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Not Very Far

Scripture: Acts 17:26-27, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 17:20
Date: 08/14/2004 
God is not far from each one of us. We don't realize how close God's kingdom is. Jesus told a scribe, "You are not far from the kingdom of heaven."
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Note: This is a verbatim transcript of the live broadcast. It is presented as spoken.

I’d like to begin with a story. I read about a caravan that was crossing one of these mass deserts in North Africa. And one of the people in the caravan was a merchant who was involved in trade and he didn’t want to send the camel with this gold and valuables that he had with a servant because he didn’t really trust anybody. So he went along (with) this camel loaded with valuables and treasure. But in a sandstorm that snuck up on the caravan he became separated from the rest of the caravan. By the time the sandstorm had subsided he found himself all alone and, of course, the tracks had been obliterated by the storm. Well, he knew enough about dwelling in the desert that you don’t want to ride in circles and so during the day he tried to make a straight line in what he thought would be the direction to their destination. At night he followed the moon. But soon his water was expended. At one point he made the mistake, not being frequent with the caravans, he got off the camel to stretch his aching bones. You ever ridden a camel? I have. It’s not a luxury vehicle. And the camel ran off.

So there he was, out of water, in the desert. He tried to follow after his camel for a while, but pretty soon even those tracks were blown away by the wind. After a couple of days of going on just trying to squeeze a little bit of water out of what was left in his skin, he finally sat down and realized that it was hopeless. He could see nothing beyond the next dune. So he made a tent out of his robe, sat there in the shade, wrote a note in case they ever found his remains, and chronicled his odyssey that he had gone through. And that’s where they found his remains. He died. Sad thing is, they found him only a few weeks after this episode and he was right over a dune from a lush oasis. So near, if he had just gone a little farther. And, you know, that’s what makes stories like that so intense. It’s not just the drama of the story, but that he was so close and he missed out. Well that’s our message today, Not Very Far. And I would like to base it on a passage of scripture in Acts 17:26 and 27. Paul is preaching and this is where we read, Acts 17:26. I’ll be giving you a number of scriptures.

You may want to jot down a few of these references and you could enjoy them a second time. “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times, and the boundaries of their dwellings; so they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for him, and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” God is not far from each one of us. Now that’s an encouraging thought because the concept in the world has been fro ages that there is this great gulf fixed. And of course it is true, in the Old Testament the bible says that your sins have separated you from your God. And it seems like there’s this vast expanse between heaven and earth. But the good news in the bible is that Jesus bridged that gulf and brought heaven down to earth. You know, when Jesus came, the bible says the angel said, “His name will be called Emmanuel.” What does that mean? God with us. He’s not very far. He’s not as far as you think. And then in this verse it says that we, “might grope for him.” You ever seen someone grope? Picture somebody in a dark room on the floor looking for their keys. That’s groping. They’re feeling with their hands, they’re trying to find where their keys are. Any of you ever played that game, I’m sure you have.

I was asking Karen the other day. What do they call that game? It’s where you say, “You’re getting warm, you’re getting warm. You’re getting cold, cold, cold, warm, warm.” You know, you hid an object in a park or in the house and you tell the kids, “You have to find it.” And as they start looking around, they look to their parents. They say, “Getting warm, getting warm, warm, hot, burning up!” They know that whatever it is they’re looking for is right there; they’re near it based on the hot or cold. Is that what you call the game? Hot and cold, something like that. Hot potato, cold potato? Yeah, and you hide a potato then, I guess. You know what’s really fun if you want to be cruel? As you play this outdoors with the kids and there’ll be like a concrete water fountain. Every time they get near the water fountain you say, “You got hot, hot, hot!” and there’s nothing there, of course.

It just drives them crazy. They keep looking around it and under it. Anyway, but I would never do that. And then as they get away from it you say, “Cold, cold, cold, freezing cold. Warm, warm, warm.” And you know, it’s a game where they’re finding the treasure by virtue of proximity and signals you give them. You ever play Marco Polo? In a swimming pool, you know, you get a bunch of kids in a pool. One of them must be securely blindfolded because they have, if you don’t blindfold them they all cheat. You blindfold them and then they go around the pool and someone says, “Marco.” And the other kids, you’ve got to tag them and they say, “Polo.” And then you’re using your ears sort of like radar to find out where they are. What’s really fun is you get up right behind someone when they say, “Marco,” and you go, “Polo!” and you jump away real quick because they didn’t expect you to be so close to them. But it’s the proximity that adds the drama. Probably the core of what I wanted to share with you today is that we often go through life not realizing how close things really are.

