Jesus and the Loveless Lawyer, Part 1
Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Luke 10:25-28
Jesus and the Loveless Lawyer (Part 1)
November 10, 2019
It is a joy to return to Luke’s Gospel, to come to a new section and find yet another opportunity to see and to savor Jesus Christ. If you’re not there already—Luke chapter 10—we’re going to be starting in verse 25, where we will meet a certain lawyer, a man with so much going for him. And yet he was so, so far away. At the beginning of Luke 10, as we’ve studied—just want to give you a little reminder of where we’ve come from since it has been a little while since we’ve been in Luke chapter 10—Jesus appointed and sent out seventy-two disciples ahead of him. He sent them out two by two into every town, every place, little village, hamlet and everything else where he was about to go throughout Judea and even into Perea. Those seventy-two disciples returned from that mission successful. Verse 17 says they were rejoicing in the power of God. Those seventy-two disciples were really at the leading edge of the advancement of God’s Kingdom into Judea and Perea—a fascinating time to be alive for those men who were preaching the Gospel and healing and casting out demons.
As they debriefed their mission, Jesus gave them even more reasons to rejoice. In Luke 10:21 it says, “In that same hour Jesus also rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.” And he made a distinction in that verse—Luke 10:21—between two kinds of people. He says, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and have revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” Two kinds of people in the world, two kinds of people, according to how Christ sees things: the wise and the understanding, and then the little children.
That is how Jesus thinks about the world. Those are the lenses through which Jesus evaluates every human being individually on the planet. They are either in the category of the “wise and the understanding” or the “little children.” He’s asking that question with every person he meets: “Is this person a member of the wise and the understanding of the world, or are they one of the little children? Are they a citizen of the Kingdom of God, those whose names”—verse 20—“are written in heaven”?
As the rest of the chapter unfolds before us, we’re going to see what Jesus sees. We’re going to look at the world through his eyes. Luke gives us—as the narrator here, as he’s compiled this Gospel—some amazing and special insight into how Jesus sees the world, how Jesus evaluates people. And by the end of the chapter, we are going to see how the Gospel truth has, indeed, been hidden from the wise and the understanding, but graciously and ever-so-gently revealed to little children—to the true citizens of the Kingdom.
First, look at verses 25-37, where we’re going to meet this certain lawyer, a representative of the “wise and the understanding” category. He’s actually one of the best representatives of the “wise and the understanding” category of humanity. Starting in verse 24:
*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 lawyer is a picture of the “wise and the understanding.” And it’s going to take us a couple of weeks to learn the lessons here in this section. Afterward, though—after we learn those lessons and see some very foundational, fundamental things that we need to hear—we’re going to meet some dear Gospel friends—sisters in Christ, those who are counted as “little children” by sovereign election, by gracious calling. Take a look at verse 38:
*Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. [This would be one of the villages that had been canvassed and evangelized by two members of the seventy-two] And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”*
So Martha, Mary—those are “the little children” whom Jesus spoke of back in verse 21. Two of them. They are two of those to whom Jesus has chosen to reveal the Father—verse 22. They are privileged to wade into the deep waters of divine truth, sitting and listening to Jesus teach. Martha, Mary—they’re blessed with “eyes to see, with ears to hear,” with hearts that respond in faith and understanding. In verse 23, Jesus said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.” That’s Martha and Mary. “For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see”—verse 24—“and did not see it, to hear what you hear and did not hear it.” Two women in a little village called Bethany—and they have the privilege of seeing and hearing what kings and priests and prophets did not hear, did not see, for themselves.
That’s why these sisters welcomed Jesus. They listened to him, they learned from him, and their hearts were wide open to the truth. They sought the good portion from Jesus. They found the one thing necessary. And what is that? Access to the Father by one Spirit in Jesus Christ. Look at Luke 11:1: “Lord, teach us to pray.” That’s where this leads. Mary and Martha had the good portion. They found the one thing necessary, and Jesus is pointing them to that. And then we get into chapter 11, verse 1: “Lord, teach us to pray.” What’s the one thing necessary? Access to the Father through faith in Christ. Children of God have been granted that right of access, to enter into the very presence of God, to come before his throne, not cowering as dominated subjects, but coming into and jumping into his lap as little children would whose Father is the King.
They’ve been granted right of access. They come before God, and they pray. They ask him for good gifts, lavished upon us by grace, distributed to us according to divine wisdom. God started by giving his children—as it says in Romans 8:32—his own beloved Son. “So how will he not also with him freely give us all things?” That “all things” starts in Luke 11:13: “He grants us his Holy Spirit.” We come to him with a need. He says, “I’ll do you one better. I’m going to give you my Holy Spirit.” That’s what we’re going to learn. It opens us the vast treasure room of Heaven to supply every single need.
I am eager—really eager—to get there! I want to move through all this, devour it. I’d love to do this. If we could start preaching now and maybe end sometime in the middle of the week—that would be great! But we must do things like eat and sleep—and we have jobs, some of us, I suppose—so we’ve got to take our time and go week by week. And I want to make sure that we don’t hurry through this because in his wisdom, the Holy Spirit wants us to stop and see and consider something that is most essential before we get to Luke 11. He wants us to see something that is supremely fundamental and prior to all those blessings of the Kingdom of God.
