The One Who Showed Mercy
Topic: Grace Pulpit Passage: Luke 10:36-37
The One Who Showed Mercy
December 1, 2019
We’re continuing the study of the Good Samaritan story, and it’s found in Luke 10:30-37. We’re going to pick up where we left of last time—kind of. I’ll give you just a little bit of a review, here. The story of the Good Samaritan is, as you know, a simply story. It’s not complex or difficult. There’s a lot of detail there in an economy of words, but on the face of it, it’s a very simple story.
While on his journey in a remote area, a certain man, an anonymous man—unnamed—has fallen into the hands of robbers, and now he’s lying on the side of the road, and he’s dying. Three men happen along, one by one. Two men—both religious leaders in Israel, a priest and a Levite—fail to stop and help the man. It’s kind of a surprise to the crowd, but then again, they know what religious leadership in Israel is and what it should be. The third man—this is someone who in the Jewish mind would have been the least likely to render any help or any assistance or kindness whatsoever, especially in Jewish areas. He’s a Samaritan, historically, theologically and in many ways ethnically, culturally enemies of Israel. But he stops. And in helping the man, as Jesus tells the story, this man pulls out all the stops when he stops. He spares no expense. He lavishes kindness after kindness upon the injured man. He shows the care, really, that one might show only to a family member.
As we said last week, the story is a parable, and as a parable it has a single point. Remember, Jesus has told this story in response to the lawyer’s question—verse 29—“And who is my neighbor?” Coming out of the previous conversation—verses 25-28—the lawyer asks the question because he has felt some degree of conviction in his conscience. And now he wants to justify himself. He feels conviction, so now he wants to vindicate his righteousness in keeping the divine law, which he, himself, had summarized as “loving God with the whole heart, and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.” So he summarized the law. Jesus said, “Do this and you will live.” His conscience is bothered.
We can see clear evidence that Jesus—by affirming the divine law and by affirming the lawyer’s accountability to the law he, himself, had confessed—has thereby awakened this man’s conscience. And that was point one in the outline we’ve been following. Number one: Jesus awakens a sleeping conscience. The lawyer began in verse 25 intending to put Jesus to the test. He intended to catch him in error about the basis of inheriting eternal life. And Jesus pointed the lawyer back to the law of God, which resulted in this summary of true righteousness; that is, love the Lord your God with all of your being, and then love your neighbor as yourself. That is the essence of eternal life. So Jesus said in verse 28, “You’ve answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
Now for anyone listening to this from Jesus, “Do this and you will live”—who possessed a heart at rest, had a conscience that was peaceful, at rest—that person, on hearing Jesus’ words, would have sat down in quiet gratitude and humble worship. A settled heart, a quiet conscience—that is a heart that thanks God. It praises God, who has defined eternal life in exactly this way, that eternal life consists in love. He would thank and praise God for granting the kind of life that is a never-ending experience of love, of loving expression. Perfect love for God, perfect love for others—that is everlasting life. Anyone with a settled heart, anyone with a conscience at rest, would be grateful at hearing that, rejoicing in their hearts with a peaceful conscience, contemplating, reflecting on the very truth of that. And you say, “Are there such people?” Sure there are. Just one example will suffice, and I’ll pull it from the Old Testament. David wrote in Psalm 32:1-2, “Blessed”—happy, contented—“is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” So there are such people whose conscience and heart are at rest because they rest in the salvation of God.
So what about the heart and the conscience, pricked at this point by what Jesus says, “Do this—love God, love your neighbor perfectly—do this, and you will live. This is everlasting life”—what about those who listen to that and their hearts are not at rest? Well, when accompanied by humility, when joined together with a teachable spirit, that heart would be quick to confess in the presence of the Lord, right? “Lord, I have not kept your commandments. That means my hope of eternal life is in jeopardy. I have no assurance before a holy and righteous God except to plead for your mercy. Now, Lord, how do I find mercy?” So it becomes another question, doesn’t it?
The conscience of this lawyer, though, is clearly not at rest in the presence of Christ, and it’s not at all by a humble, teachable heart. He’s unsettled, here; he’s ill at ease. So he, instead of in humility confessing, seeking for mercy from Christ, desires and attempts to vindicate himself publicly as a man who will inherit eternal life because he is righteous. Notice he bypassed completely the matter of whether or not he loves God from the heart. He sets that one aside and moves on to ask about loving one’s neighbor because he thinks in that realm—loving others—“I’m a pretty good person.” He thinks to himself that he’s doing pretty well in that category of loving one’s neighbor; otherwise, he wouldn’t have tried to justify himself in asking the question. The way he sets the course of the discussion—the way he’s framed the question—the lawyer wants to believe that loving one’s neighbor is attainable. So it must begin—this discussion—with semantics. And that has to start with defining terms. So he asked that basic question, “And who is my neighbor? Let’s define terms because I think if we define it correctly, I’m in the area. I’m getting it right as long as we define the terms correctly.” So his conscience here may have been awakened, and he may indeed be ill at east and somewhat troubled by Jesus’ very clear, incisive instruction. But his pride has welled up; it’s awakened as well as his conscience. It’s come to the rescue. His pride is there to settle and harden him against the dangerous territory called conviction of sin.
