I’ve been studying Mark 10 recently which says:
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 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.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
There is so much in this passage of Scripture. We noticed in our first post:
I. A Young Man’s Urgent Question (v. 17)
We have seen that this young ruler rushes up to Rabbi Jesus, kneeling before Him, to ask one question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He assumed Jesus knew the answer to his age-old question. Part of his question was “What good thing can I do to get eternal life?” The central issue seems to goodness — how much must one have to get eternal life? How Jesus responds to this question is our next concern.
II. Jesus’ Surprising Answer
How Jesus responds to compliments is a fascinating study in the gospels. In John 3, the Pharisee Nicodemus addresses Jesus with the following words, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (v. 2). That was a very nice thing for this religious leader to say to Jesus. How does He respond? He says, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (v. 3).
On several occasions Jesus’ opponents addressed Him in glowing terms, and He is not deceived by their flattery. For example, in Matthew 22 we read, 15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?” To their compliment, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth,” Jesus replies, “knowing their evil intent, [He] said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’”
It does not appear that this young ruler in our text is trying to flatter Jesus or deceive Him when he greets Jesus with the words, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” So this is a little bit of a different situation than the religious leaders of Israel trying to trap Him.
So how are we to understand Jesus’ apparent harsh response: 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.”? Perhaps goodness is the issue. This man wants to do good, he wants to know what good he needs to do, and so he comes to the good teacher for advice.
But what if the answer to this man’s question is, “Nothing! There is no good that you can do to guarantee that you will inherit or earn or achieve eternal life for yourself.” And what if Jesus needs to drive that point home in an unmistakable fashion?
We must, however, deal with Jesus’ challenge to this man’s question. Jesus responds to this man’s salutation (“Good teacher”) with the words, “Why do you call me good? No one is good — except God alone.” Is Jesus denying His own goodness here? No, of course not. On another occasion He said, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” (Jn. 8:46). Rather than denying His own goodness, Jesus seems to be saying, “If you call me good, because only God is good, you must call me ‘God’!”
We know from the rest of the Scriptures that Jesus is clearly the Second Person of the Trinity, God-become-man, to pay our sin-debt on the cross. So Jesus is not denying His own goodness. Rather, he seems to be correcting this young ruler’s preoccupation with goodness.
How is goodness to be judged? We will see in our next post that Jesus does something quire remarkable in helping this man evaluate his own goodness. (to be continued)