Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 11, 2018
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.”
— Luke 10:25-37, ESV
Few sayings of Jesus are more familiar than these two commandments and this one parable. Not many are as misunderstood or misapplied, either. For the two commandments are really one, and the one story is really two.
The Great Commandments are One
Jesus has now slipped beyond the border of Galilee and wandered into Judea for the last time. His popularity has waned, the religious rulers have sharpened their knives, and the Roman government will soon acquiesce to these hypocrites’ hateful desire to have Jesus killed.
As He ventures near Bethany and onward to Jerusalem, a “lawyer” (a term the only Gentile author of Scripture sometimes prefers over “scribe”) approaches Jesus with a trick question. It is a good question on the surface, but the context reveals the insincerity of the religious leader who only wanted to trap Jesus and “justify himself.”
Make no mistake, the gospel is at stake. Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom of God, calling on all people to enter in by grace and mercy through repentance and faith in Him. The lawyers or scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees, and other religious leaders of the day held on to the doctrine of salvation by works, through keeping of the Jewish law, and membership in the superior Jewish race. Jesus offered Himself as the promised Messiah, Son of David and Son of God. The religious establishment had branded Him a fraud and heretical leader of some new religion. Christ’s answer to their question was crucial.
A Pharisee named Nicodemus had approached Jesus at the beginning of His ministry with a similar question. Jesus offered a new concept of the new birth, which mystified the Pharisee and the rest of the establishment. This lawyer wanted a similar answer here, something new and mysterious, so that he could turn it and twist it and use it to tear Jesus down. Instead of something new, Jesus gave them something old, great commandments found seven times in the Old Testament (ref. Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 6:5, 10:12,11:13, 13:3, 30:6; Joshua 22:5) which would echo nine times in the New Testament (ref. Matthew 19:19, 22:37, 22:39; Mark 12:30, 12:31-33; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians5:14; James 2:8).
Jesus combined the two great commandments to give one answer on how to live forever: love. Love God, and love God in such a way that love overflows to other people, all people, all the time. Love God, absolutely and completely, and in doing so let God love other people through you. Love was God’s motivation in sending His one-of-a-kind Son to the cross, and love is our motivation for taking up our cross and following Him.
But where does such love come from? It is not gained from religious works. It is given by grace through faith. And faith is imputed by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. In this new birth, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (ref. Romans 5:5) and “faith work[s] through love” (ref. Galatians 5:6).
Salvation is a new birth of love gained through the gospel of Jesus Christ. A lost person has ultimate love for self. They can love others, if and when it makes them feel good to do so; and, they can love God, if such superficial love of God makes them look or feel better. But when a person becomes a Christian, they fall in love with God first and foremost, especially as He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. They love the people of God and strongly desire to worship with them, break bread with them, pray and study God’s word with them. They love people who are not saved and long for them to come to Christ. Indeed, the key to eternal life is the new birth of love, first for the Lord, then for other people, and then in a healthy and spiritual way for one’s own self. “Do this” one thing, Jesus said, not these things, “and you will live.” The one thing is love,
Jesus takes these two great commandments and points out the one power behind the gospel: love. The religious rats did not get it, of course, so they scurried away for the day to come back later with a new trap for Jesus. Before they got away, however, Jesus tells a parable about a single person packed with two important truths.
The Good Samaritan is Two
The Good Samaritan is one great character Jesus uses to teach two truths: one about the exclusive remedy of the gospel, and the other about the importance of evangelism. This is theology combined with practical theology, taught by the great Theos Himself, using the powerful tool of the parable.
On one hand, the Good Samaritan is God. You and I are in the story, too, and so is the religious establishment of Jesus’ day, or anyone in any day who preaches salvation by works of the law. We are the “man … going down” (Jerusalem is above seal level, Jericho is below). Satan and sin have robbed us of our lofty estate, stripped us of our spirit, and left us half dead and totally depraved, unable to save ourselves or cooperate in any way for our salvation. Religious laws and rituals, represented by a “Priest” and a “Levite,” cannot help. Only love, mercy, and costly grace can rescue us. The Good Samaritan, God in Christ, gives the saving remedy for our salvation and provides the means for our spiritual lives, all the way into eternity (remember the original question).
On the other hand, the Good Samaritan is you and me, or any witness for Christ. We cannot turn a blind eye to hurting people. We cannot allow the other eye to be closed by harmful prejudices. Yes, this is a racially tinged parable, given the animosity between Jews and non-Jews, especially half-Jews like Samaritans. Anti-semites have unduly harmed and killed Jewish people for centuries, but the Jews have their own history of racism. The character Jonah would rather have died than to see a foreign people saved. Mobs tried to kill Jesus in Nazareth, and Paul in Rome, for just mentioning an outreach to the Gentiles. Modern parallels abound in the American church from our inception as a nation through the civil rights movement. Racism robs any people and religion, especially Christians and Christianity, of its good and godly witness.
We must love God no matter what the cost and we must love people no matter what the color. We must see with colorblind eyes the need of lost people everywhere, and help by getting out the gospel. But how? By having “compassion,” a word meaning love in action, a word that describes God, and a word which should describe God’s people.
Many see this parable as promoting the so-called social gospel. Society is full of hurting, hungry, and helpless people who need the church to provide food, shelter, and clothing. To this I say, touché. This is why we have always worked on some level with food pantries, Habitat for Humanity, and clothes closets. But if you reach out with one hand with the social gospel, and withhold the other hand holding the saving gospel, the people you lift up will only fall into a deeper ditch.
The major purpose of all of the Lord’s parables is to make a graphic statement about the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. People are deceived by the world, the flesh, and the devil. People are dead in their trespasses and sins. People are made worse by religion without love, or love limited to one’s own religion and race. Only grace can help. Only faith can save. Only Christ can answer the question and give eternal life. Christians cannot turn away. We must reach out and invite our neighbors to Christ and Christ’s church. This is what the good Samaritan did. Now, “You go, and do likewise.”
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