Jesus began loving this man in this way—graciously working, awakening his conscience, and now he continues loving this man—and this is our second point: He overwhelms a proud conscience. He attempts to soften the lawyer’s conscience by telling him a story. This is also for the benefit, as we’ve said, of the listening crowd of disciples, including the Twelve, including those who desperately need to hear this. As we saw the last time, the story comes in three parts.
Subpoint A: An occasion for showing compassion. Look at the verse there: “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.” So I’m not going through all the detail, but there’s this anonymous, nondescript man traveling through barren, hostile territory, and the worst happens: He falls prey to a pack of brutally violent robbers. There’s an immediate indignation that we all should feel at this total injustice—an anger at the kind of robbery and terrorism you can see accompanying this kind of sin. There’s also in our hearts as we are both indignant and angry about seeing this happen to some innocent victim, an accompanying sense of sympathy, compassion that we feel toward an innocent man who’s now lying there half dead. So there’s an occasion, here, for showing compassion. What would we do if we were there? I mean, obviously in the telling of the story—sitting here in nice, comfortable temperatures, sitting on comfortable chairs, we’re all like, “Of course, I would help!”
So then Jesus takes us to see subpoint B—what actually happens in real life—there’s an evasion in showing compassion. There’s a defining of terms and defining “neighbor” as “not that guy.” That’s in verses 31-32. Jesus tells of a priest and a Levite. You might think in our day, Jesus tells of an evangelical pastor. Jesus tells of a pastor at Grace Church. He tells of the priest and the Levite, and both of those fail to help the dying man. They see the situation clearly. Both of them ignore their duty to love this neighbor as themselves. As we noted last time, Jesus cites no motives for their failure to love this man—just cites it. The priest saw the man—verse 31; he passed by on the other side. The Levite, likewise—verse 32—when he came to the place and saw him, which indicates he got a closer look, he, too, passed by on the other side. Not a very good showing, is it, for the kind of leadership at the helm of first-century Judaism? Remember, it’s Jesus telling the story. We know him to be truthful. He is putting the Jewish leaders in this negative light. He is saying, “This is what the religion of Israel looks like.” So if that priest and the Levite—the leaders—are inclined not to show compassion to someone who clearly needs it, what’s to become of those who listen to their teaching, who follow their example? Like priest, like people, right? He’s put the Jewish leadership in this negative light. According to Jesus’ assessment right here, religion in his day is a merciless religion. It’s a loveless religion—no compassion, uninterested in loving people.
Beloved, I wonder what he would say about religion in America today. What would he say about us? What would Jesus say about the kind of religion, the practice of Christianity that you and I have inherited as we’ve grown up in this part of the world? What would he say about our practice of love? What would he say about people’s greater interest in self-gratification, immediate self-gratification and unconcern about interrupting that—even for a moment—to help somebody in need? What would he say about us, for the spiritually ambitious among us, we have to ask if we are more interested in numbers, in money, in appearance of significance in doing great things for the Lord? Are we more interested in measuring our influence and in doing what seems most impactful? Is ministry more really about pursuing selfish ambitions than it is about loving God and loving people? For those who are spiritually ambitious go-getters, they need to ask that kind of a question.
For the many who are in the less-ambitious category, the more spiritually complacent—are they more interested in ease, in comfort, in pleasure, in surrounding themselves with the easy relationships and managing their world according to their own interests? Is the practice of religion more a matter of convenience than whole-hearted zeal for God, a sincere passion for holiness, a deep devotion and commitment to loving and serving others?
Beloved, what does Jesus see in our hearts? Are our consciences sensitive, or are they dull? Are our hearts humble and teachable, or are they proud and self-justifying? Is our love stingy and very narrowly prescribed, or is it liberal and diffusive? Listen—what we’ve covered just so far this morning has merely introduced the text. We’ve simply overviewed what we covered last time. But for today, we need to take a very close look at how Jesus has portrayed this Samaritan’s love for a man in need. And we’re going to end this morning with 10 principles of the love that’s portrayed here. So it’s really, really important that you listen carefully and thoughtfully, and where it fits—which is probably for most of us—we need to listen repentantly. We want to learn, don’t we? This is the heart of every genuine believer, everybody who’s born again. We respond to this. We respond to the conviction that comes in this text, and we want to learn how is it that I truly love my neighbor as myself? Because I want to confess sin where it’s necessary. I want to repent of a loveless religion because I want to practice the life that God has given me in Christ Jesus. This is the life that I have; this is my birthright. This is my joy—to walk in obedience to these truths—love God, love others. This is what love looks like. So that’s the point in this sermon. That’s the point for today. That’s why you should listen to this—to see where our hearts are hard, where they needed to be softened, where we need to be sensitive to the needs of others.
As we’ve said, loving God from all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our strength, with all of our mind—loving our neighbor as ourselves—it’s not only the whole of the law and prophets, but that is the outworking of life eternal. That is the very essence of spiritual life from God that now animates us, brings us joy. It’s our birthright as citizens of the Kingdom. This is our right as citizens. This is the joy of every regenerate heart.