That’s why we’re going to study this conversation between Jesus and the lawyer, something most instructing and needful for us and to prompt faith for any who are listening who are not yet believers. Maybe you’re sitting on the edge, and you come into the church and you’re here with family or friends or just here on your own initiative, but you don’t have, yet, a heart of faith. You’re not yet believing—you’re curious, you’re interested. Some of the things we’re talking about are intellectually satisfying or stimulating. Or maybe you have nothing better to do on a Sunday morning. But you don’t yet believe. You don’t yet love and worship the Lord Jesus Christ. The songs we sing are a bit like reading somebody else’s mail, looking over somebody else’s fence into a yard that you don’t fully enjoy. So maybe you’re here as an unbeliever, as many of us were once, sitting in church, listening to sermons, not believers. What we’re going to find here may be the very thing that the Lord uses—by his grace—to prompt believing in your heart, to help you to see your sin before a holy God, to see salvation in Jesus Christ, and to see him as most precious and most glorious.
For many of you who are here and you are believers, this section—this conversation between Jesus and the lawyer—is going to help educate and strengthen our faith. It’s going to help us see the purpose and the point of our faith and our believing, that we might “love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” We need to see, though, how this faith—these eternal truths—have been hidden by God from this intelligent lawyer. He is no slouch. We’ll get into that a little bit. We need to see how God has hidden the truth from this man in order that we might see and understand what’s most essential, what’s most fundamental, as we head into the rest of Luke’s Gospel. We need to see the reason that the lawyer missed out tragically on Christ, lest we fall into the same error.
What’s described in the text before us—verses 25-37—is really nothing short of tragic. Such promise in this lawyer, such joy to be found in insightful answers to Christ. Even more joy in learning from Jesus through the conversation. Wouldn’t you love to sit there listening, sitting in the front row as Jesus has a conversation with somebody? That person he’s talking to can make all the mistakes, right? He can say all the things, and you’re like—“Whoa, ho, ho! That was bold! But I probably would have said the same thing.” We can hear Jesus answer him, so we’re in a safe place, aren’t we, sitting on the edge and listening to the conversation? And we are hearing, by the way, from the vantage point of 2,000 years later with the completed Scripture in our hands as we read the words on this page from Luke, the inspired words of God—words of the Holy Spirit.
We get to learn through this conversation, but we should never miss the tragedy that’s recorded here. The tragic thing is to see somebody who is so close, like this lawyer, with such insight into God’s Word. But at the same time, he is locked out of saving truth. Why? Because he lacked love. He did not love the God of the Word. He even tried to find a loophole in the law of God, to find a way out of loving his neighbor.
The way that Luke has structured the whole account helps us to see the main point. Verses 25-28 address this man’s lack of love for God, and then verses 29-37 address his lack of love for his neighbor. And you’ll see a parallel between the two sections. Both sections follow exactly the same structure. First, Luke reveals the lawyer’s motive. He tells us, the reader, what’s in the lawyer’s head and heart. So you see that in verses 25 and 25—the lawyer’s motive. Then the lawyer poses his question. If we only had the question without the motive, we really wouldn’t know what’s going on here. But we do. We have the motive and then secondly we have the question—verses 25 and 29. Jesus responds with kind of an answer; as a rabbinical teacher, he is using a rhetorical counter-question in order to instruct the student. So he provides an answer, but it’s a rhetorical counter-question device—verse 26—and then an extended answer in verses 30-36.
And then you see, fourthly, that the lawyer responds to Jesus—verse 27 and verse 37—answering his question. And finally, number 5, Jesus concludes with a final word. In each case, there’s a command attending to it: “Do this and live” in verse 28, and again in verse 37 another command: “Go and do likewise.”
The thread that strings all five of these points together—the lawyer’s motive, the lawyer’s question, Jesus’ response, the lawyer’s response, and then Jesus’ final word—is not subtle. It’s plain and obvious; you don’t need to be some kind of a scholar, learned or whatever, to see it. You can see it plain on the face of the text. It’s this matter of love. What we see illustrated negatively in the lawyer is a lack of love. And so what this is prompting for us as Christians, as readers, is needful self-examination. We need to put ourselves in the shoes of this confident, biblically informed lawyer and ask ourselves some hard and honest questions, like this: “Do I truly love God, or do I not? Do I truly love my neighbor, or do I not?” There’s a warning for us in this text. There is a warning about the tragedy of a loveless Christianity. So many people—like us, let’s throw ourselves in the mix here—can have their heads filled with knowledge. We go online and download and we listen to teaching, teaching, teaching, teaching. We love the truth, don’t we? We love those ancient words. We love to talk about them, share them, post them on Facebook. We love the truth.
But do we love the person we’re in conflict with? Do we love our neighbor? Husband, do you love your wife as Christ loved the church? Wives, do you love your husband? Do you love your children? The holiday season’s coming up—plenty of opportunity in Thanksgiving and Christmas to have conflict with in-laws, right? Do we love everybody? Do we love them all? What about the person we don’t know? What about the person who really irritates us? What the person who has done something spiteful to us, who slandered us, hurt us, got us denied a promotion—someone who has so assassinated our character that we can never show our face over there again? What about that person—do you love them? God loves even his enemies.
Beloved, we have to ask some hard questions, don’t we, about ourselves? And I think we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the lawyer. We need to walk around and see how Jesus’ words target our hearts. My hope and prayer is that none of us in this church will fall prey to the tragedy of a loveless Christianity. We focus, rightly, on Scripture—to make every effort as we do to honor the Word of God. We have it read several times during the service. We sing the Word of God. We preach it, teach it from the children’s wing to the adult wing and everywhere in between, in our home groups, in our Bible studies, in private meetings—such a focus on Scripture. And that is good and that is right.
But what a tragedy it would be for us, wouldn’t it? if we fall in the end because we do not love the God of the Word—if we do not love those whom he commands us to love, i.e. our neighbors. I’m not just talking about our next-door neighbors. I’m talking about those whom the Bible defines as a neighbor—someone in need. Because in the end it’s not how much you know; it’s what you do with what you know. It’s what you do with what you know. It’s the presence or absence of divine love operative in and through us that is going to determine our eternal destiny. We dare not take this lightly.
