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“Why Do You Call Me Good?”

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
May 7, 2022 4:00 am

“Why Do You Call Me Good?”

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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May 7, 2022 4:00 am

Many people believe that access to God’s kingdom and eternal life is earned by trying your best and being good. But discover why self-righteousness is more of a roadblock than an entry gate into heaven. Join us on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



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Music playing Well, let's read the text from which our question is taken and that is, in the Gospel of Mark, and we'll read from the seventeenth verse. Mark chapter 10.

Do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother. Teacher, he declared, All these I have kept since I was a boy. 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. At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. Well, this young man, who is central to the story here alongside Jesus, would be on most fathers' lists of possible son-in-law material. First of all, he's prosperous.

Now, we know that doesn't matter in its entirety, but it sure helps. And the ability for someone to provide is an important thing. He was at the same time principled.

That, too, is an attractive characteristic. He was at the same time personable and also spiritual. He might have described himself in that way, he might have described himself as religious, but certainly he was a young man who was interested in eternal life—prosperous, principled, personable, and spiritual. It's therefore quite striking that when you get to the end of the dialogue, you discover that the man's face has fallen, and he's gone away sad. Now, when you read the New Testament, you discover there are a number of people who arrived sad in meeting Jesus and went away happy. But this is the only individual that I've been able to find in the whole New Testament who met Jesus and went away sad.

Verse 17, which is our starting verse, seems to suggest that his concern was so great, that his interest was so sincere, that he's virtually falling over himself as he seeks to address his question to Jesus. He was a young man of ability. You don't rise to leadership, nor do you amass wealth unless you're involved in corruption, unless you are zealous, hardworking, marked by exertion and by activity. And it would be no surprise if we'd been able to walk through a couple of days with this young man to find that he was just the kind of individual who was on it. He would be the kind of person who returned his telephone calls. He would be the sort of chap who said, If I'll phone you at six, he phoned you at six. He was just that kind of individual. And if somebody presented a challenge, he was ready for it. He'd made that part of his life. Therefore, it is no surprise at all that when he comes to Jesus with this spiritual question, he wants to know what he had to do.

Activists always want to know what they have to do. In this instance, what do I have to do to receive eternal life? It's actually a very good question, and you may have been thinking along those lines even this week. You may not have been, you may even, just to start thinking along those lines right now.

I encourage you to do so. Now, the reply of Jesus stops this fellow in his tracks. And the more I've read this passage, I think that's largely what Jesus was seeking to do. It's almost as though the man arrives on a great emotional surge. He's excited.

This is his latest project. He wants to find out how to get eternal life. He's heard various things about Jesus of Nazareth, and so he arrives, as it were, in a bit of a stew, steamed up, emotionally intrigued, desperately keen to find out. And he addresses Jesus in this way.

"'Good teacher,' he asks, "'what must I do to inherit eternal life?' He might have expected that Jesus said, "'Well, thank you so much for coming. I'm glad I have the opportunity to talk with you. And thank you for greeting me in such a nice fashion. It's always nice to be described in these terms.' "'No,' he says, "'Why do you call me good?' Jesus answered, "'No one is good except God alone.'" You've got to admit that that is a fairly striking kind of response.

I mean, it stands out even in the text, doesn't it? I think most of us would say, Oh, oh, what's all this about? What happened here? Now, good teacher was actually not used as a customary greeting. Plummer tells us—and you don't need to know who Plummer is, but he's a reliable source—that there isn't a single example in the Talmud of a rabbi being addressed in this way. Because to use good in this way was to ascribe to a man an attribute that in its intrinsic nature was possessed only by God. So what the young man is actually doing is employing a piece of thoughtless, unnecessary flattery.

But again, you know, that's kind of the style, isn't it? How do you become a ruler, and how do you put together a portfolio like that? You've got to know how to approach people. And he figures, you know, I know how to approach people.

Good teacher! What must I do to eternal life? God's eternal—Jesus says, Why are you calling me good? There's nobody good around here except God himself. Now, of course, Jesus is not, by making that statement, denying his divinity. What he's doing is he's making clear to the young man that he may only be referred to legitimately as good if he is actually none other than the Son of God. And given that he knows that the young man doesn't have an inkling of his real nature, given that he knows that the young man regards Jesus as merely human, he's pointing out to the man that there is no validity, no utilitarian value in employing that kind of superficial, flattering form of address. And actually, in that, he's stopping the man in his tracks by saying, Well, maybe we should think about the nature of goodness.