So Jesus in his portrayal of the dying man’s need—and as he portrays the double failure of the priest and the Levite to render needed assistance—he has at this point in the story not only heightened the tension—we’re all wondering, “Who is going to help that man?”—he’s also set his listeners up for quite the shock. His first-century listeners are set up for a real turn in the story, something they did not expect. The chance for the two religious leaders to show compassion has come and gone. Now as Jesus to resolve the tension in the story for his Jewish audience, this comes in the most unlikely, through the most unwelcome, despised of means—by means of a Samaritan merchant. He’s the hero. And for any fastidious Jew, and particularly this lawyer, they’re looking at Jesus and saying, “How could you? How could you use a Samaritan? They reject our Temple. They reject worshiping as God commands himself to be worshiped!” It’s like using as a positive example of love Saddam Hussein, or Abu Akbar Al Baghdadi, or Osama Ben Laden or one of his minions. A Muslim terrorist happens to come down the road and, boy, he shows him love! All of us are going to react with a bit of resistance to that. That is exactly the feeling here, exactly the feeling.
So subpoint C: an illustration of showing compassion of this so-called “Good Samaritan.’ Here’s where we ended last time; here’s where we’re going to pick it up. Keep in mind that Jesus is telling this story, as we said, to overcome the lawyer’s pride-encrusted conscience. He’s telling this story to show the lawyer that he’s been asking the wrong question; he’s got the wrong motives. In avoiding the spirit and intent of the law, the lawyer has distorted the true standard of righteousness. Oh, he’s still using Bible language; he’s still very biblical. But he has completely distorted the meaning by looking at the letter of the law rather than the spirit and intent of the law. It’s not “Who is my neighbor?” but it’s “What does loving my neighbor as myself look like?” That’s the question he ought to be asking. Or one might ask, “How do I love my neighbor well?” That gets to the spirit and the intent of the law. The lawyer’s interest, though, in defining terms is exposed here as an attempt to avoid loving his neighbor, to define most people of the world outside of “that small circle of where I show love.” He’s limiting who qualifies as a neighbor.
So Jesus gives the lawyer an answer to the question that he didn’t ask, but should have, and that starts in verse 33: “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.” Or really, as the grammar indicates, “Compassion had him.” It’s passive voice, shows that the Samaritan is affected, here. He’s overcome; he’s gripped by compassion.
Just like the other travelers, the Samaritan, too, was on his way somewhere. This isn’t a matter of convenience for him. He’s got to stop and make different plans. The way Jesus describes him in these verses, the audience would probably be imagining him as some sort of merchant. He’s traveling with an animal, which supposes he’s probably bringing the animal—the beast of burden—in order to carry burdens. The burdens would be his wares—what he’s bringing to sell. So he has to leave this injured man at the inn while he finishes his business because he’s got to go and finish his business. Because of the immediate need that he encounters on his journey, though—this dying man over on the side of the road—he’s arrested in the moment with feelings of sympathy. He’s gripped; he’s stopped dead in his tracks by compassion. Whatever business that he had to conduct—that can wait. This man needs help and needs it now. Notice in verse 34: He came, he saw, he’s gripped with compassion, which caused him to draw him. It says, “He went to him.” In other words, he didn’t take a closer look like the Levite before feeling compassion. He felt immediate compassion from a distance. That means he was inclined to show compassion, and then he approached him and went over to where he lay. Then in says he “bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.” What’s that? He’s administering first aid. Evidently, they’d beaten him very severely, not just bruises and swelling from blunt force trauma of fists and kicks and things like that, but we’re picturing here open wounds as well—lacerations, cuts, gashes. We can imagine that man taking a beating with stick-like weapons, clubbed with rocks, maybe, maybe even perhaps cut with knives. He’s in pretty bad shape, here.
So the Samaritan merchant starts tearing strips of cloth to form makeshift bandages. He’s applying oil and wine. Some commentators identify Luke the physician as indicating to us that the Samaritan had this oil-wine mixture in his first aid kit, basically—necessary gear, by the way, for traveling the Jericho road. The oil was for soothing the pain, and the wine was for antiseptic, to sterilize those open wounds, to make sure it killed the bacteria. So he’s taking the time, here, right on the side of the road—immediate need, address those needs—he’s applying first aid. He wants to ensure that this man doesn’t bleed out, that he’s dressed and bandaged his wounds, applying antiseptic for the germs and ointment for the pain relief, fighting infection, easing the suffering. And now having stabilized the patient, it’s time to get out of the danger area. Verse 34: “Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.”
Now this is incredible, too. He set the injured man on his own animal, which means, if he is a merchant, he’d have to relieve the burden of his animal somewhat by carrying some of his own wares for the rest of the journey—on foot. That’s not the incredible part, though. I mean, you’d have to set him on his own animal because the guy obviously could not walk. The incredible part is how lavish his care is. And it’s not just bringing to the inn; it’s after bringing him to the inn. You’ll notice that he stayed there with him. He’s taking care of him. This is a whole other level. He didn’t just dump the guy off, leave a few bucks and some MacDonalds coupons over there on the nightstand. “Here’s my phone number.”
This loving, kind-hearted man tended to the injured man. He provided round-the-clock nursing care. He gave him meals; he helped him with his necessaries—all the things the guy couldn’t do on his own. The verb, here, is “epimeleomai.” It’s translated him as “took care of him,” and it’s a fascinating word. Luke uses this verb, here, and in verse 35, yes, in a medical sense, but not strictly in a medical sense. It’s not merely taking care of his wounds. Lexicographer Cesla Speak put it this way: “Here the reference would seem to be not to remedies or medical treatment, per se, but rather”—and here’s the point—“to watchfulness, to devotion, or health care in the broadest sense of the term.” Why do we put some people in the hospital? Because they need 24-hour care—round-the-clock—a level of attention and care to the patient that exceeds our ability, perhaps. So we take him and check him into the hospital, right? That’s this. The noun form—“ambimelia”—is used for the attention and care given a sick or disabled person—all the kinds of devotion lavished upon someone in that level of care. The word was used especially for the care and devotion shown by parents and nurses for children. Again, Speak tells us, “It speaks to the scope of the task, of the absolute devotion and self-giving required.”
Beloved, you need to realize that we have real-life examples of this “epimeleomai” right here at Grace Church. There are members of our church—and you’ve seen them—certain families who care for the elderly and disabled in their families in exactly this way. There is such love and devotion, tending to people in dire need, constant need. For some, it’s a very high level of care, which is constant. It’s without any reprieve. Those who provide it give it willingly, freely, lovingly. They do it without resentment. They do it with a sense of tenderness and loving compassion. Oh, does that affect their vacation time? You bet it does. Does it affect their “me” time? You bet it does. That’s really not a consideration for them at all. They rejoice in delivering this kind of care. That is this word: epimeleomai.” That’s how the Samaritan has cared for the stranger in need. He cared for the man as if this man were his own son, dying on the side of the road. He runs to his aid, cares for him.
And it didn’t stop there. Evidently, the robbers had beaten the man so badly that he needed time to convalesce; it’s not going to happen overnight. And so—verse 35—he makes arrangements, there, verse 35, for continuing care, for extended care. So he takes upon himself personal responsibility to see the thing through, to help restore this man to full help. “The next day he took out two denarii [that’s two days’ wages] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’” There’s a stress, here, in this verse on personal responsibility. It’s emphatic, there. Literally, he says, “I, myself—here’s money—at my return”—like, “I’m going to be back”—“and I myself shall repay you.” It’s emphasized—his own personal responsibility. In other words, he’s saying, “You’ve got a blank check, here, with my word as your guarantee.” Then he sealed his word with money, secured this innkeeper’s services with a down payment of two days’ wages. And again, he’s not just asking the innkeeper to house the man—like keep him in the room—but to do what he did, to care for him with watchfulness—same verb used here—to care for the man with the same level of care and attention and devotion that he himself had should. Whatever it costs, he will pay the bill.
Quick question, here. Why should the innkeeper trust the Samaritan to repay him? Well, you can always answer, “Well, Jesus is telling the story, so that’s the way he told it. This is a fictional story. We don’t know any motivations of the innkeeper, right?” But in the minds of the people who are listening, they know these innkeepers—roadside inns, not very reputable people. So why should this guy, who doesn’t trust anybody, trust a Samaritan to repay him? What is going to assure him that he’ll reimburse for services rendered? Listen—the Samaritan has taken care of the wounded man, as we said, as if it were his own son. His own flesh and blood. Or using the language of the law, the innkeeper has watched the Samaritan love this man, how?—as himself. He can see very clearly, very obviously, for this Samaritan, money is no object, it’s of no consequence. He will most certainly pay for it, whatever it takes, in order to care for his own flesh and blood, which obviously this injured man appears to be. Interesting, isn’t it? Whatever business he intended to conduct in Jericho—whatever profit he hoped to make there—the Samaritan has already made plans for at least some of that money. He knows how it’s going to be spent: on caring for the life of this stranger. Mentally, he’s made a budget adjustment, and he reasons something like this: “Listen—to preserve the life of a fellow human being—that is a worthwhile expenditure. I’m going to blow the budget on this one because that is money well spent.” Wow! What an illustration, right? Can you imagine doing that? Going down to the Motel 6, handing the night manager your health card. “Yeah, put it on my bill, whatever you want.”
It is a story; it is fictional—I mean there’s things in here that “Yeah, it wouldn’t happen!” We’re not supposed to say that, are we? We’re supposed to look at this and say, “This is the kind of love that ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ demands.” Remember, Jesus has told the story to soften the lawyer’s hardened conscience. The parable is designed to overwhelm this calloused, insensitive heart, which has been guarded like a fortress by this man’s sinful pride.
So in response to the lawyer’s question, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus does not directly define the term, does he? He takes an indirect approach. Instead, he describes what loving one’s neighbor as one’s self looks like. That’s why this question in verse 36, immediately following the parable, penetrates the lawyer’s conscience like an arrow through the heart: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
This takes us to a third point in our outline. Jesus has awakened the man’s conscience. He’s overwhelmed it with compassionate love and merciful action told about in the story. Now, point 3: Jesus provokes a thoughtful conscience. Jesus provokes a thoughtful conscience. Again, look at Jesus’ question in verse 36. As Jesus drives home the lesson, he engages the lawyer’s mind. He provokes thoughtfulness, here. He provokes reflection. He’s asking the lawyer to demonstrate the same level of thoughtful insight that he showed just a few moments earlier, verse 27, when he answered and cited Deuteronomy 6:5: “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor? You’re so careful and reflective and thoughtful about the law, parsing it, giving an accurate and correct interpretation of it. Now let’s ask a question about this story. Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
Several things, here, about Jesus’ masterful way in asking this question. First, he leads out by calling the lawyer’s attention to the three characters in the story who were able to help, and that provokes his internal sense of justice, provokes an internal sense of moral right and wrong, what ought to have been done, but was not. He’s put three characters forward: a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan—these three. He’s lined them up side-by-side, and now he calls for a moral judgment. He calls for an assessment and a judgment. He’s engaging the lawyer’s moral reasoning. He’s tapping into the sense of justice that Jesus knows, God has hard-wired into every human conscience and heart. It’s in every single human being, every single human personality. We all have the sense of moral right and wrong. And Jesus taps into it right away.