If you’re taking notes—I’ll give you three points in terms of these three tragedies that are kind of outlined here in the lawyer. And I can tell you now that we’re not going to get through all of these this morning. This sermon is a single sermon, and yet it’s snipped in two. It’s going to have to span a couple of weeks. So it’s going to span two Sundays because there’s just so much to cover in verses 25-28. I mean, think about it—we are dealing with the first and second greatest commandments in Scripture. We’re dealing with things that are profoundly important, so it behooves us to slow down a little bit, doesn’t it?
Three tragedies—here’s the first: the tragedy of having the right teacher. The tragedy of having the right teacher. I mentioned the Internet. The advent of the Internet has proliferated the amount of teaching available to everyone just at the click of a mouse. We can read good theology. We can look up sound Bible commentary, recent or ancient. So much from years ago is actually posted for free online that you can download to your heart’s content. We can listen to so much good teaching, downloading sermons, listening to them while we’re working at home, while we’re driving, while we’re exercising—whatever. We’re able to be very critical listeners, too, aren’t we? With only so many hours in the day, we kind of have to be, don’t we? Only so much time to listen, so we’re interested in listening not to just any teacher. We want to learn from the very best teachers. And they’re out there—so we wade through the mediocre. We sift through it all, and we find the good, and the better, and then the very best. The most insightful thinkers, the most gifted communicators—we sit at the feet, don’t we? of the very best teachers.
The lawyer in our text didn’t have access to the Internet, but he was in touch with ancient resources. I guess they were contemporary to him, but ancient to us. He had access to primary material. He was in touch with the very best resources of his time, the very best scholarship. Jerusalem was the hub of that. The Sanhedrin funded it. And now he’s sitting with the very best teacher in the entire universe.
Look at verse 25: “Behold, a certain lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” Now, had we been sitting there that day, if we’re sitting there listening to Jesus like the lawyer is—we’re listening to Jesus teach, and we watch this lawyer—“nomikos” is the term in the Greek—we watch this “nomikos,” this lawyer, stand up—we hear him ask this question—if we were there, sitting along with him and we see this happen, from all appearances the interest of this lawyer would seem like a really positive development—“good for our movement.”
Lawyers in Jesus’ day were a class of studied legal experts. They’re scholars in Jewish jurisprudence, which meant the study of the Torah—in other words, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, the Law of Moses. That was the foundation of their study. That was the platform. And there is some foundational stuff in the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, starting with this one: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” If you need a platform on which to build life and thinking and world view, that is it—Genesis 1:1. That’s where they started. From a young age many of these who turned into scholars and scribes memorized the entire Torah—the first five books of the Bible—by the time they were 12. They learned from it. So they studied the foundation. They were also experts in the entire Tanakh. The Tanakh refers to the entire Hebrew Bible—what we call the Old Testament. Tanakh is an acronym, actually, derived from the three divisions in the Hebrew Bible. The “T” stands for the Torah, the Law; the “N” for the Nevi’im, the Prophets; and the “K” for the Ketuvim, the Writings. So the Torah, the Nevi’im, and the Ketuvin—the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings—are the Tanakh. Beyond that, the lawyers, the scribes as well, studied commentary on the Tanakh. Much of that has since then—in the 400s and 500s—been compiled into something called the Talmud. It consists of the oral tradition, which is what the Mishnah is; along with rabbinic commentary, which is called the Gemara. The Talmud, as a compilation, was not available in the first century, but the source material was all there. Oral tradition was there. It was being written down; it was being studied, and the scribes and the lawyers studied it. They knew it backwards and forwards.
So these lawyers—different from the scribes, who spent their time as academicians in the text—they’re that, but they’re also like skilled jurists. They’re not only scholars, but they’re also able to write legal opinion. They’re able to apply the law to actual cases. So this “nomikos” in our text here. This lawyer is not an “ivory tower” theologian. He is theologically sound. That’s how we think about the scribes—as an “ivory tower” theologian—the “grammateus”—that’s the scribes—are men skilled in the Jewish law—the theologians. The word here, though—the “nomikos”—is an adjective that actually means “pertaining to the law.” So when a man is pertaining to the law, that’s actually talking about this guy. He’s learned in the law. He’s a scholar and theologian, but he’s also conversant in the law to such a degree that he is able to apply the law, and therefore “a lawyer” is a good translation. That’s what he’s doing; he’s making it effective. The “nomikos” is skilled applying the law; he’s involved in the administration of the law. He studied Scripture, understood its doctrines. He was able to systematize it and then apply that sound doctrine and put it into proper use. The “nomikos” was there to serve—just like the scribes—the politicians and the priests of Israel and help them govern the people according to biblical wisdom. That’s this guy.
And up to this point in Luke’s Gospel, we have been conditioned to think of the scribes and the Pharisees and the lawyers as opposing Jesus, haven’t we? And they’re growing throughout Luke’s Gospel—there’s worse to come, right? But it’s growing in hostility. In Luke 7:30 we read, “The Pharisees and the lawyers”—the nomikoi—“rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by [John the Baptist].” So they’re already at odds with the whole Messianic program. Then in Luke 9:22, Jesus reveals there that not only did they reject him, but Jesus foretold of their association in his death. We have no reason here at this point to change our opinion of the lawyers, right? Because Luke, the narrator, has told us that this lawyer is up to no good. He stood up for the purpose of putting Jesus to the test. However, if we just take a minute to sit down and put ourselves among the crowd of disciples, listening to Jesus at this moment, we can imagine how a lawyer asking a question, standing up, would be viewed by all as a really, really positive thing.