First of all, we often don’t realize how close God’s kingdom is. We think that, “Oh, you know, I’m such a mess. It’s so far away. It’s unattainable. The journey to his kingdom, I could never make it.” When it’s just over the other dune. And so many people die within sight of shore. That’s a tragedy. The kingdom is not very far. And I’d like to use a story in the bible, sort of as a springboard for this. If you turn to Mark 12, Jesus is engaged in one of His episodes of teaching, mingled with a little bit of debate with the religious leaders. And it says, “Then one of the scribes came to him, and having heard them reasoning together, he perceived that he had answered them well.” The scribe, something in his heart was sincere, and he saw that Jesus answered biblically. He answered well his detractors. “And he asked him, ‘Lord, which is the first commandment of all?’ And Jesus answered him, ‘The first commandment is, Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your mind, with all of your strength: this is the first commandment.” As if to say, “You didn’t ask for the second, but I’m going to give it to you for free. “And the second commandment is like it; You should love your neighbor as yourself.

There is no greater commandment than these.” I think it’s interesting. He said, “There’s no greater commandment,” singular, “than these,” two. Because really, they’re all summed up in love. The cross is one; the cross is really a road sign. It points in two directions. It points in the love relationship between you and God first. That’s the longest part of the cross, isn’t it? And then it’s the love relationship with each other. You must have the first part right if you’re going to have the second part right. Loving God first and then loving your neighbor. You can’t love God right if you don’t love your neighbor. I’m sorry, I said that wrong. You can’t love your neighbor right if you don’t love God first. That’s what I meant to say. And so after he said this the scribe responded to Jesus. He comments on Jesus’ answer. “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, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely,” perceptively, “he said to him, You are not far from the kingdom of God. And after that no one questioned him.” You are not far from the kingdom of God. Well that is good and that’s bad. It’s good. I mean, we’d all like to hear Jesus say, “You’re not far from the kingdom of God.” But to say it to somebody who is a religious leader in the church, it implies, “You’re not there yet.”

Isn’t that right? And so, that was sort of a mixed message in there. He was really commending this religious leader because at least he was open. He says, “You know, your heart’s in the right place and you’re not far. You’re not there yet. You need to keep going, but you’re not far.” He had not yet accepted Jesus. That was the one step he hadn’t taken yet. He had recognized truth in Christ, but he didn’t say, “My Lord and my God.” And Jesus says, “You’re getting close. You’re not far, but you’re not there yet.” And you wonder how many people through history were so close and missed out on the kingdom. When John the Baptist began his ministry, what were the first words that he spoke? “Repent.” And what else did he say? “For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” What does at hand mean? At hand means it’s within reach. The kingdom of heaven is within reach. And when Jesus began preaching, what did He say? Same thing. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Now you might think, “Well, why was that so extraordinary?” Up until that time they did not view it that way.

They saw this great gulf fixed that separated them from God. An example would be Isaiah. Of course this is Old Testament, Isaiah 33:17, “Your eyes will see the king in his beauty; they will see the land that is very far off.” They saw the kingdom as so far away. As in Pilgrim’s Progress, he had this odyssey, this long journey to get to that heavenly city. So when Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is at hand it’s within reach. How tragic that a person could be within reach of the kingdom of heaven and not make those last steps. Now that’s because the kingdom of heaven really has two parts. You have the literal kingdom of heaven that will someday rule on this earth when the meek inherit the earth and Jesus sits on his throne unchallenged. We’re not there yet. There’s many challengers. And then of course you have the internal kingdom of heaven. And Jesus of course he said, Luke 17:20, “Now when he was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come he answered them and said, The kingdom of God does not come with observation, nor will they say see here or see there, for indeed the kingdom of God is within you.” You know, it’s an easy exercise in math that wherever the king is that’s where the kingdom is. And if Christ is in your heart, the kingdom’s there. And if you invite Jesus in your heart then the kingdom of heaven is within you and he reigns there and you become an ambassador of his kingdom. So the kingdom of heaven is not very far away when we ask Jesus into our hearts.

Wherever the king is that’s where the kingdom is. But how sad for someone to be so close to the kingdom, so close to the king, and to miss out. You think about when Paul was preaching to King Agrippa about another king, King Jesus. And the bible says that, “As Paul reasoned, King Agrippa says,” Acts 26:28, “said to Paul, you almost persuaded me to become a Christian.” And only in eternity will we understand the pathos of how many, the sad irony of how many were so close. They were almost persuaded. I remember at Camp Meeting, maybe 15 years ago, George Vanderman was there, the speaker for It Is Written at the time, and he was reading some letters. And he read this one letter of one of the viewers. No, it was more than 15 years; it was about 15, 16 years ago. He was reading a letter of one of the viewers of the It Is Written television program and it said, “You know, I’ve been moved by your program and it stirs me. There’s something different about what you people believe.” And he closed the letter by saying, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Seventh Day Adventist.”

Signed Jim Jones, Pastor, People’s Temple, Redwood City. Almost persuaded, and how different history would have been if he had been fully persuaded. So near. That certainly wouldn’t have happened. And how many people, they hear appeals and Christ is moving on their heart and they think, “You know, I want to make that decision. Now’s not a good time. There’s people here watching. I don’t feel…” Well you may not feel like it, but you should do it. If the Holy Spirit’s working don’t wait. Just know the kingdom of heaven has come near unto you and you don’t want to let it get away. Well, not only are good things often within reach, maybe I should take a little time to admit what is obvious. We know that trouble is closer than we often think. For instance, temptation is never very far away and it’s probably healthy for us to remember that. Sometimes we become complacent and reckless and we think that we’ve got it made and we forget that we’re only a step away, not only from the kingdom, but the wrong kingdom and the wrong king.