Second, he asks, “Which do you think?” Or a more literal rendering, here, of the verb “dokei” is: “How does this seem to you?” He adds the pronoun there: “to you.” “Which of these three does it seem to you,” or “Which of these three do you suppose?” What’s that about? Well, his question is requiring to take personal responsibility for his answer. “What are your thoughts? How does it seem to you?” This is not some classroom question about theories of morality and ethics. This isn’t some theoretical discussion of semantics, a philosophical class about definitions—which are important. But this is a matter of life and death. The man’s dying. No one helped him. This guy did. “What do you think? How do you personally judge this?” Take personal responsibility.
The third thing to note in Jesus’ question is a brilliant reversal of expectation, here, isn’t there? as Jesus just flips the perspective. The lawyer had asked, “And who is my neighbor?”, objectifying this “neighbor guy.” The commentator James Edwards points out, “For the lawyer, ‘neighbor’ is a noun. ‘Neighbor” is an object to whom one owes duties, burdensome duties that the lawyer desires to avoid. For Jesus, ‘neighbor’ is a verb, a way of behaving toward people in need that gives life to both giver and receiver. For Jesus, one does not ‘have’ a neighbor; one is a neighbor or, better, becomes a neighbor.” It’s an important point. How do you think of others? Objectify them? Are they just merely nouns to you? Or do you take this on yourself as in “I need to be this kind of person. I need to love like this.” Jesus, here, is forcing the lawyer to think from a different vantage point from his own. What’s the lawyer’s problem? He’s self-centered. He’s proud. He’s got “me” at the center. Listen—this lawyer is like so many of us most of the time, right?
Jesus is forcing the lawyer to look from a different vantage point. He’s forcing the man to think from the position of the man who fell among the robbers. He wants them to be looking up from the side of the road. He wants them to look at the world from the dirt, the side of the Jericho, from the vantage point of utter helplessness, total vulnerability, complete dependency. When you’re bruised, bleeding, dying on the side of a road in a barren wilderness, you are not too picky about semantics and definitions, are you, at that point? Anybody qualifies. Jesus calls upon the lawyer to make a moral judgment. He calls him to take personal responsibility for his judgment, and he causes him to consider the question from the vantage point of someone who’s in dire need here. Take a look at the answer in the first part of verse 37: “He said, ‘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.’” Interesting way to answer: “The one who showed him mercy.” Looks like he got the point, right? Inescapable conclusion. And really Jesus has boxed him in to lead to this conclusion. And in front of all these people, he had to give the right answer. The lawyer responded, here, by using what’s called a substantival participle. He’s taken the verb for “doing,” which is “poiéo,” and he puts it in a participle form, which, for us, is like an “ing” verb. He puts it in a participle form; he adds the definite article “the,” putting the emphasis on the character of the person. He draws attention to the character—“the one who was ‘mercying’,” “the one who was doing mercy”—someone who’s characterized by showing mercy. This is an inescapable conclusion, and he’s had to say it publicly.
Now when when answering this question—“Which of these three proved to be a neighbor?”—notice that the lawyer did not answer just by simply saying, “the Samaritan.” He didn’t say that, did he? He could have said that. “Which of these three proved to be a neighbor?” “The Samaritan.” Short answer, straightforward, to the point. So the fact that he didn’t say, “the Samaritan,” may be an indication of his prejudice, that even in answering it at this point, he could not bring himself to acknowledge a Samaritan as the hero of the story—that a Samaritan is in a place of resolving the tension about a moral outrage in Israel. That’s how many commentators interpret his response, and they may be right. It could also be true that the lawyer was tracking with Jesus, that he’s getting it, that he’s come to see that ethnic and religious identity are not the chief characteristics of the Samaritan at all. Rather, maybe he’s getting Jesus’ point, that it’s the Samaritan’s actions that flow from a heart of compassion and mercy. That is what is best defines this guy. Perhaps the lawyer is seeing it, getting the point, learning the lesson.
Whichever it is, Jesus has successfully extracted from this lawyer exactly what he wants everyone to hear, and exactly what he wants you and me to hear as well. The most important thing about the man who fell into the hands of the robbers is not his ethnic identity at that point, is it? Rather, it’s his desperate need, a need he has for someone to show him mercy, compassion, kindness. What’s the most important thing about the Samaritan? Again—it’s not his ethnic identity. It’s the fact that he showed mercy, compassion, and kindness. He did it when he counts.
