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Order Of Worship (Liturgy)Liturgy from the 1984 Book of Praise
Read: Luke 10
Text: Luke 10:28
Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most well known parables of our Lord Jesus.
It is also perhaps one of the least understood.
There are many who read this parable and conclude that the way to go to heaven is by being a good person, by imitating the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan was “good” whereas the priest and the Levite were not, and so the Samaritan would inherit eternal life, while the priest and Levite would end up in hell. And therefore the message for us is that the way to inherit eternal life is to be a Good Samaritan, a good person, one who helps those who are in need. And in that way you will go to heaven.
But is that the message our Lord wanted to leave us with when He told the parable of the so-called Good Samaritan? Is it true that we will live because we fulfil the law of love? Is a Christian defined by what he does, or is he defined by who he is?
In the book of Acts, chapter 16:30, the Philippian Jailer asked Paul and Silas saying,
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
To which they answered,
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)
But when the lawyer asked Jesus in Luke 10:25, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” the Lord Jesus Christ did not point to Himself, but to the law! And when the lawyer explained what the law taught, Christ said in verse 28,
“You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”
But how then should we understand what Christ is saying here, and what is the meaning of the parable of the Good Samaritan? What is the way to inherit eternal life? Through faith in Christ or through obedience to the law?
We need to look at this very carefully. The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most well known parables in the Bible. But it is also perhaps one of the least understood. And the reason why it is poorly understood is because it is read and even misread out of the context in which our Lord gave this parable. Today, therefore, we will direct our attention not to the actual parable of the Good Samaritan, but to the first question of the lawyer, of what must I do to inherit eternal life?” and the response of our Lord to the lawyer’s own answer. And from that we will draw some conclusions on what must be done to inherit eternal life.
I preach to you the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as we have read it in Luke 10 under the following theme:
Christ teaches a lawyer that the law of love shows the way to life.
1. The truth of Christ’s words.
2. The intent of Christ’s words.
1. The truth of Christ’s words.
The question of the lawyer, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” is not an unusual one. In fact our Lord was asked the same question by a ruler in Luke 18:18 and similar questions were asked in Matthew 22 and Mark 12. But sometimes the reason why a question is asked is as important as the question itself. And that is the case in Luke 10:25. When the lawyer asked “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” he was not searching for the truth. He was not asking this question out of a sincere desire to learn how to be saved: He had his mind made up on how he thought one could inherit eternal life. Rather, he asked this question in order to put Jesus to the test, to catch Him out. This question was part of a foolish attempt of this lawyer to prove to the crowds that while he could be trusted to show the way to eternal life, our Lord Jesus could not.
Now it is important for us to know what sort of a person this lawyer was. As a lawyer he was recognized as an expert in the law of God. He was an official interpreter of the law. He would have known the five books of Moses, Genesis through to Deuteronomy, off by heart. He would have had an excellent knowledge of the other books of the Bible. He would have studied the teachings of many learned men. He would have known the multiple laws and regulations that the other lawyers and religious leaders had heaped up. And he used this knowledge to teach the people how they were to obey the law. It was his task not to ask questions but to answer them, to interpret the law for every part of daily life. They taught that a person was saved because of what he did, and there was no end to the list of laws they expected people to obey. And it was lawyers such as this whom Christ condemned in Luke 11:46 saying,
“Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”
And verse 52 of Luke 11,
“Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering you hindered.”
It was this kind of lawyer who had come to test Jesus with the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” A man who had all the answers, who was filled with pride and conceit and who burdened the people with a yoke so heavy he would not even lift it himself.
These lawyers did not like Jesus. They did not agree with his teachings of grace nor of his love for sinners. They thought He was weak on the law and that He would not uphold the teachings of Moses. But they had it wrong: our Lord had not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it. He did not come to say that obedience to the law did not matter: He came to say that it matters very much! It was not the lawyer but Jesus who had a high view of the law of God!
And so Jesus responded to the question of the lawyer with another question,
“What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” (Luke 10:26)
To which the lawyer rightly answered in verse 27,
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and your neighbour as yourself.”