You remember when the Children of Israel wanted to escape from the dominion of Pharaoh, Pharaoh said to Moses, “I’ll let you go, but don’t go very far. I want you to stay close to me.” Some of you remember when the Gibbeonites, one of the enemy tribes of Israel, they came to the people of Israel and they said, “Oh, no, we’re from a far country. We’re from very far away.” That was their words, “We’re from very far away.” In fact, they were very close and they did not want the Israelites to know how close they really were. And the devil’s like that. He wants you to relax. Let’s face it; we often will walk more carefully in the jungle when we know the lion is near. And so knowing that temptation is always near it keeps us, that’s why Peter says, “Be sober, be vigilant because your adversary, the devil, is going around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour.” It’s good for us to know that temptation’s not far away so that we could be praying. Jesus said, “Watch and pray always, lest you enter into temptation.” It’s not very far.

Peter said, “All the lawmen should forsake you, I’ll never forsake you.” He didn’t know how close it was. Before the sun came up the next day, he denied Jesus three times. And so it’s good for us to know that we’re living on a fine line and there’s a battle raging for our souls. Not only is Christ’s kingdom at hand, the devil’s not far either. That ought to chase us into Jesus’ arms, that awareness. Amen? Death is not far away. We know that all too well. That made me think of a verse in the bible, when King David was being pursued by Saul. David said to Jonathan, “But truly as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death.” I remember reading one time when some of the first astronauts went into space, as a matter of fact, I think it was Neil Armstrong commenting on his moonwalk. A couple of times the people in the Houston Center observed that they fell. Do any of you remember some of that old footage of their bouncing around on the moon? They’re enjoying their weightlessness and they kept pushing the envelope and they’re jumping and kind of enjoying themselves and one of them tripped. And he went down on his knees. And in the Houston Center they all groaned, they gasped. Because those pressurized suits was a quarter-inch of rubber and as Neil Armstrong put it, he said, “There was one quarter-inch of rubber between us and eternity.” They knew that you couldn’t afford to cut that because if you lost your pressure they’d die. That would make you walk carefully.

Death is not far. Psalms 90:5-6, “You carry them away like a flood; they are like a sleep; in the morning they are like grass that grows up. It flourishes in the morning; in the evening it’s cut down and withers.” You ever seen a misty morning and the little sprigs of new grass come up and you can almost see it grow? And by the end of the day the heat scorches it, it withers and it’s gone. And compared to eternity, our lives are not very long and sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that we have a long time to lollygag, deciding whether or not we’re going to follow Jesus. James also compares it to a vapor. It’s not only like grass; it’s like a vapor. James 4:14, “Whereas you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, for what is your life? It’s even a vapor, that appears like a morning mist for a time, and then it vanishes away.” I think we’ve all heard stories; some have experienced the surprise of death. People that we thought had many years, and suddenly (snapping fingers). No body had expected. It happens. We had no idea it was so near. We remember reading where Jesus cautioned against presuming that we had a long space. He talks about this fool whose barns were not big enough to contain his vast harvest. And he said, “Well, I’ll just build bigger barns and then I’ll stuff them, those barns with all the provisions from my harvest and I’ll say, ‘Soul be merry. Enjoy yourself. Eat, drink, you’ve got provisions for many years.’” And then Jesus closes the parable by saying, “A voice came from heaven declaring, ‘You fool, this night your soul is required of you.’” He had no idea how close death was. And I think if we could back up and get God’s perspective we’d see that life is very short.

You know, if angels weren’t so sad, they’d probably laugh at our glib attitude about eternity. It’s like when man goes to the moon and we call it space exploration. Well you know how close the moon is to earth compared to the vastness of space? We haven’t left the neighborhood yet. And we tell, “We are exploring the cosmos.” Well, when you consider that the universe that we can see with our naked eye is hundreds of light years and it takes 180 million, light travels 180 million miles per second. It takes 8 seconds for the light from the sun to get to our earth. A light year is how far light travels in a year. And the sun’s 93 million away and we say we’re involved in space exploration. And that’s nice. I’m intrigued with it. I’ve told you I want to be the first pastor on the shuttle. I keep putting out hints hoping someone at Houston will pick that up before I’m too feeble to take advantage of it. Of course I can go as long as John Glenn, 80, right? How old was he? He was 82 when he went up? I’ve got some time left. I’m hoping. But we haven’t gone very far, have we? Life is very short and so we need to keep that in mind. Help is not far away. Sometimes we think a situation is hopeless and helpless. And not only is the kingdom not far, the king isn’t far, and all of the king’s heralds and helpers are not far.

