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“Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘Which is the first commandment of all?’ Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ So the scribe said to Him, ‘Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ But after that no one dared question Him.”—Mark 12:28–34 (NKJV)
By now you’re probably noticing a pattern in this section of Mark’s Gospel: Religious leaders come at Jesus, trying to trip Him up in saying something foolish or wrong, Jesus reverses everything on them, and they skitter away with their theological tails between their legs. That’s been the rhythm we’ve seen in this succession of confrontations leading up to this point. But now we come to an exchange that plays out a bit differently.
Notice that it involves an individual, rather than a collective group, which always tends to be where spiritual transformation truly happens—on a personal basis. And this man, a scribe who was well-versed in what God’s Word said, can’t help but recognize Jesus’ words have rung true throughout these verbal conflicts. So, he asks, with a measure of sincerity, which command in the Law of Moses is the most important. Take note that Jesus, perceiving where this man was coming from, doesn’t respond with a question of His own but answers the question directly.
Again, there’s a different tone here. This was not a set up or a trap intended to incriminate Jesus. It was a sincere inquiry from someone who had deep roots in the Word of God and wanted to grow in his understanding. Jesus obliges this and gives him the answer: Loving God is the greatest of all the commandments. Keep it first. But then the Lord gives him more than he had asked for by telling him the second greatest command is to love his neighbor. If you’re going to live any commands, focus on these two: love God and love others.
This scribe’s spiritual understanding wasn’t fully formed yet. This is evidenced by the fact that he calls Jesus, “teacher,” so he still has a way to go before he truly “gets it.” But that doesn’t stop Jesus from doing what we would all hope He would do for us in the same situation—He encourages him! Jesus didn’t blast the guy for not having it all together. Instead, He gently leads him onward and tells him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
Don’t you love how Jesus, after a series of contentious battles with the religious rulers, is willing to treat this man differently? He hones in on the heart that’s open to hear, He implants the seed of truth into it, and then waters it with encouragement. May we never forget this about our Lord. He takes us on an individual basis and treats us according to our particular needs.
Pause: How does this encounter differ and what does Jesus do differently?
Practice: Discover how you can grow in Christ’s example here.
Pray: Lord, help me take each person individually and treat them personally, just as You would. Amen.
Pastor Dan Hickling serves our online community, also known as the Calvary Chapel Online Campus. He and his wife Becky have been married for 22 years and have two children, Lauren and Danny. Both Dan and Becky have been part of the CCFL church family for 22 years and have served in full time ministry for 20 of those years.