What exactly is it that makes something “good”? Is there an objective standard that you can measure something against to declare it without any doubt to be ‘good’? What makes a movie good, for example? Is it ‘good’ because you enjoyed the story? Is it good because it made you cry or laugh? Those are very personal, subjective measurements. Perhaps the movie is ‘good’ because it had ‘good’ performances. But then we are right back to the question of what is it that makes the performances ‘good.’ Ultimately, it seems that it is always personal opinions that determine what is ‘good.’
At a more personal level, we might ask: What makes a ‘good’ father? Is a father ‘good’ if he watches the children now and then, plays with them, and provides for them financially? Is he still a ‘good’ father if he is not married to his children’s mother and lives apart from them? Is part of being a ‘good’ father that a man honors the commitment to the family blessed by God called marriage? Can that be declared to be an objective standard by which we can measure a father to be ‘good’? Is there ever any objective measurement to determine when something is ‘good’ or is it all purely subjective?
How about when Jesus calls something ‘good’? When Jesus says something is ‘good,’ He is not making a subjective statement or merely giving a personal opinion of whether or not He thinks something is nice or pleasant. When Jesus says ‘good’ He means something very objective and concrete. He is making a declaration that the thing is morally pure, free from defect, perfect for its intended purpose. It is objectively beneficial, salutary, pure, and right.
The problem of humankind - of you and me - is that we are not good. You are not good. And that is hard to hear and even harder to bear. It is the Law of God and the Law always accuses of our sin, which we do not like. And, not only do we not like it, but it flies in the face of the entire “self-esteem” industry that sells books and DVD’s, holds conferences and promotes pricey motivational speakers telling people exactly that they are inherently good, moral, pure, and upright. And the reason people are told this over and over again is so that they will come to believe it, because intrinsically, deep down, they know that it is a lie. People are willing to pay in order to be told that they are good. They so desperately want to hear the lie over the truth.
Because what you know is true about yourself is that what comes from you - from your heart - is not good. Your gossip is not good. Your hatred is not good. Your self-righteousness is not good. Your lust is not good. Your lying to your husband, your unfaithfulness to your wife, your disobedience toward your parents, your self-excused stealing from others, your rampant idolatry of things and leisure, your indifference to injustice, your greed, your despising Christ’s Sacrament and Word. None of this is ‘good,’ no matter how you dress it up in robes of your own righteousness.
Jesus declares, “I AM the Good Shepherd.” Jesus alone is morally pure, free from defect, perfect for the intended purpose for which His Father sent Him. And He says what that purpose is three times in the Gospel: “The Good Shepherd lays down His life... My life I lay down... I lay down My life.” There is the purpose of His coming in a nutshell: He Who is truly, absolutely Good came into this fallen world to lay down His life in the dust of sin and death for you who are not at all good. He lay it down, taking upon Himself all the badness that dwells in you - taking upon Himself all the badness and the sin of this bad and sinful world.
He Who is truly, absolutely Good came to rescue you from the ravening maws of the wolves of your enemies - you who rightly deserve to be chewed up by those monstrous jaws and teeth. That is why Jesus is the Shepherd Who is called ‘Good,’ and who is ‘good.’
He is no hireling who runs away in the face of your enemies: the wolves of sin, death and hell, who so gleefully would destroy you. No, this Good Shepherd stays and dies for His flock - for you. And not only does this ‘Good’ Shepherd lay down His life for you, willing giving His throat to the jaws of the wolves in your place, but He takes it up again, “I have power to take it again.” And taking it up again, He slays those wolves for you so that you need not fear what they can do to harm you anymore.
St. John wrote in the Epistle for this morning, “By this we know love, that He laid down HIs life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers...Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and truth...whenever our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our heart.” When your heart condemns you over your sin, over your lack of goodness, remember that Jesus is greater than what your heart tells you. He is greater than your guilt - He is greater than your sin - He is your Good Shepherd Who laid down His life and has taken it up for you. He makes you good, by giving to you of His goodness.
So little children, having been thus freed and forgiven - having thus had your enemies conquered - love not in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.