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Near But Not There – By Pastor/Elder Jay Swisher

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When Jesus sent out the 70 to prepare the towns He intended to visit, He gave them instructions. One instruction told them to heal people and to tell the healed person, “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (Lk. 10:9).

An expert in the Mosaic Law asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mk. 12:28). Jesus responded with the Shema from Dt. 6:4,5—to love God with the totality of one’s being is the most important commandment. Then he added a second one from Lev. 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Since the question was about the “most important” commandment, the addition of a second commandment suggests it is of equal importance with the most important one. The man replied that Jesus was right because those commandments “were more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Jesus acknowledged the insight of the man’s answer and said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk. 12:34).

The phrase, “kingdom of God,” appears in the New Testament 67 times. The phrase, “kingdom of Heaven,” appears 32 times only in Matthew. Matthew’s use of the word “Heaven” in place of “God” is in deference to his Jewish readers and their resistance to referring to God directly. Both phrases denote the same concept.

The Jews believed the kingdom of God would be the kingdom of the Messiah. John the Baptist had announced that the Messiah had come, yet there was no earthly kingdom established for Him to rule over. The verses above suggest the kingdom of God is not the expected political entity. Indeed, it was something else—something that one could be very close to whether the Messiah was reigning or not. In the presence of physical healing, the kingdom of God is near. When one speaks the truth about relating to God, the kingdom of God is near.

In Luke 13:28 the phrase, “in the kingdom of God,” describes where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets could be found in the presence of God. The next verse says people “from east and west and from north and south” will also be there. We must conclude that, in addition to being near the kingdom of God, one can also be in the kingdom of God.

Both “near” and “not far” mean “close to something.” They also mean, “not quite there.” They are not at all the same as “in.”

In famous races like the Tour de France or the Indianapolis 500, the racer who finishes second is sometimes said to have lost the race. The fact that he may have finished very close to first and far ahead of many others means nothing—it’s still a loss. It’s like the tragedy of being near but not in.

There are many good people in the world who could be described as being “near the kingdom of God.” I’m sure you know some of them. It’s tragic that they are also “not quite there.” We who claim to be in the kingdom of God by means of the work of Jesus on the cross have an obligation to find these people who are near the kingdom of God and help them understand how to take the next step to be in the kingdom.

May God motivate us and help us.

Your brother in Christ, Jay Swisher


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