Four reasons that people would have been encouraged by the lawyer’s presence and his question. Once again, Luke has told us in such an economy of language so much. He’s a master narrator. First, the main verb in this verb is the word “he stood,” which tells us that the lawyer started out from a seated position, didn’t he? Sitting down before a teacher teaching, a rabbi teaching—that is the posture of a learner. He’s taken the posture of a disciple. So someone of his stature, of his learning, of his prominence and respect in society—this lawyer sitting among Jesus’ followers, learning alongside other disciples—that’s got to be quite encouraging. That’s got to be quite affirming. By all appearances, though, the lawyer himself seems to be humble, teachable. After all, he’s there sitting among all the other disciples. He’s sitting among the “hoi polloi’’—the riff-raff. Many of these people were from—ugh!—Galilee, of all places. So he’s listening to Jesus teach, and he’s mentally engaged enough to ask an insightful question. So if you’re sitting there among the crowd, perhaps this means that Jerusalem is warming up to Jesus. “This is good for us! They’re starting to sign off on this, validate it, give us the gold seal of approval.”
Second thing: the lawyer stood up to ask this question, which is a proper way to ask. People sat before the rabbis, learning from a seated position, from a position of humility, subordination, submission. But they asked questions from a standing position, not only in order to be heard by the speaker or by the other students, but also in order to take public ownership of the question they asked. No anonymous questions. Standing up is actually viewed as respectful, responsible, even humble—to take personal ownership of what you say. So he stood up to ask his question—that’s right and proper.
Notice, third, that the lawyer addressed Jesus as “Teacher.” Well, this is like someone today with a PhD going back to the classroom, taking the posture of a learner—just another student in the crowd—submitting himself to the one-on-one class, conforming to the rules of the classroom. He’s not seeking some private audience, like Nicodemus did in John 3. There are no apparent expectations of special privilege from Jesus, no expectations of deference. He calls him “Teacher.”
And fourth, this lawyer asks what seems to be the most important question of all: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He’s not asking some arcane point of theology: “Rabbi, tell us precisely when the angels were created. And how many, by the way, can dance on the head of a pin.” He’s not asking anything like that. He’s asking something that everybody understands. He’s asking a question the answer to which is accessible not just to the scholarly. It’s not just a matter of academic speculation and interest. He’s asking what is on everybody’s heart and mind. Yes, the question that occupies every human heart. It’s true, isn’t it? We’re concerned about where we go when we die. When we’re alone with our thoughts, when we’ve set aside all distractions, turned off all technology and blips and beeps and sounds and incoming emails and texts and everything else—the world and its noise around us is silenced. These are the kinds of questions that keep us awake at night, aren’t they? “Where will I go when I die? Since I know I’ve committed sins—many sins before a holy God, who is the righteous judge. And since becoming a Christian, the sins that I’ve committed are sins against the things that I now know to be true. What’s going to happen to me on that day? Will he accept me or reject me? Heaven or hell? Will I get a crown, or will I be relegated to the outhouse?—but at least I’ll be there!”
You know how I know for certain that those kinds of questions occupy every single human heart—even the most staunch atheists? These are the questions in the heart. You know how I know that? Because the Bible says so. Paul tells us in Romans 2:15 that for every single human being without exception, without qualification, “the work of the the law is written on their hearts while their conscience also bears witness [to that law, to that truth], and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” And every single one of us—we know the truth of the Ten Commandments. And I’m not just talking about here in this church. I’m talking about beyond the boundaries of this church, throughout northern Colorado, throughout the state, throughout the country, throughout all the nations of the earth—every single person knows the truths of the Ten Commandments. They are written on their hearts. Do they know them with the same precision, the same articulation? No, but every single society knows these things to be true, and every single one of us, without exception, has in our minds an “ought” and an “ought not,” a “should” and a “should not.” We know when we’re bumping against a transgression. We know when we’ve crossed over the line. The witness of the conscience is going to testify against every man, every woman on Judgment Day. Romans 2:16, Paul says, “According to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” What secrets? Those secret impulses to do what’s right and you don’t do it. Those secret accusations that you’ve really blew it. You need to go and ask forgiveness, but you’re saying to yourself, “Nah, I’m not going to.” Our secret thoughts have to do with worship, don’t they, whether true or false?—and God will bring it all to light. Everything.
This lawyer’s no different. Educated in the greatest schools during the greatest time to be alive—when Jesus is there. He’s no different. I’m going to show you that. It may have seemed like a really encouraging thing to have a prominent lawyer join their church service that day, listening with the rest of these disciples to the teachings of Jesus. We as the readers here have the advantage of Luke’s narration. We know where this guy is coming from, really. He stood up, as Luke says here, “to put him to the test.” The language, the grammar, makes the meaning inescapable. We can’t soften it, we can’t shade it. He was there among them. He’s playing the role of a learner. He’s acting the disciple, but intending—“ekpeirazó”—to test Jesus. To what degree? We don’t know. To test his theology? Perhaps. To test his explanations or his ability to explain, his ability as a teacher? Perhaps. Perhaps there is a more hostile intent, which is included in this word—to entrap him, to catch him in error, to expose him—not just privately, but publicly in front of all his own disciples, to expose him as a fraud. Maybe he hopes Jesus’ answer is going to put him afoul of Jewish law in some way—a violation of accepted tradition—or even the law of Moses itself.
