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October 14, 2018      The Only Good One        Mark 10:17–22  

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Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ,

‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Such a very common question for those who believe in religious things but do not have faith; they believe in spiritual things, but they don’t know who God is, or what truths he has said, or what gracious things he has done.

‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’   Careless words. Kind of like asking ‘what must I do to inherit the family fortune of Bill & Melinda Gates?’ It’s a non-sensical question; *what’re you going to do~ get them to adopt you into their family to make you a legal inheritor? *How would you do that? *Would you even try? You might try if your ‘eternal life’ depended on it.

Such a question reveals how little this young man knows about the truth of God, or about the One to whom he’s asking the question. The gospel of Matthew records that this is a wealthy young man. Maybe that’s why; he’s young & foolish, and his wealth makes him think that he can obtain anything he desires. A focus for us this morning is not this young man, nor even his question, but his first statement ~ his opening line: ‘Good teacher…’

Even tho this young man kneels before Jesus in respect, and chooses words that esteem or honor Jesus, Jesus does not accept his compliment. ‘Good teacher…? ‘hold on there. WHY do you call me good?   The truth is, there’s only one way that Jesus could be good ==    if he were the one true God = who alone is good. *Is he God in the flesh or not? “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”    

The Twelve disciples could’ve said ‘good teacher’ and Jesus would’ve accepted it. Because they were hearing & believing His teaching; // they seeing & trusting when Jesus healed the sick, /cast out demons, /calmed storms, /& raised people from the dead. In chapter 8, Peter confessed for the group that Jesus was the Christ. And, at this point in time, Peter, James & John have witnessed the Transfiguration, and heard again that Jesus was the Son of God.

They knew Jesus was ‘good’ in the right sense of that word.

But this young man was just using a word without a true faith behind it. So, to help this young man learn the contrast between the ‘goodness’ of God from the ‘goodness’ of man, and to help him realized that this Rabbi IS truly ‘good’ =in the God-sense= Jesus stops him & asks: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”  It was an opportunity to confess faith; but the young man did not.

As YOU have learned from The-Good-Teacher, think how God himself has taught you this contrast between God and man; beginning at the fall, in Genesis. You recall these bible words from before the flood, and the reason for the flood: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen 6:5)   That’s not an isolated Scripture passage. We hear in Ps.14:

“They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Ps 14:3). We also hear it in Ps.51: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”   Jesus is right: only God is good.

Some pastors or theologians want to treat this like it’s just Hebrew exaggeration to say that man is ‘only evil continually.’ But compared to God, it is absolutely true; Jesus knows it & speaks it. So anyone coming to him and calling him good, and even worse, thinking they can be good in order to get et.life, had better reckon with these 2 immovable facts: man is not good, and only God is. So, Jesus IS good;  and that means that he’s Yahweh-The-Almighty in the flesh.

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Our world is full of people like this young man, who are not ready to ascribe to the truth that all human “goodness” is sin in the eyes of God. They do not take to heart the words of Isaiah 64:6: “…all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. Many imagine there’s some wiggle room, & think: ‘yah, but I’m not a mean person, I give to charities & help old people. I know I’m no ‘mother Tereasa’, so what else do I need to do to get to heaven?’

In the history of mankind, & to this day, there is one thing that ALL religions agree on; it is this: bad people don’t get to heaven; only good people get eternal life. Because if ALL people go to ‘a heaven,’ what’s the use of a religion to follow, & of distinguishing between good & bad behavior?   OR, if there is no nice afterlife, & if ALL people just die & go nowhere; again, what’s the use of a religion to follow, & to distinguish between right & wrong? ALL religions teach that if there’s a wonderful afterlife, you can’t be a ‘Hitler’ and get there; you have to be good. So the young man says: ‘honorable teacher, you seem to know what you’re talking about. So, just tell me what I need to do.’

To answer him, our Lord turns to the Second Table of the Law; why? So that all of US will learn this important lesson.

Jesus runs thru the Commandments, numbers 5,6,7,8, & implying 9&10, which the young man already knows. The young man had been brought up well; he knew what God commanded in the Law for good human behavior. He knew that he was to love his neighbor as himself. Jesus was holding up a mirror in order for the man to see the truth about himself,

but he was so blind that he utterly missed it: “All these I have kept from my youth,” he says.

WE are to note here the contrast between God’s Word and our own ideas; between “the thoughts of man’s heart [are] only evil continually” VS. “all these I have kept.”

It’s called ‘irony’{ironic} that this sinful young man claims to be good in the presence of the only Son of Adam & Eve who can actually make that claim and be correct. It is Jesus alone, of all humans, who truly DID keep ALL the commandments from his youth!

OUR sinful nature is also ‘blind.’ Either we can’t see God’s truth, or we refuse to see it. This young man is not ready to see that Jesus stands apart from him in this: that Jesus IS ‘good’ in a way that he is not.   Admitting to that bad news is the beginning of hearing the good news.   Jesus could’ve laughed or chuckled; Jesus could’ve rolled his eyes, mocked him or shamed him, shook his head & walked away. But vs.21 says: “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.”