And since God is all good, maybe you just want to think about the thought of possessing eternal life in the company of an all-good God, and maybe as you go about your self-evaluation, you might include that kind of thing in your reckoning. But at the heart of this encounter, as in the heart of all encounters with Jesus, the matter of his identity is at the very core. Well, the young man is looking for a way to tackle, if you like, this important question, this spiritual question, just as he tackled other aspects of his life. So Jesus says, Well then, if you want to know what to do, then keep the commandments.

In one of the Gospels—I think it may be Matthew—the man comes back and says, Which ones do you have in mind? And Jesus runs through a little list—he doesn't use them all—but he runs through a list, including these. You know the commandments. For example, Don't murder, don't commit adultery, and so on. Keep the commandments. Because the Bible actually teaches that whoever does these things perfectly will live. That's why Jesus says this. You want to do something to get eternal life? Then keep the commandments. And do it perfectly without one step to the wrong, and you will get eternal life.

Of course, the only problem with that is a big problem. No one has, no one can, no one will keep the commandments perfectly. The only person who has is Jesus himself. But that doesn't seem to faze this young man. He is able to reply, verse 20, Well, teacher, he declared, All these I have kept since I was a boy.

None of these commandments have been a problem for me. He says, Even from my youth I've been good at all this. Now, what does he say? He's saying what people like to say. He's saying the kind of thing that people often say when you ask them, If there is a heaven, do you think you'll go to it? Yes, they reply. And you then ask them, On what basis do you believe you will go to heaven?

And in the top five answers to that question is essentially the answer that this young man provides. I'm a good person. I'm essentially a good person.

And I live by the rules. It is interesting, too—at least, I've found it to be of interest, and I'd never noticed this before, and I've read this passage a lot—that despite the meticulous nature of his observance of the commandments, that has not provided him with rest for his soul. If it had, there would have been no reason for him to run up to Jesus and say, What am I supposed to do to get eternal life? I haven't been many places, but I have been some places, and I have had conversations with a few folk, and I think that almost without exception, the individuals that I have met whose quest for heaven and eternal life is directly related to goodness have by their own testimony been prepared to acknowledge that their ability to keep the rules and live by the commands has not, does not provide them with a sense of security, a sense of forgiveness, a sense of assurance that when they die, they will actually experience eternal life.

Yet despite that, many continue still to hold to it. The path of religious observance is a stony path, and it does not yield the peaceable fruit of eternal life. Now, this is where the loveliness of Jesus comes out, isn't it, in verse 21? Jesus has stopped him in his tracks by this strange question, exhorted him in relationship to the commandments. The young man has said, Well, I've actually been taking care of that ever since I was young. And then Mark tells us that Jesus looked at him and loved him. But he knows that the young man has an inadequate understanding of what true fulfillment of the law means.

I've kept all these since I was a boy. Jesus could have got into it with him. He could have said, Well, I wonder if you understand the nature of adultery, that it goes beyond the physical act to mental activity.

I wonder, do you realize that to say in your heart that you wish someone was dead is akin to having murdered them? He doesn't do that. Instead, what he does is he moves to a different part of the law.

He actually moves right up to the top of the table. And he says, Well then, let me just put something to you. He says, Why don't we do it this way?

There's one thing that you lack. What I want you to do is go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor, you will have treasure in heaven, and then you just come and follow me. Now, what he was doing there was pointing out that this young man, despite his affirmation in relationship to the commandments mentioned, that this young man had actually broken the first commandment. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. And clearly, this young man did not love God in that way.

And Jesus, in his wisdom, puts his finger on the issue in his life. He says, Let's just think about your resources, shall we? Let's think about your finances. Let's think about all the things that you hold dear. Why don't you go and smash that idol?

Why don't you invest in a whole different financial portfolio, one that yields treasure in heaven? And then, when you have made that great switch, then you come back and follow me. And then the story ends, doesn't it?

At this, Mark tells us, the young man's face fell. And he went away sad, because he had great wealth. And Jesus looked around, and he said to his disciples, How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. How hard it is! It doesn't say how impossible it is. It's just hard. Why? Because in our affluence, we're tempted always to rely on earthly things.

That if we have managed to secure a certain level of lifestyle, if we have been able, if you like, by dint of hard work and the pursuit of the American dream, to amass enough of this world's provisions to gain access to the kind of clubs we would like to join, to be able to take at least some of the vacations that we would like to enjoy, and so on, then it is no surprise that when it comes to the issue of the idea of a kingdom with Jesus as a king or the issue of a life that begins now and goes into eternity, the perspective of that kind of individual is to say what this young man said, What do I have to do here? What does this cost? Let me know what I need to do. Let me know where I write the check. I'll take care of this. And of course, it isn't possible. And therefore, there is a tremendous sadness that attaches to the affluent when they find that the only way of entry is to cast themselves on God's mercy, when the only way is to accept God's offer of salvation as a free gift, when the only way is to bow down before the provision that Jesus makes and to hold out empty hands and thank him for it.

