During the last few days of Jesus’ life before his crucifixion, he was debated furiously by the scribes and Pharisees who opposed him. But one man, described as a teacher of the Law, came to ask him a question: “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus gave the now familiar reply: “The first is, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” The man agreed completely with Jesus and even expounded on what he had said by adding “What you have said is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus heard his wise and sincere response he added, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
Not far from the kingdom? Why did he say that? Why wasn’t his answer good enough to place him IN the Kingdom of God? The man was intelligent, a sincere believer in God, a supporter of Jesus’ teachings and in complete agreement on the most vital issue of life in the Kingdom. So why was he only “close” to the Kingdom? After years of wondering about his reply, I think I now know why Jesus hesitantly endorsed the man’s position in life. It is the same issue every believer faces today: the difference between knowing and doing.
It is absolutely amazing how many people who profess to be believers live out their lives as if they had never heard anything about Christian character. You cannot hold on to your resentment, your anger, your prejudice and your bitterness while claiming citizenship in Christ’s Kingdom. The Kingdom is centered in love for people. The great writer Evelyn Underhill was having a difficult time spiritually. She wrote to her spiritual mentor Baron Von Huegel. He advised her to spend less time in spiritual retreats and give more time to real people, helping them with their problems. “You don’t find the Kingdom of God by retreating into the desert.” he advised her. “You find the Kingdom of God by dealing with people.” In the 1985 Madrid Marathon, 4,000 runners began the race. At the end, two 36 year old runners who were very close friends were leading. Near the finish line, one of them was seized with terrible cramps and could not finish the race on his own. The other runner stopped, picked up his friend and carried him across the finish line.
The Kingdom of God is like that. It is a kingdom in which an active love for people is second only to love for God. It is a kingdom comprised, not of people who can quote the words, but of those who are willing to live the life. So, are you in, or only close to, the Kingdom of God?
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship