PULPIT TODAY SERMONS
Robert D. Pace
(Illustration) I remember “the good old days” when I was a kid. I had wonderful parents but their philosophy of child development included administering an incessant series of whippings. They thought the primary purpose of the posterior wasn’t to sit but to instill discipline. I got so many whippings that I wondered whether the Bible was correct when it said this was the Age of Grace. When I got in trouble, compromise or negotiating weren’t options. Sitting in “time out” hadn’t been invented. Anyway, I said all that to say this: As a ten year-old I remember saying to my mom, “Mother, I’ve been really good. I haven’t had a spanking all week!” I told you I got a lot of whippings!
Think about that statement. “I’ve been really good. I haven’t had a spanking all week!”
I was good enough for what—good enough for my parents? Perhaps, but I might have done something another parent would have nailed their kid for!
Did it mean my goodness was angelic? No!
Or did it mean I wasn’t caught red-handed at doing something that really deserved a spanking?
(Example) That word good is relative because the standard of goodness for one isn’t necessarily the standard of goodness for another. For example, how many here think fried chicken is good? What about filet mignon? Alright, who likes snails? What about pizza? How about sushi? Anchovies?
That’s the problem in determining what is good. What you consider good isn’t good to somebody else. In Haiti people eat what’s called, “Goat head soup.” Guess what’s in that! To Haitians Goat head soup is wonderful, but how many here want that for lunch?
To Americans football is great and soccer is boring. To Europeans soccer is great and football is boring.
To Americans it’s appropriate to imprison people that steal. To Saudi Arabians it’s appropriate to chop off the hand of a thief.
In parts of Africa it’s culturally acceptable for a man to have several wives. In America . . . that’s not good!
Obviously, many here think this church is good. Others in this city have committed to churches that emphasize a totally different worship experience. Some people enjoy a liturgical service where everything is neatly structured and predictable. As a Pentecostal I personally enjoy a measure of spiritual freedom and the possibility of something going wrong during church!
(Transition) But when it comes to moral goodness, what is the standard? What is the unalterable, absolute paradigm of goodness? And who decides what is and what isn’t good?
I. God Sets the Standard of Goodness
When the Bible talks about goodness it shows that God sets the standard of goodness. And that standard is God Himself. In other words, the One who sets the standard is the Standard. When Psalm 100:5 says, “the Lord is good,” it means He’s supremely good; He’s perfectly, completely, absolutely, and eternally good. He’s no more or less good today than He was ten trillion years ago. And since there’s no higher standard of goodness than God, everything must be measured against Him.
Maybe some of you are thinking. I’ve been good lately. I haven’t blown up or cursed or looked at anything vulgar. I haven’t kicked the dog recently. When you compare your recent behavior with your past behavior you might be good. But compared with God’s unfailing, perfect, unblemished goodness . . . no one is supremely good! We’re good compared to Charles Manson, Adolph Hitler, and Mussolini. But God doesn’t let us compare ourselves among ourselves. If there were no Bible to furnish a standard for goodness then comparisons would be alright; but there is a Bible and there is a standard. And when we compare ourselves with someone it should always be with Jesus Christ!
Well, the man in our text wanted to know how he measured up and where he stood with God. He asked in verse seventeen: “Teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said, ‘You know the commandments: do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” The young man said, ‘I’ve done that from my youth. I’m a good guy!’ The problem this man reveals is the tendency to overrate our moral decency. People think they’re in good standing with God because they don’t get arrested, they pay taxes, and they give to charities. They figure the dread of Judgment Day is for drug dealers, ax murderers, and child abusers. And since they aren’t guilty of those things they’re safe!
But on four separate occasions the Bible says “there is none good, no not one” (Psalm 14:3, 53:3, Romans 3:10 & 12). Let me explain something about that declaration. It doesn’t mean nobody is capable of doing a good deed. Even rank sinners occasionally perform remarkably benevolent acts. The statement, “none is good,” means that we aren’t born morally perfect and on our own we can’t measure up to God’s inherent goodness. It means, unlike God, nobody is “good to the core”—not Moses, not David, not Simon Peter; nobody! Sometimes we think we have every part of our character completely controlled but then, something happens, and boom, we discover we’re human. Moses strikes the rock, David falls into sin, and Simon Peter denies Christ.
(Illustration) I remember when my wonderful daughter Kristen was about 4 years old. My family was going out to eat and as we walked toward the street to get in the van a car came whizzing through our subdivision. Kristen was running around the van and could have been easily struck by a driver that appeared to be traveling about 100 miles per hour in a residential zone. As soon as we loaded up and turned the corner I noticed the driver had pulled into a nearby driveway. Unfortunately, I was still upset so I turned into the same driveway, got out of the van, and scolded the driver—too harshly I might add!
Despite what we would like to believe about ourselves, we don’t always respond perfectly! We are sinners by nature and we’re saints by vigilance! It takes constant, unrelenting attention to maintain our Christian testimony. And Jesus was showing us just how fragile our goodness is when He dealt with the Rich Young Ruler. Let’s get back to that story.
The Rich Young Ruler
Remember, this young man had just defended his moral goodness by testifying to his allegiance to the Ten Commandments—he had walked a straight line. But I want you to notice Christ’s response: In a vivid and graphic way Mark says in verse twenty-one that Jesus “looked” [note that word] at the Rich Young Ruler. This wasn’t a casual or superficial glance. The Greek word for “look” here means that Jesus peered into his soul and discerned everything about him. Without anything hidden from view Jesus instantly evaluated his life. And the assessment was, despite how remarkably this man kept the commandments, and despite his moral decency, he fell infinitely short of God’s standard of goodness. Jesus saw that he had an inordinate attachment to his possessions. And when Jesus asked him to surrender them, he refused!
You see, Hebrews 12 says that everybody has a sin “that easily besets” them. And this was the Rich Young Ruler’s sin. But look what the Bible says in verse twenty-one. The same verse that shows Jesus penetrating the depths of his soul also says Jesus “loved him.” Jesus not only “looked at him” He “loved him.” He loved this young man despite his selfishness and greed. I am glad to know that Jesus loves me despite my many imperfections. He has unconditional and infinite love for everyone here. Thank God, He cares for us despite our flaws.
(Transition) Next, God’s very Name testifies to His goodness.
II. God’s Name Testifies to His Goodness!
Do you know when God first reveals His moral goodness to us in the Bible? In the first five words of the Bible! Moses wrote in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created.” The Hebrew Name for God here is Elohim and it’s special because it carries a dual meaning. It means, “(1) Infinite strength and (2) absolute faithfulness.” God’s name not only defines His omnipotent creative power it also testifies of His willingness to faithfully manage His creation. He’s the almighty God that created us, but He’s also the benevolent Sustainer that pledges to uphold us!
When Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” God was essentially saying: “What I have created, I’ll faithfully love, nurture and tend. I’ll give it my highest attention. That describes our God of goodness! God loves us and is totally committed to our welfare. And Psalm 145:9 affirms this when it says: “The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.”
(Illustration) Let me explain it this way. The love-commitment a mother expresses toward her newborn is amazing. When a woman gives birth to her child she instinctively nurtures, caresses, and protects that child. Her baby may be the ugliest, bald-headed, floppy-eared, toothless wonder ever born; the nurses may scamper from the delivery room. But that mother will instantly reach out and embrace that child and smother that “beautiful” child with unrestrained love.
(Illustration) By the way, I just described myself at birth. My dad tells me when I was born I was screaming out my lungs. I had a cone-head and one ear was plastered against my head—just stuck there! But guess what? Mamma loved me. You see, the love a mother displays toward her baby says more about her character than the baby’s! The child’s appearance isn’t important. And the same is true with God’s disposition toward us. His unconditional love for us says more about His character than ours.
Acts 14:17 says:“[God] has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fill your hearts with joy.”
Nehemiah 9:17 says: “You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.” He loved us enough to rescue us from our sins and save us from the wrath of Hell.
(Illustration) Some years ago a pastor told the story of a father, son, and his son’s friend that were sailing off the Pacific Coast. In an instant the ocean was turned into a tempest and they were prevented from returning to shore. The father was an experienced sailor but the waves were so high that he had no control over the vessel and it was swept deeper into the ocean. As the storm increased both the boys were thrown into the water. The father grabbed a rescue line and realized he had the most excruciating decision possible. Which boy would he throw the line to? With only seconds to decide the father yelled, ‘I love you, son!’ and threw the line to his son’s unsaved friend. Before he drew in the line and could re-throw it his son had disappeared into the waters. His body was never recovered. The father had sacrificed his son, a devoted Christian, because he couldn’t bear the thought of his son’s friend going to hell. There were two teenagers in the congregation that day that heard the pastor tell this story and they were doubtful that such an event had happened. So after the service they challenged the minister. One of the boys said: “That was a nice story, but it’s not too realistic for a father to give up his son’s life in hopes that the other boy would become a Christian.” The pastor replied, “You’re right. It doesn’t seem real. But the fact is, I’m standing here today as a witness to those facts because I was the one rescued from the waters.” —Author unknown.
That’s what our loving, good Heavenly Father did for us. We were hopelessly lost in a storm of sin but instead of letting us drown and suffer the due penalty of our sin, He sacrificed His only begotten Son and threw out the lifeline to save us.
Isaiah 59:16 says, “He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him.”
Titus 2:13 says it was “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, (14) who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness.” What goodness. What a Savior! God Himself!
(Transition) And yet despite all this people tend to doubt God’s goodness. Why?
III. Why People Doubt God’s Goodness
Some people look at all the world’s pain and suffering and immediately conclude a good God wouldn’t create such conditions. And He didn’t. I don’t want to get bogged down here but consider this. When God created the world everything was perfect. You remember the words of Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” But man’s rebellion ruined everything! God had nothing to do with it! Jesus said Satan came, “to kill, steal, and destroy” (John 10:10). God has tried to reveal His goodness and get man back on track ever since Adam rebelled.
There are several reasons people doubt the goodness of God.
1. One reason people question God’s goodness is because life gets uncomfortable.
When we’re confronted with heartache, disappointment, sickness, correction, or bitter experiences we automatically think God is against us. But while God is good, that doesn’t mean He always makes life comfortable! Life often gets tough, but the fact that God allows us to suffer and hurt and get lonely doesn’t mean He is evil. It means He has higher purposes that we may not ever understand until we reach heaven.
If you’ll learn to trust God even when you hurt; if you can learn to praise Him when everything is against you and when no one believes in you; you will ultimately see that God will “make all things beautiful in His time” (ECC 3:11). If we will trust God to deal with us during tough times, Hebrews 12:11 says it will “produce a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
We sometimes question God’s goodness because He is simply being true to His nature. And Jeremiah 18 says He is a Potter. And as the Potter, He always seems to be shaping and crafting and refining some portion of our life. Because God is a loving Heavenly Father he is going to “perfect that which is lacking in you.” As Max Lucado says, God accepts you, with all your imperfections, just as you are, but “He loves you too much to leave you that way.”
2. There’s another reason people question God’s goodness.People doubt God’s goodness because they haven’t taken the challenge of Psalm 34:8 to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” God says, If you want proof that I’m good, “taste and see.” You’ll never know of God’s goodness without pulling up to the table and partaking.
Have you ever noticed that people are more than willing to indulge in worldly vices? They’ll sample whatever is set before them and gaze at whatever comes into view. Sin is so easy to indulge in. It looks good, feels good, and tastes good. But in the end its poison always kills. On the other hand, a sinner’s hardest task is to indulge in the things of God. When they’re challenged to believe on Christ a wall goes up, a barrier comes down, and a chasm goes out. When you try to witness to someone they bombard you with questions. They are afraid of a religious commitment. They get analytical. They judge Christians as being too sanctimonious or too hypocritical. But none of this ever happens when Satan offers people worldly vices! There’s a double-standard!
Listen, if there’s one thing certain in life it’s that God will never disappoint anybody! Psalm 100:5 says, “the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
The task God has given Christians isn’t that difficult. We don’t have to convince anybody of God’s goodness. God will do that! He just wants us to make the offer, He’ll do the rest.
Philip Makes “the Offer” to Nathaniel
There’s a great story in John 1 that illustrates this. After John baptized Jesus He left the Jordan River and began revealing Himself to the world. Philip was among the first converts. Shortly thereafter Philip saw Nathaniel and said: “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth.” Nathaniel said: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”
Notice how Philip handled this cynicism. Rather than fall into the trap of a dead-end argument or getting defensive about the disdain of Nazareth, he simply said: ‘Nathaniel, you want proof that we have found the Messiah?’ “Come and see” (John 1:46). Just “come and see.” And before Nathaniel’s first conversation ended with Christ He declared: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
See, if you’ll make the offer Christ will take over and finish the task!
He can answer the skeptic.
He can meet the expectations of the cynical.
He can deliver those bound by addictions.
He can heal hurting hearts.
He can calm troubled minds.
Psalm 145:9 says, “The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” And Jesus said in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus knows how to satisfy!