Devotional 121: Not Far from the Kingdom of G-d

Mark 12:28-34

The Scribes: Which Is the First Commandment of All?

28 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?”

29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 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. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

32 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. 33 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.”

34 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.

One of the scribes was beginning to think for himself, as Nicodemus, a Pharisee, did when he came at night to speak to Jesus.

The scribe’s answer lines up with what the Father had to say about Israel placing too much value on ritual rather than obedience.

1 Samuel 15:22

22 So Samuel said:

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.

There are days, brothers and sisters, where we go through the motions; our lips, and not our hearts, ‘honor’ Him. He does not inhabit that praise, because it isn’t really praise.

There are earthly experiences that bring us to the precipice of turning away, of cooling our love, silencing the call, and extinguishing the divine gifts.

What then, when taking up your cross, counting the cost, and following a Savior whose face is set like flint toward the glory of G-d seems almost foolish, if not worthless.

Yet Jesus tells us this for our excuses: (Luke 9:61-62)

61 And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”

62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

The fate of Lot’s wife dramatically illustrates this for us.

If we are not far from the Kingdom, and if we endure to the end we are saved, and if He is in the midst of our prayers for doing or seeking the Father’s will, and He goes to prepare a place for us, and we are sealed to salvation by the presence of the Holy Spirit, believing He will raise us with a great shout on the last day, we can believe Him when He says “Assuredly, I say to you…”

It is indeed a blessed assurance, a resting comfort, and a heavenly peace.

We are to abide in faith in a world of prophesied turmoil and evil, for it belongs to the prince of this world.

It is the reason a new earth will be created for us to dwell eternally in the Father’s light, spotless and blameless, in a world free from sin and evil. It is something to be feared and desired that we are counted worthy, not because we deserve it, but because He has grafted in those who are not His people through grace, and grace alone.

Though the Father’s wrath abides on the faithless and lawless, His love and mercy daily, and eternally, surround those of us who have placed and confessed our faith in the atoning work of His Son, our Lord and Savior.

And Jesus, given all authority to judge, forgive, and draw us into His Father’s presence, tells us that in doing the Father’s will, and keeping His commandments, we are not so very far from His Kingdom at all.

Therefore I pray:

Father in Heaven,

I am a base and unprofitable servant. 

There are days my corruption, laziness, and sinful rebellion are paraded before Your holy eyes in defiance of Your rules for me to live a long, fruitful life, finishing the work You gave me to do.

There are days when I would be content to have the rocks sing my praise to You, even though it would grieve You.

There are days I set down my cross and indulge my flesh, telling myself I’ve done nothing wrong.

But neither have I drawn closer to You, even though I desire to return.

The Good Shepherd walks the path before me. In Him, You are pleased, and implore me to listen to Him. It is up to me to listen and to know His voice, which ministers Your purpose. I thank Him for coming to find me when I go astray. I thank Him for restoring me to the fold, under Your protection, and not leaving me to the outer darkness. 

Thank You for sending Him to overcome Death and Hell for my soul’s sake; unworthy though it may be, You would not see it burned as chaff in the unquenchable fire set for those who hate You.

I’m humbled that my King thinks so highly of this unfruitful, unprofitable servant, who struggles to do even that which he is supposed to do. Though I have less time to walk in the Narrow Way, I thank You for the rewards to come, if there are any. If not, the Kingdom in and of itself is more than I deserve, however humble my place in it.

Such is Your love, Almighty G-d, that You would send Jesus to draw me near once more, and be with You, praising You and giving You all glory and honor, forever and forever.

May it be done to me as You have said.

Amen.

Devotional 91: A Mother’s Heart

2 Kings 4:12-25

1Then he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite woman.” When he had called her, she stood before him. 13 And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘Look, you have been concerned for us with all this care. What can I do for you? Do you want me to speak on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’”

She answered, “I dwell among my own people.”

14 So he said, “What then is to be done for her?”

And Gehazi answered, “Actually, she has no son, and her husband is old.”

15 So he said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood in the doorway. 16 Then he said, “About this time next year you shall embrace a son.”

And she said, “No, my lord. Man of God, do not lie to your maidservant!”

