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TEXT: Luke 10:25-37
SUBJECT: Luke #42: You're the Neighbor
Don't you love to hear a good story? If you do, you ought to love the Lord Jesus Christ-for nobody ever told a story as well as He did.
The stories He told are called parables. Many Christians read them as though they were allegories in which every item in the story stands for something else. One of my heroes, St. Augustine, did this to the parable we've just read. To his way of thinking, the traveler is the sinner, the robbers are Satan and his angels, the priest and Levite are the Law and Prophets, the Samaritan is Christ, the inn is the Church, and the Samaritan's return is the Second Coming.
This is very ingenious and you've got to admire the man for spending that much time thinking about it, but what in the world does this have to do with the Parable of the Good Samaritan? The story wasn't told to answer the question: How does Jesus Christ save sinners? No, it was an answer to the man who-wanting to justify himself-asked, "Who is my neighbor?"
The story, then, is about loving your neighbor-or, toput a finer point on it: which neighbors you ought to love.
Before we get to the parable, though, let's look at the man and the questions that brought it on.
THE FIRST QUESTION
Today's story begins with a lawyer putting a question to the Lord Jesus Christ.
"Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
The motive behind his question is not a good one: he is not seeking the truth, but trying to catch the Lord in His words. The man was something like the reporters we see quizzing the President or other public men: the question is loaded; anything the Lord says is likely to get Him in trouble with somebody. That's what the Lawyer is looking for.
"He stood up and tested Him."
"Testing" Him in the sense of tempting Him. The Jerusalem Bible says he was trying to "disconcert" the Lord. But it isn't the Lord who will walk away confounded!
THE FIRST ANSWER
Instead of answering the question Himself, He turns to the man and wants to know what he thinks about it.
"What is written in the Law? What is your reading of it?"
The man doesn't expect the question, but being a fine scholar, he has a ready answer for it. There are over 300 laws in the Old Testament and he picks out the two that are most important. One is Deuteronomy 6:5; the other is Leviticus 19:18.
"You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind". "You shall love your neighbor as yourself".
If the man had said that to you, how would you have answered him? I suspect many of us would tell him he's wrong, that we are not saved by loving God or loving our neighbor. Justification is through faith alone!
The problem is: the Lord says the man is right!
"You have answered rightly. Do this and you will live".
How do we explain this? Are there two ways of salvation? Are some saved by faith alone and others by loving God and their neighbor? Or, is the Lord's agreement hypothetical, that is, If you did these things, you would be saved (but, of course, you don't, therefore, you're lost and can only be saved through faith). That seems a bit too subtle to me. A better answer-I think-is the one Robert Stein gives in his commentary.
"The way to eternal life is the same in both the OT and the NT. It is by grace through faith that works in love (Galatians 5:6). At times the word `faith' may need to be emphasized; at other times, `love'. The answer involves a faith consisting of love for God and one's neighbor, for it is inconceivable to love God apart from faith. Furthermore, a faith that does not produce love of one's neighbor is dead (James 2:17). It is no faith; it never was faith".
In other words, "faith" and "love" are just two ways of looking at the same thing. He who truly believes in God loves Him; he who truly loves God believes in Him; and whoever loves and believes in God also loves his neighbor. Logically, you can separate the two, but in the Christian's heart, the two are one.
If the man wants to be saved, he must love God and his neighbor. Theology will not save him; a life spent teaching the Word of God won't either. The lawyer must turn from loving himself to loving others. Until he does that, he will not "inherit eternal life". And neither will you or I. Salvation does not mean perfect love-for only the Lord Jesus has that-but it does mean love--real love for your God and for your neighbor.
Even though it was his own answer, the lawyer feels uneasy about it. No one can say he doesn't love God, but some may think he's not so crazy about his neighbors. So, wanting to justify himself, he inquires, "And who is my neighbor?"
Most Jews thought their neighbor was another Jew and that Gentiles had no claim on their love. But the party of the Pharisees (to whom the lawyer was probably a member) defined "neighbor" more narrowly than that. They said their neighbor was a God-fearing Jew (which they further defined as one who agreed with them on every point of doctrine and practice).
If this is what the Lord meant by neighbor then the Lawyer was a just man. If He meant it in the wider sense, the Lawyer would reply, "Well, that's your opinion, but many great rabbis are on my side". Either way-he thought-he would come out looking good.
