How terrible it will be on that final day
when all opportunities are past
to meet with Jesus and hear him say:
You are “not far” away.
The following passage of text is taken from “The Good News according to Mark”. Jesus has been having a discussion with some religious leaders ...
A teacher of the law was there who heard the discussion. He saw that Jesus had given the Sadducees a good answer, so he came to him with a question: “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied, “The most important one is this: 'Listen, Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second most important commandment is this: 'Love your neighbour as you love yourself.' There is no commandment more important than these two.” The teacher of the law said to Jesus, “Well done teacher! It is true, as you say, that the only Lord is God and that there is no other god but he, and to love God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself, is more important than to offer animals and other sacrifices to God.” Jesus noticed how wise his answer was, and so he told him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
In this passage, taken from chapter 12 of the Good News according to Mark, we meet a man who is described as a “Teacher of the Law”. As a teacher of the law it is possible that he would have read the Hebrew Scriptures regularly, prayed often, performed what the Jewish religious law required him to do, paid his tithes and attended the Synagogue perhaps several times each week. In short, he was likely to have been a very religious man.
When this respectable and highly educated man met Jesus he was impressed. He was impressed enough to stop and listen to the debate between Jesus and some Sadducees. He was impressed by the answer Jesus gave; and he was impressed enough to ask for Jesus' opinion on another matter. And so we find him asking Jesus about the most important commandment. And when Jesus answers, the teacher of the law is impressed even more. He praises Jesus and then agrees with him. In fact he is so enthusiastic about the answer that Jesus gives that he repeats almost all of it.
Then it is Jesus' turn to be impressed: For when the man has repeated what Jesus said he then shows that he has understood the real significance of the commandment by adding a short conclusion of his own, saying, that it is more important to keep these commandments than it is to offer sacrifices and gifts to God.
So let us review what we understand about this man. He was very religious, respected, well educated in the religious law and the workings of God. He was probably enthusiastic in his study of the religious law; eager to know the truth. He had met Jesus personally, spoken with Jesus, been impressed by Jesus and, in turn, he had impressed Jesus. He showed a real and very rare understanding about what was important in God's sight.
There are very few people who could claim such a good standing.
So, we either know or can safely assume all of these good things about this man, but there is one more thing that we know, and we might be surprised: On the day he met Jesus he was “not far” from the kingdom of God.
What does it mean to be “not far” from somewhere — it means you are close or even very close but you haven't got there. So Jesus was saying that this teacher was close to the Kingdom of God, but not close enough; he was outside not inside... outside in the place where Jesus also said there will be darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth.
So what was this teacher's problem? What did he lack that caused him to be merely “not far” from the Kingdom he had tried very hard to enter? It seems that although his understanding was greater than what most people had, it was still insufficient. If he had stopped to think about what Jesus and he had both just said, then he would have realised that his position was indeed dire. The commandment that they had both agreed was the most important — the one that took priority over all others — required him to love God with ALL his heart, with ALL his mind, with ALL his soul and with ALL his strength. And here is where his problem lay because he didn't love with ALL but only with a part. The commandment required a total loving, anything less than 100% was a fail grade and since he could never reach that 100% he was, like everyone else, under the condemnation of God and doomed.
What then did he need to do? How could he ever be saved from Hell and gain access to the Kingdom of Heaven? The answer was the “Good News” that Jesus had come to announce.
The perfectly paradoxical problem of Paradise
This man's basic problem is the same problem that faces us all, namely that heaven, being the presence of God, is a place of perfection and can only remain perfect for as long as everything imperfect, including us, is kept outside. None of us have a perfect life and so none of us can enter into the presence of God. All of us are condemned.
Although this man, like us, could not save himself he could be saved by someone else. Jesus came to ”seek and save the lost“; to snatch people from the fire. The man needed to realise that his own righteousness was insufficient — less than the 100% required — and then to cry out for help. He needed to realise that he would never enter heaven by keeping the rules or by being a good person because he could never be good enough. The law which he was trying to keep cannot improve a person or make them good; the law only gives us a standard so that we can see how we have failed!
This teacher needed a life that could carry him into God's Kingdom. But how?  Jesus said, “I am telling you the truth, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. A person is born physically of human parents, but is born spiritually of the Spirit. Do not be surprised that I tell you that you must all be born again.”
What does it mean to be born again?
When we accept Jesus as the one who will rescue us from damnation and trust him alone for our salvation then he has promised that he will replace our imperfect life with his perfect and sinless life. In turn he takes our sinful and condemned life to the cross and there suffers the penalty that we deserved. Now if we, through our spiritual rebirth, have obtained the perfect life of Jesus then we can go boldly into the presence of God and call him Father -- just as Jesus taught his followers to do. Because the whole world is under condemnation even the rescued sinner must still pass through the door called physical death but they will not find death on the other side. Instead they will find life because, in Jesus, physical death for them has lost its power and has been swallowed-up.
Unfortunately there are many people who are still planning to approach God on their own terms. These people think that their own righteousness will be sufficient to warrant them a friendly welcome on the day of judgement. Alas, what they will actually discover is that the holy and righteous God into whose presence they dare to come will be, for them, a consuming fire that destroys everything unrighteous. Anyone who brings their own grubby and imperfect life into the courts of heaven must be prepared to be condemned for all eternity.
God may be all loving and full of mercy, but love demands justice and justice demands condemnation for those found guilty of sin. The only way that justice and mercy could be reconciled was when Jesus took our sins to the cross and offered his perfect life to us through the Holy Spirit. His teaching offers no comfort at all to anyone who approaches God on their own terms.
So, reader, how about you? Maybe you have been impressed by Jesus, impressed enough to quote him? You might have tried to live the way he said people should live: you're fairly good and you try your best, you go to church regularly and give generously to other people. Perhaps you have even spoken to Jesus, in prayer each night beside your bed. But have you have done more than the teacher of the law?  Have you have lived a perfect life — loving God with your ALL from cradle to grave. And where will you be on the day that you meet Jesus face-to-face? Will you be “not far” from the Kingdom of God?  Or will you have entered in?
The truth is that your goodness is just not good enough. You cannot save yourself, but will you let yourself be saved?
“Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord Lord', will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you.  Away from me you evildoers.'”
The Good News according to Matthew, chapter 7, verse 21