Whatever the case, by putting Jesus to the test, this man is intent on demoting Jesus. He wants to make Jesus less of an authority in his own conscience. He wants to knock him down a notch or two, lower his esteem. Yes, perhaps to embarrass him in front of his disciples. But perhaps it’s simply a matter of demoting Jesus in his own mind. “If I can discredit him, that means I don’t have to listen to him.” He can put him in the category of someone to disregard, not to consider.
Well, we’ll really not sure which it is. For now, it’s enough for us to see that there is an absolute tragedy at work here. As we said, it’s the tragedy of having the right teacher. And this guy had it! He’s sitting under the greatest teacher in the universe! But not loving God. That’s the tragedy. You cannot learn well from someone you’re trying to test, can you? You don’t learn from someone you’re trying to examine, trying to catch in a mistake, or even worse, trying to entrap him. Oh, you may be listening—you may be listening intently. But your motive for listening, your purpose in listening, is not to learn. It’s not to learn from the point of obedience, but to fulfill your intention, which is to test or to entrap.
So why are we saying, at this early point, just from what’s written in verse 25, that this lawyer does not love God? Isn’t that quite a leap? Well, no. I wouldn’t have posed the question in that way if I thought I was making an unjustifiable point before you all in public. No. So, no, it’s not quite a leap. But how do we justify the claim that this lawyer, standing up to test Jesus, he thereby proves he does not love God?
Back in verse 21 as we read, “Jesus rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you’ve hidden these things from the wise and understanding but you’ve revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your gracious purpose.’” The lawyer was present to hear that. The way Luke has introduced verse 25 with the word “Behold” tells us the lawyer heard Jesus rejoice—rejoicing in the Father’s good pleasure, rejoicing that the Father both conceals truth from the wise and the learned and then reveals truth to little children. I’m not going to re-preach the sermon, but you may remember what else the lawyer heard in Jesus’ teaching. If you look down at verse 22, you see the remarkable claims that Jesus made to deity, to equality with God, the Father. Jesus said, firstly, that he and the Father share absolute authority. Now if that’s not true, it is the most damnable blasphemy—to say that. But Jesus made the claim—“all things have been handed over to me by my Father.” So all of of the Father’s authority—it’s in Jesus’ hands—it’s his authority. Secondly, Jesus said that he—verse 22—and the Father possess infinite knowledge—knowledge of infinite Persons in the triune essence of deity. “No one knows who the Son is except the Father.” So he’s claiming for himself that there is inexhaustible, infinite, eternal knowledge about the Son, and the Father knows it all. But not only that, but “no one knows who the Father except the Son.” He’s claiming for himself divine knowledge—absolute, perfect, intuitive, innate, immediate, simultaneous, continuous, completely conscious, necessary, free knowledge. This is the knowledge of absolute deity. He’s claiming omniscience—yes—and claiming deity. He said thirdly, that also he and his Father exercise absolute sovereignty. “No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father”—and then what?—“and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” He has the sovereign right to exercise that sovereign authority, and in exercising that absolute sovereignty—fourthly—Jesus says he and his Father has the exclusive right to grant salvation, forgiveness of sins, eternal life. “No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father,” and there is no life outside the Father or the Son. There is no granting of forgiveness outside the Father or the Son. There’s no eternal life outside of them. So except the Father, except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him, the only way you’re getting into that exclusive sphere of divine knowledge—understanding only possessed by the Trinity—is if the Son chooses it.
The lawyer is present to hear all of that. And as an insightful lawyer, a learned man, that had to stand out to him as remarkable, audacious! So if he’s listening—really listening with ears to hear and eyes to see—this lawyer would have been able to discern that Jesus is no mere human teacher. So he’s not going to call him “Teacher.” He’s going to say, “Lord.”
How about this? Maybe after standing to pose a question to the Lord, maybe it would be most appropriate to drop to his knees, bow, and acknowledge with his posture that Jesus is Lord. Oh, and then of course it’s probably best to abandon that whole “evil motive” thing, asking a question to begin with, to put Jesus to the test. Maybe that’s got to go.
This isn’t a common word, by the way—the word “ekpeirazó.” It’s used just four times in Scripture, this verb, one of them here, Luke 10:25. Two of the four uses are in the context of Jesus’ wilderness temptations—both Matthew 4:7, Luke 4:12, recording the same event—when the devil tempted Jesus, when he tested Jesus, trying to get Jesus to test God’s promises. In Luke 4:12, the only other time that Luke as an author uses this verb “ekpeirazó,” he says it there—Luke 4:12:
*The devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God [or “since you’re the Son of God”], throw yourself down from here, for it is written [He’s quoting Scripture—wily devil!], ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” [“Let’s see if it works, Jesus. You’re loved by God. Go ahead—throw yourself off. Let’s put Scripture to the test.”] And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God [“ekpeirazó’] to the test.’”*
Just a footnote: You know where Jesus gets that answer—“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”—you know where that comes from? Deuteronomy 6:16. That is the same context from which this lawyer is going to draw the language for his answer to Jesus’ question. Most of verse 27 comes directly from Deuteronomy 6:5. Just a few verses later—a warning about putting the Lord your God to the test.
The fourth use of of the verb “ekpeirazó” in Scripture—Paul tells the Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 10:9—get this: “We must not put Christ to the test as some did and were destroyed by serpents.” I hope you’re getting the picture here. By putting Christ to the test, this lawyer is putting God to the test. He reveals his heart. His heart is not aligned with God. He does not love what God loves, namely his beloved Son, because if he did he would never do this. “Whoever does not honor the Son”—John 5:23—“does not honor the Father who sent him.”
So this poor lawyer does not, he cannot, love God because he doesn’t love Christ, he doesn’t honor Christ. He doesn’t love Christ and honor Christ, and he doesn’t love the Father.
