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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:Our compassionate God commands His children to be compassionate neighbours
Text:Luke 10:37 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Neighbours
 
Preached:2012-03-04
Added:2012-03-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

All songs taken from the 1984 Book of Praise.

Psalm 103:1,2

Psalm 25:3

Psalm 146:1,3,4,5

Psalm 118:8

Psalm 103:4,5

 

Read:  Luke 10:25-37

Text:  Luke 10:37

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

There are two things that are good to remember when a lawyer asks a question.  In the first place, he will never ask a question in court that he does not know the answer to, and secondly, there will always be a reason for the question that he asks.

The lawyer who came to our Lord Jesus in Luke 10 was not the same as a practising lawyer today.  He was an expert not in secular law but in the law of God.  He knew the Old Testament very well, along with the multiple laws and regulations that had been heaped up by the Jewish leaders over the years and his job was to interpret the law for every part of daily life.  But when he asked a question of Jesus, he had a reason for asking it, and he thought he had the answer all figured out.

His reason for coming to Jesus with a question was because he saw our Lord as a threat.  The way that Jesus lived, what He did and His message of salvation went directly against the burdensome, legalistic demands of the Scribes, the Pharisees and the lawyers.  And so the lawyer decided to use what he thought was his superior knowledge and his greater commitment to the law in order to test Jesus, to trap Him.

And so the lawyer went up to Jesus and asked Him, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  But Jesus knew the hearts of all men, he knew exactly what the lawyer was trying to do, and so He responded with a question in return.

“What is written in your law?  What is your reading of it?”

And when the lawyer responded with those well known words,

“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”,

Then Jesus responded by saying to the lawyer,

You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”

But the lawyer was not yet satisfied.  In an effort to justify himself, he decided to test Jesus with a follow-up question.

“And who is my neighbour?”

But the reply was not what the lawyer had expected.  For in His reply our Lord turned the question on its head, focusing not on the question of “Who is my neighbour?” in the first place, but by teaching what it means to be a neighbour.  And so I preach to you the message of our Lord in the parable of the Good Samaritan under the following theme:

Our compassionate God commands His children to be compassionate neighbours.

1.    The reason for compassion.

2.    The practice of compassion.

1. The reason for compassion.

Who is your neighbour?  Who did God have in mind when He commanded us to love our neighbour as ourselves?  Should we say that everybody is our neighbour, or may we limit the size of our neighbourhood?  After all, it is impossible to love everybody, isn’t it?  Even when we are as wealthy as we are today, we still can not do everything.  And more to the point, should we be doing everything?  Should we perhaps see our neighbour in a more limited sense, as a fellow member of our covenant community, of our church?  Or, if that is too restrictive, should we include other Christians from other churches, particularly those in other countries where there is great persecution and suffering?  Or alternatively, should we limit the definition of a neighbour to our family, our street, the community in which we live?  Or perhaps we can ask another question:  Who can we rule out, who can we conclude is not our neighbour?  The wicked, for example.  Is it right to call a terrible sinner our neighbour?  And what about a heretic, someone who does not believe the true gospel?  Are we to love all people as ourselves? 

These are not pointless questions.  The way in which we define the term “neighbour” can have a huge impact on what we do in the world, because if we go about loving those – and only those – who qualify to be our neighbours, whoever it is that falls outside of our definition of neighbour will no longer be our concern.

So who is your neighbour?

When the lawyer said “you shall love your neighbour as yourself” he was quoting from Leviticus 19:18 which says,

“You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself.  I am the LORD.”

From this Bible verse the conclusion of many was that the definition of a neighbour was restricted to a fellow member of the covenant community, a fellow Israelite since it speaks about “the children of your people”.  But others in the time of Christ reduced the meaning of “neighbour” even further.  Some said,

“You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.”  (See Matthew 5:43).

The Pharisees had another answer to the question of who is your neighour.  They said, “Love your neighbour, who is your fellow Pharisee.”  For the common people, they said, did not know the law and were therefore accursed.  (John 7:49)

And then there were others, such as the Qumran community who lived close to the Dead Sea, who separated themselves from all other people and only saw the fellow members of their immediate community as their neighbours.

The problem with our Lord Jesus, however, is that from the perspective of this lawyer, he would have had a rather loose definition of who was his neighbour.  It did not seem to matter who was His neighbour.  Men, women, tax collectors and sinners – He welcomed them all.  He was even known to speak to or to heal Samaritans on occasion!  And so by asking Jesus who is my neighbour, the lawyer would have been wanting to catch Him out for saying something wrong.

And at the same time, the lawyer was seeking to justify himself.  For when the lawyer asked what he should do to inherit eternal life he believed he could do it!  He believed that he could present himself as righteous before God by loving God and his neighbour.  And so in order to justify himself and show himself to be worthy to inherit eternal life, he wanted a definition that would limit the meaning of the word “neighbour” to such an extent that He would be seen as able to do it.  So that he would have a clear answer to the question of “what must I do to be saved?” 