So Jesus has awakened a sleeping conscience. He’s overwhelmed a proud conscience. He’s provoked a thoughtful conscience and extracted a thoughtful response. Finally—fourth point in your outline—Jesus directs—or you might say “instructs”—an informed conscience. An awakened, subdued, and provoked conscience will go in one of two directions, won’t it? It depends on whether it’s been hardened by pride or softened by humility. So Jesus asks the lawyer—verse 36—“‘Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ And he said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him”—what?—end of verse 37—“‘You go, and do likewise.’” Very similar to his command in verse 28, right? “Do this, and you will live.” Here, it’s “You go, and do likewise.” “In other words, Mr. Lawyer, stop testing me. Stop trying to justify yourself. Stop trying to theorize about what the word ‘neighbor’ means. That is an absolute waste of time. Instead, you go out there and get it done. You do as the Samaritan has done.” Those verbs “go” and “do”—present tense verbs—means that Jesus has commanded him, “Make this your continual habit. Make this your constant practice, your lifestyle—to follow the pattern of the one whom you’ve identified, as the chief identifying mark is action characterized by mercy. Go and do that. Go practice mercy. Go practice compassion. Let the compassion flow liberally, effusively to other people.”
Now had the lawyer practiced that? I suspect not, at least the way Jesus defines it here—as widespread and liberal. Someone who’s interested in tripping him up, someone who’s interested in entrapment of Jesus the Christ? It’s hard to see how he’s been loving God “with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind.” And someone who’s so self-centered that in public he wants to justify himself—verse 29—wanting to vindicate himself and prove his righteousness before others. What is he more interested in—himself or others? So—hard to see how he’s been filled with anything other than self-centered, pride-filled self-fulfillment.
So we need to understand Jesus’ commands to the lawyer—both in verse 28, “Do this, and you will live”—and in verse 37, “Go and do likewise.” Those commands indicate the gracious call of Christ to the lawyer to salvation. This is his gracious call to salvation— that he would respond to the truth, that he would repent and believe. Beloved, the holy God has commanded all of us to love and worship him because he is worthy of all worship and honor and praise and thanksgiving. God, who is holy, has commanded us all to love others, to love our neighbors as ourselves. Obeying his commandments, as we’ve said, is life to us. It’s the very essence of living out an eternal kind and quality of life. It’s also evidence of possessing an eternal kind of life. But we all, like the lawyer, must admit that we have not loved God or our neighbors as we’re commanded to do in Scripture. We have committed sins of idolatry and pride, self-centeredness, prejudice, partiality—all of that forfeiting our righteousness, failing to love, proving our sinfulness, our lifelessness, and our desperate need for salvation. Spiritually speaking, we’re far worse off than the man who had been beaten by robbers and left for dead because, spiritually speaking, we are already dead. We don’t need bandages and ointments and antiseptics for our souls. We need resurrection. We need new life from God. And by the grace of God, the author of this amazing parable is also the Author of Life. He is the perfect sacrifice to atone for our many sins before God. He is the perfect representative of the one who has lived perfect righteousness before God. By substitution in his atoning death, in his fulfillment of righteousness, by imputation as God reckons his death to us and his life to us, his righteousness to us, having been born again, having been saved by grace through faith, having peace with God and loved by the Spirit to work out repentance, walking in love through newness of life—this is what we have been granted in Christ.
So what does repentance look like? As we try to get practical about this, what does repentance look like, first for the lawyer, and then for all of us who have repented of our sins, who now know new life in Christ? Let’s talk about the lawyer first, because his heart has been hardened by pride. Repentance, for him, means he must first be humbled before God. In the words of James, he must “weep, mourn, and wail—let his laughter be turned to mourning and his joy to gloom. He must humble himself before God.” Repentance for him means he must be conscious of his sinfulness; he must be aware of his manifold failures to love God and to love others. There will be no salvation for this lawyer—there will be no salvation for any proud heart—apart from humility before God, apart from acknowledging and confessing our sins, apart from turning to God for mercy. This lawyer needs to see himself as dead in trespasses and sins, not as “doing pretty good.” He needs to see himself as condemned by the truth that he has studied so diligently. He needs to see himself as condemned by the righteousness that he professes to and believes he has practiced so fastidiously. He needs to see himself as condemned by the very words of his mouth when he quoted Scripture because he has not dealt with the heart of prideful lovelessness. He needs to see his prejudice, his lack of love, his lack of mercy, his lack of compassion toward his fellow man. He needs to see his high crime of treason and rebellion against God, like the arrogant presumption, by the way, by putting God incarnate to the test, like the foolishness of attempting to justify himself in the presence of this impeccably sinless Son of God standing in front of him.
So if, by the grace of God, this man finds his way to repentance and faith, then he will bow before Christ. He’ll cry out for divine mercy. He’ll cry out for salvation from God’s just and holy wrath. And God in Christ will hear his cry, he’ll grant salvation because God is by nature merciful. Aren’t you thankful? That was us before salvation. We were in the position of this lawyer. We were in such desperate need, and even now, on this side of the cross, as being saved, born-again people, we still don’t recognize how close we came to eternal death, to holy wrath. We have no idea. We have no idea. We can get a better picture of that the more we study the cross, the more we study the terrible wrath of God poured out on Christ, the more we study his grace in the cross. But boy, we really don’t have a deep enough understanding of God’s holiness and our sinfulness before him.
