Saturday, June 19, 2010

Is Jesus Good?

This is the question raised by the topic of this post. I raise the question out of sincere concern for some who twist this verse, misusing it out of context, to propose the idea that Jesus denied being good, so He denied being God. The truth lay elsewhere, however; Jesus denied being neither, which is clearly revealed if the verse is not wrested out of its context to stand alone without the wisdom and support of the rest of Scripture to give clarity.

To gain understanding of the passage in question we must first understand who was addressing Jesus, so we may understand why our Lord answered the way He did. Matthew records it thus:

“Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He (Jesus) said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments,” Matthew 19:16-17. Matthew also records that this person coming to Jesus was a young man, verses 20, 22.

Mark records the same incident almost verbatim, with the exception that one came running to Jesus with this question, Mark 10:17-18. Mark also writes, as is fitting for his presentation of Jesus as the laboring Servant, that when the young man answered Jesus, Jesus loved him, verse 21. Matthew, Mark and Luke record that this young ruler was wealthy: Matthew 19:22; Mark 10:22; Luke 18:23. For further clarity, however, let us turn to Luke. Luke, being a historian, gives a little background about the man who came to Jesus asking this question. We read:

“Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, “Good teacher…” Luke 18:18-19. The Greek word used for “ruler” is “archon,” which is used in Scripture to describe a ruler of a synagogue, Luke 8:41, Nicodemus the Pharisee, John 3:1, and Ananias, who was high priest during Paul’s trial, Acts 23:5. These examples alone provide a fair indication that this “rich young ruler” was a religious leader among the Jews. He carried with him human views and opinions about the righteousness of men and the ability of the law to endow men with eternal life.

Bear in mind that Jesus asked a qualifying statement; He did not simply state an obvious fact. It is a vast difference to read, “why do you call Me good,” and hear “I am not good.” Jesus was asking a question to get the rich young ruler to pause and think about how he was addressing the Lord. Luke records a similar text: “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” Luke 6:46. Applying the same logic on Luke’s passage leads to this result: Jesus asks a qualifying question: why do you call Me Lord? No one listens to what He says. If He was the Lord, people would listen. Therefore Jesus Christ is not Lord. But is that at all what the passage is addressing? Or is Jesus calling to account hypocritical conduct that would name Christ as Lord with their mouth, but deny with actions/lifestyle what they proclaim with their mouth?

The next question is: what did Jesus really mean in Matthew 19:17? Let us first establish the fact that Jesus certainly called Himself good, and asserted that He was good. Just a little later in Matthew’s gospel we read about the parable of the laborers, Matthew 20:1-16. Jesus describes Himself as a landowner hiring out workers. At the end of the parable, when the workers complain against the fairness and impartial treatment Jesus gives to all His workers, He adds, “is your eye evil because I am good?” verse 15.

More directly, however, is the passage in John’s gospel. John writes, “I (Jesus) am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep…I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own,” John 10:11, 14. This is a direct and blatant reference to Ezekiel chapter 34, where God describes Himself as the One who will personally come and shepherd Israel. The chapter concludes, “You are My flock, the flock of My pasture; you are men and I am your God,” says the Lord God,” Ezekiel 34:31. This agrees with John 10:16, which states, “Other sheep I (Jesus) have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” Because Jesus made such bold claims at deity the Jews wanted to kill Him, John 10:31, 39. The Jews weren’t fools; they knew that Jesus was saying that He was the good shepherd, the good God that had come at last to shepherd Israel. But they rejected that claim, so they had to come to the next logical conclusion: He was a liar and blasphemer.
To be Continued.

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