their listening skills

What can you do to listen better? Some hindrances to effective listening:

– Too busy preparing your response to really listen

– Interrupting the person and finishing their thought because you are in such a hurry to speak

– Stopping with the superficial presenting symptoms of a problem and not probing to get to the root issues

– Making the person repeat certain details because you failed to concentrate and failed to accurately note what was said

– Failing to demonstrate any empathy with the other person; not making that emotional connection

Pursuit of Truth must start with good listening skills

2. Evaluated Wisely

“and recognizing that He had answered them well,”

Pharisees would have been pleased with how Jesus defended the reality of the resurrection against the Sadducees

Made his own judgment as to who was speaking truth and who was speaking wisdom;

Not a respecter of persons; had not predetermined whom to support in this controversy

Today, in our culture we don’t value Discernment highly enough – look at what the book of Proverbs says about the acquiring of wisdom:

Chap. 8

How can you improve your discernment skills?

– People need to be taught to think; to reason; to use logic; to recognize false arguments and straw man approaches

– Christians are not called to react first with emotion; the intellect should lead and the emotions should follow

B. Devotion – Prioritizing the Commands that Require Obedience

“asked Him, ‘What commandment is the foremost of all?’”

If you had a chance to ask Jesus a question, what would it be?

This scribe showed good judgment in focusing on what was most important –

Not asking which command was given first by God chronologically, but which was most important

Important to understand what was driving the scribe – concerned with his performance in obeying the commands of God – but so many – if he could know where to start and put his focus on what was most important, he would be ahead of the game

Very complicated structure to the OT commands – imagine if you were charged as the Dr. of Theology with teaching a course on OT commands – what would be your unifying principle; how would you organize all of these commands?

Parunak: Later Jewish tradition held that there were 613 distinct commandments, and identifying the most important would be an interesting topic of debate.

MacArthur: “Well why would they come up with a number like that? Six-hundred and thirteen, why?” Because that’s how many letters there were in the Decalogue. If you took the Ten Commandments in Hebrew, there’s 613 letters so they said there had to be 613 laws. Pretty silly, but that’s some of the rabbinical nonsense.

Alan Carr: Of these laws, 248 are considered positives in nature while 365 are considered to be negative. That is, some compel men to do certain things while others forbid men from certain activities.

Some OT passages give a hint of summarizing man’s responsibility towards God:

Cf. Micah 6:8 focusing on man’s essential duty

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

1 Sam. 12:24

“Only fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you.”

How will Jesus respond?

In what sense could this innocuous question be viewed as a test … trying to trip Jesus up?

MacArthur: Now the Pharisees took the whole Old Testament and all their interpretations of it and all the traditions that grew up around it and all of that was their Law. The Sadducees took nothing more than the first five books, the books of Moses, and they said that’s all that came from God. So you can see the Pharisees and the Sadducees didn’t agree on what was divine Law, but they both did agree that Moses’ writings were divine Law; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers. They all agreed that is the Law of God. So the Sanhedrin comes up with a question they can all agree to…what is the greatest commandment, or what is the most important commandment, what is the foremost commandment and their hope is that He’s going to give them something that is not found in the Law of Moses, something that supersedes Moses, something above and beyond Moses. They were all zealous for the Law of Moses and the zeal they had for the Law of Moses was only outstripped by the zeal they had for the honor they got by teaching the Law of Moses. The purpose of this approach is to get Jesus to say something they’re positive will not be in the writings of Moses because they all have concluded that He’s against Moses, He’s anti-Judaism, He’s anti-Moses. He is setting Himself up as some supreme authority. He is saying things that are not like what we hear, what we teach and what we believe. And if they can get Him to elevate Himself above Moses, then the people will be more likely to turn from Him.


A. (:29-30) Primary Command

1. (:29) Theological Foundation – the Uniqueness of the One True God

“Jesus answered, ‘The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel!

The Lord our God is one Lord;’”

reference to Deut. 6:4-5 — known as the Shema (Heb. “to hear”); recited by every religious Jew in his own morning and evening worship

Hendriksen: the mezuzah was a rectangular piece of inscribed parchment enclosed in a metal or wooden case, and attached to the upper section of a Jewish dwelling’s right hand door post. The inscribed material consists of the Shema in its longer form. It is written in twenty-two lines, in accordance with definite rules.

“Hear, O Israel” – the nation should be united in their pursuit of spiritual truth; not forming into groups and sects centered around the traditions of men; not attacking the very one that God has sent to reveal Himself and to communicate truth – call for Unity

You cannot adequately obey the Commands of God without first understanding and embracing the Person of God.

Study theological works about the character of God – His attributes

Charnock: The Existence and Attributes of God

Doctrine of Trinity starts with the Uniqueness and Oneness of God –

No other gods besides the One True God who exists in 3 Persons

Jesus not presenting himself as a second God — separate from whom the Jews had always recognized as the One True God

MacArthur: In other words, you’re never going to be able to be obedient if this is external. This has to be internal. This has to be internal. And notice the foundation of this extensive call to loving God. “The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” It was a polytheistic world which means there were many gods, many nations, every nation had its own deities, its own sets of deities. There were gods all over the place…that is false gods, gods that did not exist, fabrications of demons and men. But there was only one true God, the Lord is the one true God. Therefore you don’t need to worry about dividing your allegiance, right? You only need to love one God because there is only one God and you need to love Him with all your capacities.

2. (:30) Practical Application – Undivided, Total Devotion

“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 goal of the commandment is love … 1 Tim. 1:5 “from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith”

Barclay says regarding this type of Love:

– Dominates our emotions

– Directs our thoughts

– Dynamic of all our actions

Alan Carr: If all of these things are taken together, it becomes clear that the Lord is telling us to love God with perfect sincerity, the utmost of fervency, with the fullest exercise of an enlightened reason and with the entire energy of our being. This is the spirit of the greatest commandment! . . .

