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What Shall I Do to Inherit Eternal Life?

Series: Luke

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on May 2, 2010

Luke 10:25-37

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The Lord's Day Morning

May 2, 2010

Luke 10:25-37

“What Shall I Do to Inherit Eternal Life?”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Let us worship God.

Lord our God, we have just sung of choirs of angels who sing Your praise and glory in the heavens above and we with feebler lays now come and mingle our voices with theirs, the church militant and the church triumphant, in one accord singing the praises of You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We ask that You would come down now and dwell amongst us by Your Spirit that we might worship You in spirit and in truth, that where two or three are gathered in Your name there You would be in the midst of Your people. May Your word dwell richly within our hearts this morning. May the promises of the Gospel be a source of great encouragement to each and every one here this morning. We ask O Lord that in everything we do Your great name would be honored and glorified. We ask it all in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Please be seated.


If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 10. As we continue our way through the Gospel of Luke we come to a passage today that contains one of the most well-known stories of Jesus, the story of the Good Samaritan. It's unique to Luke. Luke gives us a specific context for this story. It is a question that a lawyer asks Jesus, not a lawyer that works in the profession of law as his vocation the way he is employed and feeds his family, but an expert in the interpretation of the Torah, the writings of Moses, the core of the Hebrew Bible. And he asks a question, we're told in verse 25, in an effort to test Jesus, so he's not asking this question in good faith. This is a question, perhaps, that is designed to entrap Jesus and to expose His teaching as falling short of the standards of the Jewish religious leaders of the day.

And I want you to notice what happens. What happens is a dialogue that goes back and forth between Jesus and this lawyer from verse 25 down to verse 27. First of all the lawyer comes with a question in verse 25 and Jesus answers that question with a question in verse 26, but the question that Jesus asks back to the lawyer is a question about where is the source of our authority in knowing the answer to the question that the lawyer has asked in verse 25. So it's a question about where do you get the answer from that you just asked me. So you have a question followed by a question.

Then in verse 27 the lawyer answers his own question in response to Jesus’ question and Jesus then in verse 28 replies to the lawyer's answer by saying, “The answer that you gave is a good answer.” Then in verses 29 to 36 the lawyer asks Jesus a question to which Jesus responds in verses 30 to 36 by telling a story, a parable, and it's the parable of the Good Samaritan. It's a story that you know. And that story is designed not just to answer the lawyer's question but to show the lawyer something about his own heart. It's very important you understand that or you’ll misunderstand the parable of the Good Samaritan.

At the end of the story, verse 36, Jesus asks the lawyer which one of these people obeyed the command to be a good neighbor and the lawyer answers again correctly in verse 37. It's the second time now he will have answered correctly — “The one who showed mercy.” But at the end of verse 37, Jesus for the second time says something for the lawyer to do.

Now what I want you to be on the lookout for today is the first question that is asked in verse 25 and then where Jesus points the lawyer to for the answer to that question. You see it in verse 26. Then I want us to see Jesus’ words to the lawyer in answer to the lawyer's answer to his own question, especially in verse 28. I want you to see what Jesus says in answer to the lawyer. And then finally, in verse 37, especially in the second half of verse 37 I want you to see a problem which arises with the lawyer's answer to his own questions, twice. Twice he gives an answer, twice he gives a right answer, but there's a problem with his answer and the problem points to the solution which is where we want to go today. So be on the lookout for the question, what Jesus says about the source for the answer to that question, how Jesus replies to the lawyer's answer, and then the problem with the lawyer's answer.

Let's pray before we read God's Word.

Heavenly Father, we are about to read a passage of Scripture that contains the story of a man who was an expert in the Hebrew Bible but who didn't understand it and that leads us, O Lord, to beg for Your Holy Spirit to open our eyes that we will not miss the obvious in Your Word. So by Your Spirit, open our eyes to behold wonderful things in Your Law. We pray it in Jesus' name. Amen.

This is the Word of God. Hear it:

“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.’”

