Christ and the Commandments

Mark 10:17-23

September 2, 2012 | Brian Bill

I heard about a guy who bought a new refrigerator and didn’t know what to do with his old one so he put it in his front yard with a sign that said, “Free to good home.  You want it – you take it.”  For three days the fridge sat there without even one person looking at it.  He decided that people thought it must be too good to be true.  So he took the old sign off and made a new one: “Fridge for sale – $50.”  The next day someone stole it.

There’s something within us that seeks to do what we’re not supposed to do, isn’t there?  As we’ve been learning in our “Stone Tablets in a Wireless World” series, we’re all lawbreakers.  

The 10 Commandments are not like rungs on a ladder one must climb in order to get to heaven.  Instead, the commands ultimately point us to Christ.  Galatians 3:24: “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.”  One of the most important uses of the 10 Commandments is to show sinners their need for the Savior.  I like what John Calvin wrote: “Moses had no other intention than to invite all men to go straight to Christ.”  By the way, it is essential to preach the law in order to reach the lost.  People must know they are sinners before they will seek out the Savior.  We’re going to see how Jesus did that today.

But before we do that, let’s focus on how God’s people responded to the giving of the commands.  But before we get to that, let’s review the commands one more time.  

1: Hold up one pointer finger – point to the sky (one God; no other gods)

2: Hold up two pointer fingers – have one bow before the other (no idols)

3: Hold up three fingers – place over mouth (don’t take God’s name in vain)

4: Hold up four fingers – place on cheek as if to nap (Sabbath rest)

5: Hold up five fingers – place hand over heart (honor parents)

6: Hold up five fingers on one hand and the pointer finger of your other hand – turn pointer finger into a “gun”  and aim at the other hand (don’t murder)

7: Hold up five fingers on one hand and the pointer and middle finger on the other – intertwine them by putting the middle one over the pointer to show that they are bonded together (no adultery)

8: Hold up four fingers on one hand and four on the other – using one hand grab the other four fingers (no stealing)

9: Hold up four fingers on one hand and five on the other – move the four up and down as they face the five to show that they are lying or bearing false witness about others (no lying)

10: Hold up five fingers on each hand – pull fingers toward you (no coveting)

After receiving these commands, the people responded rather strongly in Exodus 20:18: “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear.”

Let me remind you what happened before the commandments were given.  After three days of preparation where they were told to wash and keep away from the mountain and abstain from intimacy, everyone in the camp “trembled,”  which means to shudder with terror and to quake.  Then we read that the whole mountain “trembled violently.”  After the commandments are given, the people “trembled with fear.”

The trumpet blast, which was the sound of a shofar, was “exceedingly loud” and it grew “louder and louder.”  This was not happy harp music.  Along with thunder and lightning and a thick cloud representing God’s Shekinah glory, there was smoke rising up as if from a bellowing furnace.  

Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a serious matter to approach the Almighty.  We cannot and must not be irreverent or bored or passive or come to Him on our own terms.  Most of us are way too casual with God and we don’t take His commands or His commission seriously enough.  

How Christ Used the Commandments

One of the best ways to convince someone of their need for the Savior is by helping them see their utter sinfulness.  We can do that by going to the 10 Commandments and asking this question: “How are you doing at keeping these?”  Greg Steir suggests that we need to use the “hammer of the Law” before we can introduce someone to the “healer of their soul.”  It’s only after admitting our brokenness can we be put back together.  We must acknowledge our lostness before we will be attracted to the Lord.  If we don’t see our need, we’ll walk away.  

Have you ever asked someone whether they’re going to heaven and heard them say that they’re “a pretty good person” or that they’re “trying to live a good life?”  Part of our problem is that we’ve overused the word “good.”  We say that we had a good vacation, a good cry, or a good meal.  I want us to focus on an actual encounter Jesus had with a man who considered himself to be very good – this is not a parable; he’s a real person…and he represents people all around us.  Turn to Mark 10:17-23.

