A Lawyer's Test (On the Way to the Cross - Part 12)
Scripture: Luke 10:25–37
Synopsis: We have all heard teaching on the parable of the good Samaritan many times. What if I were to tell you that this section of scripture is not about a Samaritan at all? Instead, it is about an Israelite lawyer who tried to twist the law of God to justify himself. In this sermon, we explore the true meaning of this parable and see that the way we obey God sheds light on how much we love Him.
Intro: Barracks Lawyers - Claimed to know all the Army regulations and were always happy to offer their advice. It was certainly a good thing to know all your regs, but more often than not, the intention of barracks lawyers was to manipulate regulations to justify themselves.
Ex. In the early days of my Army career, I really didn’t like the standard army haircut. So I looked at the regulation and found what I thought was a loophole that would allow me to have a more fashionable hairstyle. What I would do was make sure my hair was neatly trimmed short everywhere that was visible with my hat on. The less visible part which usually remained under my hat however was significantly longer. To make it look passable with the hat off, I used lots of gel to keep it up and in its place. This way, I could take it down and have a stylish do on the weekend, but it would always be out of sight on duty.
Everything was going fine until one hot day. I had been working outside in the heat and unbeknownst to me my sweat had washed away the hair gel. Also unbeknownst to me was the fact that the Battalion Sergeant Major was in my platoon sergeant’s office. I walked in to the office and took off my hat. My hair must have come out like in the shampoo commercials because my platoon sergeant’s face was in his hands and the sergeant major’s eyes had never been wider or more furious. I’ll just say that was the end of my career as a barracks lawyer.
The question I would like us to think about this evening is, as Christians, how often do we try to test the limits of what is lawful or unlawful, permitted or restricted, right or wrong? How often do we look for that one verse of the bible that we think lets us get away with half-hearted obedience? How often do we look for a loophole in the bible or a word that is just difficult enough to obscure the meaning and allow us in to continue in our favorite sin?
We might not think about it that way. We might fool ourselves into thinking that we are obeying God as far as we can understand His word. Jesus said this, but what he really meant was that. God command this, but that was in the Old Testament so we don’t need to pay attention anymore. What does the way we manipulate scripture say about how much we love God?
Our passage today is the well known parable of the good Samaritan. The problem, is that this narrative of scripture is not actually about a good Samaritan, but a Jewish lawyer. A lawyer who tried to test Jesus, but ended up being tested by Jesus. A lawyer who tried to justify himself by manipulating one word of God’s law.
Reading: Luke 10:25-37
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 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. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 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. 35 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.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
Lawyer stood to test Jesus with a question. (perhaps to see if Jesus knew the law as well as the rumors said.)
Conversation like tossing a ball back and forth... Lawyer - knowledge level, Jesus - heart application level
Question: What shall I do to inherit eternal life? We might expect Jesus to say, trust in me, believe in me, follow me. Instead in v. 26 Jesus said, “What is written in the law?” I think he turned the test back to the lawyer with this question. Would this man who knew the Old Testament well enough to have earned the title of lawyer understand the true meaning of the law?
The Lawyer demonstrated a very well rounded knowledge of law with his answer. First he quoted Deuteronomy 6:5, "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.” In essence, the command was to love God with one’s whole being.
The lawyer then made a brilliant connection. You see, following the command to love God is a list of things that that Israelites had to do demonstrate their love for God. Within that list is the command to remember that God brought them out of slavery in Egypt. Connected to that idea elsewhere is the command to love the sojourner in your land as yourself since you were sojourners in Egypt, and the statement that God loves the sojourner and seeks justice for them. Throughout the law, there are provisions made for the fair and just treatment of strangers, sojourners, and one’s neighbors.
He connected the dots all the way to Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The lawyer really demonstrated strong knowledge of the law because he chose the two commands that sum up both human responsibility to God and to other people, as well as point out the strong connection between loving God and obeying Him. Jesus himself even used this answer when asked what is the greatest commandment.
In verse 28, Jesus acknowledged this saying, “You have answered correctly.” It looked like one point for the lawyer until Jesus said, “Do this and you will live." Suddenly we see the lawyer switch to a defensive posture. We see this in the next verse: “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus..” Why did this response put the lawyer on defense? I think the answer is in the way Jesus spoke. Sure, if you love God with your whole heart, soul, strength, and mind and if you love your neighbor as yourself you’ll make it.
