Mark 10:17-27 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 18 "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good-- except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'" 20 "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy." 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." 22 At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" 24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?" 27 Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."
There are Christians who kiss the crucifix, yet I have yet to see pious lips laid on the Ten Commandments. There are no telltale lipstick markings left on Moses’ two tablets of stone. Instead of kissing them, many want nothing to do with them.
Case in point: under the cover of darkness, a two-ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments was removed from the Oklahoma Capitol grounds earlier this month.
Some people hate the Ten Commandments. Others mock them. Most ignore or endure them. We certainly don’t kiss them in adoration and love. Why not? Because the Law condemns, that’s why.
But the Law only condemns because it is good. The Law won’t excuse the bloody corpse of Abel lying at your feet – whom you killed not with a stone to the skull, but with your words tearing down his reputation and your thoughts seeking revenge. The Law refuses to justify your adulterous fling with Bathsheba – with whom you just into bed with your romance novels and internet images. The Law will not pardon your golden calf you erected to worship with your soccer tournaments and NFL games and vacation trips up north. The Law does not condone the loot you stole from Jericho and hid under your tent. It does not excuse your scheming to gain possession of Naboth’s vineyard. The Law points out that stealing and scheming to steal are the same as coveting and craving the loot.
The Law wants you to be perfect. It desires for you to be holy. It teaches you how to be righteous. It declares that you will be perfect and holy and righteous … by doing the Law.
Doing the Law is what the rich, young, synagogue ruler thought he was good at. The young man ran up to Jesus and knelt before Him. Perhaps we can tell that he is a young man because he can still run and kneel. He asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Something must have been nagging at this young man. He was rich at a very young age. He was religious. He kept the Commandments to the letter. And yet, there was some nagging doubt in the back of his mind that he must be missing something. This nagging feeling caused him to run to Jesus and fall down on his knees before Him.
The young man asked Jesus a Law question: “What must I do …” So Jesus gives him a Law answer: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” In other words: “There is no secret special good deed you need to do if you want to enter eternal life. You already know what to do. God has already told you in His Ten Commandments. So then, young man, how do you measure up?”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Ah, Jesus the Great Physician of body and soul, has diagnosed the problem. The young man thinks he has kept the Law good enough. And honestly, compared to most people, he probably has. I’m sure he was fine young man, a champion of virtue. To be a synagogue ruler at such a young age – he was probably an exemplary young fellow.
The young man felt pretty good about the life he had built for himself. That’s when Jesus lowered the hammer! “One thing you lack,” Jesus said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Jesus used the Law to tear down the pretense of righteousness that the young man had built for himself.
It sounds cruel that Jesus would crush this man in this way. It appears harsh that Jesus would drive this man to despair. The man heard Jesus’ words and his face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. And yet, this was the most loving thing that Jesus could do for this man – use the Law. In fact, that is exactly what the Holy Spirit inspired His evangelist Mark to include within these verses. Yes, Jesus drove this man to despair. But it was intentional. And it was out of love. Mark adds a little commentary that is easy to overlook in the account: “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”
That verse is so small and yet it proclaims so much! Jesus loved this guy – He loved him enough to tell him the hard truth. The giver of the Law used the Law in all of its power and severity. Jesus knew that His Law was good and He used it.
The psalmist wrote about God’s Law: “The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:7-8). Another psalmist added, “Oh, how I love your Law. I meditate on it all day long” (Psalm 119:97).
Inspired by these verses, Matthias Loy wrote a hymn verse which reads, “The Law of God is good and wise; It sets his will before our eyes, Shows us the way of righteousness, But dooms to death when we transgress” (CW: 287).
The Law of God is certainly good and wise. The pastor uses the Law to teach a soldier recently converted to Christianity that his swearing is a sin. The parent uses the Law to break the stubborn will of his teenage daughter. The counselor at the Christian pregnancy center uses the Law to teach a scared, single mom that ending the life within her womb would be murder. The teacher uses the Law to correct a student for his misbehavior. The college student uses the Law to remind his brother that moving in with his girlfriend is breaking the Sixth Commandment.