After watching Jesus pick up little children and bless them, a man with some money ran up to Jesus, fell on his knees, and as he tried to catch his breath asked this question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus turned to the inquisitive man and asked, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good – except God alone.  You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”

The man did a quick inventory and said, “I’ve kept all these since I was a boy.  There’s got to be more.  Is there something that I’m still missing?  Surprisingly, Jesus did not argue with him or point out that he couldn’t possibly have kept all these commands.  Instead, he looked intently at him with eyes of love and then said, “You still lack one thing.  Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, his face fell.  He walked away sad because he had a lot of money.

I see three main truths from this passage.

  • God is good
  • We’re not
  • Goodness comes from grace

God is Good

This seeker of truth had everything he needed, or so it seemed.  The phrase, “young man” places him between twenty-four and forty years of age.  He was well respected.  And he had a lot of cash.  Luke says he was a ruler so we know he had power and money and respect.  But he was not happy with his legalistic, performance oriented, graceless religion.  He could sense that he was missing something and he wanted to make sure he was on the right path to heaven.  The fact that he ran up to Jesus shows us that he was earnest.  By kneeling he demonstrates his sincerity.  All his life he had been taught that he had to do good things in order to be saved, but something was bothering him deep inside.

He starts out by calling Jesus “good.”  Perhaps he was approaching Him too casually or using flattery to impress Him.  It would be like saying, “Jesus you’re a good guy.”  Jesus stops him and says, “Why do you call me good when only God is intrinsically good?”   Jesus doesn’t want him to take God lightly.  His answer must have surprised the man because at first glance it had no connection with his question.  Instead of answering his inquiry, Jesus makes the man realize the essence of goodness as exhibited in God.  1 Chronicles 16:34 puts it succinctly: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.”  

We Are Not Good

Jesus was also making the point that this young man was not good.  Only God is.  His concept of “good” was mistaken.  It confused his perception of Jesus and it clouded his understanding of himself.  Until he could see that Jesus was God incarnate who demanded his complete allegiance, and until he recognized his own sinfulness, he could not truly find the eternal life he was searching for.  In short, he thought too little of Jesus and too much of himself.  He overestimated his own goodness and grossly underestimated who Jesus was. I like what C.S. Lewis once said, “No creature that deserved redemption would need to be redeemed.”

we can’t truly find eternal life until we see that we fall far short of God’s standards of goodness and until we recognize that Jesus is God Himself

It was a common belief in that time that someone had to do something to earn eternal life.  This man was used to earning everything.  He was ready to do some work to get what he wanted. That’s still pretty popular today.  Many believe that God will add up their good works and their bad stuff; and if the good outweighs the bad, then they will get into heaven.  Friends, we can’t truly find eternal life until we see that we fall far short of God’s standards of goodness and until we recognize that Jesus is God Himself, sent to redeem us from our sins by dying as our substitute on the cross.  

The young man thought that he had kept all of God’s standards for goodness and was able to say that he had not committed adultery or murder, that he had never stolen or lied, and that he honored his father and mother.  While he may have kept these horizontal, or man-to-man commands, Jesus is about to show him the true state of his heart.  This guy was focused only on the superficial while Jesus takes Him on a journey to see how sinful he really was.

He may have kept some of the commandments most of the time, but it was impossible to keep all of them, all the time.  It’s as if Jesus is saying, “That’s really good that you’ve kept these important commands, but you’re still missing out on how to have eternal life.  There’s no way you can be good enough to get to heaven.  Let me show you what I mean.  Sell everything you have and give it to the poor.”

Jesus is showing the man that he had broken the first and second commandments by making money his master.  Shekels were his savior and gold was his god.  He may have also broken the commandment against coveting as exhibited in his unwillingness to share his money with those who really needed it.  As we learned last week, the sin of covetousness is subtle and difficult to detect, and yet it can cause a person to break all the other commandments.  1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”   

John MacArthur writes: “Before you can talk about the gospel…people must understand that they are not good…the purpose of the law is to kill, to crush, to show how perfectly good God is and how utterly evil man is…people don’t believe that.  So they go to hell believing they’re good.”