Amen and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Even in these days of Biblical illiteracy where so many people don't know the simplest, the most basic content of the Bible, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is widely known. Most people recognize this story. They've heard the story quoted or referred to, not just in sermons but from public speakers of a secular origin. But this parable is also very often misunderstood. This parable, for instance, is more often than not appealed to for some form of the social gospel. It is a parable that will presented and they will say, “See, this is the essence of Christianity. As Christians what we ought to be doing is, we ought to be showing compassion on those in need. We shouldn't be concerned about doctrine. We shouldn't be concerned about conversions. We shouldn't be concerned about sharing the Gospel and evangelizing and doing missions. No, we ought to ditch doctrine and we ought to crate conversion and we ought to mothball missions and get about the work of helping people because that's the essence of what Jesus says we ought to do in the parable of the Good Samaritan.”

Now that kind of interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan shows that the person who is articulating it has no idea of the context in which it occurs in the book of Luke because Luke is not giving you this story as a summation of the core doctrine of Jesus’ life and ministry. This story is in fact given by Jesus to show a lawyer, a deep deficiency in his own heart, and his need of saving grace.

And so I want to look at this passage with you briefly today. And I want you to look for four things. I want you to see the question that the lawyer asks. You’ll see that in verse 25. Then I want you to see where Jesus points for the only authoritative answer to that question. It is hugely important to see where Jesus points to get the answer to this question. You’ll see that in verse 26. Then, after the lawyer gives the answer to his own question, Jesus answers the lawyer and tells him he's right but then He tells the lawyer to do something else and I want you to see what Jesus’ answer is to the lawyer's correct answer. And then of course Jesus illustrates that in verses 30 to 36. But then finally I want you to see the problem with the lawyer's answer, especially from verse 37. So let's be on the lookout for these things — the question, the source, the answer, and the problem.

I. The question to Jesus.

Let's start with the question. The lawyer comes up to Jesus and asks Him a very interesting question. Now, he's not asking it in good faith. He's putting Jesus to the test. Nevertheless it is a very good and a very interesting question. Jesus does not rebuke the question. Very often when Jesus doesn't like a question He will substitute another question in place of that question and redirect you to another subject. But in this case He does not do that. He accepts this as a perfectly good question. And the question is, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

Now this question is not only asked in this passage in Luke. It is asked repeatedly in the New Testament. Let me give you just a few examples.

Turn forward to Luke chapter 18 because just eight chapters later this exact question is asked again. Now you can cheat, on this you can — what does it say in Luke 18? Who asked this question in Luke 18? You can look. You don't have to do it from memory. It's the right young ruler, remember? In Luke 18 verse 18 the rich young ruler comes to Jesus and says, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life.” Now that lets you know that this was a question that was on the minds of Jewish people in Jesus’ time. They wanted to know the right answer to the question, “What does a person have to do to inherit eternal life?” nor are those the only two times that this question is asked.

If you turn forward to the sequel to the gospel of Luke, turn forward to Acts chapter 2 verse 37. After Peter says that the people have rejected the Messiah and they have handed over the anointed Messiah of God to the Romans and after Luke tells you that their hearts were pierced with that news in Acts 2:37, their hearts were pierced by the realization that they had handed over the Messiah into the hands of the Romans. What happens? The people all ask a question and the question is, “What shall we do?” In other words, “We understand that we are justly under God's condemnation now. What shall we do?”

That question is not unrelated to the question that the rich young ruler asks in Luke 18 or that the lawyer asks in Luke chapter 10. In effect, that's shorthand for “What shall we do to be saved from God's wrath? We recognize that we deserve to be condemned by God. What shall we do?” And you remember that's where Peter will respond, “Repent, receive baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” That's the context in which Peter preaches the Gospel to them and calls them to faith in Christ and to repentance but it's not the only time.

Turn forward to Acts chapter 16. In Acts chapter 16 you remember the Philippian jailer is startled awake by an earthquake. God has opened the gates of the prison. He's going to let Paul and Silas out. In those days if a jailer lost his convicts that were under his control what did the Roman government do? They killed him. So the jailer is just going to finish himself off before the Roman officials have a chance to do it. He's getting ready to do himself in and Paul calls out, “Don't kill yourself. We’re still here.” A Gospel conversation ensues and in Acts 16 verse 30 what does the Philippian jailer say to Paul? “What must I do to be saved?”

