Who’s Good?

Matthew 19:17-31

And behold, one came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS; HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. “And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And when the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking upon them Jesus said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Mark’s account is as follows;

And as He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and began asking Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. “You know the commandments, ‘DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.’ ” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words his face fell, and he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property.

And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?” Looking upon them, Jesus said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You.” 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 farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. “But many who are first, will be last; and the last, first.”

Newsflash: Context is King! There is a reason why we’ve read more than the simple story of the “Rich Young Ruler,” as it is found in Matthew. This is one of the rare occasions in which Mark gives us more context to consider than Matthew. Luke’s account only adds that the man was “extremely rich,” and some kind of premier person. None of the accounts say that he was a “ruler” per se, of any kind, based on the context– perhaps a leader of some sort but certainly highly regarded. He probably was an official in the synagogue or something like that. Because in the context he claims to have followed the law of Moses. Roman rulers were not known for their Sabbath observances. We can also reasonably assume that he was not a Pharisee because the context doesn’t imply that. The word “ruler’ is very vague in the context of Luke and most likely was meant to be, as it is not mentioned in Matthew or Mark. What is meant to be seen is that unlike the children in the last passage who were considered the least prominent of people, this man would have been considered quite prominent in the Jewish culture of the time.

And we could only ascertain that by a careful consideration of the context and an expository exegesis of examples. This is why a cursory reading of the Bible–a touch here and splash there, can cause  cases of clouded communication. To put it less poetically; chapter and verse were added later, be wary of ripping a verse out of context and beating your brother over the head with it. To put it less metaphorically; don’t search for a single verse that says what you think you need to condemn a fellow believer. We’re all condemned without Christ. Today’s text is the perfect example.

“And behold, one [very culturally prominent and wealthy] came to Him and said, ‘Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?”” Again, probably not a Pharisee because he is not testing Jesus but actually inquiring about eternal life. And notice Mark’s content, the man ran to Jesus and knelt down before him. He’s not trying to trip-up, test or trap Jesus but is asking him a real, honest question. Problem: he doesn’t like the answer.

“Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Based upon our Vitamin E, where we also consider the context of Mark and Luke. I believe Jesus is referring to himself as being the good one. Looking back, this is obvious to us because Jesus, the Spirit and the Father are one–heavenly math. But within the progression of Matthew, Jesus is slowly and methodically, yet progressively and purposefully, fully revealing Himself. Nevertheless, the more important aspect of his statement to the “Rich Young Ruler,” is that of foreshadowing. Remember, the Bible is literature, not a how-to manual. The man wants eternal life and wants to know how he can attain it. Problem: he can’t, and this will help us with the seemingly clouded context. Trust me, Jesus knows what he is doing. By saying “only one is good”, Jesus is not only foreshadowing his death and resurrection, but is foreshadowing the response of the “Rich Young Ruler.” We must carefully consider this and remember it. Today’s text is long, compared to what we are used to in the West. Remember that Jesus says, “only One is good.”

Watch this:

“There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

He said to Him, “Which ones?”

And Jesus said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS; HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property.

 

Did you see the foreshadowing from Jesus unfold? The man’s hope for eternal life, based upon his own merits crumbled in a matter of mere moments. A cursory glance at this exchange leaves some (very few actually but they’re out there, watch out for them) pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers to dogmatically claim that we are to follow the commandments. I am like the “Rich Young Ruler;” which ones? James 2:20 reads, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” Wait, it gets better.

The man claims to have followed the commandments laid out by Jesus. We, of course, know that he didn’t, but nevertheless, it appears that he thinks of himself as a pretty good man. And he probably was, to earthly standards. He tells Jesus, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” He knows he has been good and faithful, probably a better man than all of us, but he also knows he is still lacking something. Therefore he ask Jesus what that is. Notice his trust in Jesus. The man is not resting on his own goodness. He knows that there is something more and he trusts that Jesus has the answer. Please don’t miss this: he’s not acting like a Pharisee but like a man who has sincerely attempted to follow God’s words and trusts Jesus to show him how to attain eternal life. The man sincerely asks Jesus, “what am I still lacking?”

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.'”

Jesus doesn’t say, “if you wish to have eternal life, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” I should not have to point that out but a very small percentage of pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers will say that because this was in a different dispensation, this is literally what the man had to do to be saved. Two problems: Jesus did not say that, and the context cannot​ allow that. We’ll see this soon.

But I believe I have to explain why I am constantly berating some, and at other times, many, pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers. I have been around the proverbial block. I have completely lost count of the number of different churches in which I have attended. I am not bragging, I’ve been fortunate and I’ve been a wanderer. Yet I have been in over a dozen different churches in foreign countries alone. I have been to dozens in the United States. But even more relevant is that I have satellite radio and regularly listen to the​ “religious” channels. I also listen to regular radio as I travel throughout New England. I can tell you that it saddens me that solid, Biblically minded men are losing airtime, and the not-so-solid have 24 hour a day channels. Worse than the stadium–filling, fluffy​ pastors are the overly dogmatic ones who come on the air, usually late at night, and preach faith plus works, not considering the context. It concerns me that an insomniac searching for sleep may stumble upon these pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers and buy into the garbage they’re selling. It’s why I write. I am a religious school drop-out with little formal training, and that training I consider to be rubbish. Though it was in actuality very valuable to me. It woke me up to the pastor factories we have in the United States. These pastors hold high degrees and doctorates, but they can’t string two verses together. Though some have never seen the inside of a seminary, most spent numerous years within the walls, being taught how to teach and what to teach. They are aloof, like the Pharisees and trust me, they don’t live according to their own teaching. But we’ll get to that.

