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There is no doubt about the goodness of Jesus. He Himself declared:

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

What could have then prompted Jesus to make that statement to the rich young ruler?

Christ was used to this pattern of address – “Master”, “Good Master”, “Rabbi”, “Teacher”, “Lord”, etc. Some were genuine and meant what they said, but others used it as a cloak to cover their evil plans.

Jesus told His apostles during the Lord’s Supper:

Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. (John 13:13)

On a different occasion He told His disciples and the vast multitude:

But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ… Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. (Matthew 23:8-10)

Jesus was indeed the “Good Master.” There were some who came to Him genuinely addressing Him as He should be. For example, Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, saluted Jesus as “Rabbi.” He said:

Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. (John 3:2)

Jesus saw his sincerity and had a blessed dialogue with this senior secret disciple.

On another occasion, some Pharisees came to entangle Jesus in His talk:

Then went out the Pharisee, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. (Matthew 22:15)

Listen to their conversation, and see how they addressed Jesus:

Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us, therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? (Matthew 22:16, 17)

They addressed Him as “Master”; and they were trying to “entangle” their Master! They could not fool Jesus with their flowery words. He saw thorns and not flowers. Christ was cutting straight:

But Jesus perceived their wickedness and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? (Matthew 22:18)

He called the ones who called Him “Master,” as “hypocrites,” because they did not mean what they said. Elsewhere, the good Lord said:

And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? (Luke 6:46)

That is exactly why Christ told the rich young ruler.

Why callest thou me good? (Matthew 19:17)

This young man came to Christ with a divided heart. He actually came not to learn what the truth was, and to practice it, but came expecting a pampering answer of approval of his self-righteousness. He said:

Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? (Matthew 19:16)

And even if he came with good intentions, it is obvious that he came not with an open mind. The Good Master told him the truth, and he did not take the good advice. It was bitter to his selfish soul. Matthew writes:

When the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful. (Matthew 19:22)

He became sorrowful, not because he did not get good advice, but because he realized that his wretched and selfish heart was not willing to surrender and do good to his poor fellow-humans.

In the Old Testament, God instructed people to bring sacrifices for sins and observe certain solemn feasts that were the shadows of the Cross (See Leviticus 23). But when they lost focus on the truth and were behaving hypocritically, God said:

When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? … Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. (Isaiah 1:12, 14)

Though God gave them these ordinances, God told them to stop it because they did not truly believe and want to understand what it meant. So also Jesus told the rich young man, and still tells all who do not mean what they say, not to call Him “Good Master,” if they are not willing to do the good things He teaches through His Word. For it is written:

Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. (Exodus 20:7)