So Near and Yet So Far
Thou art not far from the kingdom of God — Mar_12:34
Difficult to Estimate Crowds and Distances
There are two things which it is very difficult for the uninstructed eye to gauge, the one is the dimensions of a crowd, and the other is the measurement of distance. So much depends on the clearness of the air, and so much on the intervening landscape, that the most accurate observer may find himself at fault when estimating distances in unfamiliar places.
Difficult Also to Estimate How Near You and Others Are to the Kingdom of God
Now as it is in the material world, so is it in the spiritual world. There is nothing harder than to gauge with accuracy how near a man may be to the kingdom of God. I believe there are many whom we think very near it who as a matter of fact are far away. I believe there are many who seem to us far away who in the sight of God are very near. And as this should make everyone of us more earnest, for some may be farther from God than we imagine, so should it make everyone of us more hopeful, for some may be nearer Christ than we conceive. We are often in error in such measurements, and therefore in charity we should avoid them.
Christ Was Never in Error in Judging Others
But of this be sure, that Christ was never in error, never miscalculated in these finer judgments; and here we have Him saying of a scribe, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” I want to examine this deeply interesting case. I shall give you some signs that the scribe was near the kingdom. And I do pray that the spirit of Jesus Christ may bring the word right home into your hearts, that one here and another there may say, “Lord is it I, and is it I?”
Signs That This Scribe Was Not Far from the Kingdom of God.
Let us note then some of the signs that this scribe was not far from the kingdom of God. And in the first place, and in a general sense, this is true as a plain fact of history. This scribe was a Jew, trained in the Jewish faith, familiar with the doctrine of the kingdom. He lived in Palestine, in the providence of God, at the very time when Jesus Christ was there. Often would he have seen Him in the streets, often would he have listened to Him talking, and no man could be so near the King without being near the gateway of the kingdom. He was not an African, like Simon of Cyrene, with an ocean between his home and that of Jesus. He was not, like Lydia, a European, born in another continent from Christ. He lived within a stone’s-throw of the Master; he studied the very books the Master loved; and doubtless among the followers of Jesus were some whom he would call his friends.
Now there are none of you of whom similar things might not be said. By birth and upbringing and Christian nurture, you are not far from the kingdom of God. It is near you whenever you hear the Gospel. It is near you in every Christian character. The influences of that kingdom are around you; its activities are incalculable in this city. In the providence of God you have been born here, where there is an open Bible and a Christian church— and it may have come even nearer you than that. You may have had a mother who was a saint of God, or a father who was an exemplary Christian; you may have a sister within your home today whose religion you would never dream of doubting. And therefore remember, however vile you be, however foolish or prayerless or unclean, if you want to return you have not far to travel; you are not far from the kingdom of God.
He Had a Great Admiration for the Lord
Again this scribe was not far from the kingdom because he had a great admiration for the Lord. I think we can see, if we read the passage closely, how very warmly this man admired the Master. Probably he had listened to Christ before, and had been deeply stirred by what he heard. Dissatisfied with all his weary studies, there was that in Christ which made him dream of peace. But now, as he heard the discussion with the Sadducees, and saw Christ’s masterly handling of these skeptics, all other feelings, dim and ill-defined, gave place to a great and glowing admiration. Had he been a little man his spite would have rejoiced to see his rivals the Sadducees confuted. Had he been a blind and bitter pedant of the schools, he would have been angry at any triumph of the Carpenter. But there was something noble in this scribe— something that lifted him above all petty feeling— he felt he was in the presence of a Master, and was filled with warm and lively admiration. Now whenever a man feels that, I want to say he is not far from the kingdom. You are not a Christian when you admire Christ Jesus, but you are nearer His kingdom than when you jest and sneer. And if I speak to any young man who can say from his heart he admires this man of Nazareth, I urge you to take one other step, just because you are so near the gate. We are not saved by admiring Jesus Christ. We are saved by loving Him and serving Him. It takes something mightier than admiration to pierce to the very deeps of a man’s being. But admiration is so akin to love, and is so truly its herald and its harbinger, that if you truly and morally admire Christ, you are not far from the kingdom. Not far, yet on the wrong side of the gate. That is the infinite pity of it all. “O the little more and how much it is; and the little less, and what worlds away.” And therefore I appeal to you who are so near, because you so admire the Son of Man, to take the last step of full surrender that you may have the blessing of the free.