So then what? Say the lawyer repents. He cries out for mercy. God grants it. Well, then, he embarks, along with the rest of us, on a life-long walk of repentance and grace, working out our salvation with fear and trembling, right? Because “It is God who is at work within us both to will and to do according to his good purpose.” So with our consciences awakened and our hearts humbled, thoughtful, informed by the teaching of Christ, we move forward, step by step, in gracious repentance. It’s a matter of turning from, and turning to. That’s what repentance is, right? Turning from, turning to. Repentance means we turn away from one thing, the thing we were pursuing—self-centeredness, pride, comfort, ease, selfish ambition, whatever it is—to another thing, called “love.” Love for God, love for other people. It’s a matter of putting off and putting on.
There are a number of texts we could turn to just to illustrate this, but I’d like you to turn to Colossians 3. I want you to look at the Scripture, here, with me—in verse 5. Paul says to put off everything that pertains to self-centered idolatry. He says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” We’re to put off every sinful fruit that grows out of that wicked root of idolatry—Colossians 3:8-9. We’re to put them all away: “[A]nger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth,” along with lying—verse 9—“Do not lie to one another,” he says. That’s what you put off, that’s what’s gone, that’s what you kill, mortify. That’s what you get rid of. Instead, Paul says what?—down in verse 12—“Put on then”—here’s what you turn to—“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved.” You say, “Why’d you have to talk about election?” Well, it’s right there: “God’s chosen ones.” “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts.” Look what leads the list! Hmmm.
*Put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these [what?] put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.*
Why “above all these, love”? Because Galatians 5:14 says, “The whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Paul expanded that thought, just simply an elaboration of what Jesus taught in the Gospels. Over in Romans 13:8-10, Paul says,
*Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.*
So Jesus has helped us—you can go back to Luke 10—hasn’t he?—to see that so very clearly, teaching us what neighbor love looks like, what we’re to put on—compassionate hearts. He’s taught us by illustrating it through “the one who showed mercy.”
So if you look back at what we just covered today—verses 33-35—here’s where I want us to end, as I told you—with 10 characteristics of love, 10 principles of love. You might be able to find more or less depending on how you summarize things, but here’s my list—10 characteristics of love.
First, let’s return to the lawyer’s question and ask, “What is a neighbor?” Let’s just get a working definition of what a neighbor is, right? A neighbor is anyone who needs help. A neighbor is anyone who needs help for whom I’m in the position to help. That is, I have the means, I have the opportunity, I’m in the right location. So does that mean everybody starving in some other parts of the world, means I’ve got to rush over there? No, because then there’s people here you just left. You’ve got to stay here, do it here. A neighbor is anyone who needs help for whom I’m in the position to help.
So second question: “What does it mean to love my neighbor as myself?” To love my neighbor as myself means I am eager to see and to meet my neighbor’s need from a heart of compassion, with actions of mercy. Both what’s going on the inside and what you do on the outside—both count. To love my neighbor as myself means I am eager to see and to meet my neighbor’s need.
So for those of you who say, “Well, I’m just a private person. I don’t really like to go out of my house”—you know what? That definition condemns you. And that’s just my summary. For those of you who say, “You know, I moved to Colorado because there’s more elbow room, here. There’s more space. I don’t have to see people very much because I’m not really a people person.” You know what the Bible says? “Too bad. Too bad.” You’ve got to stop being a private person and start being a person who loves other people. You’ve got to be eager, zealous for good works. You’ve got to be zealous to see people in need and then to want to meet those needs. That’s what the Bible says. That’s what Jesus is saying here. Don’t be a loveless lawyer. Be like the one who showed mercy.
To love my neighbor as myself means I’m eager to see and meet my neighbor’s need from a heart of compassion with actions of mercy—both the heart and the action count. Okay, so here’s what “eager to see and meet the need” looks like. Go back again to Luke 10:33-35 one more time. We can find three principles for loving others—loving our neighbors—from verse 33. I’ll just walk through verse by verse. “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.”
So, number 1: love is eager. Love is on the lookout for an opportunity to express love. So we’ve got to eradicate a hard heart. We’ve got to cultivate a tender heart, one that is eager to see and to meet needs.
Number 2: Love is flexible. Love means a willingness to change plans, a willingness to interrupt the schedule, to veer off the planned path.
Number 3: Love is affectionate. That is to say, love reacts and it responds with an appropriate feeling, with fitting emotion that meets the occasion, that meets the need. Not to see somebody in desperate need, bleeding, dying on the side of the road, and have no heart of compassion for him, but just to go and help him out of duty. I mean, I’m glad you helped him out of duty, but there ought to be in a Christian—right?—heartfelt compassion. Love is affectionate.
That’s the first three. Look at verse 34. There are four principles from that section. “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.” So four more principles there.
Number 4: Love is imminent. That is to say love draws near to the need. Love does not recoil. It does not give way to fear, reluctance, or self-centeredness. It draws near. Love doesn’t look at the beaten man and say, “Ugh—I’m going to get stuff on me.” Love says, “Put on the rubber gloves and go get at it.”
Number 5: Love is kind. If this sounds a little bit like 1 Corinthians 13, it should: “Love is kind,” right? Love shows kindness to those in need. Notice how he dresses the wounds not just with the wine. You know, putting wine on an open wound is going to burn—putting alcohol on it. He also shows kindness by putting on oil as well, to soothe. Love shows kindness to those in need. He treats wounds gently; he handles with care. Have you ever been loved by somebody, and it’s like a cement truck rolling over you. I’ve actually loved people like that before. I know it’s a surprise to you. But I’ve had to learn that love is kind, it’s gentle, it handles with care.