But the lawyer had it all wrong, for he missed the whole point of the law.  Obedience to the commandments of God, loving God and your neighbour, is not the way to earn God’s favour, but it is the way to live having received God’s favour.  It is only because of the grace and compassion of God, which He poured out to us in Jesus Christ that we may inherit eternal life.  But then because we have received mercy in Christ, we are called to live out of that mercy, loving God and loving our neighbour.

And so to teach the lawyer this, our Lord told him a parable.

“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.”  (Luke 10:30)

That is the setting of the parable that our Lord told.  Now the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was one that would have been well known.  The distance between the two cities is about 30 km, but because Jerusalem is about 1000 metres above sea level while Jericho is 400 meters below, the road is steep and winding.  The Jericho road goes through a rugged and rocky mountain pass and it was a road that could be quite dangerous not just because of the physical terrain but also because of the thieves who would prey on unsuspecting travellers.  And in the story our Lord Jesus told, that is what happened.  A man was travelling alone when thieves attacked him, stripped him of his clothes and everything that was valuable, beat him up and left him for dead on the side of the road.

And when that man was lying there naked and half dead, there was no way to tell who he was or where he came from.  And that is important for the story.  The lawyer was asking “who is my neighbour?”  but now we are presented with a man whom the lawyer could not know if he fell under his definition of neighbour or not!  In those days you could normally know who a man was by his physical appearance, the clothes he wore and the language he spoke.  But this man was stripped, beaten up and left for dead.  And so we don’t have  a clue as to who he was.  The only thing we know is where he was: on the road from Jerusalem and going down to Jericho.  He might have been a merchant or a tax collector, but it is just as likely that he was a devout Israelite returning from worshipping in Jerusalem, or even a religious leader.  But there he was, an unidentified man lying on the side of the road, in need of help.  And so what does the God who commanded us to love your neighbour as yourself teach us to do in such a situation? 

Now as the man lay there on the side of the road, the first person who “by chance” came by was a priest.   This was a man who by many was seen to be morally upright, a leader of holiness among God’s people.  Since he was going down the road, he had just come from Jerusalem where he had no doubt worshipped at the Temple, reciting the law and offering sacrifices to God.  But there was no help coming from him.  To the contrary, the Lord said

“. . . And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side!”

The priest did see him, but he did not want to get close, he did not want to get involved.  He did not even check to see if there was any way to discover who this poor man might have been.  He passed by on the other side of the road.

And then along came a Levite, another man of God.  But when he arrived at the place where the poor man was lying, he came . . . and he looked . . . and also passed by on the other side.

What was going on here?  Why didn’t the priest or the Levite give a helping hand?  Why didn’t they at least turn, walk over to him to try to find out who he was and see what could be done?  Perhaps they had their reasons for not doing anything.  Perhaps they had their excuses. 

·      “I didn’t learn First Aid: I wouldn’t know what to do.”

·      “I fainted once, at the site of blood.”

·       “If I touch him, I might make myself ritually unclean – and that would be a great inconvenience for a man of my position and my importance.”

·      Once I get involved, this is going to take too much of my time and I need to get home in order to prepare for my next big meeting at the Synagogue.

·      “If I stop and help this man, that band of robbers might still be around and they could get me too.”

·      “I think he’s dead anyway.  Yes, that’s it, he must be dead anyway.”

·      “This is not right!  What is the world coming to?  There should be people to help men like this.  When I get home I have a good mind to write a letter to the Roman governor asking him to clean out the den of thieves who live here and have more soldiers patrolling this road so that it is safer for law abiding citizens such as myself to travel along it.”

·      “It is getting late.  I really must get home in time for dinner.  But boy, do I have a story to tell when I get home!  It could have been me lying there on the side of the road!  Could you imagine?”

But whatever their excuse, the point is that neither the priest nor the Levite did anything.  They passed by on the other side.

And then comes a Samaritan.  “Half-breed heretics” some people called them.  To get close to them was as bad as eating pig meat, others said.  “They should be pushed into the ditch and not pulled out” the Rabbis taught.  The animosity between Jews and Samaritans had gone on for 500 years and it was ugly.  As far as the Jews were concerned the only good Samaritan was a dead one.

But now the Samaritan came to the place where the man lay, stripped of his clothing, wounded, and left for dead.  And listen to what it says about the Samaritan in verse 33 –

“And when he saw him, he had  compassion.”

Compassion!  The Samaritan was in hostile territory and of the three men who passed that stranger by, the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan, he was the one who arguably had no legal obligation to stop and to help!  But he did stop and help, not because it was his “duty of care” but out of compassion.

Compassion!  The Greek word for compassion is related to the word for one’s intestines, his inner feelings of pity and mercy.  Compassion! A love that comes from the heart.

Compassion!  That is what motivates us to love our neighbour as ourselves.

But such compassion, or mercy as the lawyer called it in verse 37, such compassion does not come from a heart that is self-seeking, self-righteous, arrogant and proud.  Compassion is not a mark of a person who is trying to earn his own way into heaven.  Compassion was not the character trait of the average priest, Pharisee or lawyer in the time of Christ. 

But the word “compassion” did describe our Lord Jesus Christ.  Listen to what these Bible verses have to say about Him:

Matthew 9:35,36 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people.  But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.

