In looking at how Jesus interpreted the Old Testament Scriptures our effort has been to learn lessons that help us to become better interpreters of Scripture in our time. Jesus had many advantages over us in that He was more than just a reader or a student of what Scripture said. He was author of the truths of Scripture. He not only had been behind the teaching of the Old Testament, he was the primary point of them. The goal of the Old Testament was to get us to Jesus. In Romans 10:4 the updated NIV translates it, “Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” In Galatians 3:19 Paul raised the question “Why was the law given?” He then answers his question thusly, “It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator.” With that in mind it makes a huge difference then to know how Jesus handled the Old Testament Scriptures and how he interpreted different aspects of the law.
In Mark 10 we are given Mark’s account of the discussion between Jesus and the religious leaders with regard to divorce and remarriage especially as it related to the application of Deuteronomy 24:1-3. Then Mark tells of the parents bringing their small children to Jesus that he might lay his hands on them and bless them. The disciples evidently felt that was beneath the dignity and mission of Jesus so they tried to stop the parents from getting their children to Jesus. Jesus rebuked the disciples and blessed the children. “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?” There obviously can’t be a more important question ever raised than this one so how Jesus handled it is extremely important for us to see. Not only that, he referred to Old Testament Scriptures in the process which makes it all the more important for our study.
“Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.” “Teacher,’ he declared,’ all these I have kept since I as a boy.’ 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.”
We know from all the different accounts of this story combined from Matthew, Mark and Luke that this man was a rich young ruler. He was Jewish and had lived an honorable life. He showed respect for Jesus as a rabbi by running up to him and falling to his knees to address him. He was highly respectful in referring to him as “Good teacher.” But the greatest respect is shown in asking him the most important question of all time. We ask different people different kinds of questions. We don’t usually ask our doctor for financial advise or our stock broker about health issues. The questions we raise to people indicate the area we have trust in them and the amount of respect we have for them in given areas. So if we asked someone about how to have eternal life it means that we believe they know the answer to the greatest question of all. He must have trusted Jesus as a religious teacher even if he didn’t recognize him as the Son of God to ask this question. Think about it, who would you approach to ask about how to have eternal life?
Jesus answer was important because it dealt with this man at that point in time. It wasn’t the same answer he would have given to every person in every situation or even in every period of time. In Acts 2:36 the people who heard Peter preach about Jesus and were cut to their heart cried out, “What shall we do?” Peter was being guided by the Holy Spirit of God when he said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” In Acts 16:30 the Phillipian jailer fell trembling before Paul and Silas to ask, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” “They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” They spoke to him and his family the word of the Lord and the jailer washed their wounds; “then immediately he and all his household were baptized.”
Notice they all asked the same question and but all three received different answers based on the time and situation they were in. But focus on Jesus with the rich young ruler. He referred to the commandments yet he didn’t quote all ten of them. In reality he didn’t mention the first four at all. Of the final six he quoted five and substituted “you shall not defraud,” for “You shall not covet.” Does that mean that the first four were not as important? Certainly not, these were the four that had to do with one’s relationship with God. Evidently, Jesus looked into the heart of the man and recognized that his problem with regard to salvation wasn’t centered in his relationship with God but with his relationship with other people. He recognized that his problem wasn’t so much with coveting the goods of others as it was in defrauding other people since he was wealthy himself.
It demonstrates the fact that even in interpreting the Scriptures it is vital that one also interpret the person’s heart who wants to know what God says. It wasn’t sufficient for Jesus to simply give the ruler a fresh reading of the Ten Commandments. He most likely would have been able to quote those ten commands as clearly as Jesus himself. But it was vital to point to the ones that were giving him difficulty. Jesus wasn’t just giving a lesson on God’s commands. He was challenging a person to get their life right with God. Jesus knew that the man wasn’t living by these six principles from the Old Law. But the man thought he was doing well with those. In his mind he had kept those from his boyhood. Jesus then carried the challenge deeper. “One thing you lack. Go sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” It was his treasure that stood between him and God, between him and eternal life. He needed to get rid of the very thing that was placed in his heart as God. Sell it. Give it away to the poor and needy. You will really have rewards in heaven when you do that. Then come follow me.
But as great as the treasure would be, the man wasn’t willing to pay it. As great as the prospects of being one of Jesus followers, it was more than he was willing to pay. He walked sorrowfully away and Jesus talked to the twelve about how hard it is for a rich man to be saved.
The lesson for us is that it isn’t enough to point people to Scripture. It is vital that we recognize what the needed Scripture is and point people to the very ones that they need for salvation. Sometimes even when we point to the very Scripture needed the person will believe they are doing what it says and will need us to take the point of the Scripture to a different level and apply it far more specifically for them to see how it fits them. Often then it will lead to them walking away instead of falling in repentance before God for new life.