Summary: This message compares the simple beauty of grace with the futile attempt to "behave" our way to perfection.



TEXT: Mark 10:17 - 22

SCRIPTURE READING: Mark 10:17 - 22


Little Jack Horner

Sat in a corner,

Eating a Christmas pie;

He put in his thumb,

And pulled out a plum,

And said,

What a good boy am I!

You might wonder why I’m starting a sermon with a nursery rhyme. Well, depending on how you look at it, it could be kind of a “theological” nursery rhyme. In fact, it’s a kind of theology that’s being practiced in a lot of churches by a lot of people. It’s what I’m calling “Amazing Grace + ‘What a good boy am I.’”

A lot of Christians start out understanding that they are sinners, saved by grace. But as time goes by, and they start making progress in their Christian lives, they start thinking less about God’s grace and more about: “What a good boy am I!” Looking back on my own Christian life, I have to admit there have been times when I’ve had a mild case of the Little Jack Horner syndrome myself.

As a young 20-something graduate of Bible College I had a tendency to think that God must surely be lucky to have me as one of his servants. After all, I was talented and capable and had several churches looking me over for youth ministry positions. I had not yet lived through hard times or had to deal with difficult people or faced moral dilemmas so, as an untested young buck I saw myself in the best possible light. It took years of living, and a few failures in various arenas to realize that I wasn’t the prize I originally thought I was.

When I studied the book of Psalms I remembered noticing a difference between David’s early psalms written in his younger days when he seemed to have a very high opinion of himself (Psalm 17:1,

“Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea; listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer – it does not rise from deceitful lips.”) and his later psalms, written after his sin with Bathsheeba, when he begged for God’s mercy and had a decidedly different opinion of himself (Psalm 32:5, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.”)

The Bible shows us another young man who had the Little Jack Horner syndrome. Mark 10:17 – 22

When the rich young ruler appeared before Jesus with the question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus reminded him of the 10 commandments. At that moment, beaming with pride he said, “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.” I don’t think he was conceited; just convinced. I believe that he probably was a good boy. Chances are that he was a first-born, more compliant child who tended to do what ever he was told. No doubt, his mother was probably proud of him.

The rich young man came to Jesus saying What a good boy am I! He wanted to hear Jesus confirm, Indeed, what a good boy are you! Instead Jesus did him a big favor. He showed the young man his area of weakness and potential for sin. The boy must have come from a wealthy family, and unfortunately, not only did he have great wealth, his great wealth seemed to have a hold on him. In advising the rich Jewish Gen-X-er to give away his wealth to the poor he showed the young man that he stood desperately in need of God’s Amazing GRACE.

And that’s where all of us stand today. We are all in need of God’s amazing grace. When David White was here he often quoted from Brennan Manning’s book, Ragamuffin Gospel. I bought it at the Half Price book store a while back (for $4.98), but it sat in my briefcase for months. Finally I started reading it two weeks ago and finished it this week. Manning’s book had such an impact on me that it inspired me to preach on grace.

It occurs to me that the What a good boy am I kind of thinking causes us to fall into dangerous traps.

1. We waste our time trying to look “good” to others.

Manning wrote in his book, “Put bluntly; the American Church today accepts grace in theory but denies it in practice… Though lip service is paid to the gospel of grace, many Christians live as if only personal discipline and self-denial will mold the perfect me. The emphasis is on what I do rather than what God is doing. In this curious process God is the benign old spectator in the bleachers who cheers when I show up for morning quiet time…. Sooner or later we are confronted with the painful truth of our inadequacy and insufficiency… We discover our inability to add even a single inch to our spiritual stature.”

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