Have you ever have one of those friends who never answers a question directly? Often times it’s frustrating, you just want a simple answer to a simple question, instead you’re given some lofty philosophical catechism that leaves you with more questions than you started with.
As one of those people who strives to give those cryptic replies I know that the point of those replies is to help the person asking the question grasp a deeper truth than they had asked. The reply is trying to bring people to an ‘aha’ moment where they see some deeper truth. Jesus loves to answer like this and in his answer to the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30, Mark 10, and Luke 18 is he is doing just that.
The ruler asks a simple question, “what must I do to enter the kingdom of heaven”. Especially in todays age we would expect a 4 step plan in reply. Instead Jesus replies, “why do you call me good? Only God is good.”
We all know that Jesus goes on to ask if he has followed the commands and then bids the man give up all he has and follow him but we often skip over this first question too quickly. It is in this first question that Jesus wanted the man to gain his ‘aha’ moment.
So how would we answer the question? “why do we call Jesus good? No one is good but God.”
Jesus has left us with two options.
Option one: We shouldn’t call Jesus good because he is not God. But that leaves us with some rather frightening and perplexing theology. If Jesus is not good then he can’t be the perfect sacrifice, meaning his sacrifice could not cover our sin. (Hebrews 10:14).
Option two: Jesus is in fact good, and his asking the man why he calls him good wasn’t to correct him. Instead it is help him see the deeper truth that Jesus is God. Notice, in Jesus question he doesn’t deny that he is good, but he does want the man to understand the significance of calling him good. If Jesus is in fact good than he is God, because only God is good.
Jesus here has made one of the most plain appeals to his divinity illustrating that he is in fact God, any alternative explanation.
Lewis in his words puts it this way:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. -C.S. Lewis