Now these questions indicate that Jewish people in the time of Jesus were very concerned, and even Gentiles, were very concerned about the question of how a person can be accepted by God at the last judgment. How can a person be welcomed into the kingdom of God? How can a person inherit eternal life? And that language of “kingdom of God” and “eternal life” and “being saved” is all related.

Did you notice in Derek's reading from 1 Corinthians 15 this morning the reference to “inheriting the kingdom of God”? What does Paul say? “The flesh can't inherit the kingdom of God.” That language of inherit shows up in these two questions in Luke 10 and in Luke 18, and it has to do with receiving the inheritance promised to Abraham.

Who gets to enter into that? Who gets to receive that? On what basis does a person receive that blessing of Abraham, enter into the kingdom, enter into glory, be saved from sin? The language over and over indicates that a person must have a right answer to the question, “How can I stand before God? How can I be accepted by God? How can I be forgiven of my sins?”

Why do I belabor this? Because in our own day and time there are many voices, even in evangelical Christianity that say this concern about individuals coming to faith in Christ was invented by nineteenth century fundamentalists. It's individualistic, it's personal, it fails to recognize the corporate dimensions of Christianity and it's wrong. And what I'm saying to that is, no, no, no, no. That is paying close attention to what the Bible itself says every man and woman needs to ask and answer the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life? How exactly is it that I'm accepted by God? How do I enter into the kingdom? How do I receive eternal life? How do I receive the promises of God?”

This is an important question. Are you asking this question? Have you asked this question? Is this a question that's on your heart and mind? It ought to be. The fact that it's repeated so frequently in the New Testament indicates that this is a question of ultimate concern. What shall we do to inherit eternal life?

II. Jesus answers this question — the source of authority.

Now Jesus answers this question with a question, not indicating that it's a bad question, Jesus often answers a question with a question not to be coy or evasive, but to tell you something about your own heart. When Jesus answers a question with a question invariably He's trying to direct your attention to something in your own heart and usually He is pointing you to the place where you’re going to find the answer to the question that you’re asking. So that's what happens. Look at it in verse 26. Jesus answers with a question and the question is, “What is written in the Law?” Now this is huge. Do you see? Jesus is saying to this lawyer, “Let Me tell you where you’re going to get the answer to the question that you’re asking. Where are you going to get to that answer? You’re going to get that answer in the Bible.”

Now this is vitally important. We live in a day and age where people are comfortable with spirituality but they don't like Christianity and one of the reasons that they’re comfortable with spirituality but they don't like Christianity is that they don't like an authoritative Book telling them the answers. They want to come up with the answers on their own that they like. They value their opinions. They think that their opinions are just as valuable as what the Bible says. But notice here in answer to this question, “What do I need to do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus says the answer to that question is in the Bible — what is written in the Law, the Torah, the books of Moses, the core of the Old Testament. Jesus is pointing this lawyer to the Hebrew Bible and He's saying, “The answer to your question is found in the Hebrew Bible.” That is hugely important because so often today we hear people say, “Well I know the Bible says, but I like to think…” And you know whatever happens after “but” is going to be heresy. But they think in their own minds that their thoughts are just as valid as what the Bible says - You can think that. It's a free country. That's not what Jesus thinks.

You cannot follow Jesus and reject what He says is the source of final spiritual authority in answer to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus says the answer to that question is found in the Bible and only the Bible.

III. The answer.

And so He asks the lawyer, “How do you read it? You go to that Bible, read it, and tell Me what you find there is the answer to your question.” So Jesus says the source of the answer to that huge question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” is found in the Bible. So the lawyer says, “Okay, let me sum it up. Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.”

