Please read Mark 12: 28-34 and then pray; “Great God, whose commandments bring light to the eyes and understanding to the heart – grant me the grace to understand and accept all the challenges you are placing before me this day, in Jesus’ name. Amen!

Who is the greatest human figure in history? A few people may wish to indulge in a debate over the answer to that question – but most people already know the answer. The greatest figure in history is Jesus Christ – and this is not difficult to demonstrate, partly because it is easy to prove that he is by far the most influential figure in history – and of course he is the one figure who literally divides human history as we know it and understand it. Not surprisingly, Jesus of Nazareth is also one of the most controversial figures in history; he spoke some of the most famous and challenging words ever to have been uttered. We are going to come face to face with some of those living words today, and as we do so, let us also remember something amazing that was claimed by Jesus about his own words:

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. (Mark 13:31)

Controversy followed Jesus everywhere he went from the moment he stepped out of the waters of baptism. Controversial words and deeds took him to the cross where he died for the sins of the world. In the early days of his ministry Jesus caused controversy over his authority to forgive sins (2:6-7), his willingness to mix with and call sinners to be his friends and followers (2:15-17) and over the way he defiantly healed the sick and promoted good on the Sabbath (3:2-6). Plotting and scheming to kill Jesus, whose teaching cut like a knife into the human heart began early in his ministry (3:6), and as we come to the final week of his life, the controversy around this unique man begins to reaches its climax. This is what we find from the beginning of Mark 11 onwards as Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem to the joyful acclamation of the excited crowd. The gospel writer Mark devotes chapter 12 to some of the controversial issues that Jesus spoke about in the final days before his sham trial and crucifixion.

It is during these final controversies with the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and teachers of the law, that some of those golden nuggets of teaching for which Jesus was and is well known are unleashed on a watching world. With divine wisdom and insight Christ’s words shine like a blazing beacon that can never be put. The Light of the world is here to stay. He rose from death and conquered the grave. He is here today. He is the eternal Son of God. (Mark 1:1)

In the incident we are considering today, the question brought to Jesus by “one teacher of the law” provided somewhat of a lull in the storm raging around him. This is because the question brought was offered with genuine sincerity, and it was not motivated by jealously, hatred or a desire to trap and trip Jesus. We can see from the incident that Jesus deals with the teacher with calmness and openness as he senses his question is a vital one and offered from a searching heart and not a duplicitous one.

The teacher wants to know which commandment Jesus believes is the most important one. This was a subject that was debated constantly, so it would be interesting to see what the teacher and prophet from Nazareth had to say. And Jesus responds with absolute clarity as he speaks about wholeheartedly loving God and neighbour. This is the first, the greatest and the most important commandment. Take note:

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord in 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 neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.

This is absolutely vital teaching from the lips of the Son of God. Let’s note several key things:

  • Firstly, in response to the man’s question about the most important commandment (singular), Jesus points to 2 commandments not one. The man gets two answers not one. And the two that Jesus gives form a unit of one. The greatest commandment according to Jesus points us to both loving God passionately and loving our neighbour conscientiously. The two cannot be separated. They are like a married couple – bound together in the will of God. Nothing must come between them or separate them! He brings them together as a single In his response Jesus combines two OT Scriptures to form his answer – so the answer is right from the heart of Scripture. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18b). In this way, the answer was already known “to Israel” and to the world.
  • Secondly, although Jesus presents two commandments instead of one, in God’s eye’s the first takes precedence over the second. Loving neighbour, the second commandment (v31), and deliberately referred to as that by Jesus, must flow out of the Loving God is the number one priority, but for this to be achieved and demonstrated, number two has to be obeyed and practised. To live as a Christian today is to first and foremost passionately love and serve the Lord God, and then to love and serve all who are made in his image. One must come before the other for the other to blossom.
  • Thirdly LOVE is stressed throughout and lifted up high above all things. Love God and love your neighbour. But notice how we are told to love God – and this is commanded! You are to love God with absolutely everything – heart, soul, mind and strength. The “heart” is the core and centre of humanity’s existence – the mainspring of our thoughts, words and deeds (Proverbs 4:23). The “soul” here mainly refers to our emotional activity and our deepest Elsewhere in Scripture, we are exhorted to worship God with and from our soul (Psalm 103:1). The “mind” is the seat of our intellectual life and disposition and all our attitudes. “Strength” refers to our bodies and physicality. Everything that makes up a human life – is to be deployed in loving the great and mighty God who is the one Lord! And then secondly, as an expression of our “first love”, we must love our neighbour – all other humans who are all made in the image of God. Elsewhere Jesus drives home the point that everyone is our neighbour – even our enemies. (Luke 10: 25-37) We are to love all people. And if you want a description of the quality and the practicality of the love God calls us to share – you can drink in the contents of 1 Corinthians 13, which ends with the inspirational teaching; “faith, hope and love – but the greatest of these is love.
  • Fourthly, Jesus wants us to notice the totality and wholeheartedness of that love for God. We have to notice the use of the word all four times; all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. What a challenge Jesus places before this teacher of the law and us. We immediately recognise how far we have fallen from this and failed to do this. We have not loved God. We have certainly not loved God with our all. We have consequently failed to love our neighbour as ourselves. God demands everything of us. Love is a big all-consuming, all- embracing concept! It demands commitment and sacrificial action!

