The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Sermon preached on Luke 10:25-37 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 03/06/2022 in Novato, CA.

Sermon Manuscript

Today we come to the memorable passage containing the parable of the Prodigal Son. Only Luke’s gospel has preserved this important parable for us. To say this parable has had a major impact on civilization is an understatement. Countries throughout the world today have what is referred to as Good Samaritan laws that supports passersby who help other in need. Yet, while that is a very visible impact of this passage, there is so much more to learn from here than simply such applications to civil law. This is a passage that portrays the beauty of God’s law. It is also a passage that drives us back to the mercy of God.

Let us begin in the verses thats lead up to Jesus actually telling the parable. I’m referring to the initial conversation between Jesus and this lawyer. That is the context for the parable. A lawyer comes to question Jesus, to put him to the test. Understand that this lawyer is not a lawyer in today’s sense. He was an supposed to be an expert not in civil law, but in God’s law. In other words, he was a Bible scholar who studied especially the Torah in great detail. And so, this would have been someone that people would have considered an expert in the Bible, a man considered full of wisdom and understanding with regarding the Scriptures. So then, here we should remember where we ended last week. Remember, just before this Jesus had been praising God in verses 21-24 about how God had hidden the secrets of his kingdom from the wise and understanding and chosen to reveal it instead to the little children. So then, Luke then immediately turns to show us this lawyer who would have been one of those people considered to be wise and understanding. Yet, this lawyer comes to Jesus to test Jesus, but in the testing, shows that he hasn’t yet himself understood the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. The lawyer presumes to test Jesus for proper knowledge, and in the process is shown himself be lacking knowledge himself.

So then, the lawyer’s question to try to test Jesus is there in verse 25. He asks, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” In classic Jesus fashion, Jesus turns the tables. He gets the lawyer to go on the record and answer his own question. Jesus asks the lawyer, “Well lawyer, what does the law say?” The lawyer then answers Jesus by giving what is described elsewhere by Jesus as the two greatest commandments. First and foremost, we must love God with all that we are. Second, we must love our neighbor as ourself. This is indeed what the law in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. Jesus, confirms this by say that the man’s answer was correct, and if the man did this, then he would live. I would note that the idea of, “Do this and live” is also from the law, in Leviticus 18:5. This interchange is wonderful because the lawyer had sought to test Jesus, but Jesus turns it around to test the lawyer. But it also reveals how someone can know so much about the Bible but still not truly have a saving knowledge. The lawyer had the right Bible answer to Jesus’ question. He academically knew that Bible’s teachings. But the passage goes on to show that he still has more to learn to truly understand how to inherit eternal life. When he asked the question of Jesus in order to test Jesus, the lawyer surely thought he knew the right answer to that question. But Jesus’ ends up testing him and exposing the lawyers’ own lacking knowledge.

So Jesus takes the lawyer’s summary of the law with those two commandments, and tells him, “Do this and live.” Realize this is quite a statement by Jesus. Those two commandments telling us to love God and love our neighbor are a summary of God’s moral law. When Jesus says, “Do this and live” he is absolutely right that if someone did actually perfectly keep those two laws all the time and never faltered, then one could merit their eternal life. Surely when Jesus said this, your typical moralist and legalist on the surface would have said, “Amen.” You might expect this lawyer to have at first also said, “Amen.” But the lawyer had a more honest response. Look at verse 29. His immediate reaction to Jesus’s call to “Do this and live” is to try to justify himself.

That’s surely an honest response. It’s surely an understandable response. It’s also a damnable response. It’s where we see that this wise and understanding lawyer didn’t yet have the wisdom and knowledge of salvation. When someone is confronted with the fullness of the law’s demands for righteousness, an honest appraisal will make you realize that you fall so short in keeping it. That’s clearly the initial reaction of this lawyer. Surely, that inner conscience would have confronted him with his own guilt in falling short of the law’s demands. So then, when this lawyer realizes that he doesn’t fully measure up to the law, he has two options before him. He could confess his guilt and say something like, “Have mercy on me a sinner.” That would have been a saving response. But unfortunately he takes the other option which is try to find a way to justify himself under the law. And when you can’t actually justify yourself under the strict measure of the law then the way a legalist tries to get out of that is by trying to lessen the laws demands. If the standards of the law are more than you can keep, then you try to lower the standards to something that you can keep. That’s why in verse 29 he asks, “And who is my neighbor?” If you can limit the amount of people who are to be considered your neighbor, then you can reduce the amount of people you can love. That can allow you to justify yourself when you don’t love people you should be loving. In fact, it was common among such Jewish lawyers to try say that only other Jews qualified as your neighbor, giving you the permission to hate Gentiles and Samaritans.

