Today’s Bible study is a short one. Again, November is National Novel Writing Month, where the goal is to write a novel of 50,000 words or more in a month, and I have extra work in caring for my wife right now. She is improving, and for that, I thank God. I thought about doing a bit more, but this passage is so important, I decided to stop at the end of this story. Let me leave you with this question: How far are you from the Kingdom of God? I hope this study causes you to look deeply and reflect on your relationship with God.
28. And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?
Up to now, I would say that the religious leaders were seeking to trap Jesus. I think this is an honest question. I would guess that the Scribes and other religious leaders spent time arguing about that very question, and that this scribe honestly sought Jesus’s opinion. He heard a teacher who had confounded the Pharisees, Herodians, and the Sadducees. Because of that, he sought His opinion. The answer Jesus gave was classic.
29. And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.
Jesus made an important point in His response: the nature of God and our obligations to follow Him are two fold. The two-pronged nature of that relationship is seen in our relationship with God and in our relationship with people. How shall we love God? We love Him with everything that we have. We love Him with every fiber of our being. We show that in what we say, do, and think. Often, God uses the picture of marriage to describe His relationship with the people of Israel. When we’re married, and doing things God’s way, our focus in marriage is on our spouse. What would you say if I told you that I respected my marriage vows 364 days a year, but, once a year I got to have a little fling? That would be ridiculous. God expects me to follow my marriage vows seven days a week, three hundred sixty five and a quarter days a year. Our relationship with God needs to be that intense. If you profess your faith on the day you go to worship, but put it in the desk drawer at work, you’re not following the first, most important command. If you follow your faith 364 days a year, you aren’t following this first, most important commandment.
At the same time. A love for God will inspire a love for people. It’s important to note that Jesus didn’t ask, “Do you want to hear my idea about the second greatest commandment?” He told the scribe without being prompted because, if you can’t love people, do you really love God? That doesn’t mean that all people are lovable, but I can guarantee you that God loves them just the same as He loves me: with everything He has. I don’t have to like everyone, but I have to love them. To me, that includes wishing God’s best for them, no matter what they may have done to me. That’s part of the concept of forgiveness that Jesus talks about elsewhere. Getting back to the marriage picture, when I married my wife, actually before I did, I loved all my in-laws because they were now family. When my daughter got married, I loved my son-in-law immediately, OK, even before they got married. I love his family because they’re now part of my family. When you learn to love God, you learn to love ALL people because those are people that God loves. This doesn’t mean that other people deserve our love. But let’s never forget that we don’t do anything to deserve God’s love, and He calls on us to love other people. ALL other people. If you want to do what God commands, learn to love Him, and then show that love to His creation: mankind.
32. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: 33. And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
This response is what makes me think that the scribe asked Jesus this question sincerely, and not as a way to trap Him. As he agrees to what Jesus said, he reminds us of the story of Saul (1 Samuel 15:22) when he’s told that obedience is better than sacrifice, and Micah 6:6-8 when God tells His people that He wants their hearts instead of their sacrifices. With so many negative interactions between Jesus and the religious leaders, this short story in the midst of those confrontational meetings is a refreshing change of tone.
34. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.
Jesus recognized the wisdom of this answer. His comment though, may have been a bit disheartening to the Scribe: you’re not far from the Kingdom of God. He probably was looking for Jesus to say something like, “By George, I think he’s got it!” What He said instead was “Oh, so close!” What the Scribe didn’t realize was that the Kingdom of God is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Not in repeating His teachings. Not in agreeing with His teachings, but in the person of Jesus Christ. You may go to church, read your Bible daily, do good deeds, and if you were to come before Jesus and asked about the kingdom of God He would say that you aren’t far from it. The kingdom of God is found in the person of Jesus Christ and you enter into that Kingdom when you place your life in His hands.