Last week I received a phone call that a man I’ve known for many years suddenly passed away. He was young. He was strong. He was skilled at his job. He loved his family, and now—without a moment of notice, he’s in eternity.

We know the script of such stories. They never get any easier. Sad goodbyes are full of pain. So, today, I stood before the grieving family and sought to point them to their hope in Christ. I preached from Mark 12:28-34 and pointed out the sad ending of a man who didn’t finish well. His story is one that should shock us. We read in the text that this scribe approached Jesus with a question, and how Jesus responded to the man is sobering.

It was passion week and Jesus would soon be nailed to a cross on Friday. He had entered Jerusalem on Monday and the streets were lined with Jews proclaiming that their Messiah had come. Yet, by mid-week Jesus was continuing to field questions from skeptics and teachers of the law. Their agenda was to entrap Jesus and find a reason to have him executed. Jesus played along with their game and turned the tables on their questions. In this scene, Jesus was asked a very important question and Jesus provided a very important response.

“Which is the greatest commandment?” That is the question the that came from the Scribe. Immediately Jesus responded by quoting the Shema from the Old Testament. Jesus said:

“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. [30] 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.’ [31] The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).

When the scribe heard this he responded by complimenting Jesus as the “teacher” who spoke truth. However, the scribe failed to see that Jesus is God in human flesh—the Messiah of Israel. How Jesus responded at this juncture is sobering indeed. Jesus said, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” At that moment, nobody else brought a question to Jesus.

It’s very possible for a football game to be lost by inches. Many athletes have gone home in defeat after being tackled inches from the goal line. Many baseball players have longed for the win only to be thrown out at the plate. Many race car drivers led the final lap of the race only to lose by a couple of inches at the line. Many horse races have ended with one horse losing the race by a nose. It’s very possible to be close and yet lose everything.

The same thing is true, yet far more important, in life. It’s very probable to have religious knowledge just as this scribe did—yet finish life close to the Kingdom but an eternity away. It’s very possible to believe Jesus lived and died and rose from the dead, and still die and go to hell. It’s very possible to attend church and to profess to be a Christian and yet to die and wake up in hell with a lot of knowledge about God—yet without true saving faith.

The sad ending to this scribe is forever recorded in the pages of Scripture. It’s very possible that this man who was asking Jesus questions on Wednesday (not far from the Kingdom) was also among the crowd crying out for Jesus’ crucifixion on Friday. He wasn’t far from the Kingdom, but he is likely in hell today.

What about you? Do you have religious knowledge but lack saving faith? If so, I encourage you to call upon the name of the Lord for salvation. The Lord not only will hear your prayer, but he will save your soul.

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