The logic of the test essentially goes like this: If you ever fail to love your neighbor as yourself, you have not obeyed God’s second greatest commandment. Failure to obey God's commands demonstrates that you do not love God with your whole being. If you do not love God with your whole being, you have not done what is necessary to inherit eternal life.
The lawyer on defense is like a cornered animal looking for a way to escape, to justify himself because he knew that he had not fulfilled these laws. So he centered on the one possible loophole: what is the definition and scope of the word ‘neighbor.’ In verse 29, “And who is my neighbor?”
You see, the only way to tell on the outside if someone loves God with their whole being is to see whether or not they obey Him. I think the lawyer realized this, so he sought to limit the definition of the word 'neighbor.' If that word could be defined narrowly (not Romans, Samaritans, other Gentiles, beggers, etc. Just the people I already like), he could at least put on the façade of loving God with his whole being. Possibly even get by on the minimum required obedience.
Who is the neighbor that you must love as yourself in order to demonstrate whole-being love for God and be fit to inherit eternal life? At this point, and in this context, Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan (or the true neighbor).
The gist of the parable is that an injured man is passed by by those who should have been his neighbors, but compassionately and lavishly cared for by one who should have been his enemy. But that is not all there is to it. We need to understand the offence of the parable in order to understand its deeper meaning.
Samaritans had unorthodox beliefs. In other words, they were heretics who were distorting the true faith and worship of God. Even Jesus said to one Samaritan woman, “You worship what you do not know.” Jews, as a rule, hated Samaritans and did their best to not even touch them. And yet, Jesus made a Samaritan the hero of this parable.
I want you to feel what they felt, so I am going to try and bring this parable into our context. Imagine there was a Christian man walking in Musaffa who was attacked by the Mussaffa bandits. (I don't know if there are actually bandits in Mussaffa..) They beat the man, stripped him, and took all his money. Then along came the pastor of the big, well known church but he passed the man by. Then along came the pastoral intern of the big, well known church but he also passed the man by. Finally, along came an imam from the nearby mosque. He saw the Christian man laying there and had compassion on him. He bandaged his wounds and put his own tunic on him. Then he put the man in his own car and brought him to the best hospital and paid all the fees for the man's medical care.
Do you feel the twist in your gut? Are you thinking, "No! That's not how the story is supposed to go! A Christian is supposed to be the hero of this story!" That is exactly what the Jewish lawyer must have felt when Jesus told the parable with a Samaritan hero.
Why did Jesus tell the parable this way? First of all, to get the man's attention. Secondly, to illustrate the scope of the word ‘neighbor’ from God's perspective. It is not limited to the people you like, the people you get along with, the people of your own nationality, or the people who share your beliefs. Your neighbor includes all of them and even those people whom you consider enemies, even those who are in heresy.
But there is something even more powerful and profound in this story. The Samaritan hero of the story moved that beaten Jewish man from an enemy to a neighbor through acts of compassion and mercy.
If we could make a hierarchy of love in the bible, perhaps it might look like concentric circles. God in the center because He must be the center of all our desire and affections. In the next circle would be our brothers and sisters in Christ since we are to serve each other in love. Next would be neighbors and ourselves since we are commanded to love neighbors as ourselves. Finally, we are commanded to love (seek the highest good for) our enemies. If you think about this in the context of the parable, what we are really trying to do is move people toward the center of the circle, toward God. We want to take our enemies and make them our neighbors, our neighbors and make them our brothers in Christ for the glory of God.
Your neighbor is therefore whoever you are able through acts of love, compassion, and mercy to make your neighbor. This is the extra mile that Jesus again and again expounds in his teachings. Your neighbors are limited only by those who refuse to become your neighbor despite your best efforts.
Jesus said go and do likewise. Most common application of this story is “Go be like the good Samaritan.” But there is a major problem with this conclusion.
The problem is in the question, did the Samaritan in the parable inherit eternal life? He demonstrated love for his enemy that made him a neighbor. However, the fact remained, he was a Samaritan. Even though he did love his neighbor, he lived in the sin of heresy. He could not love God with his whole being because he did not know God.