So then, that is the context now for our second point to consider Jesus’ parable. Starting in verse 30, Jesus gives this parable of the Good Samaritan in response to the lawyer’s attempt to justify himself by asking “Well, who is my neighbor?” So then, in the parable Jesus describes a man traveling on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. That is about a 17 mile journey through some isolated and rugged terrain on a route that was not uncommon for bandits. Jesus doesn’t state an ethnicity of the man which surely means we should assume the man to be a Jew. So then, this man is assaulted by robbers who took everything from him and leave him for dead. Jesus then describes two likely neighbors who you would expect to rise to the help of this man. First there is a priest and then afterward a Levite. Remember, the priests were all of a specific lineage from the tribe of Levi, who were to be the religious leaders in the temple service to offer the sacrifices. But the rest of the Levites were also to be religious leaders doing all the other various jobs needed in the temple. And when not in Jerusalem, the Levites in the various towns still were the people who were to be serving as religious leaders among the people. In addition to their religious duties, it is typically thought that the Levites played a leadership role in what we might call today diaconal matters, seeing to the help of the poor and needy. So, do you see then why this is so surprising that neither the priest or the Levite would help this injured man who so needed to be helped? If anyone should have a sense of obligation to love this man and show him mercy, you’d expect the religious leaders to do so. If anyone should set the example for showing love to a neighbor in need, you’d expect the priests and the Levites to do so.

But Jesus’ parable envisions them ignoring them man. It says they saw the hurt man but chose to pass by on the other side. In other words, they literally go out of their way to avoid the man as much as possible. One could imagine all sorts of reasons why they might have wanted to not help the man but rather steer clear of him. To stop and help the man would take time and significantly interrupt your schedule and plans. To help the man will likely involve cost to you. Whoever attacked and robbed the man might still be in the area, and you want to keep moving. The location of where the man was attacked meant it would not be easy to get such an injured man back to the safety of a town or village. There are a number of reasons why someone might not help such a man. But if anyone would cometo his aid, you would think it would be a priest or a Levite.

Instead, it is the Samaritan. Realize, the Jews and the Samaritans hated each other. There was a long history of aggression and enmity between the two people groups that had been going on for centuries. That hatred was alive and well during Jesus’ day. If the priest and Levite were the most likely people to help this poor man, one would think the Samaritan was the least likely person to help. Yet, in Jesus’ parable, it’s this Samaritan who puts the history of enmity behind him in order to come to the aid of a human being who definitely needed such help. Notice all the ways that Jesus describes how the Samaritan shows mercy to the man. It begins in verse 33 where he says that when the Samaritan man saw the injured person that he had compassion. This language in the Greek refers to how you feel in your guts a strong emotional concern for someone. So, this Samaritan is described as having a genuine heart of compassion for this person. The implication, by the way, is that the priest and Levite were inwardly cold and unmoved by the poor battered man in his plight. So then, from the heart, this Samaritan goes to action to help the man. He goes to him, not avoids him. He performs first aid by binding up his wounds and pouring on oil and wine. He then places the man on his own animal to transport him to the nearest inn, which means that he himself is going to walk the rest of the way. Then the rest of the day and all night long he cares for the man. Finally, the next day, the Samaritan has to get on his way, but leaves two denarii with the innkeeper to provide for the man with the promise that he’ll return and pay more if needed. Two denarii was the amount of money the typical person would earn for two days of work, so it was a decent bit of money he left to help this man. Maybe that wouldn’t seem very much if you were helping someone you knew and loved; but here the Samaritan is giving that money to help some stranger he doesn’t even know, and again a stranger who is surely a Jew on top of that. So then, Jesus shows a picture of loving your neighbor here with the unlikely person helping and in such an abundant and commendable way.

Let me pause her for an application. This commended example of loving your neighbor shows that neither race nor creed are reasons to not show neighborly love. Jews and Samaritans were of different races and different religious creeds, but Jesus shows that doesn’t negate your duty to show them the neighborly love that the law requires. May we not let these or other differences we have with people become excuses for why we don’t love them the way God commands us to love them.

Let us now in our third point return to the dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer to see how Jesus drives home his point with the lawyer. So then, Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” The lawyer rightly answered, “The one who showed him mercy.” So then, appreciate what Jesus just did in that question. His question switched around the whole focus. The lawyer had asked “who is my neighbor” to try to limit those whom he had to love.” But Jesus flips the question on the lawyer by asking, “Who proved to be a neighbor to the man in need?” Jesus is saying that the lawyer asked the wrong question. Don’t ask “Who’s my neighbor?” Ask, “How can I show myself to be a neighbor to others?” You aren’t keeping the spirit of God’s law if you are trying to get away with as loving as few of people as possible. The spirit of God’s law is to be loving others, period. Instead of having a minimal scope of whom we should love, we should look to have a maximal scope of whom we should love.