Psalm 22:11, David was praying, “Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.” Help is really always just a prayer away. Psalms 38:21, David also said, “Do not forsake me, O Lord, my God, do not be far from me.” Sometimes, you ever been in a situation where you felt like throwing your hands in the air and it was hopeless? There’s no help around. And God wants us to know He has a thousand ways to answer our prayers and to change our circumstances when we can’t see one. We just need to ask Him. I got permission to tell you this story. I didn’t want to embarrass her, but a couple of weeks ago I was traveling back to a convention in Cincinnati and stopped in Salt Lake City. On my way to Salt Lake City I made a trip back to the airplane restroom and on my way back I heard someone say, “Pastor Doug!” And there was one of our members, Terri Foty. She was in a different seat and the plane was crowded and I was in a different seat so I just said, “Hey! Hi! Look at that.” You know, and so I went back to my seat and then after I got [off] the plane I ran into her again at the sandwich bar in the airport. And she said, “You know, I’ve got to tell you a story.” She said, “ You know, I’m a little nervous about flying. And especially, you know, with everything that’s happening with the security.

It just kind of heightens people’s fears.” And she was praying about that and she said, “Then you walked by.” And she thought, “O, praise the Lord. I’m safe. Pastor Doug’s on the plane. It can’t crash now.” So that’s not the whole story. But it does remind me of the story in the bible, forgive the analogy, but it reminds me of the story in the bible when the disciples thought their situation was hopeless and in reality Jesus was in the boat with them. And they’re going, “We’re going to perish!” And they say, “Oh, Jesus is in the boat. Let’s wake him up.” But then later she had been praying, going to visit some friends, and wanted to have some resource, some book or literature to give them. She’s telling me this and I said, “Well, you know, whenever I travel I take some witnessing material with me. And I stuffed a book in my backpack and I never knew where I’d give it. And I’ll have more where I’m going, so here,” I gave it to her. I thought, “Isn’t that interesting how the Lord works? Here I’m sharing literature with one of my members in Salt Lake City.” But you know, God has so many ways of arranging these things and of resolving our problems when we can’t think of anything. Help is not very far away. Genesis 28:15, God says, “Behold, I am with you, and I’ll keep you wherever you go.” Just because you travel, it doesn’t mean that you leave God. And I want you to know that some of you who might be struggling in your relationships, whether it’s with family or a sibling or a spouse, help isn’t far away. Sometimes we think it’s hopeless.

There could never be reconciliation. Don’t underestimate God. Don’t leave Him out of the equation. It’s probably nearer than you think. How sad to give up when it might be just over the next hill. Healing is not very far away. A lot of stories in the bible bear this out. Some people think that their condition is hopeless, it’s chronic. I think about that woman who, 12 years, she suffered with that issue of blood and Jesus was passing by and she thought, “You know, if I could just, he’s not that far away.” But she wouldn’t let Him get by. She took advantage of His proximity and she reached out in just one desperate surge of faith, got a hold of the hem of His garment and she was cleansed. Because she realized that He was near. Now I’m not suggesting God is going to automatically heal anybody who asks. But He often does. He can. Do you believe that? You’ve got the story of blind Bartemeous. Christ was passing by and he couldn’t see Him, but he heard from the buzz in the crowd that this was Jesus and he had heard that Jesus had healed the blind before. And so he decided, “I’m not going to let Him get away. I’m not going to wait until I could hope to have a private interview. I’m going to take advantage of the nearness of Jesus.” And he started to call out, “Son of David, have mercy on me! Son of David, have mercy on me!”

And you know, some of the people in the crowd thought it was making a spectacle and they told him to be quiet. He said, “No. I don’t know if I’ll ever have this chance. I don’t know when He’ll ever by this close again.” “So he called out the more.” He didn’t care what people thought. He said, “Jesus is near. I’ve got to get Him while He’s near.” And he starts to shout, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped. And He commanded him to be brought nearer. “Bring him to me.” I like this, it says, “Casting aside his garment, he came to Christ. Jesus said, ‘What do you want?’ ‘Lord, that I might receive my sight.’” This is Mark 10, “And he said, ‘Be it unto you according to your faith.’” His eyes were opened, he could see perfectly, and he followed Jesus down the road rejoicing. Why did it happen? He took advantage of the proximity of Christ and the whole thing changed. The kingdom of heaven is nearer than you think. Going back to our opening verse, the word of God, and that’s where the power is, is near. The answers are in the word of God. I want to read this for you again. Deuteronomy 30:11, now keep in mind, the word Deuteronomy means a repeating of the law. Deuteronomy is, if you had an audiotape of Deuteronomy, here’s what the title would be, “Moses’ Last Sermon.” That’s really what it is. Moses is getting ready to die. He gathers the people together and however long it takes me to listen to the tape of Deuteronomy, which I’ve done many times, that was the sermon. It’s only about an hour-and-a-half.