And Jesus’ response to that is, “Bingo!” Now that may surprise you. You’re Protestants, most of you and reformed, many of you, and Presbyterian and you’re waiting for Martin Luther and justification by faith to get quoted at this point. But the lawyer says, “Love God, love your neighbor” — he does sort of a summarization of the Ten Commandments, the two tables of the Ten Commandments, and he says — “Okay, that's what I'd answer. What I need to do to inherit eternal life is love God love my neighbor.” And Jesus responds, “Your answer is right.”

But that is not all that Jesus says. But notice what He goes on to say. “You have answered correctly,” but then He says, “Do it.” That is huge in this passage. Twice this happens friends, twice the lawyer answers right. Look at verse 28 and look at verse 37. He answers right both times. Both times Jesus says, “Do it.”

What's going on here? The answer of Jesus to the lawyer's answer is absolutely critical for understanding what's going on in the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus’ concern is that while the lawyer can give the correct answer he is not in fact doing what he says.

The lawyer knows the right answer but he's not living the right answer and so Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, not to say that doctrine doesn't matter and that conversion doesn't matter and that the Gospel doesn't matter and that missions don't matter and that evangelism doesn't matter and that what we ought to be doing is going and showing compassion to people. He tells the story of the Good Samaritan to do what? To show this lawyer the sin of his heart.

Jesus does this repeatedly and it's not just something that Jesus does. The prophets do it. Do you remember when David had sinned against Uriah and Bathsheba? He had taken Bathsheba who was already married to be his wife, he had killed Uriah her husband — do you remember when Nathan the prophet came to his friend David and told him a story about a man who had a ewe lamb and a great man with all sorts of sheep and taking that one ewe lamb from him? He was not telling him that story in order to tell David how to be a better person. He was telling that story to show David his sin. Jesus in this passage is not telling this story to show the lawyer how to be a better person. He's showing him his sin.

Do you remember in Luke 18 in the parallel passage to this when the rich young ruler comes and asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus says essentially the same thing that the lawyer says in this passage — love God and love your neighbor — and remember what the rich young ruler says? “I've done that. I've done that. I've loved God and in fact I've done it since I was a kid. I've loved God and I've loved my neighbor.” And then Jesus says, “Hmmm. Okay, try this: sell everything that you have and give it to the poor.” Now is Jesus saying that for anybody to be a Christian, to be a disciple of His, to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, that it is required upon your profession of faith for you to divest yourself of all material possessions and to give them to the poor? No. Why then does he say that to the rich young ruler? Because the rich young ruler has just told Him that he's kept all the commandments and so Jesus says, “Hmmm, okay, let's try the first commandment.” And the first commandment is what? You love God more than anything else. What was the problem with this rich young ruler? He loved his money more than he loved God. And so Jesus says, “Let's just see, rich young ruler, if you actually have kept those commandments. Let's start with say, the first one.” But the rich young ruler doesn't get it. But the reason that He asks him about giving all his possessions is to do what? To reveal to him where his sin is.

Now in this passage Jesus doesn't go to the first commandment to love God, He goes to the neighbor commandment. Why? Because Jesus knows this man's heart. This man is a Jewish lawyer. He has utter contempt religiously and probably ethnically for Samaritans. And so Jesus tells a story where a priest and a Levite, who would have been respected by this lawyer, failed to obey the commandments and a Samaritan turns out to be the hero of the story.

And the course of the story Jesus does several things. First of all, He shows you how wide the extent of the love command is. The command to love your neighbor extends even to people you have contempt for. Okay, Samaritans for instance. And He shows how deep that command goes. Notice that this Samaritan, he's on his way. No doubt there's a business trip going on down to Jerusalem and he stops, he spends an entire day with this guy, he medicates him, he puts him on his own animal, he takes him to an inn, he gives him two denarii — two days wages for the innkeeper to take care of the guy — and then he says, “Look, if it costs more than that on my way back up I’ll stop in and pay you whatever the difference was.” So He shows how deep this demand is that God is making with regard to neighbor love. And then He asks the man point blank, “Now which one of these showed mercy? Which one of these obeyed the commandment?” And again the lawyer answers correctly, “The one who showed him mercy.”