So that is the most important commandment – the greatest commandment – the great demand that God makes upon us all. The answer Jesus gives to the teacher is clear and precise – and the teacher sees how clear, good and wise the answer is which Jesus gives. And the teacher also knows and emphasises that what Jesus has made clear is far more demanding than religious sacrifices, burnt offerings or spiritual rituals offered without the heart, soul, mind and strength. God does not desire a detached outward show of religion, but a thoroughgoing inward wholehearted love that overflows into outward demonstrations of love, care, kindness and justice. This is magnified all over the OT, but was so often missed. Ritual replaced loving relationship. It never should!

Jesus and this teacher of the law are not far apart in their thinking and understanding. BUT are they far apart in another sense? If this teacher is not in the same Kingdom, then they are still not so close. Jesus’s final words to this teacher, which are only recorded in Mark’s gospel, should spark off further thinking and heart searching from every individual.

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him – and here are the crucial words, you are not far from the Kingdom of God. (12:34)

You are NOT FAR from the Kingdom of God.

Was Jesus paying the man a compliment here? Was he seeking to encourage and comfort the teacher? Was Jesus warning the man, that although his progress was good, he was nevertheless, not where he should actually be – inside the Kingdom of God.

This is very, very important. This is such a vital question for us all to face square on. Am I in the Kingdom of God? Are you in God’s Kingdom – the Kingdom that Jesus makes available – the gift of the Kingdom that he came to offer?

At the beginning of his ministry, another wise teacher by the name of Nicodemus came to Jesus secretly one night and began a conversation with him. He too was an honest enquirer and someone who wanted to get things right before God. And yet, despite being such an exemplary religious scholar, teacher and practitioner, Jesus said to him firmly and lovingly:

You must be born again.

Unless you are born again you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.

Unless you are born again you cannot see Kingdom of God.   (John 3: 1-10)

We must be clear about this and understand this – otherwise we spend the whole of life on the wrong track and we could miss out on the very thing that Jesus came to bring – “access and entrance into the Kingdom of God.” Have you entered the Kingdom of God or are you still outside?

On the day this teacher of the law asked Jesus that great question about the most important commandment – he not only got a fantastic answer on that subject – he was also confronted with another challenge about Jesus’s favourite subject which was the kingdom of God. This, more than anything else, was what Jesus loved to teach about and introduce people to. He had brought, in his person, the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of heaven. His death and resurrection would provide the gateway into this kingdom, which is why in his interaction with Nicodemus we have these amazing words:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

The question that really needs answering (besides the one about the greatest commandment) is what is the Kingdom of God, and how do we enter it? Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about the need for “a new birth” and the work of the Spirit, and we will come to that in a moment. But what about the actual Kingdom of God? What is it? What was this “kingdom” that Jesus spoke so much about and which filled the teaching in his parables? I find that the easiest way to understand the Kingdom is to break the word down into two parts, king – dom. In other words, we see the Kingdom as the King’s domain. This is where the King (God) lives and rules. The kingdom of God is therefore where God lives and reigns in this world.

As Jesus spoke and gave insights into “the Kingdom of God”, he made it clear that this was something that could be entered by us even now. We could enter into the life of the Kingdom today; we could enter into the presence and rule of God now in this life. This meant that we could experience and enter into what John’s gospel repeatedly calls “eternal life”, life now “in all it’s fullness and abundance” (John 10:10) Jesus has come to give us this life, this eternal life, this kingdom of heaven.  This is not “pie in the sky when you die” but rather life with God and his Son Jesus through the work of the Spirit here and now.

It is not only about us moving “into the Kingdom” now, it is about the Kingdom moving into us now. The Kingdom is something we enter, but it also something that enters us. God comes to reign in us and live in us by His Spirit. WE become the dwelling place of God. Jesus said to his disciples; “The Kingdom of God is within you”. He also said, “Do not be afraid little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12: 32) We must therefore understand this; we can enter the Kingdom now, and the Kingdom can enter us now. What we can experience now, this new birth into this kingdom, is due to the work of the sovereign Holy Spirit. We can be born again of the Spirit and enter the Kingdom.