Moses preaches that and then he climbs a mountain and he dies. It’s a very important message. Matter of fact, all three times, Deuteronomy’s probably one of my favorite books in the Old Testament and part of the reason is it was one of Jesus’ favorite books. All three times when Jesus was tempted by the devil, He said, “It is written. It is written. It is written.” He quoted scripture and you know, He quoted from Deuteronomy all three times. So it’s a good book for you to read. And if the Old Testament was good enough for Jesus it should be good enough for those who follow Him. Amen? Some people think, “Oh, it’s the old letter of the law.” Here’s what He said, “For the commandment that I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.” Some people think, “You know, I’d like to know what God wants me to do.” Well, you can know. It’s in the bible. “Oh, I don’t know what God’s will is.” Well, yes, you can know what God’s will is. It’s in the bible. Do you have a bible? It’s not very far away. “This commandment I command you today is not mysterious, nor is it far off, nor is it in heaven that you should,” get on a spaceship and fly up there, “nor will you, who will ascend into heaven for us?” In other words, He’s saying, “You can’t complain and say, ‘Who’s going to ascend into heaven and bring the word to us, that we might hear it and do it?’” Jesus is the word and when God came down to earth in the form of a man He brought the word down to us. Amen? “Nor is it beyond the sea that you should say, ‘Well, I don’t have a boat.

I can’t go get it.’ Who will go over the sea and bring it to us that we may hear it and do it?” Moses is saying, “There’s people all over the world that would like to know what the word of God says and you have it.” He said, “It’s right there in your hands, but the word is very near you.” Say that with me. Very near you. One more time for memory. Very near you. How many have a bible? That’s not very far away. Some of you don’t have it here. I didn’t ask you to show it because you might be embarrassed. You should have it here. But you have one. Home isn’t too far away, is it? It’s not very far from you. I’ve already talked about the Apollo Mission, but another story came to mind that when man first walked on the moon it was during the space race with the Soviet Union. But the Americans did allow some of the Soviet news team to come into the Houston Center to observe the landing because we thought, “If it does work we want them to see it and not say we faked the whole thing.” And so they brought these newsmen in. Actually it was part of the one of the Apollo Missions where they were looking at the earth from the moon and it was Christmas Eve.

How many of you remember this? And I think it was Buzz Aldren, he read from Genesis. And he’s reading, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was without form and void.” And he’s reading some of the first verses in chapter one of Genesis. And of course, the reporters who speak broken English from the Soviet Union, they’re taking very prolific notes that they could bring back of what’s happening here with this Apollo Mission. And they wrote that down and after the spaceship signed off they went to their post and they said, “Could you please provide us for a script of the text he was reading from?” And he said, “Sure.” He said, “When you get back to your hotel room, there in the nightstand by your bed you’ll find a copy. It’s in the first section.” “That was very thoughtful of you to think in advance and provide that for us.” Of course, you know there are bibles in every hotel room in North America. The word is not very far from you. And I don’t know that we appreciate that. I don’t know if we appreciate what a privilege this is and what an awesome responsibility it is. Because there are people all over the world who are starving for the crumbs that fall from our table. They are fighting for bibles. They’re being sold for a premium in some countries right now. They’re being hidden. And they want to know, “What does God want? What does God say? Who is God? What is He like?” The revelation of God is in His word and it’s not far. That’s a wonderful thing and it’s an awesome thing.

It should make us tremble to think about the neglect. Bibles sit around gathering dust and they’re so close. God wants to speak to us through His word. His word is not very far from us. The people who want to hear the word, the lost, they’re not very far. We might be thinking, “You know, I’d like to do some mission work. I’d like to be a missionary for Jesus, but can’t afford a plane ticket to some remote mission field, some island or jungle somewhere where people have never heard the name of Jesus. Otherwise I’d be a missionary, but I just can’t afford to go.” And in reality the people, the natives are restless right here in America. And this is a jungle. This is a mission field. And there are a lot of people here who don’t know anything about Christ. Matter of fact, we are becoming in some respects an increasingly more paganistic culture in spite of the fact that the word is very near to us, there is a famine for the word of God. You don’t have to go very far. Those who need to hear about Jesus are very near you. Jesus said in John 4:35 after he had this exchange with the Samaritan woman at the well and He revealed He was the Messiah and she went back to tell the people in her town. Christ said, John 4:35, “Do not say there are still four months and then comes the harvest. Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields.” And at this point this woman had told all the people in her town that Jesus was the Messiah and the disciples could observe them all pouring out of the city of Shekem there towards the well and Jesus says, “Behold, the fields.” He’s pointing at all these people who are coming now because of her testimony. “For they are already white for harvest.” There was a ripe harvest all around.

I remember reading about a very powerful insurance company in North America, based in New York City. They owned their own building. I’ll not name them. But they’ve got a whole building filled with their offices and I’m sure they lease some space. And they had a convention bringing in their top salesmen from all over the world to this convention in New York City. And during the convention one of their salesmen sold several policies to people in the building. He sold one to one of the elevator operators, there was a barber who had worked for years downstairs in the lobby. He went to the restaurant and sold a couple to people who worked in the restaurant. And when his comrades heard about that they said, “Boy, talk about being aggressive. It never occurred to us that people that worked in this insurance building didn’t have insurance. But the fact is there’s a whole lot like that. And sometimes we assume that people in a Christian country are Christians or people even in the church are converted. I won’t ask you to look around you, but you could probably lift up your eyes and say, “Behold, the harvests are white, ready for reaping.” Just because someone comes to church doesn’t mean they’re a Christian. I heard someone say, “Being in church doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.” Just because someone comes to church doesn’t automatically mean they know Jesus and they’re converted and they’re surrendered. There’s a lot of people that are there waiting for somebody to help them make those last steps.