Number 6: Love is generous. Love means giving; it means meeting needs. It means doing what’s necessary to help. Love is generous. There’s no stinginess; there’s no miserly spirit. There’s just a clear-headed recognition of what the money is for in the first place: to help others in need. You’re a steward of God’s resources. Give!
Number 7: Along with that, love is sacrificial. Love is ready; it’s eager to burden itself to relieve the burdens of other people. Love is willing to inconvenience itself to care for others. Tending to the self is not the issue, here. It’s about helping others. The Samaritan practiced what’s expressed in Proverbs 3:27-28: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due when it’s in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again; tomorrow I will give it,’ when you have it with you.” That’s not showing an eagerness to see and meet the need. That’s not showing a sacrificial, generous heart, is it? “‘Go, and come again; tomorrow I will give it,’ when you have it with you.” Help them!
Finally, verse 35, another three principles there. “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.’”
Number 8: Love is caring stewardship. Love is caring—or you might say “compassionate”—stewardship. Love sees money as a means to meet human needs, and it uses more money to meet ongoing needs. “Love sees money”—I should just broaden that out and say “resources.” Money, when you spend it, you can always make more. But one resource you can’t get more of once you spend it is called time. Time is very valuable. Love sees resources as a means to meet needs, to meet ongoing needs that require more resources—and it gives. Money is just means to an end. Those who try to hoard money will find themselves poverty-stricken—if not in the wallet, then in the heart—because a miserly heart is so small. Caring stewardship—I call it stewardship here because—notice here—there is thoughtful planning involved. The Samaritan did it on the fly. He’s wisely providing for future care. He’s seeing it through. That’s a stewardship, and it’s a stewardship that is laced with care.
Number 9: Love is reliable. It’s sustained by conviction; it’s not subject to emotional fluctuation. The immediate emotional reaction is going to wear off at some point, right? But love can be relied upon because it’s grounded on the principle of what is right. And this leads right into number 10.
Number 10: Love is unchanged. “Love never fails.” Love is willing to obligate itself no matter what, even at the risk of being taken advantage of. There was no guarantee that the innkeeper wouldn’t run up the bill and overcharge him. It didn’t seem to matter. That’s Psalm 15:4: “The righteous man swears to his own hurt and does not change.”
So 10 principles, there. I just gave them to you very quickly. Love is eager, flexible, affectionate. Love is imminent, kind, generous, sacrificial. Love is caring stewardship, reliable, and unfailing.
I like how J. C. Ryle sums this up. He says, “Our kindness must not extend merely to our families, friends, and relatives. We must love all people and be kind to everyone whenever the opportunity arises. We should think of the whole world as our parish, and all of mankind is our neighbor. We should seek to be the friend of everyone who is in prison or poor or an orphan or a pagan or a slave or ill or starving or dying. The ungodly may sneer at this and call it extravagant or fanatical, but we need not mind that. To be friendly to everyone in this way is to show something of the mind that was in Christ.”
Beloved, love like that is uncommon, isn’t it? Even in ourselves. Even in us who’ve been born again—it’s uncommon. It ought not to be, but it is. And that just helps us to realize once again that perfection in showing this kind of love is found only in Jesus Christ. His death has forgiven us for every failing of ours to show love to God and to others, and his perfect life of righteousness. Most essentially, in loving God and loving others, his perfect life of righteousness covers us in the loving perfection of God himself. But in him, now that the love of God—Romans 5:5—“has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us,” we are now able to walk in love.
And let me just tell you: Any resistance you feel in your heart—pull that out into the light, examine that and see the evil that is there. See that it’s something to be repented of, to be condemned, to be killed. Ask God to take that love that’s been poured out into your heart through the Holy Spirt who’s been given to you—ask him to enable you to walk in love, to remind you all the time that that is your birthright as a Christian. That is what it is to be a member of this family. There’s no more joyful being in the universe than God, and God loves like this.
So may God help us in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit to walk in this love and to do so, growing in wisdom and strength and maturity in showing love—because there are very foolish ways of run off and apply a sermon like this. So may he grow us in wisdom, that we may be known as a loving people, so that Grace Church may be known as a loving church, bringing all glory and praise to God in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen? Let’s pray.
Our Father, we give thanks to you once again in the name of Jesus Christ because you have loved us magnanimously. We were so far worse off than the man who was beaten by robbers. We have been decimated by sin. We’ve been born into this world guilty of Adam’s sin. We prove our sinful nature, our sinful condition, by sinning—by giving ourselves to ourselves, by worshipping the self, by bowing before the throne of self-interest, self-centeredness. O God, help us to mortify that sin, to knock over that idol, and to give ourselves whole-heartedly to you, and to love those you’ve put in our path. Help us to do that, Father, and to be renowned as a people who love you and love others. Let us be known by that badge that Christians are supposed to be known for—as those who love one another. Let us start here in our midst, identifying, looking to see and meet needs, being eager and zealous to meet them. And give us great wisdom, Lord, so we don’t mess it up, so we’re not foolish in trying to love others, but wise, thoughtful, and effective. We thank you, Father, for this series of teaching that we have learned from Christ himself. We thank you for your holy Word that instructs us, motivates us, points us to Christ. We love him, and we love you. In his name, amen.