All three synoptic gospels tell the story of a rich young ruler who asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17).
Jesus did not immediately provide an answer. He asked a question of His own: “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18).
At first reading, it seems like Jesus is making himself out to be less than good, or even worse, less than God. But the Scripture repeatedly asserts that He is equal to God, that He is God (John 1:1-2, 8:58, 20:28, Col. 2:9, Heb. 1:10).
Jesus’ question contradicts none of that. Jesus is the divine Son of God. Instead, Jesus invites the rich young ruler to consider the implication of the words he too casually spoke.
“Why do you call Jesus good?”
So, why do you call Jesus good?
I have often heard people praise Jesus with throwaway lines. Many people profess belief in Jesus without much thought. They tip the hat to Jesus by force of habit or culture, like one salutes the flag or eats apple pie. They find sufficient the sentiment of the guy in the Billy Currington song who repeats, “God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy.” If you asked the crowd at an average Friday night football game who thinks Jesus is good, I’m sure most people would raise their hands. If you asked people passing by a house fire to whisper a prayer to “the man upstairs,” I’m sure most people would comply.
But confessing Jesus is more than paying lip service. Jesus Himself said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matthew 7:21). Jesus is both good and God; and thus demands our real loyalty and obedience. Not just some empty platitudes.
There’s something worse. I have heard many people give Jesus partial credit for being a “good teacher,” but ignoring His greater claims to authority. Unlike those above, they have examined the portrait of Jesus presented in the gospels, and decided to accept only part. Thomas Jefferson, for example, hacked at his New Testament with a razor, lifting out certain parts of Jesus’ teaching that he appreciated, and pasting them into a notebook which he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Jefferson excluded all the miracles, all the claims of divinity, and all mention of the resurrection. Those bits Jefferson saved he called “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man … which is as easily distinguishable [from the rest of the Bible] as diamonds in a dunghill.” Jefferson’s version closes with the words, “…There they laid Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.”
There’s little point in calling Jesus “good teacher” unless we are willing to accept His divinity as the source of that teaching. When we look at Jesus’ teaching, we find there some upsetting things; which were recorded by the same eyewitnesses who recorded the most uplifting sermons on the mount, and the least confrontational of the parables. To the eyewitnesses, Jesus’ miracles were signs of His true nature, and His resurrection was key to His identity as the promised Christ. The gospel writers don’t give us the option of accepting the pleasant parts of Jesus’ teaching while rejecting the challenging and demanding parts. Sometimes He spoke of Heaven and Hell in the same sentence (John 5:28-29)! Why fool ourselves and call any of it good–why console ourselves and call Him good–unless we plan to enthrone Him as Lord in our hearts and strive to obey all of what He has to say?
If the gospels end with the tomb, we can safely ignore Jesus.
What was Jesus asking the rich young ruler? To stop and consider that Jesus speaks with the authority of a good and divine God. The rich young ruler was looking for clues to eternal life. Perhaps if he considered the person of Jesus, he could discover that Jesus alone is the source of that eternal life. Sadly, by the end of the conversation, Jesus would make a demand upon him that was more than he could bear, and “he went away grieving” (Mark 10:22). Before one can be in a position to accept Jesus’ teaching on life and godliness, he has to accept Jesus as Master.
Why do you call Jesus good? I hope your answer is because you’ve examined His life and His claims, and have found Him to be God alone! –John Guzzetta