Let's turn in our Bibles to Luke chapter 10. We'll be reading about one of the several challenges that we find to Jesus in the gospels in a parable that should be familiar to us. I heard a story not that long ago. It was about an FBI operation that was set up to catch a telephone scammer. And in the story there was a woman, she was sweet and mild, an older woman, named Marge. And they recorded these conversations between her and the telephone scammer. And it all sounded innocent enough, and yet she was an FBI informant. And they used those conversations and those recordings to catch these guys from what they were doing. And they turned the tables. They turned the tables on the conmen. And the reporter said that it turns out that happens all of the time. The more confidence one has in their scam, the more likely they are to have the tables turned on them. And the reporter said there just seems to be something about the particular arrogance of always being on the knowing side of the con that makes for a really good mark, to have the tables turned.
Well in our passage tonight – excuse me, this morning – we see a passage where a lawyer comes to Jesus with all of the confidence in the world and he’s coming to put Jesus to the test. Without there being anything sinister involved, Jesus, by the end of this passage, He has turned the tables on this man and He’s testing the man, He’s testing us in fact. And there’s a challenging and a searching examination of the heart in light of the law of God. But also, and maybe more importantly, in light of the mercy of God. So we’ll see those things as we read this passage from Luke chapter 10. Let’s pray together before we do.
Father, we thank You for Your Word. We thank You for our Teacher, Jesus. We pray that You would help us to hear Him, that You would give us ears to hear, hearts to understand and that You would give us a heart to go out and to live for Your glory in light of the mercy You’ve shown to us in Christ. And we pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.
Let’s read Luke chapter 10, starting in verse 25:
"And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?' 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.' And he said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.' But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?' 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. Now by chance, a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 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. 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.' Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?' He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.' And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.'"
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.
Let’s look at this passage in two parts today. We’ll see first the letter of the law, and then the spirit or the heart of mercy. The letter of the law and the spirit of mercy.
The Letter of the Law
First is the letter of the law. The law is in the background of this passage. The law is good. I'm speaking of the Old Testament law, the law given by God to Moses. And yes, there are some laws that may seem strange to our ears and they need to be filtered through the lens of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, of the Gospel, but the law is good. And the law was given to reveal God's character and to show God's people the way of salvation, the way to salvation. And what Paul says in Romans chapter 7 verse 12, he says that the law is holy and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
So what do you get when you have a life that is devoted to the law? Well, you get a life that is, for the most part, upright and respectable. And that's exactly what we get in the life of this lawyer who comes and speaks to Jesus here in this passage. The lawyers or the scribes, they were experts in the law. They dedicated themselves to study and to apply and even to do their best to live out the law of God. And they held positions of honor. They had titles of respect. And you may remember that Jesus, in teaching His own disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, He said your righteousness is to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees. Piety was serious to this man.
A Decent Man
And you can see several indications in this passage of how he was a decent man, or he appears to be a decent man. He comes to Jesus and he approaches Jesus respectfully. He calls Him, “Teacher.” He asks a serious question, maybe the most serious question he could ask – “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He’s thinking about eternal things. He’s thinking about the type of things that lead to eternal life – spiritual issues. And his answer to Jesus’ question is remarkable. Jesus says, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” And the man says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.” That’s a remarkable answer. It’s right on. It’s an orthodox answer. It’s almost as if he is answering a catechism question. It’s almost as if he’s reciting a creed or a confession of faith, sort of like what we did with the Nicene Creed earlier in our service.
We were eating dinner with a family a few weeks ago and after dinner, we were sitting at the table and their four-year-old daughter brought me the children's catechism. She said, "Here, start asking." And she wanted me to start asking her catechism questions. And I could tell she wasn't going to take "No" for an answer, so I started asking. "Who made you?" "God." "What else did God make?" "God made all things." "Why did God make you and all things?" "For His own glory." Yes, right. It was all perfectly orthodox from the mouth of a four-year-old and it was really cute!