Goodness Comes From Grace

I can’t get over Mark 10:21: “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”  Isn’t that amazing?  This man loved his money more than anything else and yet Jesus still lavished him with love.  Jesus could have told the man he was wrong or judged him or rolled His eyes at him.  Instead, He loved him.  Wow.  This reminds me of the love He had for the city of Jerusalem that led Him to weep over people who were consumed with their selfish sinfulness.

Jesus didn’t love the man because he was good, or because he kept all the religious requirements.  Not at all.  It was actually just the opposite.  He was a command-breaker but didn’t know it.   Jesus saw that he was trying to do the right things but was deluded.  There was no way he could measure up and Jesus loved him anyway.  1 John 4:10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

He does the same for you and me.  He sees all of our efforts that fall short.  He sees our sins that pile up before Him.  And yet, He looks at us with love.  Out of this abundance of love, Jesus says, “One thing you lack.  Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”  

This doesn’t mean that each of us have to sell everything we have if we want to be a disciple.  Jesus was addressing a very specific idol that this guy had, and in so doing, exposed his heart.  He personalized the message for him.  Because he was rich, he told him to liquidate his estate and give the money to the poor.  

Friend, what one thing is keeping you from full faith in Christ?  What’s holding you back from complete surrender?  Is it money?  A relationship?  Is it your time?  Could it be a bad habit that you secretly enjoy?  Is it your own sense of goodness?  Just as Jesus pinpointed the root problem for this man, He looks at you with love this morning and says, “This one thing you lack.  Let it go, come and follow me.”  

Here’s the message.  Turn from how you’ve been living.  And then follow me.  Repent and then follow.  This really answers the question, “What should I do?”  The answer is the same today.  Go. Sell. Give. Come.  Follow me.  We could say it like this: Forsake all else and follow Jesus with all that you have.

This man turned down the gift of eternal life because his fist was so clenched around his money that he couldn’t imagine devoting his life to anything else.  When faced with the choice of loving God and others or protecting his possessions, he chose the selfish route.  Mark 10:22 vividly describes an individual who was more in love with himself than with God and others: “At this the man’s face fell.  He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”  The Greek word translated “sad” gives the picture of storm clouds gathering.  The man, who had run up to Jesus, and boldly proclaimed that he had kept all the commands, now shuffles away while a horrible hurricane ravages his soul.

One pastor adds, “He wanted eternal life but not enough to give up his pride and his possessions.”  Friends, while you can’t pay for salvation; it will cost you something to receive it.  This guy only wanted eternal life as an add-on, like a free get-into-heaven app. 

The Apostle Paul wrote these words in Romans 3:19-20 to show that we are all condemned by the commandments: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” I see three truths from these two verses.

  • We will be silenced before God.  As we come face-to-face with the mirror of God’s Word and see our scars of sin, we will be silenced before Him.  This word literally means, “To stop muttering.”  There is nothing we can say, no excuse we can think up.  We’ve blown it and we’re busted.  Salvation comes only to those who are silenced by their sinfulness.  
  • We are accountable to the Almighty.  This is a legal term, which means that we are liable before God.  We are guilty as charged.  Everyone will appear before the Almighty and give an account of their lives.  Are you ready for judgment day?
  • The Law helps us see that we are lawbreakers.  J.B. Philips renders verse 21 this way: “It is the straightedge of the law that shows us how crooked we are.”   
If you don’t follow the Savior, you’ll follow something or someone else

It’s interesting that Jesus did not go chasing after this man.  It’s fascinating to me that Jesus didn’t call him back.  He just let him go.  He didn’t change the message to one of happy thoughts and easy believism.  As good as he looked, he was lost.  It’s true…there is no other way but to trust and obey.  We must come to Him on His terms, not ours.  Mark this: If you don’t follow the Savior, you’ll follow something or someone else.

The man was caught in the web of trying to serve both God and money as he realized the truth of Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.”   Money is a marvelous servant but a terrible master.  It’s good to have the things money can buy, provided you don’t lose the things that money cannot buy.  Jesus adds these often quoted words in reference to this young man: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!  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.”  Of all the people who came to the feet of Jesus, this man is the only one who went away worse than he came.  

