A year ago this Sunday, we stood on the corner as the Sheep Gate Road enters into the Kidron Valley and watched scout troops come down one by one in their Palm Sunday procession. It was interesting, every Christian church there has a scout troop, and it is much like the Boy Scouts, but there are certainly boys and girls mixed together.
With a few exceptions, it was a drum corps that came to praise the King. These young people with their different versions of percussion really roused the crowd that was there to proclaim, "Halleluiah!" That's the Hebrew word everybody (I guess) knows. To see them come down, not out of the gate Jesus will go up, for it is blockaded by the Muslims, but the gate next to it. To see young people carrying on and proclaiming praise to the King was a very moving time for us.
All the while, cars were going up and down the Kidron Valley Expressway, and it is work day in Jerusalem. So many people are blinded to the realities that were represented in that simple ceremony.
I want to draw your attention this morning to the tenth chapter of Luke to look at the parable of the Good Samaritan…a story so powerful in and of itself that it has launched ministries throughout the world. The example set forth is so powerful that people have literally left their jobs and begun to serve and to try to emulate what the Samaritan emulates in this story. I want us to look at that today. I want to look at what it means to be a Good Samaritan from the standpoint of Christ…what it was He was trying to tell everyone.
We begin in roughly the 25th verse of Luke, chapter 10. It really begins with a question a lawyer brought to Jesus as He was performing His public ministry. It says in verse 25, "And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, 'Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?'" A question that really everyone asks at one time or another…he wanted to know, "What is it going to take for me to be sure I will inherit eternal life." I like the fact he used the word "inherit" showing that he as a Jew fully expected that being of the seed of Abraham, he would inherit it; but he wants to make sure.
He is a lawyer, and a lawyer is not like a lawyer we have in our society today. It meant he was an expert in the Mosaic Law. It's interesting, isn't it, that he knows enough of the Law to not just trust that being of the seed of Abraham was going to get him to paradise. So he wants to test Christ; he wants to test this rabbi, and he says, "What shall I do…what must I do…what's necessary…to inherit eternal life?"
Well, Christ…as He does so often when He is encountered with a question or even encountered with an objection, goes right to the heart of the individual. In this case, the heart of the individual surrounds the Mosaic Law. Jesus responds in verse 26 by saying to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?" In other words, "What do you think? You're an expert in the Mosaic Law. What do you think it says is necessary to obtain eternal life?"
Listen, this man is not a fool by any means. He knows all of the Mosaic Law is really summed up in a statement Moses made back in Deuteronomy. That statement is what he responds with. In verse 27, he answered and said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." He says, "That's what the law says to me. That's what I am to do. That if I do this, I will inherit eternal life." "To me," he says, "the entire testament is rolled up in this summary statement Moses made."
Of course Jesus also uses this statement Himself, so it is a good verse to summarize what all of the "do not's" and the "do's" of the law really amounted to. Loving the Lord your God with everything you've got…heart, soul, mind, and strength…and then loving others the same way you love yourself.
Jesus said to him, "You've answered rightly." You know? Checkmark. "Do this, and you will live. This is all you have to do. Here you are an expert in all of the different shadows and gray areas of the law, but you know you have it right. You do this one verse, and you shall live."
Now, if it's true for the lawyer, and if it's good enough for the lawyer, it's good enough for all of us. All we need to do is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, our souls, our minds, and our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, and all of the rest of this really is just summed up in that. If we do that…we live.
But you and I instantly have a pricking in our heart about this, don't we? Because we're wondering, Well, just how far does this go? Just how much of this do I have to obey? What if I don’t carry it out to the full extent of what is intended? And that's exactly what the lawyer said.
In verse 29 it says, "But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'" "Who is my neighbor?"
In other words, his response is, "Well, what do you mean by that last part…neighbor?" Really, even in just telling us that, he immediately lets us know he's under conviction because he realizes there are people who might be classified as neighbor that he has not loved like he loves himself.
I think what is true with the lawyer, if we're honest, is true with all of us. We don't love everyone we encounter in life the same way we love ourselves. So we have this question as well perhaps, Well, how far does that go? Who is my neighbor? Is it my next door neighbor? Is it my family? Is it the people I tend to associate with? Is it those in my synagogue? Who are we talking about here? What qualifies so that I can know just how much of this law I'm going to have to try to keep in order to obtain eternal life?