Here we have an answer from this man. It's completely orthodox and it's not cute. In fact, it's deadly. It's deadly orthodoxy because this man knows the law but he thinks he can keep the law. He's confident that he's able to keep the law. When Jesus says to him, "You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live," look at what it says the man wants to do. Look at verse 29. It says that "he desires to justify himself." What's he doing there? He's trying to prove his credentials; he's trying to prove his innocence. But notice what he asks. "Who is my neighbor?" In other words, in his mind, the only thing that needs to be settled in order to be right with God's law is who is his neighbor. It's almost as if doesn't need to justify himself when it comes to loving God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind. He's got that covered. He's good with that. He's an expert, after all. But if you could just draw the lines in the right way and you could establish who exactly his neighbor is, then he can have that covered as well. That's what he's trying to do and to demonstrate by his questions. As far as he's concerned, he's lived up to the standards of the law and he feels like he can justify himself when it comes to loving God and loving his neighbor. He knows God's law but he doesn't know his own heart.
Sometimes we may be watching one of those crime shows or a mystery show and the investigators are questioning someone who may be a suspect and they give them a piece of information. And they say, "We found the stolen jewelry." And then suspect may respond with something like, "Well where was it buried?" And by his very question, he indicates more of his guilt, just by the question that he asks. That's similar to what's happening here in this encounter with Jesus. By his question, this man is indicating his own guilt. He is exposing himself as one who has an ignorance of God and who is even mistreating his neighbor.
If you were to look back through the gospel of Luke, Luke is recording these things that Jesus has done. Jesus is going about with mighty acts and mighty teaching. He’s demonstrating Himself to be the Christ. He’s demonstrating Himself to be the Son of God. And He says in the verses just before this, He says, “The one who rejects Me, rejects the one who sent Me.” And He says to His disciples in verses 23 and 24, “Blessed are the eyes who see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings desire to see what you see and did not see it, and to hear what you hear and did not hear it.”
Now, what's going on here in this passage? Here is a man, he's seen Jesus, he's heard Jesus, and yet he's rejecting Him. He's refusing the one who has been sent from God. He is refusing God with us, Immanuel. And not only that, he's putting his neighbor to the test. You notice that? It says he "put Jesus to the test." That word, "test," could be translated, "tempt." He's trying to tempt Jesus or to bait Him. And who is Jesus? Jesus is a fellow Jew. He is a neighbor in the strictest sense of the word. And you can almost, with that in mind, you can almost sense the sarcasm in his question. He comes to Jesus, calls Him, "Teacher," and yet he's not coming as a learner or as a student. He's coming as a judge. He's trying to discredit this person he calls "Teacher." And his question is not sincere.
I’ve heard someone say that you should never ask unfair questions. And an unfair question is a question that you already know the answer to. We may do that from time to time and ask unfair questions. This man is asking an unfair question because as far as he’s concerned, he knows the answer to the question that he’s asking to Jesus and he’s using that as a trap. So here’s a man – he’s upright, he’s respectable, he’s religious, he knows the letter of the law and he’s living like he can keep the letter of the law, that he can be good enough, that he can be innocent, technically speaking. And if that’s the case, if he can live that way, then he doesn’t really need Jesus. Does he? He doesn’t need Jesus’ mercy. Instead, he wants to put Jesus in His place, so to speak.
And we may do that too, of course. We’re a part of a good church and a church that teaches the Bible. We take care of our family, we work hard in our jobs or at school. We stay out of trouble for the most part and our neighbors would say that we’re friendly and nice. But do we recognize Jesus for who He truly is? Do we recognize how much we really need Him and to put Him in the first place in our lives, the place of priority in our lives? Or do we try to fit Jesus in, in the margins? Do we try to hold Jesus to the standards of our day? Let’s face it. When we’re faced with the demands of God’s law, when we’re faced with God’s holiness and His commands, what are we tempted to do? Oftentimes we’re tempted to keep score and maybe compare ourselves with others to see how we measure up with those around us. Maybe we weaken the force of God’s commands or we even disregard the parts of the Bible that doesn’t match our interpretation or the interpretation of the day, whatever the case. Whenever we do that we are trying to do what this man’s doing. We’re trying to stand on our own record. Whenever we redefine righteousness, we’re trying to make it more attainable to us, for us, and that’s the problem. That’s the problem that Jesus is exposing in this expert in the law.
The Spirit of Mercy
So what does Jesus do? He doesn’t respond to Him with more law. He responds to him with a story about mercy. The spirit of mercy. The way of mercy. Jesus shows him the way of mercy. And the way of mercy is more demanding in many ways than the way of the law. Because you see, this lawyer, he wanted to limit the burden of the law. This lawyer, he wanted to define who his neighbor was. And if he could redefine his neighbor so that it excluded the foreigner or the outsider or the Gentile or the sinner and the pagan or even somebody who had done harm to him, if he could exclude them from the category of neighbor then that makes the law, obedience to the law, much more manageable. And so what does Jesus do? Jesus tells him a story, tells him this parable.
