Mark 10:17-31 (ESV)
17 And as Jesus was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 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.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may be made good through faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth with all their wonders and delights. And it was good!
As part of God’s good creation, he made human beings as male and female – complementary creations who were made to be in relationship with each other and have a close and trusting relationship with their Creator. And it was very good!
Our good God placed every good thing on earth under the stewardship of his dearly loved and precious humans. They were only forbidden one part of God’s good creation for their own good: the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good…and evil.
But, even though God had clearly defined for them what was good and what wasn’t good for them, the humans didn’t trust God’s word, thinking God was still withholding something good from them. So, in order to define goodness and evil for themselves, they took the fruit of the forbidden tree and ate it.
That’s where we lost our goodness. And from that time on, humans have been trying to either re-obtain their goodness, or attempt to redefine goodness for themselves.
As you read through Scripture, every attempt by humans to gain goodness or glory for themselves by building towers, or establishing kingdoms, or seeking fame, or gathering fortune, end up in disaster. Despite this, God still wanted to restore his goodness to his dearly loved and precious humans and chose to promise his restoration of goodness to the earth through a childless and homeless man named Abraham.
What God promised Abraham was good, but Abraham and his family line kept showing our natural human tendency to rebel against God’s word and his good plans. Despite God’s faithfulness and goodness to them, they kept trying to define good and evil for themselves – again with disastrous results.
Despite their constant recalcitrance and rebelllion, God remained faithful to his good promises and continually helped them by rescuing them from oppression, granting them access to his forgiveness and goodness through sacrificial worship, and establishing them in a good land with a good king to rule over them.
But every generation needed to re-learn obedience to their good and faithful God. God needed to rescue every generation from themselves, gather them back from their times of exile, and lead them to trust his promises.
By the end of Old Testament times, some of his faithful ones continued to wait patiently for God’s good promises to be fulfilled and they dedicated themselves to keeping God’s good laws in the hope that by doing so, they would bring about the promised salvation and re-establish the kingdom of God. But it wasn’t their goodness which would bring this about, but God’s goodness.
You see, our good God himself came down into this corrupted and disobedient world to live as a human being among his own people.
Jesus, who is God in human flesh, taught God’s goodness. He restored people to good health by his words and touch. He told them God’s good plan would involve his own sacrifice, death, and resurrection. He gathered people to follow him, including many people who wouldn’t normally be defined as ‘good’, such as tax-collectors and sinners. He welcomed all people, including women and children, so they would know of God’s goodness.
And today we hear how one young man came to our good God-in-human-flesh, and he recognised Jesus as someone good. But Jesus knows the truth of Scripture that only one is good, and it’s not you or me or this young man. He knows only God is truly good and only God can create anything good. Only God can truly define what goodness is, and only God can restore the world or its people to his benchmark of true goodness.
But the question is this: Does this young man recognise Jesus is his own good God in human flesh, or is he still too focused on his own definition of goodness?
Well, we soon hear this young man reckons he’s a good man who deserves entry into God’s good eternal kingdom, and he wants Jesus as the good teacher to confirm the young man’s goodness in front of everyone. After all, he’s kept all of God’s commands, he’s been faithful, and he’s done all the right things. If he stood among us today, we may even point to him and say “Yes, he’s a good man!”
But, like this young man, I wonder if we also want to be known as ‘good’. Most Christians do. We all want to be known as a good person and we try hard to do all the right things. We don’t want to be wrong, get in trouble, or be found out that we’re not as good as we thought.
Now, maybe you think you’re good, or maybe you don’t. But either way, how do you react when your reputation as a ‘good person’ is threatened?
If you, or someone else, questions your goodness, what, or whom, are you prepared to sacrifice in order that you can still be known as ‘good’?
What excuses or denials do you make when someone points out your goodness falls short of their expectations?
What good things about yourself are you tempted to point to in order to justify your own goodness over against someone else’s?
