25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “ ‘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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
A wrecking ball can do some pretty impressive work. Where a building once stood, it can make a pile of rubble in a matter of minutes. It’s destructive. It’s violent. It’s powerful. When a wrecking ball wreaks its havoc on a condemned building or a fire-ravaged property that you remember, it can definitely be sad. Just imagine if we would see a wrecking ball take down this house. Imagine what those remaining in the land of Israel felt when they saw the wrecking ball of the Babylonian Army take down God’s holy Temple…devastation, loss, anger.
But if something else is built in its place, well that could be something good. The condemned building or fire-ravaged property gives way to a new home, a new business, a new store – that is beneficial. If it would ever happen that this church building would be demolished, that could give way to a new house of God for us to use faithfully for our growing congregation and community for the next 50, 60, 100 years. The Temple was rebuilt – although not as grand as Solomon’s masterpiece – and the group of people that returned from captivity were once again able to worship God in their homeland, in God’s city, Jerusalem, in God’s holy house. In that way, a wrecking ball is necessary because it removes something that isn’t helpful and builds something that is.
I think we can look at the gospel of Jesus Christ like that. The gospel will break and destroy. It will be a violent shattering of what was once there, a powerful display of what God can do. That’s the idea you get when you read what God inspired Paul to write in Romans 1: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” The gospel is good news that is powerful to tear down a life of selfishness, sin, and unbelief. The gospel is good news that is powerful to build up a new life of faith in Jesus, hope for eternity, and service to God and our neighbors. The gospel is good news that is the only power that can get a rotten sinner like you and a rotten sinner like me to heaven. That is the most powerful thing that there is.
That’s why our new worship series is going to talk about how to use the gospel. If it is good news, if it is powerful enough to tear down a life of sin and unbelief and build up a new life of faith and service, if it is for us and everyone else, then we should probably use it.
But, you know, not everyone agrees that the gospel is powerful or that this good news of Jesus is the only way to heaven. From the smartest sociologists and psychologists to the simple bloggers and social media users, from the most religious to those who can’t stand religion, people have a lot of different ideas about what is necessary to get to heaven.
This expert in the law had it figured out. He wasn’t asking this question like the rich, young ruler from last week. He was asking to test Jesus and really to discredit him. See, he had his own answer and considering Luke calls him an expert in the law, you can probably guess what his answer is. He said the arrow points up. I have to follow laws to get into heaven. I have to make my way up.
So when Jesus was patient and gracious with this man, pointing him back into the Bible for the answer, the expert in the law was ready to give him the best summary of the law that there is. “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, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” He gave Jesus the same summary that the Bible gives: Love God, that’s the first table of the law, and love your neighbor, that’s the second table.
It’s easy to give that answer, but when Jesus says, “Do this and you will live,” that’s a little difficult. If the arrow points up, then I have to love God with everything I am all the time. If the arrow points up, then I have to love my neighbor, not like, not tolerate, not accept, not avoid, but love my neighbor in the same way that I take care of myself.
If the arrow points up and I have to love perfectly to get into heaven, then I have a problem. Because it doesn’t take me long to look my whole life, even just the last week, to see that I have loved things and people more than my God and I have cared for myself a lot more than the people around me. I have fallen short of having the love I need to get into heaven, and so have you.
All the laws that this guy was an expert in, all those places where you open you Bible and say, “Oh no! I am not doing that. I don’t like that. I can’t do that,” – all these laws God gave us for one reason: to know that we are sinful and that there is no way I can get myself into heaven. Period. There would have to be someone else, because if I have to follow the laws perfectly and love perfectly then it’s never going to be the eternal outcome I’m looking for.
Brothers and sisters, that’s why God sent us the Redeemer, the one who makes the payment and buys back that condemned property to make something new with it. God didn’t just forget about the law. He didn’t just say, “You don’t need to worry about all those commandments I was so serious about before.” No, Jesus came to fulfill every law for me. He came to live the way I cannot. He came to love the way I won’t. He came to complete everything for me in my place so that I can live with Jesus forever. This is the good news.
The expert in the law doesn’t want to let Jesus off so easy, and at the same time he doesn’t want to look silly in front of everyone there – I mean, an expert in the law should be able to come up with a harder question than one that has such an easy answer. So, he says, “Well, the real questions is: And who is my neighbor?”
