THE GOOD TEACHER
IS GOOD FOR YOU.
In the name + of Jesus.
A rich young ruler came to Jesus and addressed him as “Good Teacher.” The word “good” has different shades of meaning. Usually, when we call something “good,” it is because we find it pleasing or preferable. After your favorite meal, you wipe your mouth with your napkin and say, “That was good!” But that does not mean your children like it. They might look at your favorite meal and sneer, “Ugh, that's no good.” When we speak of our favorite song or our favorite flavor, we call them good because we like them.
But another use of the word “good” refers to something that is inherently good. Being alive, being honest, being humble, and being generous are all good. If someone calls you lazy, that is not a compliment. If someone calls you industrious, you thank them because being industrious is good. This is the definition of “good” the rich young ruler used to describe Jesus.
Jesus' response to the rich man is interesting. Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19) It is as if Jesus were saying to him, “You call me good. Only God is good. Is that your confession? Are you calling me the Christ, the Son of God?” But Jesus leaves that hanging out there for the moment. He goes on: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” (Luke 18:20) The Commandments are God's word. They declare God's will. So, they are inherently good. And good people do what the Commandments say. Those who do not live up to the commandments are wicked.
Apparently, the rich young man was an upstanding young man. He claimed of the Commandments, “All these I have kept from my youth.” (Luke 18:21) He was no criminal. He had always known how to behave, and he stayed out of trouble. And even if he could boast that he had done good deeds from time to time, Jesus demonstrated that he was not as good as he thought.
Jesus ... said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. (Luke 18:22-23) The one thing the rich man lacked is the very goodness he thought he had. Jesus told him to distribute his riches to the poor where they would truly do some good. Rather than take pride in his obedience, he was saddened by this commandment. The fact is, he loved his wealth more than anything God had to say to him. His riches were his highest good, and he would not sacrifice them for anything—not for eternal life—and not for anyone—not even for God. He feared, loved, and trusted in his wealth above all things.
You have more in common with the rich young ruler than you think. Like him, we all want to believe that we are good. In fact, we work hard to preserve our image so that everyone thinks we are good. We blame someone else when the group's project fails. We are good drivers; all other drivers are idiots. Whenever you tell a story about something that happened to you, you always end up being the good guy. The other people are the villains who plotted to inconvenience you, or did not notice you, or did not share your opinion. To make sure that we are the good guy, we will lie and slander. To make sure that we are the good guy, we will even make God the bad guy. The rich man's highest good was his riches. Our highest good is ourselves. And therefore, we are not good. We prove what Jesus says: “No one is good.” (Luke 18:19) Repent.
Jesus is the Good Teacher. The Good Teacher is good for you. He comes to do what we have not. Jesus truly loves his neighbor, giving up all he has not only for friends, but even for his enemies. Jesus comes to have mercy upon lawbreakers, not because we deserve it but because he is good. Jesus assumes our guilt. Jesus suffers and dies for people who love their money and their reputations and themselves. So, the only one who is truly good is condemned so that all who are not good can be acquitted. He does not leave you to invent ways to explain why you are not as bad as you are. Instead, he has died for all of our bad, and in turn he credits us with all of his good.
This is what the Lord says: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:27) Unlike the rich young ruler, you do not have to try to convince God that you did all the good you need to do to be saved. In fact, it is impossible. You and I don't even love our loved ones very well. What chance do strangers have? Instead, you have been credited with the perfect obedience of Jesus. With God, this is not only possible, this is a clear promise and established fact. You are clothed in Christ. Therefore, when God looks at you, he sees a saint, one who is cleansed of all sin and cloaked in Jesus' righteousness. All the good that needs to be done for salvation has been done. Jesus has done the work, and Jesus gives you the credit—not because you did anything to deserve it, but because he is good. The Good Teacher is good—for you.
The rich man came to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18) It is a rather strange question. You can't do anything to inherit something. Inheritances are not earned; they can only be given. It is up to an individual to bequeath it to you. Of course, the person who is giving it has to die. The Good Teacher teaches you that salvation is a gift. He has made you heirs of the kingdom. And, of course, Jesus died so that you would have it. But Jesus is risen. He lives and reigns to teach you that this Gospel is your highest good. For it gives you what money cannot. It supplies the goodness you lack. It even delivers you from death to life eternal. All this, not because you deserve it, but because Jesus is good, and his mercy endures forever.
The Good Teacher is good for you. Jesus alone is inherently good, and he bestows this goodness upon you. Jesus also works all good in you so that you honor him. When the rich young ruler came asking what he needed to do, Jesus pointed him to the Commandments. Although they cannot save you, they are good because they teach you what godly service looks like, no matter what your vocation is. Your Good Teacher has taught you to love God because of his amazing love for you. This love for God reveals itself in your love for your neighbor.
The Good Teacher is good for you. You can learn about a lot of things from different teachers which you might consider good. The lessons you learn might do you good as you pursue a career. Who knows? You might be as prosperous and upstanding as the young man who came to Jesus. But no matter how good you might have it in this life, collecting trophies or putting awards on your walls, these will never supply the good that Jesus Christ does. That is why he is the Good Teacher. He alone forgives. He alone saves. He alone grants you a glorious and eternal inheritance. The Good Teacher is good, and he is good—for you.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.