Eros, refers to “erotic or sexual love.” Storgh, refers to the love of things. Phileao speaks of tender affection for someone. Agape, on the other hand refers to a never-ending, unchanging, all-consuming love for someone. This is not the kind of feeling that appears for a time than changes or disappears. Agape love is forever! It is the kind of love with which God loves sinners. It is a genuine, heartfelt, all-encompassing love that cannot and will be changed by circumstance. It is a love that loves without regard for the worth of the object being loved. This is more that simple affection or some emotional feeling. It is a decision of the will! This is the kind of love that can be seen. Ill. God’s love – Rom. 5:8. Our love for Christ is visible as well, John 14:15-24; 15:10-14.

Look at the high bar that Jesus presents here = the 4 Alls – not with some, some, some, some

Why isn’t the scribe struck down with conviction at this point as he recognizes how far short he falls of this divine standard?

Yet Jesus stands before him as one who has completely fulfilled this lofty command every moment of his existence on earth. What a contrast! But the scribe doesn’t see it that way.

What diverts us from such total, undivided love for our Savior?

Where are we distracted in our mind?

What competes for our emotional commitment?

Where do we find ourselves weak and our strength failing?

How thankful we are for the blessed gospel – for the grace of God

Titus 2:11-14

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.”

Sproul: Of course, the Israelites were not commanded to love Him simply because of what He had done for them, just as we ought not to love God simply for the gifts and benefits we receive from His hand. Neither are we to love Him simply for His attributes – His infinite wisdom, His limitless power, His peerless justice, and so on. Rather, we are to love Him for who He is in Himself. We do not really progress in the Christian life until we understand that we are to love God simply because He is lovely and wonderful, worthy of every creature’s unqualified affection.

Hiebert: Love to God must possess the whole heart, the seat of personality, the whole soul, the self-conscious life, the whole mind, the rational faculties, and the whole strength, the entire active powers of men.

B. (:31a) Corollary Command

“The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Interesting that Jesus does not stop here – even though he has answered the question of the scribe – he continues to raise the bar so that performance by human effort alone might be shown to be impossible and unattainable

Quoting Lev. 19:18

Often difficult to love our neighbor – we understand from the story of the Good Samaritan who our neighbor is – ones that have needs that the Lord brings us into contact with

Thompson: I pay my own bills; don’t care about theirs; I contribute to my retirement plan, not theirs

C. (:31b) Summation

“There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Jesus has covered it all; what more can be said; His words will live on for all eternity summarizing the divine standard for obedience

The scribe does not have to look any further to try to identify the unifying principle that is the common thread through all of the commands of God; how will he respond?


A. (:32-33) Intelligent Response of the Sincere Scribe

“And the scribe said to Him, ‘Right, Teacher, You have truly stated that He is One; and there is no one else 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 himself, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’”

He respectfully repeats his title of addressing Jesus as Teacher

He accurately repeats the very words Jesus has spoken to show that he correctly heard the teaching

He expresses his discernment once again by evaluating this teaching as in accordance with Truth

He loves the theological focus on the unique Oneness of the God of Israel

He appreciates the practical connection between loving God and loving one’s neighbor

He even goes beyond to provide an additional insight that shows he has some comprehension of the importance of heart obedience rather than mere performance of external religious rites

1 Sam. 15:22

This scribe has knowledge; he has sincerity – but his performance still merits the wrath of God;

– All of the correct theology in the world cannot save a person.

– All of the genuine sincerity in the world cannot elevate you to that secure status of an authentic member of the kingdom of God.

Where is his connection to the gospel message?

Where is his commitment to Jesus as true Messiah and Son of God and majestic King?

B. (:34a) Intriguing Response of Jesus

“And when Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him,

‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’”

Edwards: The encounter closes on a note of irony: the scribe ostensibly has come to pass judgment on Jesus, but it is Jesus who passes judgment on the scribe. The scribe is equipped and authorized to pass judgment on the law, but Jesus possesses a higher authority. In yet another display of sovereign authority, Jesus declares, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” That is a striking remark because the subject of conversation has been the Torah, not the kingdom of God or eternal life. It is hard to imagine an ordinary scribe or rabbi presuming to pronounce judgment on such a matter. The scribe can judge whether or not one is faithful to the Torah; but Jesus, who affirms the essence of the Torah, also supersedes the Torah – as he supersedes every creedal confession and formulation. One draws near to the kingdom of God not by proper theology but by drawing near to Jesus. Jesus exhibits his filial and messianic authority in declaring who is on the threshold of the kingdom of God, which is present not in the Torah but in himself.

MacArthur: Near isn’t good enough, you must enter…you must enter…you must enter by faith in Christ in His death and resurrection. But in what sense is this man near? He’s near because he understands that it’s an internal issue, not a ceremonial ritual issue.

Isn’t close good enough – like in horseshoes?


“And after that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions.”

Sproul: Jesus’ enemies had enough sense to see that they had utterly failed to catch Him in His words. He was able to spot their snares, with the result that they were embarrassed. Thus, they abandoned their attempts to entrap Him. In the end, they would condemn Him on the basis of false testimony and an improper trial (14:53-65)

CONCLUSION: What determines Authenticity?

Repentance + Faith in Jesus are the requirements

John 4 – Woman at the well was not far from the Kingdom – she responded to the identity of Jesus and repented of her sins — Must worship God in Spirit and in truth

Where is the gospel preached? That is where God presences Himself and one can be not far from the kingdom of God …

Gospel not preached in very many places in our day