Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 20, 2013
 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”  Jesus answered, “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.”  And the scribe said to him, “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.”  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.
-- Mark 12:28-34, ESV
A noun in the English language is properly defined as a person, place, or thing. Nouns are very important. For example, if a boy comes home from school and says to his father, “I hit,” the verb alone means nothing. Nouns breath life and meaning into the sentence. “I hit the teacher and have been expelled” or “I hit a home run and won the game” fill out the sentence with precise meanings, with both making for lively conversation. Yes, nouns are very important.
The most important nouns in our Bible are found in this monumental text, Mark 12:28-34. In this dramatic third of three successive confrontations with Jesus, a “scribe” (a member of the Pharisees versed in biblical and practical law) approaches the Lord and asks for a verb. He wanted Jesus to show him some action, something he could do or keep in order to be better than other people; or, perhaps he was longing to be right with God. The scribes, who were also Pharisees, had identified and invented 613 commandments for God-fearing Jews to keep, 248 positive “do’s” and 365 negative “don’t’s” (I’ll bet they published and sold a “thou shalt not” daily calendar). Which one of these actions could he attempt, which one of these things could he do, to impress God?
Instead of a giving him a verb and telling him to take action, Jesus gave him a set of serious nouns to consider. They are the most important nouns in any language, in the Bible, and in the entire world. They identify for all of us the most important person, the most important place, and and the most important thing.
God is the Most Important Person
“The Lord our God, the Lord is one,” said Jesus, quoting from the “Shema” (the Hebrew word for “hear”) found in Deuteronomy 6:4-6. The Lord, Jehovah, Jesus, the Heavenly Father, the Holy Spirit, these are some of the names we call our one true and living God. Without a doubt, our Creator is the most important person in all the universe that He Himself created.
He is one God. There is not a church god and a synagogue god and a mosque god and a temple god and a shrine god and a pantheon of Greek gods or Roman gods. There is only one God. He is a real person, who makes Himself known in three persons, whom you must know personally in order to appreciate and accept Him as the most important person in your life.
He is a triune God, or a holy trinity. Just like one man can be three persons – a worker, a husband, and a father – the one true and living God lives in three persons as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And while there is no completely adequate illustration or explanation of the Trinity, or the tri-unity of God, the Bible does give us a sense of the purpose for which God manifests Himself in three persons: creation and re-creation. In creation, the Father designed the heavens and the earth, the Son spoke them into existence, and the Spirit hovers over and activates God’s continuing purposes and plans for His creation and creatures. In re-creation, or regeneration, or salvation, the Father chose His children before anything or anybody was even created, the Son atoned for their sin and separation with His sacrifice on the cross, and the Spirit comes into the heart of a child of God with faith and repentance, enabling them to be born again, re-created, regenerated, saved.
He must be known personally to be your most important person. This scribe wanted to do something in order to impress God and men. But Jesus taught him that the important thing is not a verb, it is a noun. It is not what you do, it is who you know. And you need to know “The Lord our God.” For only those who have been created and re-created by God know God personally. They know He is the most important person; and, they get to live with Him in the most important place.
The Kingdom of God is the Most Important Place
Jesus’ response to the scribe begins with God and ends with “the kingdom of God.” The scribe obviously wanted in, who wouldn’t? And at the end of the conversation, Jesus told him “You are not far.” Since this place, this kingdom, is so important, we need to know what it is, where it is, and how to get in.
The kingdom of God is past, present, future, and forever. It exists in any person or any place where the true and living God is truly the most important person. The kingdom of God exists in Heaven, unseen by human eyes, where the saints of all time have left this life to go to be with the Lord. The kingdom of God exists on earth, visibly, in the life of a person who has genuinely committed to Jesus Christ as Lord. The kingdom of God was visibly expressed in the Old Covenant when devout Israelites gathered for worship and dispersed to walk though life with God. The kingdom of God is visibly expressed in Christ’s church, when true believers gather for worship and live lives worthy of God’s calling upon them. It is a place you can and cannot can’t see, in people you can and cannot see, and by far the most important place in Heaven and earth.
The kingdom of God has exclusive entrance requirements. You don’t get in by keeping commandments. That’s why the scribe was still on the outside looking in. You don’t get in by being religious, by “whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” You don’t get in by legacy, just because your father or mother or sister or brother is in. And you certainly can’t buy your way in with bribes, indulgences, or charitable contributions. Most of these things have their rightful places. Good commandments are good, and should be kept by those inside and outside the kingdom of God. Religion is not a bad thing, as long as it is true religion truly kept. Contributions are necessary to sustain any organization, even an organism as vital as the visible expression of the kingdom of God. But taking action to do any of these things are not the entrance requirements for the kingdom of God.
Here is the thing, or things, that get you into the kingdom of God: grace alone, through faith alone, in the Lord Jesus Christ, alone. Yet these things are not alone. They are motivated, accompanied, and followed by the most important thing.
Love is the Most Important Thing
Love can be a noun or a verb, but it cannot be one without the other. If you have it, you will show it. If you have, as the greatest commandment states, a “love [for] the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” then you will show it by the way you “love your neighbor as yourself.” This most important thing is a love that is total, a love that takes over your life, a love that turns your life in all the important directions to honor God and bless other people. For God does not want part of you, He wants all of you.
This love comes from a sovereign God. Just like a human being is free to choose whom he or she will fall in love with and pursue for a relationship, God is free to choose whom He will love forever. God made His choices before time began. In time God chose to love Jacob and hate Esau. In time God chose to love Israel over and above all the other nations, even though they were by no means the biggest or the best. In the fulness of time God came to earth to live, die, and rise again, because of His great love for the true members of the true, holy, apostolic, catholic (with a little “c”) church. The rain falls on the just and the unjust, but God’s saving love falls on those whom God has chosen for Himself.
This love leads to saving grace. If you love God like the great commandment says we must, it is because God first loved you. In accordance with that great gospel chapter, Romans 8, those who truly love God were loved and known by God before the world began. They were predestined by God to be born in the right place at the right time in order to be influence by the right people. They were called by God with an effectual, gospel call unto salvation. They were justified by faith and secured with a glorious place in the kingdom of God, in Heaven, for all eternity.
Love is the greatest thing because it makes the greatest thing happen, salvation, for God so loved the world that He gave His Son for the salvation of every person who believes, and we truly believe when we truly love. And of all abiding things, the greatest thing is love.
Did this scribe ever get in or did he just get close? Did he love God in the right, proper, and saving way? I don’t think he was grandstanding or trying to trick Christ, like his predecessors in the preceding paragraphs. I do think he was sincere in his question about keeping a commandment. But Christianity is not a series of commandments to be kept, but a selection of persons to be loved, beginning with God.
We leave the story with the scribe still on the outside looking in. He can’t be in if he is “not far,” which though not in is not necessarily a bad place to be. Notice that Jesus did not ask him to walk an aisle, pray a prayer, sign a card, or take any other action -- no verbs, just nouns.
God, the triune God of the Bible, is the most important person. The kingdom of God, visible and invisible, is the most important place. Love, love for the true and living God that makes you live and be true for other people, is the most important thing. If you have these things, then you are not “not far from the kingdom of God.” You are in, so enjoy another very important thing: eternal life.