You are not far from the kingdom of God.

Pastor Ino

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Today’s title is from Mark 12:34, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” This phrase is from the conversation between Jesus and the teacher of law, but I am glad to see that there were some teachers of the law tried to understand teaching of Jesus correctly. First, we will take a look at three events of Jesus’ Passion Week. One of them includes today’s theme, and we would like to read together how Jesus answered the question of which commandment is the most important in the Law. First, please read Mark 12:13-34.

 First, there is a conversation between some of the Pharisees and Herodians. They asked Jesus a question to find something that they can accuse him of, they tried to make him fall into a trap. Their question was about paying imperial tax to Caesar. The Pharisees were against paying imperial tax to Rome, but the Herodians were for it. Two disagreeing groups asked this question to Jesus to trap him. If Jesus said he was for paying the tax, that would disappoint those crowds who were hoping for liberation from the Roman Empire. If he gave them an opposite answer, they were ready to accuse him of rebelling against the Roman Empire. Hiding such traps, they asked Jesus on verse 14, “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” You might have heard this word of Jesus before since it’s well known word spoken by him. After hearing his answer, it says “And they were amazed by him.” Let’s sort this out. Caesar is one of the titles of the Roman emperor, and the denarius coin at that time was engraved with Roman emperor Tiberius, and the names such as Tiberius, Caesar, and high priest were engraved. Since Jews were using coins engraved with the name of Tiberius, they should also fulfill their tax obligations in their society. At the same time, the things of God should be returned to God. This is what Jesus taught them. God created everything and it is in His hands. With that understanding, we can say that our body and mind are under the reign of God. Even Caesar was only a vessel used by the Almighty God to bring order to human society. These leaders, no matter how famous and powerful they are, they are only allowed by God to have that position temporarily. I believe that we should live with responsibility for this society and gratitude for God at the same time. I hope those people in authority would humbly recognize that God has given them a calling to serve people. Let’s pray for the politicians and leaders of Japan and all over the world to humbly accept the calling.
Then the Sadducees, who claimed there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. The summary of their question is as follows. There were seven brothers married one wife, none of them died without leaving any children, then at the resurrection whose wife will she be? Their question is based on human thought. They wanted to conclude with their question that there is no resurrection, but I feel their logics seems wrong. The Sadducees only accepted the Law of Moses as the Law and could not accept the doctrine of the Resurrection because it’s not written there. Resurrection is mentioned in Isaiah 26:19 and Daniel 12:2, but such doctrine are not obtained from the law of Moses. They were consisted of high priests and influential people, so they were blessed financially, but they were also worldly. They didn’t believe in the resurrection of the body, future judgement or rewards, nor the existence of angels. Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.」(24-25)

I am very encouraged by the words that they will be like angels in heaven. The life of resurrection will be given to us someday, this is what the Bible promises. It’s encouraging that we will be like the angels in heaven someday. Paul described the body of the resurrection as heavenly bodies, (Ⅰ Corinthians 15:40) or the splendor of the heavenly bodies, spiritual body (Ⅰ Corinthians 15:44). Let us hope for the body of the resurrection. Jesus explained to the Sadducee from the law of Moses that God said ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” There’s no doubt that the hope of a resurrection was also given to their ancestor Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The third conversion was between Jesus and one of the teachers of the law. He noticed that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”」(Mark 12:28) This teacher unlike the others, asked him a question out of his respect for Jesus. Jesus answered with a quote from Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” This scripture was well-known, and it was one of the scriptures that God-fearing Jews recited everyday. Just like the Jews at that time, we realize the importance of the lifestyle of loving God with all our heart, soul and strength. This is the most important commandment. Jesus continued, “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” The second commencement was quoted from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus included not only the Jews but also the gentiles in this commandment. This teaching of loving God and people is expanding throughout the world even now by the believers of Jesus. The teacher of the law responded to Jesus wisely, “To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” The teacher of the law seemed to understand God’s intention and His heart reveled in Old Testament. In Hosea 6:6, It says「For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.」this is the will of God. Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”, which is today’s theme. The kingdom of God won’t be brought by our own strengths nor by our effort. The kingdom of God is given by God to those who welcome Jesus, the savior into their hearts. To those who believe in Jesus, the joy of forgiveness of their sins will be given to them. Gratitude and joy of worship are also given to Them. Loving God and loving your neighbors will naturally become a part of your life. The teacher of the law was about to face to make the same decision. I personally believe that this person later became one of the followers of Jesus. God’s kingdom is not the only promise given in the future. Even in our everyday life, we Christians can experience the kingdom of God. While firmly holding the hope of Heaven that will be given in the future, let us live our lives experiencing the kingdom of God through loving God and loving our neighbors.