And then Jesus turned to him and said,
“You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:28)
Love the LORD your God and love your neighbour as yourself and you will have eternal life. And if the lawyer had not asked a follow up question of who was his neighbour, a question to further justify himself in his conceited belief that he could indeed “do this and live”, then this would have been the end of the conversation!
And on the one hand that leave us uncomfortable for we know that no man is justified by works of the law. But on the other hand, what Jesus said was true, and it was an appropriate response to the lawyer’s question. For if the lawyer did keep the law perfectly, he would live. And the sad thing is that the lawyer thought he could in fact do that. For all his knowledge, the lawyer did not understand the way to eternal life. In Luke 10:21 our Lord Jesus had prayed,
“I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes.”
And here was a lawyer, wise, even conceited in his own eyes, but who did not understand the way to eternal life. Nor did he understand himself and the sinfulness of his own heart.
But there was something else also that the lawyer failed to understand, and that was the meaning of the law that he knew so well. For God did not give the law to His people as the way to inherit eternal life. It is not the way to salvation, but the way one must live having been saved. Our Heidelberg Catechism has it right when the law is quoted in Lord’s Day 2, teaching that from the law comes our knowledge of sin, then explaining that we are saved apart from the law, in Christ alone, but then returning to the law in the third part, explaining that having been saved we will want to follow God’s law as the new way of life! And that was the same in the Old Testament as in the New. This is clear when we read the law to love the LORD our God in its original context.
The command to love the LORD your God with all your heart , with all your soul and with all your strength comes from Deuteronomy 6:5. These words were spoken by Moses at the time that they were to enter the Promised Land. At that time, Moses called the people together and reminded them that the LORD had delivered them out of Egypt and had made His covenant with them. And then he taught them how they were to live in the presence of the God who had redeemed them. In Deuteronomy 4:1 Moses said,
“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you.”
Then in verse 6 of Deuteronomy 4, the people of Israel were commanded to be careful to observe God’s laws, for through them they would enjoy wisdom and understanding. Then in Deuteronomy 4 Moses went on to say again that the LORD had redeemed His people from Egypt, had made them His special people and so they were to take heed to themselves and walk in the ways of the LORD. And in chapter 5 he explained what it meant to walk in the ways of the Lord by repeating the 10 Commandments as the LORD gave them on Mount Sinai. And then in the context of their deliverance from Egypt and living before the face of God, seeking to obey the law of the LORD he said in chapter 6:4,5 -
“Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
This was what the people of Israel were to remember from generation to generation and so live as God’s people in the land of Promise.
So then, obedience to the law was not the way to earn God’s favour, but it was the way to live having received God’s favour.
You see, being a Christian, being a child of God, is not what you do but who you are. And then who you are will determine what you do. And this was something that was hidden from the understanding of the lawyer. He believed that you are saved by keeping the law. And that is why, wanting to justify himself, he asked who his neighbour was, in order to limit the command to love God and his neighbour and so that he could prove that he was worthy – not to inherit but – to earn eternal life.
When Jesus answered and said to the lawyer, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live” it was true. Living in the law of love is not an option for the believer, but is a mark of the true Christian. We can not do it, and so we constantly appeal to the blood and righteousness of Christ, but in Christ and through the Holy Spirit we do seek to love God and our neighbour in every way. (Article 29, Belgic Confession.)
But the words of our Lord Jesus Christ were also intended to break through the lawyer’s pride and feelings of self worth. For when Christ told him, “Do this and you will live”, He was giving the lawyer a command that he could never keep. And it would only be once the lawyer understood his inability to keep the law that he would be ready to receive a Saviour who would keep it for him.
2. The intent of Christ’s words.
When our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Do this and you will live” the lawyer would have been surprised for it appeared as though Jesus was agreeing with him! This was not what the lawyer had expected and, if he had no follow-up question it would have taken the wind out of his sails.
Except it should have done something else as well.