But-boy oh boy-was he wrong. Instead of giving a technical and disputed meaning to neighbor, the Lord told a story.
There once was a man traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho. On the way there, he was ambushed by some robbers who stole his money, tore off his clothes, and nearly beat him to death.
As he lay on the roadside, a Priest walked by without even turning his head. A bit later, a Levite came by and felt some concern for him, it seems, but not enough to do anything about it. Finally, a Samaritan rode up, and felt pity for the poor man. He treated the wounds, put him on his donkey, and carried him to a nearby hotel. He gave the innkeeper some money and told him to take care of the wounded man. If the care cost more than he would make up the difference the next time he came by.
The story must have been very offensive to the lawyer, for it's good guy was from a race every self-respecting Jew hated-the Samaritans!
But he has no idea how much more insulting the conversation is about to become.
The Lord has a question for the lawyer, "So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among thieves?"
That's an easy one, "He who showed mercy on him".
Right! And now-the Lord says- "Go and do likewise".
In other words, stop worrying about who your neighbor is because you're the neighbor!
As long as you believe that some people are your neighbors-and others are not-you're going to limit your love to a select few. If you're nice and friendly, you'll love a lot of people; if you're withdrawn like I am, then the number will be far smaller. But, in either case, your obligation to care for other people is limited. Before long, this love will become no better than what the Publicans felt for each other--
"If you love only those who love you. and if you greet only those who greet you, what do you do more than others- do not even the publicans do as much?"
We don't know if the Lord's story was made up or was based on true events. It doesn't really matter. But what does matter is that there are Good Samaritans in the world-and the word I emphasize is Samaritan. The Samaritans were not God's people, but some of then were very kind to people in need.
The same is true today. Let me tell you of some Good Samaritans I've met:
Thirteen years ago, my wife and I broke down on the road. Several people drove by and one man looked at us, came our way-and then changed his mind. Eventually, only one man helped us-and he was drunk!
Two or three years ago, my battery went dead in the parking lot of a restaurant where I ate breakfast. I told the manager about it and asked him not to have it towed because I'd be back in a couple of hours for it. He offered me the keys to his car-and he is Muslim.
The most thoughtful and generous people in my wife's family are very devout--Mormons.
The kindest man in my family (except for my dad) is pretty much nothing.
Think over the list: a non-religious man, a Mormon, a Muslim, and a drunk man care about strangers and help them when they need it-and in ways that make me feel ashamed of myself!
Should the followers of Christ be less kind than unbelievers? I know, I know, that many unbelievers have a "salvation by works" mindset and that much of what they do is an attempt to earn their way to heaven. But what does the law do more for them than grace does for us? Shouldn't people who know they're going to heaven be more generous than people are trying to work their way there? Shouldn't salvation by grace make us gracious?
I'm afraid that we're more like the lawyer than we'd like to admit. The lawyer knew his Bible-but knowing it did him no good. It is not
"Hearers of the law who are just before God, but doers of the law will be justified".
When it comes to loving others, the Bible could not be plainer. It tells us to "Love the brethren, love your neighbor, and to love your enemies". That pretty well covers it. Everyone is to be included in your love.
"As much as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially those who are of the household of faith".
To love others does not mean to approve of what they are or to agree with everything they do. But it does mean to be kind to them. You can't do everything, but you can do something. Take the homeless, for example: if you gave a quarter to every homeless person you saw, you'd be broke by the end of the day-and probably not do them any good either. But is that all you have for them? Something as little as making eye contact with them or saying, "hello" can mean a lot to people whom others mostly avoid.
To be a Good Samaritan is not easy, but it is right. It's easier to be a priest or a Levite. But on the Day of Judgment, who would you rather be? You've got to think that way-long term.
To help you to be like this good man, let me offer you two pieces of advice. They're obvious and you know them as well as I do. But do you do them-or do you just know them?
Put yourself in the place of people who need help. If that were you, what would you want others to do? Ignore you, feel something, but do nothing about it? Call for political reform? Or would you like them to help you? The Golden Rule applies here.
Mediate long and hard on the Lord Jesus Christ. The Good Samaritan was only "good". The Lord is better. Learn His ways. And follow them.
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