When Jesus spoke to the teacher about “not being far from the Kingdom”, the Son of God could sense that this teacher was on the brink of entering “the hope of the Kingdom.” He was NOT there yet, but he was close to entering into eternal life and joy. Where are you? Have you entered the Kingdom? Have entered into eternal life? Have you been born anew? Is the Kingdom of God within you? Do you live as one for whom the kingdom of God has come – at least in its first fruits?

I entered the Kingdom of heaven as a teenager. I received eternal life. I received the gift of the Kingdom, which is as Jesus says, “the pearl of great price”, “the treasure” which once discovered is worth selling everything for. (Matthew 13: 44-46) I left the Kingdom of darkness and came into the Kingdom of light, the Kingdom of God’s own dear Son. God rescued me. (Colossians 1:14) I was blind but now I see. I was lost but now am found. This is an entirely new life – this is new birth – this is the new covenant – this is the Kingdom! I am in it and it is in me! I am not “just outside, I am “inside” and it is inside me. Do you have the Kingdom? Do you want the Kingdom?

Someone may ask the serious question – how do I enter the Kingdom, how does it enter me, how do I receive the free gift of eternal life, kingdom life?

I will answer this briefly for you now – with the teaching of Scripture and of the Christ.

  • By far the most important step toward the Kingdom comes when someone consciously humbles themselves before God, admits their sin, confesses their sin and their need for mercy and eternal life. Without humility, without brokenness of heart – no-one enters the Kingdom. Everyone comes into the Kingdom on their knees. Jesus said categorically; “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15). And the first words from his epic Sermon on the Mount were these: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3) Kind David who was humbled and broken through his own sin and selfishness and need for God’s mercy prayed these words:

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

  • Secondly, once you have genuinely humbled yourself before this King, you then have to acknowledge that more than anything else, you want his reign in your life, you desire the gift of the Kingdom, and you humbly ask that God would graciously give you this gift which you do not deserve. You recognise your need not just for Jesus “the teacher” but for Jesus “the Saviour”. The teacher in our story recognised Jesus as a great teacher, powerful and insightful but he needed to get to the point where he was holding out his heart to him as his Saviour. We all need to see our dire need to be saved from darkness and brought into a Kingdom of light. We must open our hearts to receive Christ as our personal Saviour and King. As we sang earlier, “Welcome King of kings.” We all need to be like that desperate thief on the cross who in his utter distress cried out and asked Christ to remember him in his kingdom. That humble and wretched thief was taken into the kingdom of heaven, into paradise that self-same day. (Luke 23:42-43)
  • Thirdly, I would say that you must be genuinely and sincerely open to the profound and mysterious work of the Holy Spirit in your heart and life. The Spirit will blow like the wind upon you and bring you new life and new birth. He will transfer the humble soul from the Kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of life. The Spirit will fill you and bring in the joy and life and peace of the kingdom. He brings into our hearts and lives all the first fruits of salvation. He adopts you into God’s family and opens your eyes to see Christ as Lord and King.

One of the things that Scripture and Christ make plain is that you are either inside or outside the Kingdom. This teacher of the law “was not far from the Kingdom”. Where are you? Inside or out? Near the Kingdom or far away in your own little kingdom of selfishness and self-determination. Have you entered through the “narrow gate?” Have you been born again of the Spirit and entered into the life and liberty and hope of the Kingdom of God? Only you can truthfully answer that question.

Once in the kingdom, your greatest duty is to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and to love the Lord your God, with all your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength and then to seek to love all neighbours equally well. You are now to live the kingdom life, with all the kingdom’s values, attitudes, and aspirations. Christ will introduce you to those. Christ must be your only King. His Kingdom is within you! You are now under “new management”. You couldn’t wish for a better or kinder or more compassionate King.

When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, “You’re almost there, right on the border of God’s Kingdom. After that, no-one else dared ask a question.  (Mark 12:34 The Message)

I wonder if this man went on to enter the Kingdom, to “cross the border?” I hope he did. He was so near to it. We know that Nicodemus did – the other great teacher of the law. (John 19:39) Have you entered? Have you crossed the border my dear friend? Will you enter into this glorious Kingdom? Will you live in the Kingdom of Christ and of God, and allow the reign of God in you to impact the world around you, as you live to love your God, and all your precious neighbours?

And now unto Jesus be all the glory and praise, honour and acclaim.



Revd Peter J Clarkson (7.11.21)