Wednesday, September 20, 2006

7 Questions - Why Do You Call Me Good?

Mark 10:17 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?"

18 "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'"

20 "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."

21 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."

22 At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!"

Here was a young man who is interested in eternal life. He was probably considered a good church going man by the standard of his day. In contrast to the many who approach Jesus sad and leave happy, here is about the only example of someone approaching Jesus happy and leaving sad.

This young man was active in his faith. And, as an active person, his focus on what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Not what God has done, but what he had to do. "Good teacher, what must I do..." Jesus immediately resets the agenda. He doesn't even answer the question, but responds to the very notion that there is someone who would be called good. This is a striking response that stands out even in the text. What is going on here?

There isn't a single example in the Talmud of a Rabbi being referred to by this title, good teacher. The reason is straight forward. To use good in this way, is to ascribe to a man, an attribute that only belongs to God. This could be seen as stylish flattery. Jesus is not denying His divinity at this point, but is making clear that He should only be called that if He were God. Since the young man does not realize whom he is speaking to, Jesus asks him to consider his words. At the heart of the matter, the identity of Jesus in the most important issue.

Jesus then asks him to consider what it would require to enter Heaven in the company of an all-good being. He brings up the commandments, the Law, and presents them as a mirror for the young man to compare himself to. The Bible teaches that anyone who keeps them perfectly, without one mistep, will live. The only problem is noone has, noone can, noone will keep them.

The young man proclaims his own goodness, and answers that he has kept the commandments. This is the same answer that people give today when you ask if they will go to Heaven when they die. The top answer to why people think they are going to Heaven is always, "I am a good person." People think they are essentially a good person and live basically by the rules.

Interesting to note is that even though this young man thinks he has kept the commandments, that has not provided him with rest for his soul. He is still worried about his eternal fate. Otherwise he wouldn't have run up to Jesus and asked what he needed to do. He has no sense of peace, no sense of forgiveness, no sense of assurity of eternal life.

This man hadn't considered that deeper than the act of adultery, God looks beyond the act to our hearts. To have hatred to our brothers is akin to murder. Jesus could have dug deeper with the man to show him this. But, he jumps right up to the top of the list. He points out that despite his affirmations to keeping the commandments, he had actually broken the first commandment. Clearly this young man had not put God first. He had not loved God with all his heart, all his mind and with all his strength. At this, the young man's face fell. He went away sad.

How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. In our affluence, we are tempted to rely on earthly things. If we have amassed enough things to get a comfortable lifestyle for ourselves, the idea where we have to put someone else on the throne is not very attractive to us. When the only way of salvation is to accept God's offer and bow down before the provision that Jesus makes, and to hold out empty hands, that is a dreadfully humbling thing.

The ultimate impediment in all of our lives, the Bible says, is that we are at odds with God. We are alienated from God. We are unable to put ourselves in the right with God. God, in recognition of that, has come in the person of Jesus Christ, and has died on the cross, not as a display of His affections, but the Son has died to bear the settled indignation of the Father against the rebellious hearts of men and women. He has died in the place of sinners. And, when we read the Law of God, we discover that we haven't loved Him with all of our heart. We discover that we haven't always told the truth. We discover that we have coveted things of our neighbors. We have been guilty of impure thoughts. We realize then that as a lawbreaker, we neither have the time, nor the ability to clean up the mess that we have contributed to.

There is no resolution down the path of religious observance. But, there is salvation down the path of Jesus Christ. The way of entry is not by exertion. The way is by childlike trust. The sad part of this story is that this man doesn't walk away from Christ because he is a bad man, but because he is a good man. It is his very goodness that keeps him from the kingdom. Don't let your self righteousness keep you from Jesus.

These are my notes from a seven part podcast from Alistair Begg

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