The Good Samaritan (1): Salvation By Law
December 14, 2014
Intro – Here is one of the most misinterpreted parables in the Bible – usually used to teach we should love everyone. True! But not the main message here. Its true intent is to show the absolute impossibility of us saving ourselves. It’s God’s grace, not our merit that saves us. Dumb and dumber are in a parking lot with a coat hanger. Dumb says, “I can’t get this door unlocked.” Dumber says, “You better hurry. It’s about to rain and the top’s down!” That’s how dumb it is to try to earn salvation when grace already has the top down.
People in Jesus’ time thought obeying the law was their means of salvation. When Jesus taught salvation by faith in Him, many thought He was destroying the law. But Jesus Himself says in Mt 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” The Pharisees and religious elite had completely misinterpreted the purpose of the law. They saw it as a means of salvation rather than as a tool to show the need for salvation. They lived with the illusion they could keep the law as defined by them. But, of course, everyone lived in a constant state of fear – have I been good enough? Am I okay? What more do I need to do?
Jesus uses a question from a lawyer to expose this dreadful denial of sinfulness. He’s not a lawyer in our sense; he was an expert in the Mosaic Law and all the tradition that had built up around it. He believed you get eternal life by keeping the law, and he believed he could do it. He knows that Jesus has been teaching you can have eternal life now by repenting your sins and accepting Him. He’s determined to show Jesus is violating the law.
Instead, the opposite happens. Jesus shows that He takes the law far more seriously than the lawyer. But He does this in an ingenious fashion. As usual, He’s 3 steps ahead. The key to interpreting and understanding this passage (and many others in the gospels, by the way) is to realize that Jesus is playing along with the lawyer’s assumption that you can be saved by keeping the law. He is basically saying, “Okay, Mr. Lawyer, you want to be saved by keeping the law. Let’s go down that road. Let’s take it to its logical conclusion and see how’s that works for you?” Not very well as it turns out.
This parable is given to illustrate what Paul wrote in Gal 3:10-11, “10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” That’s what Jesus is teaching, trying to draw this man to faith by showing the perfection required to be saved by law.
I. What the Law Requires
V. 25 “And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” “And behold” ties this event to the return of the 72. This religion expert knows they’ve been out preaching that people should repent to enter the kingdom. That message does not have nearly enough law for him and so he puts Jesus to the test. Fatal mistake – matching wits with Jesus – assuming Jesus will disavow the law!
So, he baits his trap: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Great question. I wish everyone were asking that question. I hope you are asking it. So many people go through life and never ask that question, but God has put you here this morning to face that question, perhaps for the 1st time. It is the greatest question one can ever ask.
But notice how this man phrases it: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” His question implies there is something he must do (once for all, aorist tense) to win God. He is a lawyer; he knows the law. But he’s totally misunderstood its meaning. From his perspective it is saying, “Do this and do that and you will get on God’s good side.” He really believes that is the way. But his question is a setup. He is expecting Jesus to say, “Do?! Why you must do nothing. You must repent and believe in me.” That’s what he expected and then he could have turned on Jesus and said, “See, folks. He does not respect the law. He has come to overturn the law. He cannot be of God for He rejects God’s law.” That’s what he expected. But that’s not what he got.
Instead, he got a question. V. 26 “He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Jesus returns serve! “You’re the lawyer. What’s your take?” Unexpectedly, the ball’s back in his court. But he has a lifetime of preparation: v. 27, “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.” That’s Moses’ summary of the law found in Deut 6:5. That’s his answer. To inherit eternal life one must love God and love one’s neighbor. Loving God covers the first 4 commandments and love your neighbor covers the last 6. Keep the law and you’re in. That’s hi answer.
So Jesus stops him in his tracks and says, Believe in me, right? No, Jesus agrees with him. But remember, Jesus is accepting his premise. If you want to be saved by the law, this guy has it right. So, Jesus responds in v. 28, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” Jesus affirms his answer. To be saved by the law, that is all you have to do (pres tense all the time – not one time – ALL the time). Not do it once but love God and love your neighbor all the time, all your life! Do this – not as a one-time thing, but as an all-the-time thing.