17 But the woman conceived, and bore a son when the appointed time had come, of which Elisha had told her.

18 And the child grew. Now it happened one day that he went out to his father, to the reapers. 19 And he said to his father, “My head, my head!”

So he said to a servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died. 21 And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, shut the door upon him, and went out. 22 Then she called to her husband, and said, “Please send me one of the young men and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and come back.”

There is a lot in this story left untold: we are not told the woman’s name or status, only that she was notable, so she wasn’t poor, and that she’d set aside a space for Elisha after recognizing he was G-d’s prophet.

G-d honored her faith in her dealings with Elisha by granting her a son, but then it seems her faith was tested, and the son was taken.

She didn’t turn to her husband, who’d proven rather useless in this matter; either he didn’t know what to do, or didn’t care, but what we know is he didn’t even take the boy in himself. She didn’t even tell him the boy had died.

She knew the source to go to, however. Not being an Israelite, she had no access to G-d except through the prophet. Her attitude was that of Martha’s at the tomb of Lazarus: “But even now I know that whatever You ask of G-d, He will give You.” (John 11:22)

Since the man of G-d prophesied her conception, but not the death, of her son, she would go to him to fix the problem.

I can imagine the rush of emotions going through her that run through us all when the Father grants something and seemingly snatches it away: anger, doubt, questions, frustration, and a sense of resolve in that if the Father wants it to be, He’ll fix it.

We’re not told her age, but in calling for the carriage to take her the prophet’s house, she told the driver not to slacken the pace. The journey through the country was likely arduous, but she bore the pain and pace through the heart stopping terrain to reach Elisha before it was  too late.

The thought of it being too late never occurred to her, and she confronted the prophet, putting the onus on him to intercede. He does, but needs to persist; the Father did not render this an easy task even for the prophet, but in the end, her son is given back to her to care for her in the days when she’ll be dependent on him.

A child grows near the mother’s heart, takes comfort from its rhythm, and becomes a part of the mother’s own biology; that is a bond fathers will never know. Her love for her son drove her to do things a ‘notable’ woman didn’t necessarily have to do.

She humbled herself, and went to the prophet, she did not summon him to her.

She kept her counsel, staying in control, not telling anyone what happened; she was not going to speak death over her son, not even to Elisha’s servant. She was going to deal directly with the source who had access and would know what to do.

She held onto her faith that the prophet’s G-d would honor the word that He gave to His servant, and He did.

I remember being in a mall once, and a mother had lost her child. I was around 220, and no lightweight, and she came walking very fast, her face like flint. She bumped me out of the way and I almost fell. Confronting the person who had her daughter by the hand, she stood in the woman’s way and challenged her.

The woman, a grandmother herself, informed her that she’d found the child wandering and they were looking for her, and gave the little girl back as she rebuked the mom for losing the child in the first place, so the story had a happy(?) ending. But I remember the force of that bump. She’d have pushed me over if I’d been directly in her path.

Let’s honor our G-d-fearing mothers today, with prayers and gifts, with our presence (if we can), with a call, with a reverent awe for their sacrifice, and a heart of gratitude that when they knew we were coming, they said to the Lord: It is well.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Let’s pray:

Father in Heaven, we thank you for the courageous hearts of our mothers, for the protection, wisdom, and insight they’ve imparted to us. We thank You for giving them hearts of unconditional love, hearts that we’ve broken from time to time, but were never missing that love.

We thank You for gifting them to us, for we would not be able to stand today without them. We thank You for making them willing to sacrifice for us, that they may see us grow and prosper, and do better in the world.

And for my own mom, who now dwells above with You,  I thank You for holding her in Your arms, and bringing her into Your kingdom. I long to see her again, but I know that has its own time, and today, I am content with the memories of her gentle wisdom, her smile, her singing voice, and the love that emanated from her heart even in her anger.

I have yet to plumb the depths and reach the heights of all she gave to me, but there are new paths of discovery ahead, and I know she walks them with me in spirit.

In Your name, I pray blessings and peace to all the mothers of the world who nurture, sacrifice, and love as You have loved. Comfort the suffering, rebuke the negligent, and sustain the family through them.

Let it be to us as You have said.

Amen.