"You shall have no other gods before me.” – Exodus 20:3
When I was kid I took religion class once a week all through grade school. The Catholic kids; because there were so many more of them, had their class in the gymnasium, which for some reason seemed like way more fun to me. My Protestant classmates and I were relegated to one of the larger classrooms which made the long hour seem like the last thing I wanted – more schooling.
I can remember sitting at my desk fidgeting, bored beyond comprehension, searching for anything that might help the time pass. My standard issue “Good News Bible” was good for a few minutes of diversion with its stick men drawings of fishermen and farmers but honestly most of the lessons were wasted on me if recollection is any indicator. I can remember the day the Gideon’s visited and presented me with a little red New Testament and Psalms (I still have it and the sinner’s prayer is signed in my wobbly grade five signature). For some unknown reason I can remember the day the lesson was on the Good Samaritan, and I can remember being taught the Ten Commandments which to my shame (and most likely somewhere out there; Padre Blacks stern disapproval) I still have not committed to memory.
That first commandment always struck me as being a little odd, unnecessary even. Why would anyone want a god other than the true God? In my mind I pictured some poor misguided individual bowing down before a lifeless carved image while all along the creator of heaven and earth could be plainly seen by anyone with the least good sense.
In Mark 10; when an anxious young seeker approaches Him with an urgent question, Jesus brings this first commandment a little closer to our modern reality.
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?"
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "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, do not defraud, honour your father and mother.'"
"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy." – Mark 10:17-20
This young man, it seems, has been doing a pretty good job of keeping the law; but is he “in”? Will he inherit eternal life? He’s been good since he was a boy, but is it enough? Why does he feel that something is lacking?
That’s when Jesus does something that no respectable church growth trained modern church leader would ever consider doing. He lays down the law... and offends a seeker!
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."
At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"
Jesus looked at him... and loved him. Isn’t that just what we would expect? Gentle Jesus meek and mild, looking lovingly at this eager lad? What comes next though is the opposite of what we would do or what we would expect Jesus to do.
He lays down the law.
He confronts this young man with a truth that crushes him. He hears what Jesus says and his face falls, he turns and walks away sad. Why? Why would Jesus do such a thing? This is not the formula for growing a successful ministry. This is not in keeping with addressing the felt needs in the community. This is harsh, this turns people off, and this certainly seems anything but loving. So, what is going on here?
Jesus is using the law to do what the law is meant to do.
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. – Romans 3:19-20
We are supposed to be so crushed by the demands of the law, made so conscious of our sin, that we realize our need of Christ.
This rich young man is feeling good about his performance on commandments 5 though 10, so much so that he is completely overlooking his complete violation of commandment numbers 1 and 2. This young man has a small “g” god that is more important to him than the one true GOD. He loves his money and he cannot part with it... not even when presented with the opportunity to follow the Messiah in His earthly ministry.
This whole exchange blows the disciples away.
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is 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."
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?"
Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." - Mark 10:24-27
If this is the standard Peter says, who can be saved?
With man it is impossible. If salvation is based on human performance... it is impossible, nobody will be saved; but with God, with the sacrificial lamb, with the righteousness that is a free gift imparted by faith to all who believe... with God all things are possible... even the salvation of the likes of you and I.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. - John 3:18
For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. - John 6:40