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Author:Pastor Ted Van Raalte
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 Canadian Reformed Church - CanRC
Preached At:Redeemer Canadian Reformed Church
 Winnipeg, Manitoba
Title:Be a Neighbour
Text:Luke 10:36-37 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 66:1,2.
LAW plus Summary of the Law from Mt. 22:37-40
Psalm 66:3,4.
Read: Lev. 19:9-18; Luke 10:25-37.
Psalm 12:1,2,3.
Text: Luke 10:36-37.
Psalm 37:9,11,12.
Psalm 12:4,5.
Psalm 66:5,6,7,8.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Ted Van Raalte, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ our Lord,

"Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Mt. 7:12). "Love your neighbour as yourself." These are the words of the Lord Jesus, and in both cases he said that they sum up the OT law and the prophets. He was not teaching anything new. Therefore the apostle John could write, "I am not writing you a new command but an old one" and that was to love one another (1Jo. 2:7).

I recall speaking to someone a while ago, a member of a Canadian Reformed Church. This person explained the situation of their family in a congregation on one side of the country. For a full eight months after arriving there, they never went home for lunch on a Sunday. And each time in those eight months they went to a different family for lunch. To some thirty-five homes, if you tally it up. They were totally astonished and very thankful. You can imagine how welcome they felt and you can imagine how easily they got to know this congregation and fit into it.

The same family then moved to another part of the country far away. Their new place was closer to where they grew up, but certainly not a congregation that they had ever been in before. After being there for two years, they could count on one hand how many times they had been invited for lunch, etc. And this was not a family to complain. It was not even said bitterly. But the count was three times, as far as they could remember.

Astonishing, isn't it! But how easily it can happen! How easily we count on someone else to invite them! And how likely it becomes then that a few families fulfil that role - not complaining - but just a few are counted on to do it while others stand idly by.

This is only a small example, but it underlines the command that comes personally to each and every one of us: Do to others as you would have them do to you. And, Love your neighbour as yourself. You do that. Not someone else do that. No, you! We will learn about this from the parable of the Good Samaritan today, applied to us as follows:

Let the neighbour be you, in order to fulfil the law of God:
1. Live as neighbour to all;
2. Many will your neighbours be.

1. Live As Neighbour To All:

The story Jesus told was in response to an expert in the law asking about inheriting eternal life. Jesus answered by returning the question to see how the man would answer it, and he rightly answered by summarizing the law just as we heard it summarized this morning. So Jesus simply answered that if he did that he would live. And I think the Lord wanted the man to realize and confess that he was unable of himself to fulfil this. But instead the man asked, "And who is my neighbour?" He had just quoted, "Love your neighbour as yourself," which we read today from Lev. 19:18. So he asked, "And who is my neighbour?"

The lawyer's question sets the stage for the parable Jesus presents and this question must be understood well. Why did he ask this? The text says, "To justify himself." The man wanted to declare himself righteous, to confirm that he was abiding by this command, for he wanted to start a detailed discussion with Jesus about who deserves to be loved. Who is my neighbour? means of course, which people do I have to love as myself?

Do I have to love a prostitute as myself? Do I have to love those common uneducated people as myself? Do I have to love those Samaritans as myself? This expert in the law wanted to start a nit-picky discussion about who could be called his neighbour. His question was a very typical question for a rabbi in those days. These are the same rabbis who had decided how many steps a person was allowed to step for a Sabbath day's journey. These are the same rabbis who had devised different values for their oaths. An oath by the hair of their head was hardly binding at all but an oath by the temple was quite binding. So you can imagine that they could have held a very lively discussion about who is my neighbour. Maybe you can imagine us having a pretty lively discussion about what you can and can't do on Sundays.

We can read in a Jewish apocryphal book that one must not help the sinner. One should not give to the ungodly. "Hold back his bread and do not give it to him." If you do a kindness, know to whom you are doing it. Do it for a godly man and you will be repaid (Sirach 12:1-7). In contrast to this Jesus had taught that you should not restrict your acts of kindness to those who can repay but specifically target those who cannot repay, for your reward will be from God. Invite them to your feast (Lk. 14:14). This expert in the law undoubtedly thought that a sinner was not his neighbour. And if so, it would be necessary to define just what was a sinner, and it is easy to imagine that every expert in the law would raise the bar a little higher. "I give a tenth of every single little spice I have, so I am not a sinner." But others . . . Well . . . My neighbour is then only those who measure up to the same standard of righteousness as I set for myself. They are worthy of my love.

In a very original and powerful way, the Lord Jesus evaded this kind of discussion. He answered the question of who is my neighbour by telling the parable of the man who was going away from Jerusalem, travelling northeastward toward Jericho.

This man had to take the 30 kilometre desert road. Jerusalem stands at an elevation of 2500 feet above sea level whereas Jericho is almost 1000 feet below sea level. So, over the 30 km., one travels downhill to the tune of 3500 feet. Within a kilometre of travelling east out of Jerusalem one encounters the desert and the rest of the way to Jericho is virtually all dry, rocky, and sandy. Along the way one travelled through the Judean Wilderness, an area where David and his band of 600 men used to hide in caves and rocks while Saul was looking for them. The road that was followed had many caves on either side as well as cliffs rising to the right and left. The mountainous territory determined the road's direction and location. It was a lonely road, dry, hot, and dusty.