To answer Jesus tells a very clear and striking story. This 17-mile stretch between Jerusalem and Jericho had rocky crevices and ravines out in the desert that provided a great place for robbers to sneak up on defenseless travelers. And even though the threat of danger was high, it was very familiar and well-traveled because that is the way Jews traveled to avoid going through Samaria. Samaria and Samaritans were off limits. They were scum. Jews didn’t want to associate with them. That was the worst thing you could call someone in Israel back then. Jesus picks the perfect setting for this expert and for all of us to consider who my neighbor is and what loving them means.
As the story goes a Jewish man traveling on that road is attacked. The bandits beat him, strip him, and leave him for dead. It’s an ugly situation that gets even uglier. A priest, thank God, a priest, a servant and preacher in the house of the Lord happens to be traveling down that road soon afterward, but he passes by on the other side of the road. Who cares what the reason is! You can see his self-centeredness and lack of love. Another Jew, a Levite – that would be another guy who was coming from work in the Temple, serving the Lord – comes down the road with the exact same kind of self-centeredness and lack of love.
Then, Jesus uses the s-word, Samaritan. He says a Samaritan comes down the road, and every Jew listening to this story gets a bad taste in their mouths. The Samaritan, who has no reason to love this Jew and care for him, sees him and has pity on him. He bandages his wounds. He puts him on his own donkey. He takes him to a hotel and cares for him over night. The next morning, he leaves enough money for this man to stay for almost two months.
The answer to the question “who is my neighbor?” is so obvious. But there is another thing that is so obvious about this story. This is what it is like for us. This is what it is like to have the gospel, the good news of the Redeemer who saw us broken and left for dead and came to save us. He took us out of harm’s way. He healed us and made us new. He paid for us fully and completely so that there would be nothing left for us to do. This is what it is like for us who have the good news of Jesus and live with the grace and mercy of God.
In this life that we have from God, as people who have been purchased and cleansed and made new by Christ, as people who have his love not because of what we do but because of what he has done, and as people who know what the amazing power of the gospel does, we are not motivated by guilt or obligation.
Guilt an obligation can only do so much. Think about the Samaritan. If he felt obligated to do something, what would it be? Report the crime. We think the priest and Levite are monsters for not helping, but obligation would not motivate you to help. You’d call in the crime. Maybe you would stop the car and wait for some other help to arrive. But obligation and guilt would not make you pick this guy up, let him bleed all over your car, take him to the hospital, stay with him over night, and then pay his hospital bill. Obligation doesn’t have that kind of power.
God’s grace that is poured out into our hearts through the gospel, the powerful good news of Jesus, does. The good news frees us from obligation and guilt. The good news fills us with the same kind of love that God has for us.
We don’t follow God’s laws, come to church, give offerings, take care of our family, show kindness to others, speak the good news of Jesus to our friends and neighbors because if we don’t God won’t love us. That is the arrow pointing up. That is the sense of obligation to earn God’s love. Instead, because Jesus fulfilled the law for me, because Jesus forgives all my sins, because he promises heaven for me and all believers, because he has put this good news into my heart, because he has changed my life forever, I want to do what God says. This changed life I have now oozes with thankfulness where I love God and love my neighbors.
When you see someone who is wrecked and broken by the desires of this world, when you see someone who is beat up and left helpless by the lies of people that teach that the arrow has to go up to get into heaven, when you see someone who is unconscious to the danger they are in and you do nothing you’ve got a problem with self-centeredness and lack of love. That is not the way God built you with his grace and mercy. His gospel message, the good news of Jesus, is the power that not only puts faith in your heart but also removes self-centeredness and the lack of love from your life.
There are people around you – family member, friends, acquaintances, neighbors – who need this good news. They don’t need an arrow pointing up. They don’t need more obligations. They don’t need more rules. They don’t need to figure out how to make it in this world. They need to know how to make it out of this world to the heaven God has paid for. They need to know about the one who came to set them free from the pressing load of guilt. They need to hear that the arrow points down from God who loved the whole world that he was willing to offer up his Son. They need to hear about Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection, his forgiveness and salvation.
My friends, to help them you don’t need all sorts of skills. You don’t need confidence from all sorts of personal successes. You don’t need to have all sorts verses memorized. You don’t need a job at a church. Look what that did for the priest and Levite. What you need is love. You need selfless, Good Samaritan kind of love that cares for people no matter what. And it just so happens that the kind of love we need is exactly what Jesus did for us and is exactly what Jesus put into our hearts and lives with his gospel message. When you have love like that, good news is easy to share. God grant it. Amen.