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ENCOURAGEMENT TO THOSE
WHO ARE NOT FAR FROM SALVATION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, June 7, 2009

“When Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).


When Jesus first met this scribe, the man was against Him. This scribe “asked him a question, tempting him” (Matthew 22:35). That information is given in Matthew’s Gospel, but not here in Mark. But his opposition against Christ softened when he heard Jesus answering the other scribes. “Perceiving that he had answered them well” (Mark 12:28), it seems that his heart began to soften toward Jesus. Then Jesus told him that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus ended by saying, “There is none other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31).

Here is where we see the thoughtfulness of this scribe. His antagonism against Jesus softened and he said to Jesus, “Master, thou hast said the truth” (Mark 12:32),

“For there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:32b-33).

Then Christ spoke to him in the words of our text,

“And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).

I will show three things from Christ’s encounter with this man: (1) he was persuaded to stop tempting Jesus and opposing Him; (2) his heart was opened to listen to what Jesus said and approve of it; (3) he was brought very near to salvation. These are things that happen to all those who are beginning to be awakened by God’s Spirit, and thus prepared for salvation. And I pray that some of you will go through what this man did, so that Jesus can say to you,

“Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).

For Him to say that about you, you must go through what this scribe experienced.

I. First, he was persuaded to stop tempting and opposing Christ.

The Spirit of God is not mentioned in the accounts of this scribe in either Matthew or Mark. But the Holy Spirit was very definitely at work in the heart of this man, for only the Spirit of God can break down a man’s opposition to God and his antagonism toward Christ. And I see the “hidden hand” of God’s Spirit working in this man’s heart.

You may say that you don’t have such opposition and antagonism. But, if you are unconverted, you are wrong. You are just like this scribe when he spoke against Christ, “tempting him” (Matthew 22:35). However subtle or suppressed, you do oppose Christ if you are in an unsaved state. Thus, the scribe pictures a person in the process of being awakened, before conversion. Spurgeon said,

This man began as a foe [an enemy]…it is plainly stated in Matthew, that the scribe asked a question of the Saviour “tempting him” [Matthew 22:35]. He was, therefore an enemy. Put the mildest sense you like on the word “tempt” and it will retain the idea of unfriendly testing (C. H. Spurgeon, “For the Candid and Thoughtful,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1972, volume XXVI, p. 61).

Since the Fall of man in the Garden of Eden, all human beings have inherited an evil nature, one that opposes God, and is hostile to Christ.

“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Romans 8:7).

Whether they confess it or not, all unconverted people are, more or less, spoken of in Philippians 3:18,

“They are the enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18).

Man in his natural state is hostile to God and at least to some extent an enemy of the cross of Christ. The Bible describes men in their natural state as

“alienated [from God] and enemies in your mind”
       (Colossians 1:21).

The human mind is in rebellion against God. In a natural, unconverted state, a man is not only hostile to God and an enemy of the cross of Christ, but is also spiritually blind, so blind that it is said of him,

“The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God”
       (I Corinthians 2:14).

Thus, the unconverted person is an enemy of God, an enemy of the cross of Christ, an enemy in his mind, and spiritually blind. This can be summed up in those dreadful words, that describe him as,

“Dead in sins” (Ephesians 2:5).

And the slavery to sin this implies can be summed up with the Apostle’s verdict,

“They are all under sin” (Romans 3:9).

That is, all unconverted people are dominated and controlled by sin, by their own sin nature, and by the Devil, the author of sin.

Theologians call this condition “total depravity.” The Westminster Confession (IX. 3) defines total depravity in these words,

Man by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether [against] that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

For this scribe to change, and actually say to Jesus,

“Thou hast said the truth” (Mark 12:32)

God had to illuminate his heart. The Westminster Confession says that “the Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening…sinners” (Westminster Larger Catechism 155). So, the preaching of Christ was used by God to illuminate the scribe. Have you ever been illuminated to any extent by a sermon? If not, the sermons are going in one of your ears and out the other, not making any impression on your mind.

Until the Holy Spirit illuminates your heart, you will remain dead in sins and blind to the reality of the Gospel. Note that this scribe, in his natural state, was against Christ. So, we see that it must have been the work of God in his heart that caused him to stop opposing Christ. He was led by the Spirit of God to stop “testing” Christ and begin listening to Him.

II. Second, his ears were opened to hear what Christ said.

In Mark 12, we read that,

“One of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well…the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth” (Mark 12:28, 32).

I believe that this shows that God was shining light into his darkened heart. This is the work of God alone. You cannot understand the Scriptures by study alone. What you study in the Scriptures must be illuminated and made alive by the Spirit of God, as happened with the disciples themselves after Christ rose from the dead.

“Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45).

This scribe knew all about the Bible in his mind. But its spiritual truth was absolutely hidden from him until this moment, when God illuminated his mind and heart, moving him to say,

“Well, Master, thou hast said the truth” (Mark 12:32).

I have seen this happen many times. Just last Sunday, a young person who has been in our church all his life asked me, “Why did Jesus have to die on the Cross?” In nearly every sermon I say, “Christ died on the Cross to pay the penalty for man’s sin.” I say words to that effect in nearly every sermon. And this young man has heard me say those words over and over, Sunday after Sunday. Yet his darkened, depraved mind didn’t grasp what I preach. It requires the enlightening work of the Spirit of God. That is what happened to Lydia, in Acts 16:14.

“Whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended [paid attention] unto the things which were spoken of Paul” (Acts 16:14).

I did not rebuke the boy who asked me that question. I simply repeated once again, “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:3). Perhaps one day the Spirit will drive that verse into his heart. In that instant the truth of the Gospel will shine into his heart like the sun of noonday, but not before. You really cannot receive important benefit from a sermon unless God opens your ears. Without the work of God within you, it will be true of you that,

“Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand…For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing” (Acts 28:26-27; Isaiah 6:9-10).

The Spirit of God opened the ears of the scribe so he could actually hear and understand what Jesus said. When his ears were opened he could say, “Well, Master, thou hast said the truth” (Mark 12:32). And that leads us to the last point.

III. Third, he was brought very near salvation.

“And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).

Spurgeon said,

This man came so near to the kingdom: did he ever enter it? We do not know…He should have done so. [He should have said with the Apostle Paul] “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (ibid., p. 68).

He should have seen that he could not love God perfectly, and that he was a sinner who needed Christ to save him.

“And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).

The English word “discreetly” translates the Greek which says he answered Jesus in “a thoughtful, understanding way” (Strong #362, 363). This happened because God’s Spirit opened his ears to hear the words the Saviour said. As a result, he answered Jesus thoughtfully.

If you have come so close to salvation that you are thinking about it thoughtfully and understandingly, we encourage you to come all the way in to Christ. Why stand just outside the door when Christ invites you in? Why stand puzzling and thinking and questioning? You must be moved to act on what you have heard. Come in to Christ! He will wash away your sins with His Blood and save your soul from eternal judgment. Come in to Christ!

“Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).

John Calvin said, “Christ’s testimony is more encouragement than praise.” I believe him to be right on this point. Having come this far, Christ encouraged the man to come in all the way! Come in to Christ and He will save you!

“Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).

Christ is encouraging the scribe to go a step further and actually enter into the Kingdom of God by coming to Jesus.

What holds you back from coming to Christ? Is it fear that you will lose non-Christian friends? Let them go! You will lose them anyway in Hell – for there is no fellowship in that awful place,

“Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched”
      (Mark 9:44).

What holds you back from coming to Christ? Are you afraid of what others will say? Forget what they might say! Their words will not matter in that other world,

“Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched”
      (Mark 9:44).

What holds you back from coming to Christ? Is it fear that you will lose money or position? What if you do? How will a better position or more money and security help you, if you enter Hell,

“Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched”
      (Mark 9:44).

Repent! Turn from your sins and come to Christ. There is no other way to escape the coming judgment. As Dr. John R. Rice said, in one of his soul-touching songs, which Mr. Griffith sang a few moments ago,

Too long I neglected the Saviour.
   Too long as I held to my sin.
Too long I excused my rejecting,
   And now I am lost without Him.
It is late, Oh, so late! Yet He knocks at the door,
   And Jesus, sweet Saviour, is calling once more.
(“Too Long I Neglected” by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Mark 12:28-34.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Too Long I Neglected” (by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).


THE OUTLINE OF

ENCOURAGEMENT TO THOSE
WHO ARE NOT FAR FROM SALVATION

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“When Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34).

(Matthew 22:35; Mark 12:28, 31, 32, 33)

I.   First, he was persuaded to stop tempting and opposing Christ,
Matthew 22:35; Romans 8:7; Philippians 3:18; Colossians 1:21;
I Corinthians 2:14; Ephesians 2:5; Romans 3:9; Mark 12:32.

II.  Second, his ears were opened to hear what Christ said,
Mark 12:28, 32; Luke 24:45; I Corinthians 15:3; Acts 16:14;
Acts 28:26-27; Isaiah 6:9-10.

III. Third, he was brought very near salvation, Romans 7:24; Mark 9:44.