Perhaps one of the most frightening verses in the Bible appears in Mark’s gospel chapter twelve. In verses 28-34, we are told the story of a scribe who stepped out from a crowd and hurled a question at Christ. Can you imagine being in the crowd to hear the Q&A with Jesus? The scribe’s question, while simple and perhaps politically motivated, came back to haunt him. The scribe asked Jesus “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Perhaps he never saw it coming. Perhaps he never realized what Jesus said. Perhaps he missed what Jesus said at the end because he was so focused on the fact that he got the answer right. Either way, Jesus’ response to the scribe is one of the most frightening statements that ever proceed from Jesus’ mouth in holy Scripture.
Jesus was being peppered with questions from the Pharisees and Sadducees when this scribe stepped out and asked his question. It’s widely believed to have originated out of a heart of deceit. Perhaps he was seeking to lay a trap for Jesus. Would Jesus contradict the law of Moses? Certainly that was the intent of many people in the crowd on that day. Interestingly enough, the scribe’s question was turned back toward him when Jesus quoted from Moses. Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6. The point was this:
- Love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus’ point was that the greatest commandment is not in the 613 points that appear in successive format in the Talmud. Jesus was in one sense summarizing the whole law and demonstrating the fact that no fake follower of God would be able to fulfill those two commandments. Why not? Because they focus on the inner man rather than the external checkboxes of man’s religious system.
In a striking response of clear wisdom, the scribe responded to Jesus’ statement by saying, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other 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 oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices (32-33).” Apparently this scribe had studied the law well. It’s apparent that he knew the difference between the external and the internal forms of religion. His answer to Jesus’ quiz was exactly right.
The Sad Reality
The sad reality to this entire scene is centered upon Jesus’ response to the scribe’s answer. Mark records the scene for us by writing, “And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.‘ And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.” Although the man got the point and was accurate with his answer to Jesus, he was still not a true child of God. He had an abundance of head knowledge, but he was disconnected from God inwardly. In fact, this scribe was guilty of the very thing he spoke about in his answer. He had the external answer right with his lips, but his life was separated from God.
Do you know people like this scribe? Could it be that you resemble this man? We have all heard people who can pray with big religious words and spiritual talk on the external. We have all been around people in small group Bible studies that flaunted their wisdom and intellectual knowledge about God’s Word openly while being disconnected from God. We have all read Facebook status updates by people who speak of praying to God while in the update just prior to that one they were celebrating a lifestyle of open rebellion to God’s Word. J.C. Ryle has given us a clear warning! He writes, “Let us beware of resting our hopes of salvation on mere intellectual knowledge.”
As a pastor, I have personally witnessed many people who were “not far from the kingdom of God.” However, as it pertains to eternal life, to be close is to be an eternity away. When A.W. Tozer claimed that he believed 90% of all church members were unconverted, we must be moved to examine ourselves. Is our religion a checkbox religion? Kent Hughes writes, “Nothing is of greater importance than loving God! If we fail to take this seriously, we may find at the end of our lives that all of our works counted for nothing.”
One of the most dangerous things about “Bible Belt” America is the fact that many people know just enough about God to send them to one of the hottest parts of hell. Remember, Jesus once warned the most religious groups that the judgment would be more tolerable for Sodom than for those who had heard the gospel over and over and over again (Matthew 11:20-24). Nominal Christianity is a death knell.
It would do us all well today to examine our faith to see if it is genuine. Are you close to the kingdom of God? Jesus’ words to this scribe continue to echo throughout history. He was not the only one in human history to be close. Call out for mercy to God today and He will cleanse you from your transgressions. In the words of Paul Tripp – “‘What can wash away my sin?’ (Not people, possessions, theology, performance, experience, etc…) ‘Nothing but the blood of Jesus.'”