He had everything that money could buy, and yet he wanted something far more important.  He saw it, caught a glimpse of it in Jesus and still walked away.  People do this all the time.  They recognize that Jesus can satisfy all that they need, and yet they don’t want to fully follow Him by giving up that which they are serving.  I can’t think of anything much sadder than that.  Are you going to walk away sad this morning or are you going to follow the Savior?

He was not willing to admit that he was a sinner and so he had no need for the Savior.  Jesus preached the Law to him but because he wouldn’t deal with his lawlessness, Jesus never got to the gospel.  The Bible never mentions this man again.  Jesus showed him the way of life, and he left and never came back, as far as Scripture records.  Maybe he didn’t like having his sinful heart exposed.  Maybe he was looking for an easier way.  Maybe he thought he was “too good” to be saved.

What about you?  Many come close to Christ.  Some even make an attempt to keep the moral code.  A few might even be respectful of Jesus.  Friend, let the commandments kill you.  Allow them to cause you to tremble.  Admit your sin and turn from it.  It’s only when you know you’re a sinner that you’ll be in a spot to know the Savior.  Only someone who’s in a mess needs a mediator.

The Need for a Mediator

Let’s come back to the passage that follows the giving of the commandments in Exodus 20:19-21: “They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen.  But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’  Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid.  God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’  The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.”

The people were petrified and shaking in their sandals.  They saw God as good and great and glorious and they knew they weren’t any of these things.  Their sins were exposed and they were afraid for their lives and “stayed at a distance.” They knew that they needed a mediator, someone to serve as a go-between to bridge the gap between God’s holiness and their sinfulness.  Ryken adds, “They needed someone to represent them before God and to represent God before them.  They needed someone to be God’s spokesman because they could not bear the sound of God’s voice.”

The Book of Hebrews draws a comparison and contrast between Moses as a go-between and Jesus as our mediator.  Hebrews 3:3: “Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses…”  Hebrews 8:6: “But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises.”  Hebrews 9:15: “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance…”

While Moses offered some mediation, he was a lawbreaker himself.  Jesus kept all of God’s laws and everything He did counts for those who trust in Him.  He fulfilled God’s law, plus He paid our penalty for not keeping His commands.  

I want to point something out before moving on.  Did you catch that a proper reverence for God can keep us from sinning?  If we would cultivate a godly fear of God we will be afraid to sin.  Some of us think so little of God that we think we can sin without consequence.  Once we see God as holy and awesome and worship Him accordingly, we will want to sin less.

Before we end this service, I would be doing you a disservice if you just left here trying to be good.  Some of you have not yet put your faith in Jesus for forgiveness of sins and eternal life.  You may sense things aren’t quite right and maybe even you’re drawn to Jesus.  But your goodness isn’t near good enough.  Jesus tells you this morning, “One thing you lack.”

If you have never been born again by receiving Jesus Christ into your life, this is the “one thing you lack.”  You may be pretty good.  You may even be coming to church.  You may be giving some of your money to God.  But if you have never repented of your sins and put your faith in Christ alone, you still lack one thing.

If there were a sign posted on the lawn at Calvary it might read something like this: “Salvation is free – you want it, you take it.”  You don’t have to steal it because it’s already been paid for.  But it won’t become yours until you can say, “Salvation is free – and it’s for me.”  What are you going to do?  

  1. Acknowledge the wretchedness of your own unrighteousness.  It’s important to call sin “sin.”  Andy Stanley makes the point that most of us would rather use the word “mistake” instead of “sin” when we mess up: “If everything I do wrong can be dumbed down to where it’s just a mistake, that makes me a mistaker, which means I don’t have sin.  If I don’t have sin, I’m not a sinner.  If I’m not a sinner, I don’t have any need for a Savior.  If you’re just a mistaker, then all you have to do is do better…Until you embrace the fact that you’re a sinner, you’re not open to embracing the fact that God sent you a Savior.”
  2. Believe that Jesus died in your place to justify you, to redeem you, and to forgive you.
  3. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is your Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.  God’s righteousness has made a way for us to be right with Him…and we are justified when we receive Jesus by faith.  Forsake all else and follow Jesus with everything you have.  Repent of your sins and receive the Savior.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?