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Essay

Good Man

When someone is exposed as a serial killer, reporters interview everyone they can find who knew him. His landlord usually tells us he paid the rent on time. His neighbors and co-workers express shock. And almost always, someone says, "He was nice to me. He was a good person."

That's what the world says about Jesus, too. He was a good person, a good teacher. If everyone lived more like Him, the world would be a better place.

The Bible tells about a young man who called Jesus "good." Do you know how Jesus responded? He scolded the young man.

In Matthew 19:16, a man the Gospels identify as wealthy and as a ruler comes to Jesus and says, "Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?"

Most leaders would find this a very attractive situation. This guy has money, which in a lot of churches qualifies him for extra-extra-special treatment. (That's not the Biblical approach - see James 2:1-9 - but it's certainly human.) Not only is he rich, but he's a ruler. That makes him powerful. With money and power, he's probably also well-known. On top of all that, he's young. In our culture, youth is worshiped — especially when accompanied by wealth, power, and celebrity.

To find all that in one potential follower, would make almost any leader giddy with excitement. But it gets better. He comes to Jesus and, according to the Gospel of Mark, he kneels. Then he calls Jesus "Good Master" and asks a profoundly important religious question. Better yet, the question the young man asks, opens him up to some big time, fund raising techniques. He says, "What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?"

Can't you just hear the cash registers ringing? What a day! This guy has resources. He can open doors into a whole new milieu of money-people with political power and prestige. He wants to do something to inherit eternal life, and he has the bucks to back him. Imagine the wonderful things Jesus would be able to do with this fellow's money and contacts . . . as long as no one offends the guy.

That's when Jesus first rebukes him. And it's not just any rebuke. It's the sort of thing that makes Christians uneasy. Jesus rebukes the young man for calling Him — Jesus — good.

Jesus responded, "Why are you calling Me good. Only God is good."

That's the key that opens this entire passage of scripture. Only God is good. From this, we see the crucial issues of life, death, and eternity. He's calling Jesus good, but he doesn't know who Jesus really is, or what it means to be good.

What happens next, most evangelicals will agree, is not the witnessing technique we usually teach. It would have been simpler if Jesus had had a copy of the Four Spiritual Laws on Him, but pockets had apparently not been invented yet, and neither had the printing press.

Suppose someone asks you, "What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?" If you're an evangelical Christian, you might say, "Nothing. You don't gain eternal life by doing good works." You might then take him to spiritual law number 2, "Humans are sinful and separated from God." Or you might take him to number 3:23 on the Roman Road. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God."

That's what Jesus did, too, only not as directly. He used the law as the schoolmaster."If thou wilt enter into life, He said, keep the commandments."

The young ruler then asks an audacious question. "Which ones?"

James 2:10-11 teaches us to see the Law as a whole thing and that if you break any part of it, you've broken all of it.

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For He that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.

Jesus could have explained this to him, but chose instead to lay out some specific commandments, all of which have to do with humans relating to other humans:

Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honor thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

This list is hardly a complete accounting of all the Old Testament laws. But it should be enough to convince anyone who's honest with himself, that he is a sinner. The young man, though, was not ready to receive the lesson. He answered Jesus, "All these things have I kept from my youth up."

The Lord shows no anger at this. He doesn't argue the point, at least not in a traditional way. He again lets the commandments themselves do the teaching. One of them He listed comes from Leviticus 19:18 — "Love thy neighbor as thyself."

Many feel this verse doesn't apply to them because they don't feel any particular love of self. I've heard a surprising number of teachers and preachers who agree. They take this most unselfish of commands and turn it inward. They make it about self-image. They say, "First learn to love yourself, and then you can learn to love others."

But that's not what Jesus said. He said, "Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself."

What do you do when you're hungry? You feed yourself. When you're thirsty, you give yourself water. When you need to go somewhere, you provide transportation-- if you can. If you're cold, you find a blanket and cover yourself with it. The simplicity and power of the command is overwhelming.

Love thy neighbor as thyself.

Imagine standing before Jesus and claiming you had kept even this one command from your youth up. That's what the rich your ruler did. He actually stood before Jesus claiming to love others as unreservedly and completely as he loved himself, and that he always had. If true, what Jesus is about to tell him should be easy. He shouldn't have to work himself up to it. It should be almost a relief that he now has a good excuse to do what he has long wanted to do.

Jesus said to him,"If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow Me."

The Bible says, "When the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions."

Here are some things to remember from the story of the rich, young ruler:

Number 1 — Don't call Jesus good unless you also call Him God. "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God." Therefore, if Jesus isn't God, He isn't good. And anyone who doesn't believe Jesus was God should take extra care about calling Him a good teacher. Jesus taught in many places, at many times, and in many ways that He is God.

Number 2 — Don't ask, "What good thing can I do to inherit eternal life?" If only God is good, then you aren't. You can't earn it and you have nothing with which to pay for it.

Number 3 — When someone gives you a profound list of commandments, don't glibly claim you've got them all mastered and have never ever strayed since childhood.

Number 4 — If you brag to Jesus that, from your childhood up, you have always loved your neighbor as yourself, be aware that He might just ask you to put your money where your mouth is.

After the young man left, Jesus turned to His disciples and said something that startled them and startles Bible readers to this day.

Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

In the last two thousand years, this statement has been so startling to many people that they quit reading. But we must not quit here. The disciples reaction was just like yours or mine. In amazement, they asked, "Who then can be saved?"

Some have used Jesus' statement about the rich and heaven to advocate a communist style economic system. If that's what Jesus meant, this is where He would say, "You can be saved by selling all that you have, giving it to the poor, and joining the collective."

Instead, He looked at them and said, "With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible."

Who can be saved? With men salvation is impossible because men are sinners. Remember the key? "Only God is good." He is the standard and He alone is as righteous as Himself. On the cross, Jesus took our sins and gave us His righteousness.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says, "For He hath made Him to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."

There was another young man of the New Testament who thought He could do good things in order to inherit eternal life. In Philippians 3, he described how he once viewed himself. "We put no confidence in human effort, though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault."

He was so good at keeping commandments, no one could accuse him of anything. He was above reproach. But when he encountered Jesus, he saw real righteousness, and realized his own was as filthy rags.

He continued, "I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ."

This young man, Saul of Tarsus who became Paul the Apostle, would, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, write more books of the Bible than anyone else. Here is more of what he had to say about being the righteousness of God in Christ.

Rom 3:20-26 (New Living Translation) "For no one can ever be made right in God's sight by doing what His law commands. For the more we know God's law, the clearer it becomes that we aren't obeying it. But now God has shown us a different way of being right in His sight — not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. We are made right in God's sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.

"For all have sinned," all fall short of God's glorious standard. Yet now God in His gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, Who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God's anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing His life for us. God was being entirely
fair and just when He did not punish those who sinned in former times. And He is entirely fair and just in this present time when He declares sinners to be right in His sight because they believe in Jesus."

Good Man
©2007-2018 Tom Gilbreath All Rights Reserved
Posted: 1-18-2008

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