What a tragic thing! What a tragic thing to sit in the presence of Jesus, the Christ of God, the Savior of the world, the Lord of all—and by the way, the greatest teacher in all the universe bar none—but blinded by a proud and loveless heart.
It’s a warning for us, isn’t it? Listen—we don’t want any of you to be in danger of sitting here in this church week after week, listening to the preached word of God, being instructed by the Spirit of God—we don’t want you to come and listen with any other motive than to hear, to love, and especially this—to obey the God that you love.
Are we perfect teachers? No. But you have a perfect Bible. You can examine everything like good Bereans. You can come with a purpose to learn, that you may love and worship and obey.
Tragic, indeed, it would be, to stand before God and Judgment Day, having heard the truth, faithfully and lovingly preached. Or I’ll put it in my own camp. For some of us, having taught the truth over all these years, but never dealing with the obstacles of idolatry in the heart, of a lovelessness for God and his Christ. Paul said—1 Corinthians 16:22—“If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be anathema.” It means, “Let him be accursed”—damned to hell. That is strong language! It’s not an emotional response, only—just warm feelings about God, warm feelings about Christ. It’s also a matter of obedience from the heart, for Jesus himself said—John 14:15—“If you love me you will”—what?—“obey my commandments.” This is a productive, fruitful love, not a love that’s willing and content just to sit and get mental stimulation. It’s not a love that just sits and participates in warm fellowship, potlucks, care for babies, or whatever. It’s not just that. It’s a love that produces the fruit of the Spirit in the life. It’s a love that produces a changed, transformed life. That love is productive in our hearts; it’s fruitful, producing the fruit of the Spirit. It’s productive—changing the life, changing the behavior, changing the language, changing everything. It just changes everything. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
Let’s return to the lawyer, looking carefully at the question he asks. We’re going to see a second tragedy in the account, here. Second tragedy, number two: The tragedy of getting the right answer. The tragedy not just of sitting under the right teacher, but the tragedy of getting the right answer. We get a hint in verse 25 of the lawyer’s theology of works righteousness in the way he asks the question. He asks, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” There may be a hint—maybe a seeming contradiction there between the verb “do” and the verb “inherit,” right? You don’t “do” anything to inherit or to be named an heir. But that’s not always the case, is it? I mean, we all know there are people out there who are called “golddiggers,” and they are trying to work their way into a rich person’s favor to inherit all his stuff when he dies. So you can see “do” and “inherit” are sometimes connected.
But that’s really not the focal point of the problem in the lawyer’s question. It was quite common, actually, to ask about eternal life in this way: “How do I inherit, how do I gain, how do I get eternal life?” We ask the question that way similarly today. So ill motives or pure, the lawyer has put his finger on the most essential and important question of all. And as he thinks about eternal life—just note this—he’s not talking about living forever. The Jews understood that they would live forever. His question is not primarily about Heaven, primarily about the eternal state. He’s concerned about the Kingdom of Heaven—the state of being in the Kingdom of Heaven. So he’s not asking about eternal life in terms of the quantity of life, like, “I want to live forever,” but rather in terms of quality of life. He’s talking about participating in the coming Kingdom of God. From a certain sense, it would seem that there are no better motives than that, right?
The term “zoe” used here, as one commentator points out, is regularly used in the New Testament of life in the coming age. So when we read inquiries regarding this greatest commandment, inheriting eternal, “what must I do”—they’re all asking the same question, essentially: “How do I enter into—how to I take part in—the Kingdom of God, which we know is coming by covenant promises, restoration promises in Isaiah and Ezekiel and Jeremiah? How do we take part in that?” So the clue to the lawyer’s legalistic mind—it’s not found primarily in the apparent contradiction between “do” and “inherit.” He’s not interested merely in fire insurance, the fountain of youth, staying out of hell, getting into heaven.
The clue to his real problem and his works-oriented mind is that little verb “do.” You see it there, and it’s prominently placed in the front of the sentence in the Greek text. The lawyer is leading out with works. He’s putting emphasis on his works. He’s literally asking Jesus, “By what having done?” It’s in the aorist tense, so he’s talking about a completed act. “By what having done will I inherit or partake in eternal life in the Kingdom of God?” The verb tense shows he’s thinking about an act, like a single act that he can complete in a single period of time—probably imagining some singular act of great sacrifice, some magnanimous works, some remarkably generous deed that is going to ensure his place in the Kingdom. According to the Jewish legal minds—scribes, Pharisees, lawyers—he probably already thought he had accomplished this work, by the way.
The question is: Are we evangelicals prone to think like this? You’d better believe we are. “Raise your hand,” “Come forward,” “Sign the card.” “Come forward at the conference, come forward at the crusade, get baptized, join the church—you’re good to go.” Right? Many evangelicals have come into the Church in exactly that same way, and I’m sad to say that they think their profession of faith in Jesus and his death for their sins is good enough. And then they coast because they are comforted by their fire insurance card, or their baptism certificate, or whatever it is. And they’ve been taught, “Don’t ever question your salvation. Don’t ever ask any question. To do that is to blaspheme and to say that God’s salvation and Jesus’ death on the cross is not good enough for your sins. Don’t ever doubt.”
It seems to me that the Bible tells us to examine ourselves all the time. They’ve been instructed to put no emphasis whatsoever on works. It makes them very suspicious of anything that smacks of “doing things.” So they disregard clear calls to holy living, clear calls to serve Christ with the whole heart, clear calls to love the saints—all those “one another” commands in Scripture that saturate the New Testament—that you can’t be out of church for long lengths of time and fulfill. So many say, “I don’t need a church. It’s just a building. I got me and God and the lake—fishing”—whatever it is.