Using the Law. It sounds so basic. So simple. Yet it is exactly what is needed. It drives the unrepentant sinner to despair of himself. It sheds light on the darkness of sin that has overtaken our Christian loved one. It brings down the hammer to smash the self-righteous image we have created for ourselves.
Even though the Law is good and holy and wise; even though it has our welfare in mind; and even though keeping it will revive our soul, rejoice in our heart and enlighten our eyes, yet we have puckered our lips before the two tablets – not to kiss them, but to spit into their stony faces.
Wipe away the spit and accept Jesus’ Gospel invitation. Jesus certainly used the Law. But then He immediately followed it up with the Gospel. He invited the man to follow Him. To give up trying to keep the Law on His own and follow the One who had kept the Law perfectly in his place.
Thankfully, the Laws of the Lord were not His final gift to humanity. Seeing that His good Laws had condemned us, the Lord also gave us His Son to be our Savior.
Jesus is the One who gave the Law that is good. Because He knew that you and I would not be good – could not be good – Jesus was good in our place. He knew that we would use our tongues to both praise Him and curse His children. So Jesus never allowed a filthy word to come out of His mouth. Instead, He offered up only prayers and praises in our place. He saw that we would use anger as a weapon in our family. So Jesus was always patient, even allowing others to vent their anger at Him. He recognized that we would not always protect life in the womb. So Jesus became life in the womb. He protected all life – the lame and the leprous, the outcast and the forgotten. He observed that we would commit every sin imaginable against His Sixth Commandment. So Jesus remained chaste and pure throughout His entire life.
Jesus is the Good Teacher, the Great God, who became human flesh to live the perfect life and keep the Ten Commandments that we, in our sinful human flesh cannot keep perfectly. For all the times we have dishonored our parents, while He was dying, Jesus took care of His mother. For the times we have hated and killed with our thoughts and words, Jesus forgave even those who were murdering Him. Jesus took our adultery and gave us His righteousness. He was divorced from the Triune God while on the cross for our divorces. He is the One true God who crushes all our other false gods of wealth under His righteous feet.
Jesus used His holy blood to wash us clean of our sins against His Commandments. We attempt to break God’s Commandments under the cover of darkness, yet He has brought us into the light with His forgiveness. He grafted that perfection onto us. He is the One who fulfilled every aspect of His good and holy and wise Law. Now, because of what Jesus has done, all who believe are forgiven and granted a new lease on life.
And there is one other bonus to what Jesus has done. Rather than living in fear of God and His Commandments, we are able to appreciate them for the guidance they give. Yes, we can give thanks and we can sing: “The laws of God are good and wise, and sets His will before our eyes.”
Jesus loves His Law. So will we. We love it first precisely because we need it. It drives us to Christ and His Gospel. Then we love it because it teaches how God wants us to live for Him.
I found a beneficial quote about the Law in the life of a Christian: “Does the Christian need God’s law at all? If we are Christians who ‘live by the Spirit’ won’t we automatically do what God wants? The trouble is that we are not only accepted saints; we are also self-centered sinners and we do not always automatically love God and others. And so, when it comes to recognizing what God’s will is in any situation, our vision is clouded: ‘If believers…were perfectly renewed in this life through the indwelling Spirit…they would do what they are obligated to do…spontaneously and unhindered…But in this life Christians are not renewed perfectly and completely. (Luther)’ Therefore they need God’s commands ‘to light their way.’ God’s commands are an expression of his will for us.” (Friedemann Hebart, “On in the Gospel”)
In other words, due to our sinful nature our understanding of God’s will is clouded; our reason is often off-center. The Law not only reveals sin (second use of the Law) but it also shows us what is good and true, what God’s will is (third use of the Law).
Remember, Jesus speaks the Law in love. If He discourages us, it is a necessary pain to show us that we are missing something in our lives. We need to run to Him, fall down on our knees before Him, and beg for mercy from His Commandments. He will forgive us. He will grant us His righteousness. Then He will give us His Holy Spirit to desire to kiss the tablets of stone and keep the Commandments. Amen.