It’s a story about mercy. And the mercy in this parable is mercy that is surprising and it’s costly and it’s complete. We know the story well. In fact, the Good Samaritan as a term has worked its way into our common language. And it’s a parable that’s straightforward. We can read this and understand, yes, it’s clear the Samaritan is the one who has shown love and mercy to this man who has been injured and harmed. But what about the details? See, it’s the details of this story that are upsetting. The details of this story would have rattled the Jewish audience. It would have upset those who first heard it and even those who read it in this gospel at the very beginning because it turned upside-down the conventions and the customs of that day.
You know, it seems like almost every week, maybe even every day, we’re confronted with a news report or a viral video of these two groups that are opposing one another; they’re clashing, they’re spewing forth hatred toward one another. And it’s so irrational. And we see that; it’s in the news cycle all the time. Keep that in mind as you think about the Jews and the Samaritans because the Jews and the Samaritans did not mix and they were different from one another politically and religiously and ethnically, in many, many ways, and yet they shared a common history. And they lived in close proximity to one another and it all made for a toxic relationship. It all made for a flammable situation. So that’s what makes this story, this parable so surprising. It’s the Samaritan and not the priest or the Levite that helps the Jewish man injured on the side of the road.
Think about it this way. If we were to sort of outline this man's day, the injured man, if we were to outline or summarize his day, we could do it this way. We could say that the people he met, it was bad guys, good guys, bad guy. And he meets bad guys. They're robbers and they do what bad guys do. They rob him and beat him and leave him half-dead. But then he meets the good guys, the priest and the Levite. And what do good guys do? They help and they show compassion. Right? Not in this case. The priest and the Levite, the good guys, they go out of their way to avoid giving help to this man. And then we meet another bad guy, a Samaritan. And what does the Samaritan do? The Samaritan actually goes out of his way to help the injured man. See, it's the priest and the Levite, they're treating a neighbor like a stranger, but the Samaritan is treating a stranger like a neighbor. The help is coming from an unexpected place, from surprising places. And the help that he's shown to this man is extravagant, it's costly. He spends his own time, his money and his resources to help this stranger.
It says he's on a journey. He's at a considerable distance from his home. We don't know where he's going or how long he'll be gone. But he stops his journey and takes time to tend to this man, to care for him. And he uses his own resources. You know when we would travel or go on a trip, especially when our children were younger, sometimes it would feel like we were taking all of our stuff. Have you ever felt like that? You feel like you have everything piled into the car to leave. But that's not the case. Whenever we go on a trip, our resources and what we take are limited. That's just what we need for the time that we're away. Well, that's what this man had done. He's on a journey, and yet he uses his own resources, his own oil and wine to care for the man's injuries. He places him on his own animal and continues to care for him; takes him to a place to rest, an inn, and even gives his own money, two denarii, to pay for whatever else he might need. And then on top of all of that, he says, "Whatever other charge comes your way because of him, I will pay it when I come back through."
You see what he's doing there? The Samaritan, he is willing to be inconvenienced and even put himself at risk for the sake of this stranger, for the sake of this man who needs his help. And his mercy, his concern is so much that he's caring for him basically from the moment of his crisis until he's back on his feet, from the time he's injured on the side of the road until he can get back up and go on his way. It's a full and a complete mercy that he shows this man. So the question is this – "Which one of these three proves, do you think, to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" "The one who showed him mercy" – yes! The one who shows him mercy. And not just mercy, but unexpected and costly and full mercy.
You see, that's what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. That's what it means to be a neighbor. And neighbor is anyone, no matter what differences or what difficulties may exist between the two people, to show mercy. A neighbor, to be a neighbor is to be a neighbor to anyone to whom we are able to show love and mercy. That's the point of this story. Sinclair Ferguson preached a sermon series on Jesus' parables several years ago and the series title was, "The Sting in His Tale" – T-a-l-e; the sting in His story or the stone in His tale. There's the sting. That's what deals us a blow in this story because do we love our neighbor as ourselves? Do we love our spouses our parents our children our siblings as ourselves? Those to whom we are most naturally connected, do we love them as we love ourselves? Do we show mercy, this kind of mercy – surprising, costly and complete mercy – to those who are in need, to those who need mercy but are different from us or who are difficult to love? No. None of us, none of us do that. None of us love our neighbor in that way. You know what that means? It means that we need mercy. When it comes to the law of God, none of us are able to love Him wholeheartedly or to love our neighbor as ourselves. There's no way to justify ourselves. There's no way to prove our innocence in the light of God's law. So we don't come to Jesus from a place of expertise. We don't come to Jesus from a place of superiority. We come to Jesus for mercy. And you know what Jesus is all about – He's all about mercy. He's all about mercy that is surprising and it's costly and it's full.