They’re near the kingdom. Like that scribe Jesus was talking to, they’re near, but obviously they’re not there yet. It’s at hand, but it’s not in hand. See the difference? And a lot of people fall into that category. The second coming of Jesus is not very far away. Now if that was true when Jesus spoke these words, Revelation 22:12, last words in the bible, “Behold, I come quickly. And my reward is with me to give to every man according as his work shall be.” Then you go to verse 20, Revelation 22, last chapter in the bible. “He who testifies these things says, Surely I am coming quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” Last words in the bible, “I’m coming quickly.” His coming is soon. Now, I was talking with someone at the Amazing Facts office this week and he was describing to me that most people interpret the word “soon” like you take the two o’s in the middle of soon and you can stretch them out indefinitely. We’ve got this idea that soon is sort of like tall and short and near and far and it’s all relative. And it’s so hard for us to relate to that. Let me give you a couple of thoughts. First of all let me ask, when Jesus said at the end of the bible, “I come quickly,” was that a typo, an error? Or is it still true that He comes quickly? Two ways that that’s true I want you to consider, three ways, three ways. First of all, in the scope of eternity, and after you’ve lived for a billion years, you’ll have only begun. Is that right? When you’ve got everlasting life, one billion, you’ve still just begun.

A hundred billion, a google, what’s the word for infinite? Isn’t there a word like that? That’s where they got the name for the website. You’ve still just begun. When you look back on the 2,000 years from when Jesus made that statement until the event of His coming, wouldn’t it be safe to say it was quick? He said it and bingo, it happened! It was 2,000 years, but compared to eternity that’s nothing. So that’s one way you must consider that. The other thing you need to remember is your life is short and when you die your next conscious thought is the coming of the Lord. “The dead in Christ will rise,” when the Lord descends from heaven. Your next conscious thought is being caught up out of the grave to meet Him. Hopefully you’re the dead in Christ. And hopefully you’re in that first resurrection. And you’ll be caught up. You want to be caught up. If you don’t go up after you’re resurrected that’s a bad sign. If you look to your right and left and you see Adolph Hitler and Eddi Amien that’s not good. You’re in the wrong resurrection. Not that I would want to prejudge that.

Someone’s going to come after me later. But how long is our life? However long your life is, we just learned, it’s a vapor, it’s a mist, it’s like grass that springs up in the morning and then it’s burnt by the end of the day. So Jesus comes quickly for you, no matter what. Your time is short. And then for those who are living in this generation. Thirdly, Jesus comes quickly because He is coming quickly. I believe He’s coming very soon. And that’s why the imminence, the nearness of His coming; Oh Lord, have mercy on the church when we lose the concept of the nearness of His coming. Remember, Jesus when He talked about the second coming in Matthew 24, He closes that whole discourse with a parable. He says, “If that evil servant will say in his heart, ‘My Lord delays his coming. It’s far off.’ And begin to eat and drink with the drunken and beat his fellow servants. The lord of that servant will come in a day he’s not looking for him, at an hour he’s not aware of. But if that servant is faithful and he’s giving his fellow servants their meat in due season, of course he’s going to say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.” And so Jesus is warning us against the mentality of saying it’s far off. Don’t ever think like that. That’s very terminal for a Christian to think that way, “My Lord delays his coming.”

How did the children of Israel get into trouble? They say, when Moses delayed coming down the mountain they said, “Oh, we don’t know if he’s ever coming back.” Then they began to worship other gods. Keeping a mindset of the eminence of Jesus’ return is very important for us. Don’t put it far off. Because that’s how the devil gets us to become complacent about the life we’re living. Let’s face it, friends, be honest, if you really believed, work with me on this. If you really believed Jesus was coming in one week, in one week, if you thought it was that close, whether that meant you were going to die in a week or He literally comes, it doesn’t matter. But if you knew He was coming for you in a week would that affect how you live between now and then? I’m not even talking about getting your will finished. I’m talking about the intensity, the commitment of your spiritual life. Would it be different? We should be living now like He could come any day. I think Christians ought to plan like we’ve got a thousand years and we ought to live like we could die the next hour. It’s the idea that it’s far off that gets us into trouble. He’s not very far. And I believe His coming is not very far. Jesus is not very far. Jesus Himself is not very far. When He was talking to the woman at the well, I referred to earlier, the Samaritan woman, eventually the conversation turned to the subject of the Messiah. And maybe she was musing in her heart that, “Who is this man that seems to know so much?” And so she began to speculate and she said, “You know, I know the Messiah is coming, who is called Christ. I know He’s coming. And when He comes He’ll tell us everything. We’ll understand everything when He comes.” And when she said that I don’t think she realized how close He really was.