The irony is, even though we know and accept the truth of Scripture, which teaches no-one is good except God alone, why do we expect ourselves, or anyone else, to be good?
Why are we surprised if anyone, including ourselves, fall short of the goodness that either God or we expect? Why are we always so judgmental and critical of others when Scripture tells us they’re not as good as they pretend to be? Why are we tempted to despair of God’s people when God tells us this community is made up of sinners who will always fall short of the expectations God requires of us?
The uncomfortable biblical fact is that all of us aren’t good. We also can’t make ourselves good, no matter how hard we try.
Now, even though Jesus knew the truth about this man’s attempt at goodness, Jesus looked at him and loved him.
He loves you too.
No matter how good (or bad) you think you are, Jesus loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about this!
Jesus loved this young man who wrongly thought his own goodness could earn his way into God’s good kingdom. Jesus knew this young man’s goodness still wasn’t good enough. There was still something lacking. But what he lacked was hindered by the very thing he was already trusting in.
Jesus tells this ‘good’ young man to get rid of everything he has by giving it to those he considered less worthy, not good enough, and undeserving. Only then could he truly follow Jesus.
But if he did this, how would anyone know he’s ‘good’? Without the signs of God’s blessings for his faithfulness and goodness, how could he prove his goodness and worth to others?
You see, like many followers of God, he thought God blessed him with riches and success because he was ‘good’.
And don’t we also often think this way? Don’t we wonder, when bad things happen to people, what they did to deserve this, as if any blessings we have are signs of God’s favour, and any misfortune we suffer are signs of God’s judgment? Don’t we often accept the human way of thinking which expects goodness to be rewarded and evil punished?
But Jesus challenges and turns this false theology upside down by saying the first shall be last and the last first.
This doesn’t seem fair to us! But Jesus isn’t here to be fair. He’s here to be good. He’s here to bring about God’s goodness through his obedience, suffering, death and resurrection. His cruel suffering and death for the forgiveness of our sins isn’t fair. But what he did was good for us. He did this because we’re not good enough!
What it boils down to is this: Do you trust your own goodness or God’s goodness?
If you trust your own goodness, like this rich young man, you’ll end up despairing because you’ll never be good enough – not by human standards, and definitely not by God’s standards!
However, if you trust God’s goodness, it doesn’t matter whether you’re good or not; it doesn’t matter whether anyone else is good enough; it doesn’t matter whether you have many good things in this life or not. It doesn’t matter because you know, and trust, God is good!
But, how do you know God is good?
Well, apart from his good creation and his good work of repeatedly rescuing the children of Abraham, he fulfilled his good plan of salvation by sending his own dearly beloved and good Son to be the one true human being who would perfectly keep all of God’s commands because you and I can’t.
God’s good Son would not only fulfill and complete all of God’s laws, but he would also suffer and die in the place of everyone who isn’t good enough, including you and me. This means he forgives you for all the times you’re not good enough for the sake the holy innocent sufferings and death of his dearly beloved Son.
Knowing you can’t be good enough, you’re not to trust your own goodness, but you trust God’s forgiveness is what makes you good and holy in God’s sight once more.
God’s goodness is spoken to you when he removes your sin through his forgiveness. God’s goodness is also given to you in the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as he replaces your sin with his goodness of holiness and purity.
In other words, you’ll never be good enough in yourself through your own words, actions, or intentions, but you receive the goodness of Christ through faith, who is good enough!
Not only this, but God raised Jesus from death to live in God’s good kingdom forever, and he promises everyone who believes in him will receive the same good inheritance. This same good teacher who the young man approached is the only One who is good because he is God’s only Son and also your Great High Priest who forever intercedes for you.
This is all because God is good. We know this because God’s Word is good, and our incarnate God in the person of Jesus Christ is good.
Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, you don’t have to be good, but you do need to keep on trusting the One who is good, because you’re only made good through faith in Jesus Christ…
…so that the peace and goodness of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.