So then, Jesus calls this lawyer and us to show mercy toward others and to show it from the heart. Jesus says that we shouldn’t look to sinfully limit that mercy to some small list. But we should look to be such a person that is a genuinely mercy-showing human to others. Jesus applies all this to the lawyer in that final verse, when in verse 37 Jesus says, “You go, and do likewise.” This is the complement to Jesus’ earlier “Do this and live” exhortation. If you are going to keep the law it will mean a full and complete adherence too it in a full and complete way, not some minimal and truncated keeping of it.

Take this in light of the lawyer’s original question. He asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. How can someone have the blessed everlasting life of glory that God’s Word presents instead of receiving the threatened punishment of eternal damnation in the lake of fire where there is everlasting torment? The lawyer had asked this question and Jesus turned it back on the man to answer. The lawyer gave an answer according to the law – not surprising. The lawyer said that the law promised eternal life if you obeyed it. Jesus didn’t disagree. Jesus actually agreed. But the lawyer knew he would fall short on a strict reading of the law, so he tried to justify himself by trying to limit the scope of the law. So that the lawyer could be justified by works of the law in order to have everlasting life and not eternal damnation. But Jesus calls him on that. Jesus says the laws demands are greater than what the lawyer wanted them to be. You see, the laws demands, rightly acknowledged, would leave him unable to be justified by works of the law. That’s the conclusion that this man should have come to after this conversation with Jesus. The best this lawyer could do to keep the law was still going to make him fall short of inheriting eternal life.

I hope the application to us all today is obvious. If you take this parable and think that you can so fully and completely love others like Jesus said here, you are missing the point. If you think you can justify yourself by the standards of the second greatest commandment, you have fooled yourself. And that doesn’t even take into account the first greatest commandment, which you also fall greatly short of. When we hear Jesus confront this lawyer with his desire to be justified by the law, we are supposed to realize that none of us will pass such a test. Try as we may, none of us would be able to justify ourselves before God with our law keeping. Instead of trying to justify ourselves, let us condemn ourselves. Instead of trying to justify ourselves by the works of the law, let us see that there is instead a way to be justified by the mercy of God in Christ.

Let me further make this case by noting the point about the heart here. The Samaritan excelled here because he had genuine compassion from the heart. Isn’t that the biggest challenge in our keeping all of God’s laws all the time? Yes, sometimes we see our hearts feel and respond the right way when opportunities for righteousness arise. But too often our hearts aren’t where they should be. Too often we have to force ourselves to do what we know is the right thing when our hearts don’t want to do it. The point is that the Bible reveals our total depravity, and it is not just in what we say or do. It’s in who we are. Our souls are like this half dead man who couldn’t help himself. We need God to have mercy on us to save us and care for us and see to our healing and recovery.

Thanks be to God, that this is exactly what God did in Jesus. Jesus would go from Jericho up to Jerusalem to give up himself to die on the cross for our sins. He’d pay the price personally for the wrath of God we earned in our failings to keep the law. We did not “do this and live” but rather “didn’t do that and died”. But he earned eternal life for us and bequeaths it to all who come to him in faith. He says that we can be justified on account of his mercy as an alternative to be justified by law keeping. What does he require then to receive this justification according to mercy? Not law keeping but faith. We need to recognize that we can’t be justified by our law keeping and instead look to him in faith to receive justification as an act of his mercy and grace. This is the wisdom and understanding from above that we each need if we are to be saved and enjoy eternal life. We fall short of “do this and live”. We needed to trust in “Christ did this” so we can live.

If you have come to know such mercy of God in Christ, what then becomes of the law for you? Does the mercy of God nullify your obligations to these two greatest commandments? No, not at all. The law is right and good and true even if we aren’t able to perfectly keep it in this life. So, we should always try to keep it, even when we fall short. God’s mercy to us in our failings should spur us on to try to keep it all the more. Jesus says this law is good.

That means today’s passage really commands you to love your neighbor as yourself. We have a moral obligation toward loving others. That obligation doesn’t go away just because you don’t know the person or even if they are your enemy in some way or another. Pause and think for a moment of any group of people that you really despise what they stand for. Jesus tells you to love them as yourself. You don’t have to agree with someone to be kind to them. You don’t have to join with someone’s folly, in order to have mercy on them in their hour of need.

Isn’t that what Jesus did for us? While we were yet enemies, Christ showed us mercy by dying for us. It would have been easy for the Samaritan in this parable to look at that beaten up Jew and think he just got what he deserved. But as Christians, our faith is about how we haven’t gotten what we deserved from God. Let us go and likewise show such mercy to others.


Copyright © 2022 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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