Yesterday I preached Mark 12:28-34 in our series through Mark’s gospel in the morning worship service.  From Mark 11 through the end of chapter 12, we see the religious establishment approaching Jesus in order to test Him.  Their goal was to find a way to expose Him as a false prophet and to quickly destroy Him.  The religious community of the Jews despised one another in many different ways.  The Herodians were hated by the Pharisees for their willingness to submit to Herod.  The Sadducees hated the Pharisees for their interpretation of the Old Testament and their belief in the bodily resurrection and afterlife.  However, all of these groups could unite in their hatred for Jesus.  In this scene, we see another Pharisee approach Jesus with a theological question.  What is the greatest commandment?  Jesus’ answer would bring everyone to silence and it was the last time someone approached Jesus to trap Him.

The scribe’s question was not sincere.  According to Matthew 22:35, he was asking a question in order to trap Jesus.  Nevertheless, Jesus engaged this man’s question and responded with a statement of truth.  Jesus said, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 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 second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).  In the previous scene with the Pharisees, Jesus exposed their idolatry as they asked Him about taxation.  As another Pharisee came to Jesus, it’s as if He is reminding him of the idolatry of the Pharisees.  The LORD is one and we are to worship Him supremely.

What a high command given to the people of God.  We’re called to love God with the totality of our human being.  With all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  However, not one person in world history has loved God in this way.  We can’t love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength for one minute in our best hour on our best day.  What a humbling consideration to think on the bigness of God and the frailty of human flesh.

The scribe responded to Jesus with good theological answers.  He agreed with Jesus’ statements and didn’t see any means to trip Him up.  After he responded, Jesus made a sobering statement.  He said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).  This man was a very religious man and had good theological positions.  However, Jesus made it clear – He was not a true child of God.  In saying that he was not far from the kingdom of God, Jesus was likewise making a big assessment about the condition of his soul.  To be close to the kingdom is to be an eternity away.  Matters of the gospel and the soul of man are not on the same level as frisbee golf or hand grenades.  It’s not about getting close.  The gospel of Christ requires precision.

What a terrifying reality.  Jesus made this reality clear in Matthew 7:13-14  by saying, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. [14] For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  It may be sobering, but Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. [22] On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ [23] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).  The point is clear – many religious people are on their way to eternal destruction.

It was Wednesday during passion week when this scribe approached Jesus with his question.  It’s highly probable that he was among the crowd calling out for Jesus’ crucifixion on Friday of that same week.  As you read this article, it’s likewise highly probable that this same scribe is in hell.  Take time today to examine yourself to see if you’re in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).  It’s important to note that nobody else dared to test Jesus at this point.  He had declared checkmate with each group or individual who approached Him.  As we consider the impossibility of this great commandment to love God supremely, this is where we bow in humility and praise God for His grace.  Jesus has done what we can’t do.  Jesus has pleased the Father in love and obedience in ways that we can’t in our sinful flesh.  We cling to Christ.  As Augustus Toplady accurately declared:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;

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Author The Greatest Commandment

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.