Only One Good One
September 27, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
To Obtain Eternal Life
1. A man by himself came to Jesus and asked him, "Master, what good thing should I do to obtain eternal life?," (Matthew 19:16).
2. Who was this man? He is called "a youth" in verse twenty-two. He looks young. In addition, the text also says that "he had many possessions." According to The Gospel According To Luke, it looks like he was "a Sanhedrin member" with a chair in its supreme court, (Luke 18:18). According to his own words, as a Jew, with respect to the law of Moses, he said he "had observed all of it," (verse twenty). In The Gospel According To Luke, it is written, "All of these things I have observed since childhood," (Luke 18:21). In this statement we are told about the home environment in which he was raised. He was brought up in a sound traditional Jewish home, and under devout parents he had received a good religious education since infancy.
3. In a certain sense, he already has many of the things that people wish for. He had his youth. He had properties. He had obtained both social status and prestige. He was blessed with a good home environment. We would call a person like him a man blessed with a good fortune in this world. But he still had one more thing that he could not stop seeking for. There was one thing that he must obtain by every means possible. He calls it "eternal life." "Master, what good thing should I do to obtain eternal life?"
4. He had a clear understanding: "The things you see in this world and the things you get are not all there is to it. No matter how good it is, it all passes away for sure. The truly good has not come yet. [I] have not seen it yet. [I] have not gotten it yet. The best is still in the future. I still do not know true joy. I still do not know true happiness. I still have not experienced God's complete salvation. It is being prepared by the hands of God in heaven." The Bible expresses that as "eternal life."
5. What do I have to do to obtain this "eternal life?" His soul had been carrying around this compelling question right up to that moment. He had been looking for the answer to that question all along. Then the person named Jesus of Nazareth appeared right before him as [he was wondering upon this matter]. "This rabbi is completely different from the other rabbis. This teacher will undoubtedly have the answer for me." Not realizing it, these thoughts of his had arrested his mind and would not let him go. So at last, with determination he made a visit to Jesus. In spite of it being about the time when many of the religious leaders were already starting to act hostile towards Jesus, he mustered up his courage and went to him to ask him one thing. He inquired, "Master, what good thing should I do to obtain eternal life?"
6. But surprisingly, the answer returned from the mouth of Jesus was nothing special at all. "If you want to obtain life, keep the commandments!," (verse seventeen). That's the answer any rabbi or anybody would have probably given. But he doesn't give up. He persists [with another question], "Which commandments are they?" "The answer could not be so normal. [Jesus] must tell [me] about some special commandment." [The youth] must have been thinking such thoughts. But, even the next statements are quite normal, so much so that he is disappointed. Whenever one speaks of "the commandments," it is the ten commandments of Moses that everybody thinks of first. He is only telling me something that anybody would think of. Jesus just listed some of the ten commandments from out of the words in the book of Leviticus. "Don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't give false witness, honor your parents, and love your neighbor as your self." However, this man is persistent and sticks with his attempt one way or another to draw from the mouth of Jesus the true answer. He said, "All of these things I have observed. Am I still missing something?"
7. This man truly wants to know. He wants to know what he should do. He wants to know what good [deed] he should do. He is so sincere tears come as he listens. But the Lord spoke to him as follows. "If you want to be perfect, go and sell your possessions, and donate [it] to the poor. By so doing then, you will accumulate riches in heaven. After that, follow me," (verse twenty-one). Jesus' words dug out to the bottom of the youth's heart. The young man did not ask the Lord any thing further, but departed sorrowfully.
8. "Donations to the poor" were given serious consideration in Jewish society. In regard to charitable giving in his life up to this moment, presumably, this man who had kept the law from childhood undoubtedly had practiced this fervently. However, Jesus was plainly speaking on the disposal of everything he had owned and donating [it]. This was an unreasonable request even for a person quite zealous in the law. Harder still, Jesus had gone so far as to ask this of a man with a great deal of properties and possessions. Were it something other than this, he might have obeyed even if it were, to some degree, an unreasonable request. But, of all things to ask, the Lord asked for something that seemed the hardest thing for this prosperous youth to do. Was he being unkind to him? No, he wasn't. In The Gospel According To Mark the scripture says, "Jesus fixed his eyes on him and spoke to him with compassion," (Mark 10:21). He wasn't unkind to him. He said it because he loved him. But, what was Jesus' intention with him?
Not "Good Deeds" But "The Good One"
9. So, I would like to go back again to the beginning of the conversation between this youth and Jesus. The man asks Jesus a question. "Master, what good thing should I do to obtain eternal life?" In reply Jesus does not immediately answer him on [the question] "What should [I] do?" A strange statement is put ahead of that. "Why are you asking me about good deeds? Only One is good," (verse seventeen). Isn't that weird? This man is asking about "the good deed." In reply Jesus speaks about "the Good One." He says, "Only One is good." It clearly runs counter [to his question]. But, he is showing that this very difference in understanding is critically important.
