THE 21ST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST AD 2018
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
Seek the Lord and live,
lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph,
and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel,
 O you who turn justice to wormwood
and cast down righteousness to the earth!
They hate him who reproves in the gate,
and they abhor him who speaks the truth.
 Therefore because you trample on the poor
and you exact taxes of grain from him,
you have built houses of hewn stone,
but you shall not dwell in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards,
but you shall not drink their wine.
 For I know how many are your transgressions
and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe,
and turn aside the needy in the gate.
 Therefore he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time,
for it is an evil time.
 Seek good, and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
as you have said.
 Hate evil, and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.  As it is said,
"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion."
 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?  And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?  And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient?  So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
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?"  And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.' "  And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth."  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."  Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
High praise. Yes, it all began with high praise. “Good teacher”, the man says. “Good” was a word that the gentiles often used for each other. It was a normal way to speak to someone - “good friend, good teacher.” The adjective wasn’t attached to the role but to the person. It didn’t simply mean that the person was a “good” friend or a “good” teacher. No, it meant that the person who was the friend or the teacher was “good” in themselves.
Jews for the most part, however, wouldn’t use the word “good” for each other. Holy Scripture pretty well reserved it for God alone. They knew that God alone was truly “good” in Himself. Others could be good at what they did, but none of them was good as God was in Himself. God was good in the sense that He was goodness itself. God and good were the same thing. There was no part of God that wasn’t good. Even more than that He was good in such away that there was no goodness apart from Him. All goodness flowed from Him and whatever did not flow from Him was not good.
And so Jesus’ reply to the man who runs up and kneels before Him, “ Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” He piously pushes the high praise aside. But wait a minute! What’s going on here? Is Jesus not God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father? Is not all that’s true of the Father true of Him also, as His only begotten Son? Is the man not right to be calling Jesus “good”? Should He not have blessed the man for it, as He did Peter when He confessed that He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God? Should He not have owned this too as a revelation of the Father?
What gives? Do we have more ammo here in the mouth of Jesus for those troublesome Jehovah Witnesses that come knocking on your door, who deny the Divinity of Jesus, claiming that He was just some super-creature created by God but not God Himself? No, no, beloved, the One who said, “before Abraham was I am” and did not correct Thomas when he fell in worship before Him calling Him his Lord and his God, is not denying His own divinity here. By questioning this man’s high praise, He reveals for us just how far He has humbled Himself for us and what He is doing for our salvation.
As the man comes running up to Him, Jesus knows what’s in his heart and what he is looking for. He knows that this man is looking for a way to make Himself good. In fact, as the Lord speaks with him, we get to see, that the man believes that he’s a good part of the way there already. As he answers Jesus’ overview of the ten commandments with the words, that ought to grate against your Lutheran ears: “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” Really? With a heart turned toward evil from youth, you managed to keep all these commandments from your youth?
Yea, this poor deluded man believes he’s got his own goodness just about all sewn up. He thinks he just needs a few pointers from this “good” teacher on how to tie up the loose ends. He’s what you might call the patron saint of the WWJD or “What would Jesus do” movement, that was so popular years ago, where some similarly deluded people thought, that Christians were supposed to get their lives together by patterning them after the life of Jesus. It all flows from the lie of Eden, beloved, that we can be like God on our own. Goodness? No, you don’t need to get that from God. You can make your own goodness for yourselves.
The truth is that there are no “good people” apart from God. They might do some nice things. They can even be what we call “good” at what they do. But a good person? No, you can’t be good in that way without the One who is goodness itself. If you have nothing to do with Him, then you simply can’t be good. How can you be good when you won’t or don’t have anything to do with the One who is the source of all goodness? No, beloved, you cannot point to anyone who rejects the Lord or who wants to stand on his own two feet before God, and say that “He is such a good person.” No, he is not. Apart from Christ you can’t say it about me and I can’t say it about you either.
No, no one is good not one. Not on his own. It’s a lie that you are or even that you can be … a lie that sends you off to strive and struggle to try to be something that you can never be, leaving you worn out and worn down, leaving you weary and heavy laden with your constant falling and failing, or blinding you to the truth right in front of your nose; leading you to deny your sins at all costs instead of confessing them, which leaves you with a rotting, festering, maggot ridden pile of blah! inside of you, that stinks to high heaven and can’t be hidden away no matter what you try to do with it.
And Jesus looked at him and loved him. Jesus loved this man enough to deliver him from all of this. He loved him enough to speak truth into his life to undo this terrible lie. This was not the life that He had created him for - to chase after the lie of his own goodness or to have his life resting on such shifting unsteady ground. No, He had made Him to be good, in fact, to be very good - in the goodness of God Himself as His good God poured it into his life - sharing it with him that he might live in it. He had created him in the beginning to rest in God’s own goodness -to abide in it that it might abide in him.
Jesus loved this man enough to want that for Him, as He loves you enough to want it for you. It is, in fact, why He Himself was made man and humbled Himself that He might live this very life for him and for you. As Jesus responds to the man’s high praise, by pointing out that God alone is good, He shows in this moment, that He as man is doing exactly what we were created for. He claims no goodness of His own, even though as the Son of the Father He truly has it, but humbling Himself He lays no claim on it, but simply lives as a man who rests in and rely’s on the goodness of God alone, allowing it to flow into and through Him.
Jesus truly is the good man, not because He is the good God at the same time, although without question He is that, but He is the good man in the way that we were created to be in the beginning. Goodness is not something that He strives or struggles for. Goodness is not something that He aims to achieve. Goodness is something that he simply opens his hands to receive from the Father. He doesn’t receive it because He himself needs it. No, he has it already but He receives it for this man. He receives it for us, who are ever living with and struggling under the lie, that as our own gods we can be the sources of our own goodness.
And so just as Jesus loved that man enough to point out the one area of his life, where he was falling down, so that he might despair of being the source of his own goodness, He does the same thing for you and me this morning. He looks on each of you, as He looks on me, and He loves you and He loves me, and so He points out what it is in each of our hearts that we have put before the Lord our God, which may be many things but ultimately boils down to one thing - ourselves. We all may have minor idols, but the one that sin sets up in every human heart, is that false trinity - me, myself and I.
What must I do to inherit eternal life? There is only one way, beloved, the Way that stands before you in God’s goodness and mercy this morning. And so repent! Turn from yourselves. Deny the god that sin and Satan have set up in your hearts. Throw your hands up in the air and give up, spreading them out instead in a plea for mercy and then cup them before you ready to receive the goodness that God wants to share with you. Christ lived your life of receiving that it might be yours too, as He died the death of those who refuse that you might not be turned away. And so come, beloved, with open hands to Jesus this morning and receive with joy all that God is ready to pour out upon you in Him. Amen.