As we’re going to see here—verse 28, verse 37—Jesus affirms the need for proper, biblical, righteous works before God. What does he say there? “Do this.” Same verb—“Do this, and you will live.” What does it say in verse 37? “Go and do likewise”—same verb. Is Jesus a legalist? Many any other evangelicals—if they’re not on the antinomian side of the aisle—they’re more on the legalistic side of the aisle. They know intuitively that a workless faith is a dead, useless and even demonically inspired way of life, right? So they attend church regularly—hyper-regularly. They’re there for everything—all the services, giving faithfully. They support all the campaigns, the programs, the building projects, whatever. They’re in every Bible study, digesting everything. They’re commentary-filled. All of it. They can be tempted—right?—to evaluate their right standing before God in terms of activity—doing—never going down to the foundation and questioning the motives of the heart. We seldom stop to consider and evaluate what’s at the heart of our works? What is the motivation of all of our action and service and doing, doing, doing?
This lawyer’s question, in spite of its wicked motive—even the emphasis that he’s put on some great act, some work that’s going to seal his inheritance forever—this is an apropos warning for us, isn’t it? Does Jesus know what this clever is up to? Of course, he does. He sees right through the hypocrisy, right through the presumption to the sinful motives—but he engages the question anyway. It’s like Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7. He loved him—he loves this man. Jesus loves this lawyer.
And so he answers the lawyer’s question with a question, and he points him to what’s revealed—verse 26: “Jesus said to him, ‘What is written in the law? How do you read it?’” Two observations here. First, Jesus puts the emphasis on the divine standard. Literally, in the Greek it’s emphasized: “In the law, what has been written?” In other words, “We’re going to have this conversation within the boundaries of Scripture.” And by locating the discussion this way, Jesus has avoided any potential trap laid by the lawyer, any scheme to expose Jesus as some kind of maverick who disparages the law of Moses. To be clear, Jesus isn’t simply trying to avoid a trap—something that simple. He’s possessed of a divine mind. Any lawyer’s scheme is child’s play to him. He’s not worried about that. His motive is simple. It’s the love of God. Jesus’ motive is the love of God, the love of his word, the love of his own Messianic mission of salvation, which was to fulfill the law of God. He didn’t come to abolish the law of God, to diminish the law of God. He wanted to amplify the law of God.
It’s probably contrary to the evangelical mind, which has, at the popular level, been influenced by an errant form of dispensational teaching. We’re told to stay away from the law. “The law is for the Old Testament people, not for us.” Jesus went right back to the law. And those dispensationalists will say, “Oh, but Jesus was the man of the law himself. He lived in Old Testament times. It wasn’t until his resurrection and the coming of the church and the Spirit that we can abrogate the law and say it’s no longer useful, needful for us.” I think we need to pay a little more attention—closer attention—to what’s written. There is no hesitation whatsoever in answering a question about eternal life from the law of Moses. He’s perfectly comfortable with that—as we should be.
A second observation to make here: Jesus didn’t simply want to hear what was written in the law. He knew what was written in the law. He wanted to know how the lawyer read the law—not only what was written, but “How do you read it?” So he’s not looking for an answer that gets him just what the law says. He’s looking for what the lawyer thinks it means. He’s asking for the lawyer’s interpretation of the law. Look at verse 27, how the lawyer responds. And keep in mind that he’s answering his own question from verse 25. So the lawyer’s question is “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer from the law—verse 27—“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.’” So he answers the question, as he should, by quoting Scripture. The first part of the answer, as we said, comes from Deuteronomy 6:5, the famous Shema of Israel, which Jews recited two times every day—morning and evening. Moses commanded in Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
Now, that’s not demonstrating great theological insight—simply to quote the most famous verse that is twice-daily recited in all of Jewish company. Any Jew is going to know the Shema of Israel. It’s like their John 3:16 verse. We hold up John 3:16 at football games; they hold up Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Everybody knew that. What’s interesting, though, is to see how the lawyer connected the Shema to inheriting eternal life. It’s more interesting—you might even call it remarkable—to see him make the “neighbor” connection in connection with eternal life. Because the second part of his answer doesn’t come from Deuteronomy 6. He joins into that text Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That is interesting because that command—“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”—rounds out—if you read that—Leviticus 19—I encourage you to do that—Leviticus 19:9-18—if you read that whole section, you’ll see that that command rounds out a series of commands on dealing righteously with one’s neighbor, showing no injustice, no harm, but caring for them. In Leviticus 19:9-10, Israel is to show compassion to less fortunate neighbors, leaving some of the after-harvest gleanings for the poor to gather. Do we share with our neighbors in need? That’s a question. Verses 11-12—Leviticus 19—they’re not to steal from their neighbors. They’re not to deceive their neighbors, especially by invoking God’s name deceptively to win over trust. Verses 13-16—a series of rapid-fire commands in Leviticus 19 forbidding all manner of injustice against neighbors, oppression, withholding wages, taking advantage of the disabled, showing partiality, slandering others, doing anything to jeopardize your neighbor. We might put it into today’s terms—Christians doing contract work for other Christians. How do we treat one another in the body of Christ? After all that, verses 17-18, God gets to the heart of the matter. He’s commanding Moses to command the people this: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people. But you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” This includes in Israel not just Jews—Gentiles, too, who had attached themselves to Israel. This included the foreigners who came near, the sojourners who came through. This included Gentiles as well. The law calls them “neighbors.” Literally, it means “one who is near”—that’s what a neighbor is. “The one who is nigh”—it’s where we get the word “neighbor” from. The law clearly prohibits hatred for our neighbors. Anything that comes from a heart of cold disdain and indifference—or outright anger—it commands the opposite sentiment instead—sentiment, affection, action toward our neighbors, really—namely, to love our own neighbors as our own selves.