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Our Perfect Lord pitied him, and pities US. This common & terrible self-deception needs love and truth; and that’s what Jesus gives. Jesus takes the Law again, and zeros in on the first & greatest commandment: “You lack one thing.”  We can almost see this young man react: ‘just one thing? Cool! What is it?’   I think the Twelve were also listening for the answer. They all lean in, tilt in their ear, waiting for the one more thing he could ‘do’ to secure his eternal future. BUT, the truth stuns him. “Go,~ sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and then come and follow Me.”

‘Disheartened.’ The Greek word is often translated ‘his face fell’. Our faces can do that; when intellectual realization, emotional disappointment, and spiritual dread all come together and are written on a person’s face. This wealthy young man had lots & lots of stuff; that stuff had become his purpose, his meaning, his life. He just couldn’t fathom giving it all up.

Maybe give a third; or maybe liquidate half and give it to the poor. *But ALL of it?

*What kind of a person could do that?   *Could you? Do we think we don’t have to because we’re not that rich?

Jesus is talking to this young man, to the Twelve, and to you & me. To hold to God & to saving faith, it takes both hands; we can’t serve both God and mammon. This faith, this Christian faith you’ve been given & baptized into, has already given up on all other stuff.

And we know it; tho we don’t always act like it. This ‘wealth’ stuff is not just money.

Our faith knows our soul’s forgiveness is priceless; our faith would not trade /our bank account, /our 401k, /our house & cars, /our spouse & children & family & friends, /our job & responsibilities, /our achievements & place in the world, /& all that we are & have,   our faith knows that all of those things cannot save our souls, or open heaven for us. Our faith knows that, because our faith knows that God loves all humans, rich & poor alike; & has one Savior.

This young man truly did lack just one thing: a ‘fear, love, & trust in God above all things.’ *What about US?   ….and *how do we ‘do’ that?

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That’s the thing: we don’t ‘do’ it. This faith & trust is passive & receptive. Faith looks & sees the One who is teaching this truth. There stands Jesus, the truly wealthy one — and the only Good One. Tho he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that thru his poverty we might become rich. (2Cor 8) Jesus invites the young man to leave all his ‘stuff’ behind == stuff he’ll have to leave behind when he dies anyway == and follow along with Jesus as he goes to his cross; where our ‘good’ Lord will give away all that he has for US who are ‘not-good’ but sinful people; the cross is the sign that he has accomplished our saving.

By his perfect obedience, he gained for himself treasure in heaven; you & me = we have become his treasure. And because of his love & mercy, HE has become our only treasure in this life. By keeping the Father’s command, by suffering & dying to forgive our sins, he even includes our sins of forgetting to ‘fear, love, & trust in God above all things.’

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That young man forgot; and at that moment his failure to keep the first commandment was crystal clear; but he didn’t see it; he was sin-blind & resisting the HSp. Even to receive Et.Life, he was not willing to give up earthly things. He did not believe that God’s stuff is better; he didn’t trust God’s word of promise that there really are far better things to come. Without faith, he couldn’t see beyond what he could touch & possess & hold on to; even tho he wanted to believe that there was something better to come. His stuff had become his god ~ a false god, and he walks away sad. He had a ‘good religion’, but didn’t have faith. How sad!

Do you & I confess that Jesus is ‘good’? We do! Our faith testifies that he alone is good, unlike any other, he is ‘God-good’. When we confess that truth, we are also admitting that we are not ‘good’ with God’s measurements. We admit that our lack of goodness has disqualified us from Eternal Life, and all our actions & possessions cannot earn or be traded to gain that Eternal life.

Therefore, our help and our hope is in Jesus alone to bridge this ‘goodness’ gap.

And Jesus is SO good, that we’re glad it is this way. God alone is good; our things cannot save us; God alone saves us.   So, et.life is a gift, & can’t be earned, so that no one is excluded; including you & me.

That’s why Jesus came to us; to bring his goodness to all who by faith will see that they could never do enough to deserve it, for they have been sinful from their youth. This is the truth. Jesus speaks it to you in love so that you will not walk away. Listen to the faith you’ve been given, and see & admit the danger that you can be too attached to your stuff;  and hear the word, trust that what our good Lord has shown us is true, and beg for his forgiveness.

And in that same love, he will show you his baptismal font, the place of water & the promise of your adoption by his grace. When he put his name on you with water, you have received his new birth of regeneration & renewal in the HSp. That was your adoption into his family, to be an inheritor of his et.life.

And in love, he will show you his cross == the enduring sign of his forgiveness. Think of how that perfect truth & love was displayed at the cross between Jesus and that thief next to him. We hear it in Luke 23, the dying, empty, guilty thief says in faith,

“We are only getting what we deserve, but You have done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!”    This is our faith, too;   to which our good Jesus replies: “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

In this faith, between his font and his cross, you do not lack anything. In this faith, you fear, love & trust in God above all other things. In this good faith, continue to follow your good Lord.

Amen.