He Was Intellectually Convinced That Christ Was Right
Again this scribe was very near the kingdom because he was intellectually convinced that Christ was right. With perfect frankness, and with full sincerity, he admitted that what Jesus said was truth. Nothing would have been easier for him than to challenge Jesus’ answer to his question. It was a matter of endless debate among the scribes which was really the great commandment. And had he been seeking what so many seek in argument, not truth, but a dialectic triumph, he could easily have summoned his scholastic learning. But the scribe was not a disputer of this world; he was a genuine searcher for the truth. Weary with all his study of the law, he longed for a ray of light upon his darkness. And when he welcomed the doctrine of the Christ, and said, “Well, master, thou hast spoken truth,” Christ recognized what was implied in that, and said “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” If he had flouted the answer of the Lord he would have been far away from the kingdom. If he had let the words sink down into his heart, that moment he would have been within it. But he gave them an intellectual acceptance— said “Yes, master, what you say is true”; and that, though it did not stamp as a citizen, was a mark that he was not far away.
Now I think that that very hopeful sign is one which meets us everywhere today. There is a greater respect for the teaching of Christ now than there has been for many generations. Men want to know what Jesus Christ has said on every relationship and every problem. There is a widespread feeling that in these words of His lies the true answer to a thousand questions. And so within the past twenty years we have had countless books upon the teaching of Jesus, and attempts innumerable to bring His words to bear on all the problems of our modern life. There is much that is hopeful in that deepening of interest. It is not everything, but it is much. It takes more than the intellect to make a Christian, for faith is something deeper than the intellect. Still, when a man comes back to the words of Christ, after a trial of the words of other masters— when he says to himself, “There are no words like these for none are proving themselves so true to me”— that man is not far from the kingdom of God.
He Was Near the Kingdom Because He Was Deeply Stirred by Jesus’ Answer
And then, again, the scribe was near the kingdom because he was deeply stirred by Jesus’ answer. Emotionally as well as intellectually he was very deeply impressed by Jesus Christ. You may often notice in the life of Jesus how deeply His hearers were moved by what He said. It was not cold truth they heard, but living, burning truth, and it profoundly moved them in sympathy or anger. So here there is emotional excitement; had you been present you would have seen a kindling eye. There is more than intellectual assent here; there is the stirring of a man’s nature to its depths. It was a dangerous thing to acknowledge Jesus Christ, and the scribe would never have done it in cold blood. To admit in public thus that Christ was right was to expose himself to bitterest suspicion. And then the words that followed his confession are so torrent-like, and so intense, and so aglow, that you feel through them the excitement of the speaker, and realize how deeply he was moved. There is no sign that his conscience had been touched; there is every sign that his feelings had been touched. The crust of formalism had been broken through—he was no longer the cold and dry scholastic. And it was then, when he was so impressed— so ready for great action and decision— that Jesus looking at him said, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.”
Now you have all heard it long ago that it is not our feelings which save us, but our faith. It is not by what we feel that we are saved; it is by laying our hand in that of Jesus Christ. It is the height of folly for one to trust his feelings when the Bible calls on him to trust his Savior. It takes more than emotion, as it takes more than intellect, to enter the glad kingdom of the Lord. But what I want you to realize is the value of our seasons of emotion in sweeping us forward to a great decision in a way that argument can rarely do. It may be that we come to church indifferent and a word is spoken which reaches to our hearts. It may be that a children’s hymn is sung and its memories unlock the fount of tears. Or someone who is dear is called to suffer, or someone whom we love is called to die; or we have been ill, and are still weak and helpless, and a simple prayer is offered by our bed. In some such ways, and there are a thousand ways, we are brought to hours when we are deeply moved. And the crust is broken, and the deeps are stirred, and we cease to be indifferent and worldly. And I plead with you to seize these hours, and to seal them at once in personal decision, for in all your appointed journey through the world, you are never so near the kingdom as just then. I care not how deeply your feelings may be moved; I must tell you plainly that they will never save you. Could your tears forever flow you might still be an exile from the grace of Christ. But when your tears are flowing, and your heart is tender, you are so near the kingdom of the Lord that the pity is infinite if after all you miss it. There are times when a single step makes all the difference, as when a man is standing on the quay. One step, and he is on board the ocean vessel that will carry him over the deeps to other countries. But let him refuse that step and stand inactive, and all the feeling of which the heart is capable will not prevent his return to the old life, there to be haunted by a dull regret. Is it such an hour with anyone? Thou art not far, my brother, from the kingdom. It was never quite so near you in the past. It may never be quite so near you in the future. Take it by violence. Storm its walls now. Say, “I am thine, my Savior, in a full surrender.” What a difference that will make in time, and what a difference through all eternity!
From The e-Sword Study Bible