What Jesus responds with is not a simple answer but a parable, and the parable is one that's going to speak very strongly to us today as we consider this matter as well. Jesus answered in verse 30 and said, "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. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side."
"But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So, he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.' So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?"
Jesus gives a story that's not all too uncommon in that culture of thieves and robbers springing themselves on a traveler down the Jericho road. There was a road that existed between the high mountains…the 2500 elevation of Jerusalem…and went in between the different mountain passes as it descended all the way down some 1200 feet below sea level to the city of Jericho. That road, which still exists today, was not a major highway, but actually just simply a trail probably no wider than the distance between these pews.
So when a Levite and a priest come, it's not that they're going to see the man way over there. In fact, the fact of the matter is, they're going to have to step over him. They're going to have to go all the way around him. It's not that by chance they didn’t have to get involved. They are involved, and their decision not to help him is a very conscious, very purposed decision.
Now we would expect to find a Levite. The Levites in that day lived in Jericho. That was where the Levites' community was, and they were the workers of the temple. They would travel that road all the time. It was a day's journey to walk from Jericho to the top of the mountain to Jerusalem. They would travel up there and travel back. They knew the dangers very well, and they probably have seen people who have been attacked before.
This particular individual has been attacked by robbers and apparently really left for dead. They must have taken something off his personal possession because his animal, his donkey or his camel…whatever he was riding, is just left there. It may be that when the Levite and the priest saw this, they knew there could be robbers still in the area. So for their own protection, we might say, they decided not to interfere and to walk around.
But of course that's not what happened with the Samaritan. If you know a little bit of Bible story, you know the Samaritan was an enemy to this man who is lying in this ditch. He was a Jew, and the Samaritans and the Jews were enemies of each other. To the Jew, a Samaritan was a dog…not even fully human. For this Samaritan to see this bleeding enemy, and to stop, speaks volumes to us this morning.
In fact, the Bible says the characteristic he had that the two religious people did not have, was he had compassion. He had compassion. It was a compassion that caused him to stop and to bind up the wounds, to get the man treated with what medicine he had…some oil that he could salve over this man's injuries, to get him up on his own animal, and to continue the journey down to Jericho.
One thing you pass through when you go from Jerusalem to Jericho…in fact, it's just two miles north of Jericho on this Jericho road…is a valley. There are valleys all the way, but this one particular valley is met on one side by a very tall, steep cliff that at a certain time of day…in the afternoons as the sun passes by…casts a huge shadow over the road below it. It is known as the Gai Tsalmavet…the Death Valley Shadow. It is what David referred to as the valley of the shadow of death.
He, at risk of his own life, takes this enemy, binds him, works on him as best he can, and then carries him through this valley into the inn down in Jericho. There, he puts him up, just showing a compassion for humanity that is greater than a man's prejudice…that is greater than a man's preference.
Surely this Samaritan was on his way to do something, and surely stopping to help this man…perhaps the Samaritan wasn't even headed to Jericho…but stopping to help this individual has put him out of his way. It is not convenient for him at all. He demonstrates to us what compassion…what mercy…is really all about. It's putting someone else…someone else more important…above yourself.
Now, Jesus asks the question, "Which of these three, the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan, do you think was the neighbor? You ask Me who is a neighbor, so let's define it. Which one was the neighbor?" And he answered rightly in verse 37. He said, "He who showed mercy on him." And Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
"The neighbor…" He says, "…being neighborly is to show mercy." It's to show compassion. That means anybody…anybody who is in need of mercy…anyone who is at risk and in need of compassion…is a person you're to love as you love yourself. Paul already told us this, but we are not to view an enemy as any exception to that. Here are people who are socially enemies with each other, and yet Jesus is teaching through this parable that they are neighbors one to another.
You know, I think when this lawyer asked this question, he wanted to discuss "neighbor" in a general way. He wanted kind of a platonic sort of platitude kind of answer, something that really didn't have any teeth in it. But notice what Jesus does… Jesus forced him to consider a specific man in need.