Thus, it was an ideal location for bands of robbers to hide among the caves and behind the rocks. A lonely traveller was easy prey and so they jumped out at the man who was travelling. He was no match for them as they beat him and stripped him of anything that they could sell, eat, or wear for themselves. Then they ran off, leaving him bleeding on the side of the road. They had hit him on the head enough times to knock him out and he was too sore to move at all. The man lay there, semi-conscious.

A priest came walking by on the same road. Let us say he too was on his way to Jericho, but he had left sometime after this poor man and was behind him. So he caught up and came upon the poor bleeding man. He looked. But he did not stop. Instead of helping a fellow Jew he went by on the other side. How could he really know if this was his neighbour? He kept on going and if the poor man saw him, he began to give up hope.

Then came along a Levite, who is the helper of a priest. Both he and the priest know the law of God. They know the command to love their neighbour. They have the office of representing God to his people. But the Levite also passes by on the other side. He does not stop to help. He keeps on going. If the poor man saw him, he surely gave up hope. Now he would be left to die.

But no, there was a third person approaching. From which direction doesn't matter. And his coming at all really is of no account because he is a Samaritan. He lives in Samaria, between Jerusalem and Galilee. To the Jews he is a half-breed, one who claims to serve the LORD, but doesn't really. He is not allowed in the temple. Jewish people are not allowed to associate with him. He is an outcast to the Jews, and he likewise hates them. So his coming by is of no account. He may spit on the poor Jewish man and continue on his way, but surely he will not help.

Yet the Lord Jesus is teaching something with this story. Something vitally important. The Samaritan stops his donkey. He sees a poor bleeding and beaten man. His heart goes out to him. He gets off his donkey. He comes to the poor man and washes his wounds with some wine and oil. He soothes the pain and revives the poor traveller. He carefully lifts him up and puts him on his donkey and walks the rest of the way beside him. He helps the man into an inn where he carefully nurses him that night, helping him begin his recovery. The next morning he leaves money with the innkeeper to pay for the room, the man's food, and whatever care he will need until he is well enough to walk around again. Basically, he sets the man up with a private hospital room.

And then Jesus asks, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The answer is obvious: The Samaritan. The expert in the law does not actually want to say "The Samaritan" so he paraphrases, "The one who had mercy on him."

The effect of Jesus' story and his question was to totally change the question of the expert in the law. The man wanted to know who was his neighbour. He wanted to know who he was supposed to love as much as he loved himself. Jesus did not answer who was the man's neighbour so much as who the man should act as a neighbour towards. The lawyer was suggesting limits to his love. He was focussing attention on the worthiness of the object of love. But Jesus turns this around: He focuses on the condition of the heart of the one who is doing the loving. "Which of these three acted as a neighbour? Which of these three had the heart of a neighbour?" The question is not, "Who is worthy of my love?" It is, rather, "Have I the kind of love which seeks the good of all men under all circumstances?" Love is not that I meet a certain pre-set level and then am satisfied with myself. No, love forgets itself in the face of another's need.

Our Lord exposes our hearts by this parable. He exposed that man's heart. We are forced to ask ourselves what we would do if we were walking along the road. And we know that we cannot pass by. It doesn't matter who is on the roadside. We must help. We must be a neighbour to all. Our calling is to love our neighbour as ourselves and that neighbour is always around. That neighbour is around in the form of your Mom or your Dad. That neighbour may be your husband or wife, your children, your students, your teacher, your fellow employee, your employer, your employees, and even your physical next-door neighbour. Your neighbour may be the man on the street with nothing. Your neighbour may be the stranded traveller. There is no question about who your neighbour is. He or she is whomever you meet, especially those in need. Their need may be physical. They could be poor. It may be emotional and spiritual. The rich have needs too.

We should not let fear of anything stop us. We should overcome the thinking of the crowds who all pass by and we should stop to help. The Lord may have set his angel there to test us.

In the year 2002 a woman named Sandra Berg, aged 54, had just received a knee operation. After the surgery she was getting restless and wanted to get out of her Ottawa apartment. She was finally feeling well enough and out she went for a stroll to buy a few things at the corner store. It was early evening. Light snow was falling at a temperature of about minus fourteen. On the way back she decided to cross over a snowbank. Alas! She lost her footing and fell into it. Unable to get up, she lay there. Cars drove by. For three days many people walked by. The snow began to cover her. It was a busy intersection. But no one stopped. No one. There was no Good Samaritan. She died under a lamp, next to a travel agency and a row of townhouses, a few metres from the traffic lights and centimetres from the road. In Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. You sure would not want to be one of the people who walked by there! For everyone who walked by, that woman was their neighbour. She was mere centimetres from the very road and a few metres from the traffic lights! Anyone who saw her and did not help set aside the commandment of the Lord that we should love our neighbour as ourselves.

