(17) And as he 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?” Dear friends in Christ, behold the young man, enthusiastic, energetic, polite and deeply religious. A good man, loved by the people, and (he thought) loved by God for the sterling life he had tried so hard to live. Here is a man with a good-sized zeal for God (even if sadly not based upon a right understanding). He falls at Jesus’ knees asking Him what more he must do. Why Jesus? What better example of godly living can you think of? He’s thinking of Jesus as a man who is “good” because he’s figured out how to get right with God and this young man wants to glean His every last insight for making his own good works even better!
(18-19) And Jesus said to him, … 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.” By using the whole of the second table of the law Jesus consents to meet this man where he is most sure of himself. Most people imagine they can do these commands with little effort. Why as long as you and your neighbour don’t end up battling each other in court, most people feel that they have done pretty well by these commandments. Even those who occasionally do probably figure that it is the other guys fault and shouldn’t be held against them. This young fellow is no exception. He was a good neighbour … just ask him.
Do you think the man was a little disappointed with Jesus’ answer? Is this all? He already “knew” all that. What kind of help is this? (20) And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” He doesn’t blink an eye. His response is perfectly sincere. He’s not bragging or being boastful. He’s just telling it like he thinks it really is. He’s routinely complimented for his kindness, his obedience to his parents, his clean living. He is the kind of young man any mother would love to have as a son-in-law. He is already a good man … just ask anyone. He is altogether and unashamedly self-righteous. God’s law holds no terror for him at all. He thinks he really has done what it asks. He has looked for the good, just as the Old Testament prophet Amos commanded. “Seek good, and not evil, that you may live” He has looked for the good and found it within himself.
The problem is, that he – again, like so many others – simply hasn’t looked carefully enough. And so it is that Jesus in love, shows him the one thing he needs to see … the truth about our own inner “goodness”. (21-22) 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.” While they are an indictment, these words are not meant to punish. They are not simply about showing this misguided and misinformed man the evil within. They are spoken in love, to help him finally find that which is truly good.
For if he truly wants to seek what is good, then he must first begin to look somewhere he has never bothered to look before. Jesus tells this man to give up his wealth not so that he might look within and take that last step to finally earn salvation (which he has been trying to do all along), but to remove the biggest obstacle keeping him from fully trusting Jesus … his greater trust and love for money and possessions.
It is a process of thought Jesus began planting in this man from the very first exchange of their meeting. (18) And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. Notice that Jesus doesn’t actually deny His own goodness, but is simply trying to get this man to reconsider his definition of what is good. To recognize that he isn’t nearly as good as he thinks he is and so must rely on God and not himself. If this man truly wants to seek the good that he might live, then he must find that good only in Jesus.
(22) Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. It is really a very sad picture. Here is a man so very eager to do the right thing, the good thing. A man so desirous of eternal life (when so many others are easily carried away by the world). A man strongly attracted to Jesus as one who might hold the key … and yet he is ultimately a man who is no where near the only real road to eternal life. It stands there right before him and he cannot even see it.
And Jesus would not only have him see it, but travel it with him. Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. Leave behind all that you once thought was good and come follow me. See what true goodness is. Come follow me to the Temple Courts and the Midnight Garden. Come follow me as I am paraded before priests and kings and governors. Come follow me in triumphant processions at the head of adoring thousands. Come follow me on the lonely march under the weight of a crushing cross. Come follow me to the place of the skull, through the sound of hammer and nail, through the unsettling dark of noonday, through the final cry, the dying breath, the thrusting spear, the sob of a mother’s holy grief. Come follow me to a hurried burial in a borrowed tomb. Come follow me and you will finally know what it takes to inherit eternal life.
No one is good but God alone … but ah, how good He is! For this … this is where He’s going, this is what He’s doing to give you and me and this young man kneeling before Him everlasting life. Come follow him in His three day rest, and His victory proclamation in the very bowels of hell. Come follow Him back up and out of the tomb, alive again – alive forever more. Come follow Him in this your life for even now He has gone ahead to prepare a place for you, that where He is you may follow, and there you may be. Come and claim the treasures stored up for you in heaven. Treasures found only in Jesus. Treasures He has freely given in the Water and the Word, and in the Supper of His Body and Blood. Treasures so good, that nothing else compares.
On this weekend the people of our land gather with family and friends to seek that which is good and give thanks for it. It is a noble task, and a commendable occasion. Thanksgiving is a commodity sadly lacking these days. But when you look for that good, that for which you are so very thankful don’t look to the good within, or the good you have done. Don’t look to the stuff that you’ve been given, or have built up for yourself. Look instead to that which is truly good. That for which we can never thank God enough. The treasure of heaven, and the inheritance of eternal life through the truly good gifts of His Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.