Now this speaks a lot to us because often when we talk about poverty, when we talk about helping each other, or we talk about showing mercy, often the temptation is to leave it in a general sense. We talk about it just sort of generally. We don't put the individual faces on that. So we like to discuss things like poverty, and yet never personally help feed a single hungry person. Jesus puts a specific face on this.
The lawyer wanted to make the issue philosophical, but Jesus just made it simple and practical. He said, "This is what you do." When we think about the need to be a Good Samaritan, I think we need to take one more step with it this morning and to really kind of step back and to really consider…Well just what was Jesus' mission to begin with? We know He came to seek and to save the lost. We know He came to die. That "Whosoever would believe in Him would not perish, but would have everlasting life."
You know I think something has happened to us between the days of this parable and the day in which we live. I think we have in some way or another reduced the gospel to four spiritual laws…to this idea of a "ticket to heaven"…to this "get-out-of-hell-free card." We have focused our attention so entirely on the salvation of an individual that I think we have forgotten what the entire…the whole…gospel is really teaching.
You know, it would be interesting to see it from Jesus' perspective, and we get the opportunity to do that. Jesus, right after He is baptized by John, shortly thereafter, He makes His way back to His home. On a particular Sabbath…before He's really known by anybody, just has some of His disciples with Him…He goes in to be the guest speaker…something you could do in a synagogue. You could read from a text. He goes in, and He selects Isaiah 61.
In Isaiah 61, He sits down, and He reads the following. He says, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." Then it says He rolls that scroll back up and sits down and says, "Today, this is fulfilled in your presence."
Now can you imagine…we're having church today, and maybe a neighbor…child of yours…comes up here and wants to say something? They stand up, and they read a verse from the Second Coming of Christ and about Jesus and His return. They close the Bible, and they say, "Today, this is fulfilled in your presence." Well you're thinking, Crazy, right? And that's exactly what many of them were thinking when Jesus said that. But what is important for us is…why did He say that?
I like to think of this as Jesus' mission statement. He begins…inaugurates…His public ministry. Of all the verses, of all the things He could say, He chooses to say this. Often, we have mission statements when we begin a business or we begin a mission. You know, a short statement that's going to define and identify exactly what we're about, exactly what our goals and our purposes are. Jesus chooses this verse in Isaiah to let the people know what He is about. Now it is a Messianic prophecy. It is a prophecy of the fact that there's going to be a king and a servant…that He is going to serve in both capacities.
Jesus gives us really three little points here in Isaiah that I think, if we can understand this, we'll understand what Jesus is talking about over in the parable of the Good Samaritan. I think you're going to find it is somewhat different than the way we think. Notice first of all, He says by choosing this section in Isaiah that part of His mission statement is to proclaim the good news. Now the good news is simply gospel. Or I should say, gospel is simply a word that means good news. It is an old Greek word translated from the word euagelion, which means good message…which is the word we get evangelism from.
The gospel…good news…Jesus says in Isaiah 61, "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach the good tidings to the poor." Oh, don't miss that. Don't miss that in our comfortable, suburban homes. The mission statement of Jesus Christ was not just to preach, but it was to preach to the poor. He was going to proclaim the good news to the poor.
But you know Jesus didn't even stop there. Not only was it a proclamation, but it was also about compassion, because the very next statement of Isaiah He chooses to read says, "He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives." In other words, to have compassion on people, to have compassion on the prisoner, to have compassion on those who are captivated by the system in which they are living, to heal those who are brokenhearted.
In other words, He goes on to say, "To give sight to the blind." He talks about that in the Luke 4 account. Jesus literally did this. And if you will notice something about Jesus' ministry, it wasn't just preaching salvation, was it? It was all about compassion. He was very interested in the relationships people had. He was very interested in their health. He was interested in healing them and trying to show them how to walk and enjoy a better life. Jesus said in John 10:10, "I came that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." Not just eternal life, but abundant life. That's the compassion Jesus had all throughout His ministry.
I think we miss the boat when we think we have done our job as Christians or as a Church if we preach salvation on Sunday. Because I'm telling you this morning that the mission statement of Jesus Christ is that we are to have compassion in this world. We are to demonstrate compassion to those who are around us.
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