II. How Fully the Law Requires It
Well, that was the last answer this guy expected. Suddenly instead of Jesus looking foolish, it is the lawyer who has egg on his face. Jesus has gotten him to answer his own question; He has affirmed the answer is correct and now the lawyer looks like an idiot for asking it in the first place. So, v. 29, “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “’And who is my neighbor?’” To justify his first question, he now asks a second. Jesus has said, “Do this, and you will live.” So the lawyer says, “Okay, let’s talk about that. Do this. What exactly does “do this” mean? Love your neighbor – so who is my neighbor.” This is asked to introduce confusion. When embarrassed, get into a theoretical discussion, right? This man’s tradition (which he placed above Scripture) said, “Love your neighbor but hate your enemy.” That assumes there is some nebulous line; people you love on one side, people you can hate on the other. So let’s talk about that.
What the guys is really asking is how fully must I obey the law? Jesus responds with a parable and then once again lets the man answer his own question. The parable is simple. A man, assumed to be Jewish, heads out on the notoriously dangerous road between Jerusalem and Jericho. He is accosted by robbers who strip him, beat him and leave him for dead. Both a Jewish priest and Levite see him but pass by – too busy, perhaps fearful of becoming ceremonially unclean by touching a dead person, too self-important to get involved. Then comes a despised Samaritan. A contemptible half-breed – an enemy whom according to Jewish tradition it was legal to hate – it was an obligation to hate. At great risk, inconvenience and expense, he revives the man, treats him and finds housing where he can recuperate – at his own expense.
That’s the story. Now the critical question in v.36 “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer is cornered. He answers in v 37 “The one who showed him mercy.” Bingo again. Right answer again. So Jesus says, “You go, and do likewise” (v. 37). Just like in 28 -- go and do. And with that He obliterated the “nebulous line.” There is no such line. Jesus’ story is intended to show that to do doesn’t mean sometimes with some people and in some circumstances! To do means to do in all circumstances, with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and toward all people all the time. You want eternal life by way of the law? Good. Just obey – totally! Who is my neighbor? “Wrong question. The question is to whom must I be a neighbor, and the answer is – everyone, all the time, even my enemies. There is no loophole. The demand is complete heartfelt obedience.
The question for anyone trying to be saved by keeping the law is always the same – how much is enough? We all know that we are not perfect. We know that. The lawyer knew that. So the question is, how much is enough? Am I making it? Jas 2:10 answers that, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” Why is that? It’s because the law isn’t a code; it’s a description of God’s character. Sin isn’t breaking a code – like going 70 in a 55 zone. Sin violates God – every sin. And just like one hole sinks a ship, one violation (and we all have many more than that) -- even one condemns us in God’s eyes. The demand is perfection, Beloved. One violation of an infinite God and you’ve created an infinite problem.
A lifelong agnostic, W. C. Fields was discovered reading a Bible on his deathbed. When asked why, he replied, “I’m looking for a loophole.” But, if you want to be saved by the law, there are no loopholes. No excuses allowed. Doing better than someone else won’t cut it. The requirement is perfection.
III. The Impossibility of the Law’s Demands
Of course, that leaves us all on the outside looking in. Jesus does not tell this man this parable to show him how to be saved. He is showing him it’s impossible to be saved by being good. Why? Because none of us are good – not like the law requires. He couldn’t and we can’t claim that we love God with all our heart, all our soul, all strength and all our mind. Not even close. No one can meet that standard. And no one loves his neighbor as himself – not all of his neighbors! Not his enemy neighbors and in fact, not even our spouse neighbor. You always put your spouse’s interests above your own? We all fall short – way short. That’s what Jesus is showing this man by his own admission!