He was right there! She could reach out and touch him. And then Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” He was nearer than she thought. How often that has been true, that Jesus was nearer than they thought. My mind always goes back to the story after the resurrection of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They had heard that Jesus died and He had been buried and then His body was stolen and they didn’t know where He was anymore. Some wondered if He had ascended to heaven or the angels took Him away or someone stole His body. And these two dejected disciples are walking from Jerusalem down to Emmaus and Jesus draws near to them and they didn’t know it was Him. And for approximately two, two-and-a-half hours, depending, it’s about 5-7 miles between Jerusalem and Emmaus and however long it takes you to walk at a brisk pace, He’s with them and eventually He’s giving them a bible study and their hearts are burning within them and they don’t know it’s Him. Finally the sun is going down and they invite Him into the house. They say, “Oh, it’s getting late.” And you know, they didn’t want to cut the study short because the bible says, “it warmed their hearts.” It gave them courage. And they said, “We want you near us. Don’t go. Stay with us. It’s getting late.” And they pressed their hospitality on Him.

He comes in and eventually they get their vitals prepared and they ask Him to give the blessing and while He’s blessing the food He reveals Himself to them and they see it’s Jesus. He had been near them the whole time and they didn’t know it. Now one of the things that people miss about this story, they were so excited to find out that Jesus was alive, they then, I don’t even know if they ate their food. They drop everything and they head back up the hill to Jerusalem, in the dark. And they get to the upper room and they tell the disciples, “He is alive! We saw Him. He did appear to Mary and Peter. It’s true!” And then it says Jesus appeared to them in the upper room again, after the testimony of these disciples. Now think about this, that means that Jesus was with them when they walked down the road. They could see Him, but they didn’t know who He was. And evidently He was still with them when they went back up, but they couldn’t see Him. Jesus said, “I’m with you always. Blessed are those who believe without seeing.” “I might send you into corner of the world, but I’m still with you.”

Does that do anything for you? Does that sink in any deeper, the concept that Jesus is with you? Does it affect you with comfort to know that Jesus is with you? If nothing else, it ought to affect you a little conviction because it’s hard to sin when Jesus is with you, right? I mean, you know, don’t we all behave a little differently in church? Why? It’s God’s house. But don’t forget, He goes with you from God’s house. He’s with you always. So take that with you. The bible says that He will never leave us or forsake us. “I am with you wherever you go. I am with you to the end of the world.” Jesus is not very far away. Finally, last point, happiness isn’t very far away. Well you might have thought that I would have ended with the idea that Jesus isn’t very far away, but where Jesus is, happiness is. He began His ministry by saying, “Blessed.” At His right hand are pleasures forever more. He came to save us from our sins. Sins make you unhappy. And even more than that, people are not content. There’s a lot of discontent. And it’s a number of things contribute to that. Sometimes it’s our circumstance.

We think our happiness depends on our circumstance. I like the statement of Paul; I’ve had to read this many times for my own soul. Philippians 4:11, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned that whatever state I am in to be content.” Boy, that’s a very important lesson. Paul, he could hobnob in the palace or the church or the prison and he was content. What made him content? Because he knew Jesus was with him wherever he went and so he was happy wherever he went. Paul said, “I know how to abound or be abased. I could be loved. I could be hated. I could be floating around in the ocean or be under a hail of stones. I’m content. Because as long as I’m with Christ I’m happy. I’ve learned in whatever state I’m in to be content.” Happiness is usually not very far away. Sometimes we’re always restless and unhappy because we think, “If I could just…” And I’m talking about myself, too. I’m one of these people that wants to change everything, make it perfect. And I think, “If I could just reorganize things and people then I’ll be happier.” And you know, I’m learning, as I get older.

I haven’t figured it out yet, but what I’m telling you I know is true, that happiness isn’t very far away. Abraham Lincoln had some tough circumstances in his life. He had tough personal experience. He had some tough personal relationships. He married a woman that was wacko. And that’s not being unkind. She really was. She was constantly in séances and they finally had her committed. Lost one of his sons. Tough personal experiences. President during a war where the country’s torn apart. And you know what he said? You know, he was always up and positive and optimistic. And you’d think if anybody as a leader had reason to pine, Lincoln did. And Lincoln said, “I’ve discovered a person is about as happy as they make up their mind to be. It’s not very far away. I remember years ago hearing an evangelist tell a story and I had forgotten some of the details.