Well, that's a drifly humbling thing to do, isn't it? Now, let me draw this to a close and simply apply it in this way. The ultimate impediment in all of our lives, the Bible says, is that we are at odds with God. We are alienated from God. And that we're unable to put ourselves in the right with God. That God, in recognition of that, has come in the person of Jesus and has died on the cross not as a display of his affection, but the Son has died in order to bear the settled indignation of the Father against the rebellious hearts of men and women.

And that 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 thought.

And so on. And we realize then that as a law breaker, I neither have the time nor the capacity to do enough, even if I could, to counteract all the mess that I have already contributed to this point in my life. There may be some teenagers here tonight, and that's exactly how you feel. You feel as though you started your life, your teenage years, with a white notebook.

And that white notebook is filled already with garbage. Your mistakes, your disappointments, your regrets, and so on. And sometimes of a night, you look at that book as it were, you imagine that book, and you say to yourself, I have made such a royal hash of everything to this point, I might as well just keep this going, because there is no way back, and there is no way forward. Well, I tell you, there isn't down the road of religious observance, but there is down the pathway to Jesus.

He still looks at young guys and girls and loves them—loves their willingness to be honest about where they are. You may be impeded tonight not because of your money, but you may be impeded tonight because of your mind. And the reason that you have never become a Christian is because you think you're too clever to become a Christian. And if Jesus were to come and have a personal conversation with you, and it went down the same line—so I'm very interested in eternal life, I'd like to talk about how it might be handled—and Jesus put his finger on your mind, and he says, you know, why don't you just go and read a few children's books for a little while?

Why don't you recognize that unless you become as a little child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Your impediment may be moral. It may be physical. It may be relational.

In other words, I'm not going to become a Christian, because he's put his finger on that area of my life. I remember so clearly having a conversation with a man I regard as a friend, a very, very prosperous fellow now in the city of Cleveland. And on one occasion we went out for lunch. Soon after, he had been listening to a series of sermons. And we sat opposite one another in a club in the center of Cleveland.

I think it was the Athletic Club. And he said to me, If I were to do what the Bible says I must do, then it would demand such a drastic change in my lifestyle for which I am unprepared. And therefore, I will not trust in Christ. I will not follow him. Now, his honesty was admirable, but I still pray for him.

I send him things. And my prayer is that somewhere along the journey, he might run up to Jesus and fall on his knees. And that he may not live with the resulting sadness of this young man, a sadness which was tied to his false confidence, because he had an idea of entry into a kingdom by means of exertion. And Jesus said the way of entry was the way of childlike trust. And the great sadness of this story is that this young man walks away from Christ, not because he's a bad man, but because he's a good man. And it is his very goodness which keeps him from the kingdom. The same sense of self-righteousness which keeps some of us from entering the kingdom tonight as well. It is impossible for anyone to earn his or her entry into heaven.

Our only hope is to humbly cast ourselves on God's mercy. You're listening to Truth for Life Weekend with Alistair Begg. All of Alistair's teaching is available online. It's free to download and to share. If you enjoyed hearing today's message and would like to save it to your device to listen to again, you can download it without cost. And if hearing today's message made you think of someone who would benefit from this teaching, you can share the message. It's easy to do. Just click the three dots near the image on our website or on the mobile app.

When you do, there's an option for sending a link to this message through email or you can share it with your friends through social media. It's all available at truthforlife.org or through the mobile app. While you're on the website, be sure to check out the book we're recommending titled Women and God. What the Bible has to say about why and how God created women often clashes with contemporary ideas. The book Women and God explores many of these issues.

In fact, the subtitle of the book is Hard Questions, Beautiful Truth. The author looks to scripture to better understand why God made women the way he did to explore his plan for a woman's role. Why is it different than the role God gave to men?

How should we honor these unique and different roles in a society that blurs them together? You can find out more about the book Women and God when you visit our website truthforlife.org. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening. On behalf of all of us here at Truth for Life, let me take a minute and wish all the moms listening a very happy Mother's Day. Be sure to join us again next weekend when we'll examine the intensely personal question Jesus asked that actually marks the turning point in all of the Gospel records. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-22 10:39:56 / 2023-04-22 10:48:17 / 8

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