“Do this and you will live.” But who can “do this?” Who can truly love the LORD with all his heart, soul, strength and mind? Who is it who can fully love his neighbour as himself? Jesus said to the lawyer, a man who thought he had no need of a Saviour, “Go ahead. Do this and you will live.” But it was an impossible challenge, and Jesus knew it was an impossible challenge. For if we could be saved by keeping the law, there was no point in Him coming down to this earth! There was no point in Him walking to Jerusalem to die on a cross.
What the lawyer should have done is what we all must do when we see our lives in the mirror of God’s holy law. He – and we – should humble ourselves before God, beat our breast and say “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”
And if that lawyer had repented of his pride and then in humbleness asked Christ “What must I do to be saved?” he would have received another response. Matthew 11:28-30,
“Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
When our Lord said “Do this and you will live”, it was not His intention to teach us that we will be saved by loving God and our neighbour, by being good people, good Samaritans. Rather it is through knowing what God requires in His law that we become aware of our sin and seek our salvation outside of ourselves and in Jesus Christ alone. It is only when we are joined to Christ that we may be assured of eternal life. And then being joined to Him we will love God and our neighbour – not to be saved but because we are saved.
And therefore we do not rejoice in what we do, nor do we draw attention to the good works we might do. But rejoice in the fact that we belong to Jesus Christ. And this is the consistent message of the gospel, also in Luke chapter 10.
In Luke chapter 9:51 it says,
“Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.”
He was on His way to Jerusalem to seek and to save that which was lost. He was on His way to Jerusalem to fulfil the just demands of the law so that we might have life in His name.
Now as He was going to Jerusalem, He sent out 70 others who went out two by two into every city and place to prepare the way before Him. He commanded them to preach and to perform miracles and to heal the sick. And the 70 disciples were excited at the things they were doing. They returned to Jesus and they said in Luke 10:17,
“Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.”
But Jesus said in verse 20,
“Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
Do not rejoice in what you do or the power you have received, but rejoice in this: that your names are written in heaven. You see, ultimately it is not what you do that counts, but who you are. Rejoice in the fact that you are redeemed in Christ and then go and live your new life in Him.
And that is how we too should live our lives. This does not come naturally to us. We live in a culture that is obsessed with performance and we accept people and feel accepted on the basis of what we do. And we have this feeling of guilt because there is always more that we can do. And that in turn might make us try harder to be a good Christian, even a good Samaritan. Oh, we might grumble about the things that are expected of us and how the people we help don’t seem to appreciate it enough, we might grumble that others are not carrying their share of the burden, and we might sigh at how hard it is to keep up with all our commitments, but then we try to work our way out of guilt by doing more. And then we begin to define ourselves and our position in Christ not by who we are in Him but by what we do. And so we bustle through life like busy little Marthas, doing this and doing that, trying to lift a yoke that is anything but easy and a burden that is anything but light.
But that is not the intent of the words of Christ. Immediately after giving the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke goes on to write about what happened when Jesus entered the house of Mary and Martha. When He entered the house, Martha bustled about, being distracted by much serving – welcoming people, keeping the place tidy, preparing the meal. And as Martha was doing that, she observed her sister Mary, sitting down at Jesus’ feet. And Martha’s anger grew until she had to say something. And she approached Jesus and said,
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:40)
But Jesus does not do that. He did not say to Mary, “Come on, lady. The way to eternal life is by being a Good Samaritan, but doing things for others, by doing good works. Hurry up now and prepare the food, lest you miss out on the Great Banquet that is to come!” He did not say that! Instead He said,
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41,42)
Why didn’t Jesus tell Mary to help Martha? Because Mary was enraptured by the teaching and the presence of Jesus. Her name was written in heaven not because of what she was doing but because she was joined to Jesus Christ.
And that is the point. It is not what we do, but who we are! It is our position in Christ that saves us. We were chosen by God. We were known by Him. We were saved by Him. We are secure in Him. We live in and through the love of God in Jesus Christ.
Rejoice not because of what you do but because your names are written in heaven. That is the point. And now that you are saved in Christ, you are free to live in Him. Now that you are saved in Him you may go and do likewise. It is only when we are secure in Christ, that we can then go and live before Him, loving the LORD God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength and with all our mind, and loving our neighbour as ourselves. Amen.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2011, Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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