July 14 2013 Sermon
ESV Luke 10:25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
As Jesus journeyed toward Jerusalem to die, his opposition became more and more intense. Now we have a lawyer coming out of the crowds to test him. First of all we must understand that by lawyer is meant an expert in Jewish law. He was an expert in the Torah and rabbinic law. He would have also been a Pharisee.
He was not asking questions in order to learn. He was testing Jesus, as it says, but in the sense of trying to entrap him and cause him to stumble on a legal technicality. It is the same Greek word used when Jesus said, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Mat 4:7).
His question: What must I do to inherit eternal life? According to rabbinic tradition, eternal life is earned by keeping the law. So his question was really, “What laws must I obey to go to heaven?”
We also note the use of the word “inherit” eternal life. Inheritance is a major motif in the Scriptures. We inherit the kingdom of heaven because we are heirs of our heavenly Father. To be an heir implies that we are God’s children. To inherit something also implies something that will take place in the future. Although we are an heir, we do not actually receive our inheritance until someone dies. This gives us a sense of now, but not yet. We have been named the heirs of God’s blessings and gifts, but we actually receive them sometime in the future.
Jesus answers the man’s question by directing him to the Word of God, where we should all go to get the answers for life’s questions: What is written in the Law? You are an expert in the Torah, how do you read the it? He answers in verse 27 by quoting two verses, one from Deuteronomy, and the other from our reading in Leviticus today. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” To which Jesus responds: you have answered correctly, do this and you will live.
However, we notice that he added something that is not in Deuteronomy 6:5 He adds the phrase: “with all your mind.” Jesus did approve of his answer, so the point is not that he made a mistake. His answer was correct, but it gives us an additional understanding which is important for us today. Love God with all your mind, as well as with all your heart. That means, use your intellect to love God as well. It includes getting a good education, developing your mind, increasing your knowledge, but specifically teaches that we are to use our reason and intellect to love God by serving your neighbor. He isn’t just talking about of the value of an education, but specifically it says to train your mind in order to be able to serve others—enhancing their well-being, improving their business, strengthening their families, improve their health. Luther explains the Seventh Commandment: We should “fear and love God so that we may not take our neighbor’s money or property…but help him to improve and protect his property and business.” Luther says that loving your neighbor and serving him all begins with the first great commandment: to fear and love God, so that we may love our neighbor and do good unto him. Loving God is the source of our love for our neighbor. These are not two separate commandments, but are intimately tied to each other.
The two great commandments are love. Here was see the character of God is love. The law of God is all about God’s love, mercy, compassion. We inherit eternal life on account of God’s love.
However the lawyer-Pharisee understood these commands in the rabbinic fashion, not as God’s love and mercy, but as things we must do to earn eternal life. And according to rabbinic tradition, the command to love your neighbor was limited to just righteous people. It did not mean to love sinners, or gentiles, and especially not Samaritans. He was trying to justify himself by showing that he had loved the right kind of people, those he was supposed to love, so he asked: “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus illustrates his answer with a story about a man who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the road he fell into the hands of robbers who stripped him of his clothing, beat him, and took off, leaving him half-dead. The word “dead” is significant here, because death is a major motif in the scripture which speaks of our condition on account of sin and it points to Jesus’ death as our substitute. By using the word death, it also means that resurrection is indicated by his subsequent healing and recovery from his injuries.
Now as it happened, two righteous men passed by. These are the ones who according to rabbinic tradition, the lawyer-Pharisee was commanded to love. They were supposedly the neighbors we are to love as ourselves. One was a priest and the other a Levite. However, neither of them stopped to give aid to the man laying half dead along the road. Sometimes we who are religious and claim to be such great Christians are the worst behaved people. While we often go around pretending we are holier than others and boast of our righteousness, but often lack real love and compassion for sinners, the poor, the handicapped, the weak and the homeless.
Then a Samaritan happened to come down the same road. Jews and Samaritans were enemies. Jews despised them and would not even talk to them. According to the rabbinic interpretation of the law, the command to love your neighbor did not include Samaritans. He was not a neighbor. But this Samaritan, seeing his enemy lying half-dead on the road, felt compassion on him. The kind of compassion one feels in his gut. So he went over to the man and bound up his wounds and poured oil and wine on them. Then he took the man to the nearest inn and cared for him. Most of all, remember that this was his enemy he was helping, not a friend or someone he liked. Anyone can love a friend or relative. Even sinners and evil men do this. But Jesus tells us to love our enemy. That is one command none of us has obeyed. Moreover, this Samaritan took care of the bill. He paid all medical expenses, all hospital bills and even room and board.
Jesus then asks: Which of these three men turned out to be the true neighbor to the victim? According to rabbinic law the neighbor would have been the priest and Levite: Holy and righteous men. But Jesus turned it all upside down: The true neighbor was the Samaritan, the enemy, who had compassion and showed him mercy. Jesus also reversed things: the original question was “who is my neighbor to whom I must show mercy?” Jesus said, “The one who showed mercy became the true neighbor.” Our lawyer friend was by now completely befuddled. All his understanding had been turned on its head.
Jesus said: “Go, and do likewise.” This brings us full circle to the original question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer is this, “love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your enemy as yourself.” Go, do likewise, and you shall inherit eternal life.
But none of us has ever done this. No, not one of us. Not one of us has loved God with all our heart and mind and soul so that we can truly love our neighbor. We have disobeyed God. That’s the point of this parable. The good Samaritan accuses each and every one of us. It condemns us to death and eternal punishment. Jesus says twice in this text: “Do this and you shall live.”
But we haven’t. So we pray: Dear Lord, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have not loved you with all our heart, we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. Therefore we deserve both your temporal punishment here in this life and your eternal punishment. Lord, have mercy!
The Law of God, as a hammer, smashes us and kills us. With its “wages of sin is death” it leaves us beaten and broken and lying dead on the side of the road.
But then along comes our true neighbor, the Good Samaritan, Jesus Christ, who sees us sinners, his enemies, lying there, and he has compassion on us. Jesus Christ is the Good Samaritan. This story of the Good Samaritan is not about what we are to do, it’s not an example of how we should love others; it’s about what Jesus does for us. He loved and obeyed God with all his heart, and his neighbor as himself. He fulfilled the demands of the law for us so it can no longer accuse us of not having done what it requires. Its demands have been met. Then he lifts us up from the depths of hell and pours oil and wine on our wounds, which, by the way, is a reference to baptism and Communion, and by these means of grace gives us new life. And He himself pays all the expenses and bears the total cost of our salvation.
And what was the cost? He had to become the victim. He became the one who was beaten up and left at the side of the road to die. He took your place and was beaten and crushed with God’s law and put to death and suffered the punishment of hell to pay for your sins. That was the price he paid to deliver you from the domain of darkness and transfer you to the kingdom of God. Your sins have been paid for and are forgiven. Therefore, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, I announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Thus says the Lord, “No longer do as they do in Satan’s kingdom. I am the Lord your God, you shall not do as the other people do, but you shall walk in my statutes and laws, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself, because you have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness, and you have been transferred to the kingdom of my Son.”
You are new people in Christ; you are born again. The law has been fulfilled for you, so you no longer live by the demands of the law, rather you live by love, God’s love for you. Amen.