It’s supposed to be a true story. I ran into it again this week as I was preparing this message. About a man named Ali Hafed, who was a very wealthy farmer, Persian farmer. And he had a farm with orchards and creeks and crops and a nice establishment. But then one day an Indian priest came by and he invited him in and in their dialogue he talked about some people that he knew that had discovered diamonds. And he said, “You know, if you had one diamond as big as your thumb, and they’re out there, each of your children would have their own kingdom.” And he began to paint this picture in the mind of Ali Hafed about how much better off he’d be if he could find diamonds. Suddenly he became a poor man because he became discontent. Up to that point he was content. And he couldn’t forget this even after the priest left he thought, “You know, there are people out there that have found diamonds and I don’t have any diamonds and I know that there are diamonds not far from this country,” because some of his neighbors every now and then found some diamonds. And he realized their worth and the thought, “I want to find diamonds.” And so you know what he did? He sold his farm. He put his family, wife and children in the care of one of his relatives, gave them a little money and he said, “I’m not going to rest until I find my own diamond mine.” And he went searching the world over looking for diamonds. The last he was heard he was in Morocco, Spain and the best as anyone knew, he threw himself into the ocean there and they never heard from him again.

He had become very dejected. He had lost all of his money searching the world for diamonds. Became obsessed with it. The irony of the story is that the man who bought his ranch was watering his horse in a creek on his ranch one day and he saw something glimmering. He took a stone and put up on a shelf and one day someone came into his house and they’re eyes got big and they said, “Where did you find that diamond?” And he said, “What diamond?” He said, “Up there on your shelf.” He said, “That’s just a rock.” He said, “No, it’s not. It’s a diamond.” And it turns out that it was the biggest diamond mine in the world at that point, the Goal Konda Diamond Mine. And this man, Ali Hafed, had sold his farm that turned out being the biggest diamond mine in the world, looking the world, discontent, for diamonds. He was living on top of it. And I wonder how often we think that, “Happiness is over here or happiness is over there. If I could just buy this or pay that off, have this person or that job, I’d be happy.” And you know it’s an illusion. There is no happiness without God. It’s impossible.

Jesus is that pearl of great price. And it’s only as we embrace Him and when we bring Him into our hearts, we’re already in the heart of God, when we bring Him into our hearts, that’s when we find real and lasting happiness. It’s not very far away. The kingdom is not very far away; the solutions are not very far away. It’s as Moses said, you don’t have to cross the ocean or cross the land or go up into heaven and make a space journey to find happiness. Go look for Shangri-La or a diamond mine. It’s very near to you. The kingdom of heaven is at hand and if you’ve got the king you’ve got the kingdom. Do you have that? Have you said yes to Jesus or are you always almost persuaded? Are you always near the kingdom, but not in it? You can make a decision today because Jesus is passing by and you could call out and get the hem of His garment and you can find that spiritual, maybe even physical healing that you’re looking for. I’d like to invite our singers to come out and we’re going to sing our closing song, Near to the Heart of God, we started with this theme, we’re going to close with it.

Verse

There may be some of you who, like this scribe Jesus was talking to, you’re in the church, you’re near the kingdom, but you’ve never really completely consecrated yourself to God. He’s always near, but He’s not in your heart, you’ve not surrendered yourself, you’ve not reached out and taken hold. Some of you maybe have come to church for years and you’ve not made a commitment to say, “You know, I would like to commit my life to Jesus and be baptized.” Not just be almost persuaded. Some of you maybe have wandered and you know that there’s a need to rededicate yourself because you want to be in Christ, not just near. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, right now and you can reach out. It might be a relationship that needs restoration. It might be just an action of faith that will bring victory into your life because the word is not very far from you. You know what it means. But as we sing this second verse, if you would like to make that commitment and come to the front and ask for special prayer, then do that as we sing.

Verse

Before we sing the last verse, those of you who are essential members, some of you may come week after week, and you may know in your innermost soul, “I’m not fully committed.” And some of you come and you’ve been coming, like I said for years and you’re not baptized yet. Coming to church without making that commitment, you’re almost there. You’re so close. Why would you want to stop when the oasis is right over the next hill? Take those last steps if the Holy Spirit is speaking to you.

Verse.

Before we pray, anyone else, the Holy Spirit’s been working on your hear? You’re near, but you’re not there yet. Come now. As they say, last call. You never know, come.

Father in heaven, we believe that the message we have heard this morning is just a very simple message, that we should not neglect the proximity of your kingdom. We know that temptation and death and trouble is often close at hand, but sometimes we forget that the answers, that Jesus is nearby. We become discouraged because we think that the answers are so far off. We become discontent because we think that it would mean a new promotion or a new possession that’s going to bring happiness. And Lord, really it’s just by having the person of Christ in our hearts that brings real satisfaction. No matter where we are, what the circumstances we can have peace if Jesus is inside. Lord, today we’re not just wanting the kingdom to be at hand, we’re wanting the kingdom to be within. And if the king is in our hearts, the kingdom is there. Be with those who have responded this morning. Whatever the need might be. I pray that they will experience the joy, the peace, the happiness that comes from capitalizing on the nearness of Christ. Help us to make that last step, because you’re so close, Lord. And we know Jesus is coming and soon. We want to be ready. Do whatever you need to do in our lives, Lord, please, to prepare us. As we go from this place, help us remember that you are with us wherever we go. You are near. It’s in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

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Assurance: Justification Made Simple (PB) by Doug Batchelor

Assurance: Justification Made Simple (PB) by Doug Batchelor
God's Promises




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