Mercy Shown Sinners
That’s the mercy Jesus shows because Jesus came to die for sinners. Jesus came to die for law-breakers and idolaters and rebels, for the ungodly. He died on the cross for those who caused His pain, for those who put Him on the cross. And while His grace is free, it is not cheap because His humiliation and His suffering began from the moment of His conception in the virgin’s womb. And you know the gospels, as we read through the cross accounts in the gospels, Gospel writers do not spend a whole lot of time on the physical horror of the cross. It was probably the cruelest form of execution ever invented and really we get very spare details about what Jesus endured physically on the cross. What do the Gospel writers want us to see and understand? They want us to understand the spiritual agony that Jesus faced on the cross – that He was enduring the wrath of God, He was taking the penalty and being punished for all of the sins of all of His people and He cried out, “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?” That’s the anguish of the cross. He paid the price that we could never pay and He even saves fully all those who come to God through Him.
You know this is no halfway salvation. This is life to the full. We get to the end of Luke’s gospel – “He is not here; He is risen.” He didn’t just die on the cross but He was raised from the dead and He lives today. This is no halfway salvation. This is sins forgiven, His righteousness ours, His resurrection ours, eternal life and blessing in the presence of God forever. That is a great salvation. It’s a salvation that saves us all the way and that’s the mercy we need. That’s the mercy that’s ours by trusting in Jesus and by resting in Him for salvation. Have you done that? Will you do that? Will you trust Him for salvation? That’s the mercy that’s available to us in Christ Jesus. And so do you see how, at the end of this passage, this man has come to test Jesus and yet he leaves where Jesus is testing him? Jesus says, “You go and do likewise.” What will the man do? Will he recognize his inability to keep the law? Will he recognize his need for grace? And will he go to Jesus for mercy and stop depending on what he can do to inherit eternal life?
You see, only a person who needs grace can receive grace. And when a person has recognized and received the grace of God in Christ Jesus, then, then that person can look to show mercy to others as well. Then that person can extend mercy to family or friends, to a church member or a visitor, to a neighbor or an acquaintance, a co-worker or a stranger, even to an enemy. If you recognize Jesus’ mercy then you can extend mercy to anyone who needs mercy. And so look around; think about those in your life. Who around you needs forgiveness? Who needs a word of encouragement or a word of comfort? Who around you needs someone to listen to them or maybe a place to stay or a meal or an act of service, maybe even financial support? Who around you needs the good news of Jesus, the good news of Jesus’ love and mercy? You see, this passage is calling for us to have eyes to see the height and the depth and the width of Jesus’ love for us and then to have eyes to see the needs of those around us to whom we can extend mercy.
As I was studying and preparing this passage over the past week, I had a bluegrass song that was playing in my head. It may not be all right, but here are the lyrics:
“There are many people who will say they’re Christians and they live like Christians on the Sabbath Day, but come Monday morning till the coming Sunday they will fight their neighbor all along the way. If you don’t love your neighbor, if you gossip about him, if you never have mercy, if he gets into trouble and you don’t try to help him, then you don’t love your neighbor and you don’t love God. If you say you love Him while you hate your neighbor, then you don’t have religion, you just told a lie.”
All the theology may not be right in that song and we can never love our neighbor enough to earn salvation, but Jesus has shown us a mercy and a love beyond anything that we could imagine; it surpasses our understanding. There is a height and a depth and a width and a breadth to His mercy that overwhelms us. Get that, get that first, now go and do likewise.
Father, we thank You for Your mercy. We thank You for Your mercy which overwhelms us. Would You send us out from here recognizing Your love and forgiveness, Your acceptance, the security that we have in Christ that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Send us out from here in that assurance, in that confidence, and give us a heart to love and to show mercy to those who need it. We pray that You would be glorified as we do that, and we pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.
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