Back to the context. Jesus has not promised the man eternal life but treasure in heaven. Which does correspond to eternal life, but there is a catch, though it may not be the catch that some pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers claim. Remember, “only one is good.”

“‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved; for he was one who owned much property.”

The man, who kept the commandments, could not let go of his possessions, not even for reward in heaven. Once again we see the sublime string of men thinking earthly, like 24 hour a day satellite radio programs, and not heavenly.

Jesus did not promise the “Rich Young Ruler” treasure in heaven if, or; when he sold his possessions. That was not the condition that Christ laid out. Nor is it to be taken literally. Jesus never promised the man anything because he knew the “Rich Young Ruler’s” heart; “only One is good.” From every angle and aspect, Jesus is painting the picture that this man, this seemingly good, commamdment-keeping man, never had a single, solitary, slight chance of seeing eternal life–except for one possibility–“only One is good.”

Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. “And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And when the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking upon them Jesus said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Jesus has everything one needs for eternal life. One must have a change of mind to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And that is an impossible undertaking without God. One must notice the following if one thinks Jesus was offering eternal life to this “Rich Young Ruler,” based upon his works: “With men this is impossible.” Jesus knew the outcome, we saw the foreshadowing; “only One is good,” and he wasn’t promising anything, based upon that foreknowledge. We notice the extra context in Mark. Peter says, hey, we followed you, what about us? The smiling, mega-church pastor would quote all but the following: “the promise of persecution.” He would smile and softly say, “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, (and he would conviently stop right there, but the context continues) along with persecutions.” Remember that Jesus is the Master of Metaphors and that Peter can’t help but step in it. Jesus concludes by saying, “But many who are first, will be last; and the last, first.”

This blows all the theories, teachings, and sermons, that man must have works, to inherit eternal life out of the water. And yet they are undaunted. I heard a late-night “religious” radio program recently, where a caller called in to challenge a multi-degree holding teacher who claims that works are not evidence of our faith, but a requirement to attain faith. The caller asked about the thief on the cross–good for him. Do you know what the response was? I mentioned it before–“that was a different dispensation.” How? Teach the caller why. What Scriptural background do you have for your claim? Jesus died on the cross before the thief, and what?!?! The thief was under the Law? The law condemned him to death on a cross! These are a few of the things that I shouted at the radio, as if he could hear me. But thank God for that caller, an uneducated man, learning for himself. He didn’t at all buy into what that pastor was shoveling. He had the boldness to confront him, and let the listeners hear the better argument. I hate when christians argue, I truly do. But some teach things that are so contradictory towards Scripture that they need to be confronted. Similar, I would think, to what Jesus said to Ephesus; “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.” 

Which reminds me that we need to pray for our pastors. Most of them are pastors because they love the Lord and love teaching his words. Most are overworked and underpaid, disrespected and abused. But they don’t complain and keep plugging away. They could use our help, not our hindering. If you are blessed enough to have a true pastor, pray for them and maybe give them a gift card to a steak dinner or something–anonymously. Offer to babysit their kids so that he and his wife can have a night alone. Or, perhaps you’re the Ned Flanders type, that could simply not bother him for a few days. But if your pastor can’t string two verses together or teaches health, wealth and happiness, pray for him even more and tune him out. I doubt he needs you to buy him a steak dinner.

If you will indulge me I would like to tell you another story, that I have made allusions to before, that goes to my motives–this is why I write. This is why I promote self-study; the CAGED method; say things like; unless you are learning for yourself you only know what you have been taught: Just last month while in a certain communist country in the Caribbean, I made a bet (we’re under grace, get over it) as to how many times the preacher man would read from his open Bible. Yes, it’s childish, what can I say? However, it proves my point. I took the extremely pessimistic approach and said that he wouldn’t read from his Bible at all. I lost. But only by three verses, spread out over several minutes and with little contextual connection and 40 minutes in. It was in Spanish so I certainly didn’t understand everything. Actually, it was screaming Spanish so I understood nothing. But the man, whom I truly love and know loves Jesus, shouted for an hour, reading the Bible only three times for a total of about 45 seconds and then prayed for 25 minutes. And this to over a thousand college students. We later, quietly asked some of the English speaking students what they got out of the message? Their response was, “just a lot of noise.” 

Pray for pastors who teach contextually, and pray for pastors who will teach contextually. Give thanks if you have a Biblically minded pastor. And read the Bible daily, for all it’s worth using a hermeneutical tool, such as the CAGED method, where; Context is King, Author’s Aspirations to his Audience are Apex, Genre is the General, Expository Exegesis of Examples Enlightens, and Dividing Rightly the Word of Truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. Mine for gold. Come to the Bible as you are, expecting to be changed. Unless you are learning for yourself, you only know what you have been taught.

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