Jesus has trapped the lawyer. V. 36, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” He’s trapped him into admitting that the hated Samaritan is the one who showed love. It’s a loving trap. Trying to wake him up.
The lawyer is saying, “Jesus, you throw the law away when you say someone is saved right now by repentance.” Jesus is saying, “Buddy, I take the law way more seriously than you. I take it way more seriously because you think you can obey it, but I know you can’t.” This man thought he could get saved by keeping the law. The first time Jesus said, “Do this,” he didn’t get it. He wanted to debate the fine points. By the time Jesus said, “Do this” the second time, he knew he was guilty. By his own admission the Samaritan had shown mercy by loving his enemy. And he knew full well he had hated every Samaritan he ever met. He couldn’t keep the law when rightly interpreted. The only reason he even thought he could keep the law was that he diminished it with his own limiting traditions. Jesus blew them all away with one simple parable leaving the man to admit before the whole crowd that in Jesus’ story his worst enemy had shown a love he could never show.
Jesus didn’t destroy the law; He uses the law as it was intended to be used – not as a means of salvation but as a means of showing that we can never make it on our own and must throw ourselves on the mercy of God. When the law said, “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 ” Jesus took the words as absolute, while the lawyer, knowing he could not do that, invented ways around the requirement. Jesus took the law far more seriously than the lawyer. He believed it completely, but He used it rightly – not as a list of requirements to get people saved, but as a list of requirements showing that people need to be saved. The law was intended to show that the lawyer needed a new heart. With his parable, Jesus showed him that.
A doctor walks into a hospital room so engrossed in reading his chart that he is oblivious to his surroundings. He does not notice that the bed is neatly made up with no one in it. He addresses the non-existent patient: “Good news, Mrs. Bryant – I think we got it all.” The patient is dead, but he is announcing they got it all. Just like the lawyer who by his own rules had got all the sin out. Jesus is showing him he is DOA. Just like everyone who is trusting in their own goodness. We can never get it all out. Do you see now why Paul says in Gal 3:10-11: “10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” If you want to be saved by keeping the law you are cursed before you start because all you have to do is be perfect.
IV. The Solution to the Law’s Demands
So what is the solution? Gal 3:11, “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” Trust in God. Accept by faith the death that Christ died in your place. That’s why salvation can be instantaneous, because the moment you confess yourself a sinner and accept His death in your place, His righteousness becomes yours. What you can’t do yourself, He has already done for you. Jesus was trying to elicit from the lawyer a response that said, “I see that I can’t keep the law, but thank you for coming to become sin for me that I might become the righteousness of God in you” (II Cor 5:21). Did the lawyer throw himself on God’s mercy and find grace? The Bible doesn’t tell us. We know he had his chance.
And so this morning, we have our chance as well. Jesus’s teaching is just as relevant today as it was then. If you want to be saved by law, all you have do is go out and keep it perfectly, in word, deed and thought. That’s all! We know we cannot do that. What is left is to declare moral bankruptcy and throw ourselves on the mercy of a God who forgives through Christ.
Conc -- We camped in a tent trailer when our kids were small. One year we had been a week exploring the glories of Yosemite, then drove across Tuolumne Meadows to Mammoth and camped by a lake for a couple of days. The next day, Sarah and Tim went out on their own about 1/4 of a mile from where we were camped. We told them to have fun and not to get in the water. An hour later, here they came with Sarah in the lead and Tim clearly hanging back. She was only too happy to report that Tim had fallen in the water while somehow rearranging his pole. Naturally, Patty’s first question was, "Well, Tim, how wet are you?" "Oh," he replied, "I’m just a little wet." Of course, he was soaked top to bottom, but forever after, "just a little wet" became synonymous at our house with "in it up to your eyeballs."
That’s what the law is showing us, dear friends. We’re not just a little sinful; we’re in it up to our eyeballs with no possibility of escape. But salvation is available through Jesus. That’s why He came. To save me. To save you. He’s knocking; why not invite Him in. Let’s pray.