Readings: Amos 5:6–7, 10–15 | Hebrews 3:12–19 | Mark 10:17–22
Text: Mark 10:17-22
Covering Points From: Formula of Concord, Article VI – The Third Use of the Law
You may or may not remember this from Catechism class, but there are three uses for the Law of God, and in this encounter that Jesus has with this young man, all three are at work.
The man comes to Jesus and asks the right kind of question—one which few ask today—“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He is actually desiring to have eternal life, as opposed to eternal death. Jesus engages him in conversation about this, because it is such an important topic. First, with a mild rebuke about calling Him a good teacher, because it misses His divinity. Then, “You know the commandments.” He calls this young Israelite back to his catechism days and asks him to recall the Commandments of God. Specifically, he names the second table of the Law, those Commandments which govern our life before our neighbor.
The dialog starts with the first use of the Law, the Curb. The Curb is that aspect of the Ten Commandments that wisely stood before courthouses in our land. It’s what God wrote into the hearts of all people, and any who have not seared their conscience will acknowledge the truth of God’s commands. C.S. Lewis in his work, Abolition of Man, even provided a catalog of testimonies from cultures all over the world called Illustrations of the Tao. In it, you find examples of prohibiting murder, adultery, theft, false witness, fraud, and dishonoring father and mother. This is written so deep in our conscience that when you see people today defending their violation of these truths, you can hear how loudly they speak to silence the voice of conscience.
The young man in the Gospel responds, “All these I have kept from my youth.” He has been a God-fearing, moral man. He’s the kind of guy you would want your daughter to marry, if morals and money were all you were looking for. It’s not that he’s claiming to be without sin, but that He has treasured God’s Word, which reveals the truth of how His human creatures are to live.
Then comes the second use of the Law, the Mirror: “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” This is where the Law gets personal, and shows us where we have fallen short and sinned against God and our neighbor. “Through the Law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20) Jesus looks at him and loves Him. He desires more for this man than that he be a good, moral individual, the kind of person people eulogize after their death, but yet someone who is lost in the fires of hell. God does not desire of the death of the sinner, but that He repent—turn from his sin—and live. Jesus looks at this man, and loves Him enough to show him his own sin.
Even though He has kept all the moral commands, and before others appears to be a righteous and upstanding man, his sin is getting in the way of that goal of eternal life. This is where the Commandments are more than a bronze dedication in front of a court, but rather a Word from God that speaks to each person individually. That’s why the advice in the hymnal for individual Confession says, “You may prepare yourself by meditating on the Ten Commandments.” (LSB 292) The rich young man had kept the Commandments as a curb against gross sin, but God loved him and digs deeper into his heart, and desires life for Him. He prepares him for confession by showing him his sin, with the desire that he might see that he has run to the right place and that he is standing right in front of his Savior!
The same is true for you. God desires your life beyond just the here and now, your health, your family being happy, your daily existence being comfortable. He wants you to live eternally and, by all means, be saved from the fiery and eternal punishments of hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48, citing Isaiah 66:24) Every time you come to Him, whether it be at church or in your daily devotions, you are running to the right place: Where the God who treasures your salvation speaks to you. He will speak something in His Law that your sinful flesh doesn’t want to hear. It may be earthly wealth getting in the way of your honest hearing of God’s Word. It is wherever you say to yourself, “Yeah, that’s true, but not for me.” For others, it’s the other commandments that snare them, and call out those places where we have set up our trust and hope in created things, rather than our Creator and Savior [Rom. 1:25].
But when that second use of the Law shows us our sin, God leads us to His Son, who was rejected, nailed to the cross, died, and was buried. There, the wrath your sin deserves has already been punished. The wrath of God is finished on the cross of His Son, in order that you would hear His peace and pardon. The mirror of the Law is what brings us to the foot of the cross, and pray, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
Even though the pericope (the section of Scripture that is “cut out” for today) ends there, God has yet one more way that He uses His Law: As a guide for the lives of His redeemed and forgiven Christians. This is what follows all the “buts” in the explanation that Luther wrote for the Commandments. For example, in the second, “We should fear and love God so that we do not lie or deceive by His Name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.” This is what God is teaching He does want His reconciled children to be doing. And this is what we do, as new creations in Christ’s death and resurrection.
In Holy Baptism, you were crucified with Christ and raised to new life with Him (Romans 6:1-11). For you, the Third Use of the Law is where God is explaining to us what the new Us should do. This is the instruction and admonition of the Lord for His children [Eph. 6:4].
The rich young man cut out of the scene before he reached this confession of faith, that Jesus is the Savior of sinners like him. But you have not. You are here, confessing Jesus to be your Savior, who has ransomed you from the futile ways inherited from your father, and his father before him [1 Peter 1:18]. You are the beginning of that new creation, and you have heard the Lord’s admonition to you. He has looked at you and loved you, so what is contrary to His will in your heart? What do you need to surrender in order that you may inherit eternal life?
The answer to this question is personal, and comes in answer to a heartfelt prayer. You may struggle with the answer, but remember the Lord who looks at each of us and loves you. He calls out whatever may stand in the way of you receiving eternal life. Is it to honor your father and mother and other authorities? Is it for the life God has given to others? Is it for the holy estate of marriage? Is it for protecting and improving your neighbors possessions? Is it to use your tongue to speak well of others? Is it your proclivity to covet what God has given others?
Whatever your sin may be, the Lord Jesus looks upon you and loves you. He desires you to have that eternal life you seek, despite the weakness of your sin. By the power of the Holy Spirit, give your sin to Him. Let it be nailed to the cross [Col. 2:14], that your life may be saved and you may have that free gift of eternal life. In Jesus, your Savior your sins are taken away, and you are given a new birth, a new heart, and an eternal future where you will receive a treasure that makes everything else pale in comparison! Praise be to God through Jesus our Savior! Amen.