So the lawyer’s question, “What shall I do?”—the law’s answer, which comprised the lawyer’s answer: “You shall love.” Verse 28, Jesus confirmed, “That’s the right answer. You’ve got it!” “You’ve answered correctly.” “What shall I do?” “You shall love.”
We’re going to come back next week and learn just how right the lawyer was in his answer. But for now, let’s focus on just one point as we we wrap up. Namely, how tragic it is that the lawyer got the answer right. When Jesus told him in verse 28, “You’ve answered correctly. Do this and you’ll live,” what the lawyer says next reveals a loveless heart. Look at verse 29: “He, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” By his own words, the lawyer has indicted himself. For a loveless religion and here just on two counts. Do you see it, there? First, it is utter hubris on his part, it’s blatant arrogance to set aside the first requirement of love and turn immediately to the second requirement of love, without comment. And think about it, Christian. If the Lord of the universe is teaching you, and he says to you, “Do this”—that is, “Do this and keep doing it”—that’s the verb tense—“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself”—if you hear that from the mouth of the Lord of the universe, the righteous judge of all humanity—how would you respond? Probably a lot like Peter did, right? “Depart from me! I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Who but the most blind can think and say that they have loved God like that? Or assume, without comment, that they have loved God like that—that they have loved their neighbor like that?
Our hearts so often stray, don’t they? Deceived by all manner of covetous and idolatrous desires. Our souls are occupied with fruitless endeavors. We spend our strength on that which does not profit, and our minds are distracted and occupied by such trivialities, aren’t there. Who in their right mind would ever say—especially in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is holy—having just heard our inheritance of eternal life is connected to our loving God with our whole being, continuously. That’s what’s demanded by the verb tense Jesus uses here—it’s present tense. Who would ever respond—bypassing love for the Lord God—“And who is my neighbor?” As if defining the word “neighbor” is more vital to our existence than our failure to keep the love God commands for a continuous stretch of minutes, let alone seconds?
There’s a second indication of his lovelessness here—his legalistic heart. The very point of his question is to narrow the definition of “neighbor” to something he can practically manage. He didn’t care about his neighbor, really, when he’s showing more interest in semantic loopholes than he is in eagerly learning and zealously pursuing obedience to “love your neighbor”—why does he make such a dreadful error here? Why does he commit these soul-damning sins? The answer’s clear by what Luke tells us about his motivation in verse 29. Who’s at the center of his heart? He is, isn’t he? He desires to justify what?—himself. He’s only interested in his own self-justification, his own vindication. He’s interested in his own future, his own skin, his experience of the benefits and blessings of God and his Kingdom.
Beloved, we know in our heart of hearts—we’re all likewise condemned by the greatest commandment of all the commandments to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind. We know ourselves, don’t we? We know that that Second Commandment—we don’t get that right, either. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” We’re all guilty of violating that as well. We love what pertains to us, what benefits us. We’re so often prone to ignore what concerns others. We’re so busy fulfilling our own desires and demands on ourselves that we’re not even looking to love our neighbors. We’re not even noticing who’s hungry, cold, in need—we’re not even noticing that stuff, not even noticing, thinking about, what concerns God, most fundamentally, and then what concerns our neighbors, most practically.
And that’s why, in our hearts that have been made sensitive by the lovingkindness and grace of God, we look to Jesus Christ, don’t we? We look to this one who wanted to center the conversation about eternal life in the law of God because fulfilling the law of God is the salvation of God’s people. And Christ did it. For you, for me. He kept all the law of God perfectly, from start to finish, from Alpha to Omega, from beginning to end. His righteousness becomes our righteousness by union with him, by faith in him. We’ve been united to him by the baptism of the Holy Spirit in to the one who loved God perfectly, with all of his heart and soul and strength and mind. And by his grace we have benefited from the one who loved his neighbor as himself. How did he do that? By dying for our sins. “Greater love has no one than this”—John 15:13—“than that someone lay down his life for his friends.” That’s what he did for us, for those who are then counted among the blessed ones. By God’s grace we are numbered among those little children whose names are written in heaven.
And if that’s true of you, beloved, then you need not fear. You need not fear all your failure, your lack of love for God or neighbor. You don’t need to fear it because Jesus laid down his life for you. He died to pay your penalty because you have failed to love God and to love your neighbor. Jesus Christ is your salvation. If you can admit that’s true of you, he’s your salvation. And what’s the proof that this tale of the Gospel is true of you?—that this promise is true of you, that this promise of salvation is true of you? Because you’ll find in your heart that loving God and loving your neighbor is now what you most long for. It’s what you most desire. It’s your greatest longing, your greatest joy to love God and love your neighbor. That greatest desire that the wise, kind, loving direction of Christ, by the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, bounded in by what’s taught in the Scripture—that divinely implanted desire for loving God and loving your neighbor—that’s put there by God, and he produces within us works that bear fruit to everlasting life. So if that’s you, then listen to Jesus: “Do this, and you will live.”
Next week, we’re going to come back and get more clarity on what the lawyer said—why he was so accurate. And it’s going to inspire us to love God, love our neighbor, and then next week we get to participate in the Lord’s Supper together, to give thanks and rejoice over salvation from all of our sins and life granted to us—a life that produces this kind of love. Let’s pray.
Father, thank you so much for your kindness to us in Christ. “Thank you” seems too little to say, but yet that is what you require. If we honor you as God, we give thanks. And we do wa