Since the Samaritan in the story did not inherit eternal life on the basis of his good work done apart from true love of God, how can the point of the story be “Be like the Samaritan?” Instead, the point here is look out for how you can expand the commands of God into ever greater scope and deeper application. Love your neighbors? Yes, and try to make people your neighbors in order to love them.
In this context, much more unqualified for eternal life was the Israelite lawyer? The lawyer who had the true testimony of God and knew it well showed a lack of love for God by seeking to limit the application of God’s commands.
Somehow in his excellent knowledge of the law, he had missed the point that no one has fulfilled God’s requirements. In fact, built right into the law was the assumption of failure. Harsh penalties for willfull disobedience, sacrifices for accidental and unintentional disobedience, even sacrifices for unknown sins.
Jesus answered the lawyer from the law in the style of the law. “Do this and you will live,” “You go and do likewise.” If we fulfill the requirements of God in the law, we will inherit eternal life. The problem is, no one inherits eternal life by obeying the law of God, because no one obeys God as they should.
Obeying God is not a matter of following rules to the letter. Rather, it is joyfully, out of love that permeates your whole being, looking for what more you can do to obey him. What more you can do to serve him. The lawyer was tested and found unfit for eternal life despite his great understanding of scripture because he did not really love God.
What would happen if you and I took the lawyers test? God has commanded us to love Him with our whole being (heart, soul, strength, mind). Your innermost desire should be to worship and obey God. God has also commanded us, among many other things, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. So you should love your neighbor because you love God.
This is the test: If you have done this consistently in the full scope demonstrated by Jesus throughout your whole life without fail loved God and your neighbor, you pass the test. The question is, did you pass? Can you on the basis of your own merit and good works inherit eternal life?
Naturally the answer is no. You didn’t pass the test and neither did I. No one inherits eternal life by obeying the law of God, because no one obeys God as they should. Just think about it. How often do we try to get by doing as little as possible in regard to obeying God? The clear message of our text today is that this is entirely the wrong way to go.
In fact, if we truly love God with our whole being, we will look for ways to expand the meaning of worship and obedience. If we truly love our neighbors as ourselves, we will search for ways to make more people our neighbors so we can love them. It is because we fail so miserably to keep God’s laws despite our best and most sincere efforts that we need Jesus so much. Paul picked up this point in..
21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
The law imprisoned everything under sin. That is, it made clear what sin is and what obedience is. It made clear that all are disobedient to God. But, the promise spoken of here was made long before the law was given. That is the promise God made to Abraham that through his offspring all nations would be blessed which is part of a theme that runs right through the whole bible. God promised to send someone to put an end to sin. This promise is fulfilled in Jesus for all who believe in him.
This is where we find Jesus on the way to the cross in today’s text. Like the Samaritan in the parable did for his Jewish enemy, Jesus has compassion on us, covers our shame, binds and cares for our wounded hearts, spiritually rehabilitates us, and pays the full price for our redemption. Jesus himself is the ultimate neighbor to us. Jesus went as far as is possible to go to make enemies into neighbors and brothers. He died for us while we were yet his enemies.
Jesus demonstrated what it truly means to love our neighbors. This and the greatest command to love God with our whole hearts, souls, strength, and minds still demand our obedience today. It is true that we will fail often, but our hope of eternal life rests firmly in trusting Jesus. We are free to obey God purely out of love. Free to do the extra thing, not for merit but for the love of God.
I want to challenge you today to think about how you obey God. If you are constantly trying to limit, loophole, or obscure the commands of God, that betrays a lack of love for God which betrays a lack of His Spirit in you.
If you trust in Jesus and his Spirit is in you, desire to demonstrate love for God in obeying him will seem only natural. You will look for the extra thing. Look for how you can serve God with greater devotion, greater scope, deeper commitment, higher praise. In terms of loving your neighbor as yourself, this means looking for ways to move other people closer to God through acts of love, compassion, and mercy. I challenge you to make yourself more neighbors to love for God’s glory.
More in On the Way to the Cross
April 13, 2014Glorious Injustice (On the Way to the Cross - Part 24)
April 6, 2014Peter and Judas (On the Way to the Cross - Part 23)
March 30, 2014I Will Send My Son (On the Way to the Cross - Part 22)