 

Matthew 14:14 And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.

 

Matthew 15:32 Now Jesus called His disciples to Himself and said, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat.

 

Matthew 20:30 And behold, two blind men sitting by the road, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!”  And verse 34,  So Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes. And immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him.

 

Luke 7:13 When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”

 

It was Jesus Christ who showed us what true mercy, true compassion is.  For He is the God of compassion.  But in and behind the compassion of the Son is the compassion of the Father.  This is how the Father is described Himself in Exodus 34:6,7

“The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, . . .”

 

And He is further described in Psalm 103:8-13.

 

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,

Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.

9 He will not always strive with us,

Nor will He keep His anger forever.

10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

Nor punished us according to our iniquities.

11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,

So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;

12 As far as the east is from the west,

So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father pities his children,

So the Lord pities (or as the NIV says, has compassion on) those who fear Him.

 

The Father’s compassion is also described in the parable of the Prodigal Son, in Luke 15:20 where it says,

 

“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.”

 

Indeed,

“. . . God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8)

 

That is the compassion, the love, the mercy that God has shown to us.  It is because of His tender mercies that our names are written in heaven, that we will inherit eternal life.

 

And that changes everything.  It is because God has poured out His love and compassion on us in Jesus Christ, that we will now lovingly and willingly pour out our compassion, our love upon our neighbour. 

 

2. The Practice of Compassion.

 

Our Lord Jesus went on to say not just who helped the man attacked by thieves, but also what he did.  Instead of passing by on the other side of the road, the Samaritan turned and went to him.  He bandaged his wounds, disinfecting and soothing them with oil and wine.  But that was not all.  He then took the man and placed him on his own animal (most likely a donkey) and then he walked with him to an inn.  And at the inn, the Samaritan stayed with the poor man all night and then in the morning he took out two denarii, enough money to enable the man to remain there for a  few days, gave it to the inn keeper and said to him,

 

“Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.”

 

And that is how love for the neighbour, compassion, is put into practice.  The man who had been attacked by thieves needed medical attention, food, clothes and a place to recuperate.  And the Samaritan did it all willingly, cheerfully and fully with no thought of personal gain.

 

And so the parable came to an end with another question of Jesus for the lawyer.  And take good note of what it says:

 

“So which of these three do you think was neighbour to him who fell among the thieves?”  (Luke 10:36)

 

Not “Who then is your neighbour?” but “which of these three was neighbour?”  You see, the lawyer had it all wrong.  The lawyer wanted to know who was his neighbour because he wanted to know who was qualified to deserve his love.  He wanted to know what the minimum amount was that he could do to the minimum number of people and so be justified as one who obeyed the law and earned his way to eternal life.  But the parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us that the lawyer had it all wrong.  It is not a question of who deserves our love.  It is not a question of when to help and when to walk on the other side of the road.  It is not even a question of who is our neighbour.

 

The practice of compassion is this:

 

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8)

 

And because of that, we will go and do likewise.  When we have experienced the compassion of God, our heart that was made of stone is turned into a heart of flesh.  When we have experienced the compassion of God our heart that was selfish is now selfless.  The mercy we have been shown fills us with the desire to show mercy to others.  For our compassionate God calls us to be compassionate neighbours. 

So who is your neighbour?  Who is the one to whom I should show my love?  Who am I obligated to help and who can I safely pass by on the other side of the road? 

Perhaps it is the wrong question.  Oh I know that our obligations to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ go deeper and further than our obligations towards our fellow man – there are many Bible passages that show this.  But when we ask the question “Who is my neighbour?” with the idea that some are and some are not, we tend to ask it to explain away why we should not love, why we need not help,  why it is ok to walk on the other side of the road.  In asking the question “who is my neighbour?” we might be asking it to justify our lack of compassion.  But in the parable of the Good Samaritan our Lord teaches us not to ask “who is my neighbour?” but “whose neighbour am I?”  How is the love of God in Christ flowing from my heart to those I meet along the way?  Do people, do all people, see the compassion of God at work in me? 

The parable of the Good Samaritan came to an end and Jesus then asked,

“So which of these three do you think was neighbour to him who fell among the thieves?”

And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” 

“He who showed mercy to him.”  Was it too hard for the lawyer to get the name “Samaritan” out of his mouth?  Perhaps, but whatever the case, the lawyer’s answer was right.  And so he was told not who his neighbour was, but to “Go and do likewise”.

So to whom can you show love?  To whom can you “go and do likewise”?  Do not try to love your neighbour out of a sense of duty, as a burden, as a way to be seen as a good person, one worthy of eternal life.  But remember the love of God, the compassion He has shown to you in Christ.  Remember that when you were in a much worse state than that man on the side of the Jericho road, when you were dead in your sins and trespasses, enemies with God, that Christ showed His mercy to you.  And His compassion was not displayed with a few coins, nor did He heal you with wine and oil.  But it was with His stripes that you were healed and with His precious blood that you were redeemed.  And in Him you are changed.  In Him you have received a heart that is filled with grace, with love and compassion.  So go!  And as you are going,  love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind.  And love your neighbour as yourself.  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 2012, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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