Now that is an obvious example. But there are millions of opportunities that all of us miss. Jesus said, "Do this, and you shall live." We must admit that with all our shortcomings and selfishness, we have not done this. We have not loved our neighbour as ourselves. Jesus' parable is good for us too. It is also good within the church. Your neighbour is whomever you meet and can help, and that will begin in your own family and in the church of the Lord.

Maybe new people have come to the church. What about members who drive pretty far for the services? However small, these are examples. Hospitality is actually very important. Do to others what you would have them do to you. What would you like in a new congregation? What would you like when visiting strangers? How can you show that you have been loved by God?

This is where it starts. The love of Christ has been put upon you. We love because he first loved us. He did not first evaluate our worthiness. Rather, he acted out of himself. He is our Good Samaritan. So we are to act out of him and his love when we are called to love others. Even at this moment we are not perfectly fulfilling the law of love, but that is why he came, that he might cover our sins, and wash our wounds. He came to cover the great sin of our lack of love. He also had a reason in mind: he wished to also send us on our way, to supply us with our needs for the journey, to have us recommit our lives to the principle of love. He washed away your sins so that without the burden of them you could totally commit yourself to loving God above all and your neighbour as yourself.

Therefore the Lord's message in the parable is: Let the neighbour be you. This has two sides. For those who trust in their own good standing, he challenges them to realize their horrendous sinning, their self-love, and their selfishness. For those who have come to know their sins, he promises to wash them all away. He will tend to you, stricken and beaten by sin. And he will so completely bless you that he will have the right to say: Now let the neighbour be you, in order to fulfil the law of God. Recommit yourself to doing this. Show mercy. Show compassion. Show hospitality and friendliness.

Did you notice now the parable is full of actions. There are few words; almost all actions. That is because a nice feeling towards someone does nothing for them. If you only tell your enemy you love him he will laugh at you and mock you. But if while saying very little you perform an act or deed of kindness toward him, he will have nothing to say. You have just proved that you are living and acting out of a power source that he knows nothing of.

Love is a verb. Love is expressed by one's activities. That is why love is intricately connected to law and must be. For while faith is of the heart, love is of the deeds. Just as faith without works is dead, so faith without love is dead. Do not say, "Go on your way, be warm and well-fed." Do something! Feed them! Clothe them! Bind up their wounds! That is love! The Lord Jesus died not just to give his Spirit for our faith, but also for our love. We love because he first loved us. And we must love! It is an imperative, an obligation. Let the neighbour be you, in order to fulfil the law of love. Then you will be blessed with many neighbours.

2. Many Will Your Neighbours Be:

I think here of the parable of the Lord Jesus about the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-9). He was being sacked from his job, so before he was gone, he called in some of his corporate customers and negotiated a reduction of all their bills. He was sacked from his job, but he had many people lined up who owed him a favour. The point is not whether he acted legally or not. The point is that he made many friends by his acts of kindness. The Lord there recommends that we should use worldly wealth to help those in need. Admittedly, we do not find this matter of making neighbours in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

It is, however, a kind of side benefit. Imagine what the waylaid man would do for the Samaritan. Imagine the waylaid man was wealthy. A month later the Samaritan might find a donkey loaded with a feast at his door and at his service, and a servant to wait on him. And this might be repeated year after year. Now let us be clear: the Samaritan may not and must not first check whether his neighbour is rich or poor. In the parable he couldn't anyways, for the man was stripped, and then all men look the same, rich or poor. He wasn't even allowed to check first. And yet, by helping in a time of need, by doing the deeds of self-sacrifice and love, that Samaritan will have many others who are ready to be a neighbour to him in his time of need.

Let us be very clear here: the Lord Jesus said that it is better to help those who are not able to pay you back! That is the whole point here too: don't ask who your neighbour is but ask if you yourself are willing to act as a neighbour should, to fulfil the second table of God's law and love your neighbour as yourself. That is the question for you.

But we may also be comforted that those who follow the ways of the Lord are blessed. And here too that will be evident. The woman Tabitha (Dorcas) had done so many good deeds for so many church members that when she died, they petitioned the apostle Peter for her life. The widows showed him all the clothes she had made for them and cried for their loss. This moved Peter to call her back from the dead by the power of the risen Christ. Those widows could not give any physical things back to Tabitha, but they gave their hearts for her. They loved her, would have comforted her. As Christians they were rich in their poverty.

A hard-working man who has been moderately successful in business can also be very demanding. He may say of others in need, "They've always been as poor as church mice." And so he justifies himself like the lawyer - they are not worthy of my love. They should get their lives together. He turns away in disdain, yes, even from fellow church members. But then let him know that they may welcome many into the heavenly dwellings, but not him (Luke 16:9). He is not living by faith because he is not expressing his faith by acts of love. He is not loving his neighbour as himself.

From the little things to the big things, be the neighbour the Lord calls you to be. Go and do like the Good Samaritan. You can, because Christ has loved you. You must, because he gave his Spirit to you for this. Doing this through Christ your Saviour and his love, you will fulfil the law of love. Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Ted Van Raalte, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2003, Pastor Ted Van Raalte

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