IV. The problem.

Now that leads us to the problem. Do you remember I said there's the question, the source, the answer, and the problem? Here's the problem. Jesus says, for the second time in the passage, “You go and do likewise.” What's up with that? This is Jesus saying as it were to the lawyer, “Okay, you’re right for the second time. Those who inherit eternal life, those who inherit the kingdom, those who receive the blessings of God promised to Abraham are those who love God and love their neighbors. How's that working for you? Are you doing that?” And at the end of the story the lawyer should, at this point, he should have said, “Okay Jesus, just one more question I want to ask you. That question would be like, what — let's just say I'm not talking about myself, I'm talking about a friend. Let's say I have a friend and that friend hadn't kept those commandments to love God and love neighbor, like how would that — I'm not asking for myself, I'm asking for the friend — how would that friend inherit eternal life, if just theoretically speaking he hadn't loved God and loved his neighbor?”

Here's the problem. As far as we know in this passage the lawyer doesn't get there, just like the rich young ruler doesn't get there, but it is clearly what Jesus has in mind. Now you say, “How do you know that? You’re reading that into that.” Because I'm reading the gospel of Luke and his sequel in the book of Acts. Turn with me to Acts chapter 13 because this same discussion goes on in Acts chapter 13. Look at Acts 13. Look at verse 38. Okay, Paul is preaching, he's on his first missionary journey, and here's the message that he preaches. Acts 13:38 — “Let it be known to you brothers that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you and through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things from which you could not be freed from the Law of Moses.” Do you see the message that Paul is preaching there? He's saying, “Look, if those who love God and love their neighbors inherit eternal life, I've got some bad news for you. You’re all going to hell. But Jesus came to free you from what the Law of Moses couldn't free you from — your sin — because you've broken the Law of Moses.”

And when he says that, notice what happens. The Jews are furious because they recognize, they recognize that he's saying it's not by our keeping the Law it's by believing in Jesus. And look what happens in verse 45 — “When the Jews saw the crowds they were filled with jealousy. They began contradicting the things spoken by Paul and were blaspheming and Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said —“ Listen to what they said — “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first since you repudiated and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life.”

Now hold on, where does that phrase — what does that remind you of? What was the question that the lawyer asked? “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Now Paul and Barnabas are saying that the Jewish people rejecting Jesus are judging themselves unworthy of eternal life. What does he mean by that? He means when you reject Jesus as the only way to inherit eternal life then you put yourself back into the category of having to do the Law to be accepted and there is none righteous, no not one but the Savior. So if you've rejected Him, you’re rejected salvation, you’re rejected eternal life, you’re rejected the kingdom of God.

And notice what he goes on to say. Look at verse 48 after preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles he says, “When the Gentiles heard this they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord and as many as had been appointed to eternal life” did what? “Believed.” So, love God, love your neighbor is a great commandment and it's a great answer to the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” if I can do it. The whole point of Jesus exchange with the lawyer, the whole point of the parable of the Good Samaritan is: You can't do it. That's why I'm going to die. I'm going to die in your place so that you believe on Me and inherit eternal life.

Oh my friends, we know a lot of Bible around here and we can give lots of right answers, but Jesus says it will take more than right answers to inherit eternal life. It requires a life of perfection in not just giving the right answers or knowing the right answers but living the right answers and doing the right answers and guess what? No human being except one has ever done that. So on the last day you can either say with this lawyer, “I tried to love God and my neighbor as best I could.” And if you say that you will have rejected eternal life. Or you can say, “Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul. It's only Jesus.”

Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, there are no more momentous questions that we could ask ourselves than, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Grant that by Your Holy Spirit we understand and answer rightly that question. And at the very bottom of our answer we simply say, ‘Jesus. I trust you Jesus. I beg You to forgive me O God because of Jesus. I believe You Jesus. I trust You Jesus because You were perfect for me and You paid the penalty for me so nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Your cross I cling.’ Lord, by Your grace make that our answer in Jesus' name. Amen.

Now let's respond by singing the truths of this passage. Number 461, “Not What My Hands Have Done.”

Receive this blessing from the only One who can give to you eternal life. Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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