10. The man inquires about "the good deed." He is concerned with "the good" that he should be doing. Why is [he]? Because he wants to obtain "eternal life" with that "good deed." Put in other words, it is because he is trying to do a business transaction with God. With the "good deed" that he performs he is trying to purchase, what is identified as, "eternal life." [His question of] "What good thing should I do to obtain eternal life?" has that behind it.
11. This question of "What good thing should I do to obtain eternal life?" is one that we are familiar with, to a certain degree, as well. Aren't we? A business transaction with God. I remember somewhere doing that. Mysteriously enough, the God we often imagine is more often than not a cheapskate. A God with a frowning face that says, "I ain't gonna help ya just for free." So, we go making a deal, trying somehow to elicit something good from stingy God. Since I am doing a good deed, please grant my request. Since I am doing a good deed, please grant me good luck and happiness. Isn't that what we do? The ultimate of that is this: "What good thing should I do to obtain eternal life?"
12. However, Jesus did not come in order to teach "What good thing I should do?" He did not come to teach methods on successful business deals with God. No, he didn't; rather he came to point to the One and Only One who is "good." He came in order that we might live with the One and Only One who is "good."
13. That God is "good" is to say God loves us. It says that God is willing to give us good things. God wants so very much to lead us to a good place and to give us good things in abundance. Ultimately, more than anything, he wants to give eternal life. He wants to give us, yes he wants to give us true joy, true happiness, perfect salvation, and will do anything for that purpose. He sends even his only son into this world [for that]. He even sets him on a cross as the atonement for sin. That's the kind of God he is. The Lord came in order that we might know this kind of God and that we might live with this kind of God. Of course he even wanted this young man to turn to the "Good One" and not to the "good deeds" he could do himself.
14. Therefore, the Lord ventured to say something that seemed almost impossible to him to do. "If you want to be perfect, go and sell your possessions, and donate [it] to the poor," (verse twenty-one). If he pressed forward with a deal with God, it would lead to this. If he thought of buying it on his own, he must pay the full amount. But not really though; for, even if he had sold every possession and gave it to the poor, he could not buy eternal life with it. Therefore, Jesus did not say, "If you do that, then you will be able to obtain eternal life." He only said, "If you do that, then you will accumulate riches in heaven." God's salvation is not so cheap and junky an item that a human being can buy it with good deeds. He doesn't need a bargain basement salvation that one could buy in exchange for good works.
15. Salvation comes from "the Good One." The valuable thing is in knowing that God is "the Good One." It is in believing "the Good One." It is in walking together with "the Good One." Just before this story, the story of Jesus' blessing the children appears in the text. Jesus said the following at that time. "Let the children come! You mustn't hinder their coming to me! The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these," (verse fourteen). The children do not do business transactions with God. They do not get puffed up with pride, saying, "I did all this for God." They are children upon whom Jesus simply puts his hands and blesses, and they rejoice knowing that they are loved by God. It was not something they could see, right? In this same manner it would be very valuable for us as well to trust "the Good One," and live with "the Good One" as we receive everything as a work of God overflowing with good will for us.
16. When the youth departed sorrowfully, Jesus said to his disciples, "I say to you. It is most difficult for the rich to enter into the kingdom of heaven. I repeat, it is still easier for a camel to pass through the hole of a needle that for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of God," (verses twenty-three and twenty-four). It has "the rich" but [just] because it means "the wealthy" it isn't just assets and money. Instead, in this man's case, [he thought] he was wealthy enough to do business with God in the good deeds and the works of the law that he had accumulated since early childhood. Discarding [his accumulation of good deeds], he needed to become like those children, who had nothing to offer to God whatsoever. Then the words that Jesus had said next would make sense. "Human beings have never been able to do it, but God can do it or any thing." That's right. God can. God can both save a human being and give eternal life. And God does do that for us; because God is the Good One.
17. "The good deed" one truly ought to do which was referred to [before] is this: it is that which is produced from a daily life lived with "the Good One" and all the while rejoicing in "the Good One." It was also in today's second reading. "Because you are children loved by God, become imitators of God! Just as Christ loved us and offered himself as an offering with a good aroma, that is, a sacrifice to God for us, walk according to love, even you!," (Ephesians 5:1-2). Like at that time, as Jesus said, disposing of all one's possessions and donating it to the poor may just come up, like in that certain situation. Throwing away all kinds of things on behalf of the name of the Lord may just come up. [But] at that time, "the good" [done] is not a payment in a transaction, not any of it.