We generally say that we are not under the Law of Moses anymore, but how about the Ten Commandments? Do they still count? What does Jesus think?
A religious leader inquired of Yeshua, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?””
This question is found in Luke 18:18, and funnily enough, the number 18 when written in Hebrew means LIFE! The invitation to choose life is what this is all about. If someone asked you what they should do if they want to inherit eternal life, what would you say?
Here’s Yeshua’s answer:
“You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.”
This might sound a bit weird to the evangelical ear for a couple of reasons:
- We tend to think that eternal life is a matter of repentance and forgiveness rather than obeying commandments. Surely Jesus of all people should know that?!
- Jesus only lists half of the Ten Commandments, leaving out some rather important ones. Why?
The Ten Commandments
Just to remind you, here’s the full list from Exodus 20 (Tree of Life Version) and it’s repeated again in Deuteronomy 5:
- You shall have no other gods before Me.
- Do not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or on the earth below or in the water under the earth. Do not bow down to them, do not let anyone make you serve them. For I, Adonai your God, am a jealous God, bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to the thousands of generations of those who love Me and keep My mitzvot.
- You must not take the Name of Adonai your God in vain, for Adonai will not hold him guiltless that takes His Name in vain.
- Remember Yom Shabbat, to keep it holy. You are to work six days, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat to Adonai your God. In it you shall not do any work—not you, nor your son, your daughter, your male servant, your female servant, your cattle, nor the outsider that is within your gates. For in six days Adonai made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Thus Adonai blessed Yom Shabbat, and made it holy.
- Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long upon the land which Adonai your God is giving you.
- Do not murder.
- Do not commit adultery.
- Do not steal.
- Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- Do not covet your neighbor’s house, your neighbor’s wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
Did you notice which ones were left out of the list Jesus gave?
- No gods before me
- No idolatry
- Don’t take God’s name in vain
- Keep Shabbat
- Do not covet
Interesting! Very interesting… because this religious leader is known as the “Rich Young Ruler”. After mentioning the five laws which this man had managed to keep, Jesus challenges him to give away his wealth. The text tells us that this guy was rich – extremely rich.
Jesus was not saying that it’s bad to be rich, or that everyone needs to sell all their possessions, but money has an effect on the heart. We cannot serve both God and money. He was telling this particular young man, who asked how he could gain eternal life, that he needed to depose the idol of wealth and put God first.
He needed to attend to the first commandment.
Wealth had become an idol, evidenced by the fact that when asked to choose between God and money, he chose his money and walked away from God. He was serving another god, and breaking the second commandment. He realised he couldn’t (or rather wouldn’t) choose God, and he went away sad. As a religious leader, he was dragging the name of God through the dirt by living an idolatrous life, breaking the third commandment. Are those serving the god of money likely to keep the commandment not to covet? Or to find Sabbath rest? The disciples were shocked, seeing the severity of the challenge and the impossibility of following all the commandments.
We all fail
Go through the list above and see how you’re doing in keeping all ten. All of us have areas in which we are breaking God’s most basic commandments, especially given Yeshua’s warning that breaking these laws in our hearts amounts to the same thing.
“You have heard it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder and whoever commits murder shall be subject to judgment…. But I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be subject to judgment. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that everyone who looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. And if your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away! It is better for you that one part of your body should be destroyed, than that your whole body be thrown into Gehenna.” (Matthew 5:21-22,27-29)
How about that for a rabbinic interpretation of the Law! The law is perfect, because it reflects our perfect Father. Perfectly pure, perfectly loving, perfectly holy, perfectly faithful, respectful, loyal, just, and true, not envious, not self-seeking, and embodying perfect rest.
“Be perfect!” Jesus summarizes, “Just as your Heavenly Father is perfect”. (Matthew 5:48)
A tall order. Who will make it? Who can avoid being subject to God’s punishment? No one.
Who then can be saved?
Jesus turned to encourage His horrified disciples, who understood the peril humanity was in: sure, the situation is impossible, but there’s good news!
“What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27)
We can be saved by God Himself making it possible – through Jesus. We can’t keep the law, but He can. We can’t make ourselves right with God in order to inherit eternal life, but He can do it for us.
The text continues to describe the Calvary event – the very event carried out by God that made it possible for us to inherit eternal life, despite our failure to keep His commands. With courage that is hard to fathom, Jesus talked with full understanding and consent about what would soon happen to Him:
“Everything written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be carried out. He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and He will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have scourged Him, they will kill Him. Yet on the third day, He will rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33)
The penalty for our sin was paid
By shedding His innocent blood for us, and conquering death, His sacrifice made us holy in God’s sight. We have the right to be called Children of God and live with Him forever.
We can become suitable vessels for God’s Spirit to live in us, to tabernacle within us. By His Spirit working in us, we become more and more inclined and empowered to live according to His word and His ways. We can learn to obey His commandments. Because they are commandments, not suggestions. He meant them then, and He means them now. They are not only morally imperative, but they reflect the very nature of our God.
By faith in His sacrifice, by faith in His work in our lives, we can become more and more conformed to His image day by day.
By the power of God, the impossible becomes possible.