What’s the kindest deed or action a stranger has done for you? Not your family, friend, or co-worker. What’s the kindest deed a stranger has done for you? I want you to think about that for a moment.
When I was a sophomore at the University of Indianapolis, I lived in a rental house about three blocks away from campus. My two roommates and I, who were on the swim team, decided to get a house off campus. Our neighborhood was called University Heights because it was known around the outside community for students who lived in houses.
In our neighborhood, there was a rumor going around the Mormon missionaries were in town. This rumor was true. Two Mormon missionaries came to our front door on a Saturday morning and asked if they could share their religious literature. Curious at the time, and not a believer myself, I said: “Sure, come on in.”
My friend Kieran was not interested at all. He was sitting on the sofa in the living room with his pajamas on, watching a bass fish tournament on Television while I am talking with them about Joseph Smith and Angel Moroni. After sharing Mormonism, they asked if I would meet with them again. I said sure, but next week I will be moving to another house off campus. They said, “No Problem. We will lend you a helping hand.”
The following week, they returned and moved every material possession I had. My bed, books, study table, and even dirty laundry. I was a college student so you can only imagine how smelly my room was. After the Mormon missionaries moved all my stuff out of the house, they also helped me move it into the new house. As if that wasn’t enough, they took me out to eat at Wendy’s Restaurant. Consequently, I will never forget the nicest deed ever done to me by a stranger was in fact, a Mormon.
BACKGROUND OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN
What do you call a stranger who helps out a person in need? A Good Samaritan, which is our main text today found in the gospel of Luke. The Oxford dictionary defines a Good Samaritan as a charitable or helpful person.
Nearly everyone has heard this phrase before, but may have questions as to who the Samaritans were or where they came from. Here’s a little history. Samaritans were an offspring of the Jews who remained in the land when other Israelites were taken captive to Babylon in 677 BC. The Samaritans remained in the land and intermarried with the Gentiles who came from Assyria.
When the Jews returned back from Babylonian captivity, they were horrified to find their own people assimilated into the pagan culture, even marrying unbelievers. As a result, the Samaritans were despised and hated because they polluted the strain of God’s chosen people. In fact, after the captivity was over, Nehemiah came back and aspired to rebuild the wall. Well, the Samaritans showed up and said: “We would like to assist you in rebuilding the wall. We will reconnect with our Jewish roots.”
And the Israelites said, “Absolutely not. We want nothing to do with you.” The bitterness was very deep and so the Samaritans said, “Fine.” If you want to play that game, we will build our own temple. So a man named Sanballat was the Samaritan leader who built a rival temple in a place called Mount Gerizim. Well, the Israelites did not like this, so in 128 BC they went and destroyed the temple and killed some of the Samaritans. The animosity was profound and just as strong during Jesus’ days on Earth.
For instance, when Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees in John 8, they asked Jesus, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” Woah. This is quite an offensive remark. The religious leaders associated Samaritans with someone who worshipped Satan. You might say, “Well this isn’t surprising. The Pharisees are usually depicted as bad guys in the Bible. True, but even Jesus’ own disciples, who were supposed to be the good guys in the story, also hated the Samaritans. Remember the time in John 4 where Jesus was speaking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well? The disciples were so upset about it they were tempted not to speak to their own Messiah. Or what about the time when James and John asked God to call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village in Luke 9? Thankfully Jesus rebuked them for that remark.
What I find most ironic about all of this is that out of the 4 gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the writer Luke, a Gentile doctor (associated with Samaritans), wrote more than any other Jewish author from the New Testament, including the Apostle Paul. Really? Yes, Paul wrote more letters, but Luke, along with its companion volume Acts, comprises the largest amount of material in the New Testament.
Please turn with me to the parable of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37. Luke was a historian. He put great emphasis on dates and details, connecting Jesus to events and people in history. Luke also focused on the universality of the gospel message. He demonstrates Jesus’s special concern for outsiders, such as the poor, sinners, and our story now, the Good Samaritan. Please stand with me in reverence for the reading of God’s Word, starting in verse 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.
Throughout history, there have been many ideas and interpretations concerning this passage. In fact, John Macarthur states that the Good Samaritan is the most misunderstood parable in all of Scriptures. However, we shouldn’t be surprised since Jesus said just a few chapters beforehand in Luke 8: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.” Parables are hard to discern without the spirit of God, so it makes sense why there are so many interpretations.
The early theologian Origen, who lived in AD 184, considered this about the parable: The man who was going down to Jericho represented Adam, Jerusalem is paradise, Jericho is the world, the robbers are hostile powers, the Priest is the law, the Levite is the prophets, the Samaritan is Christ, the wounds are disobedience, the animal is the Lord’s body, the inn is the church, the manager of the inn is the head of the church, and when the Samaritan says he will return again, that represents the Savior’s second coming. This is quite a literary stretch to make, don’t you think?
It wasn’t until John Calvin came along during the Reformation in the 1500s and suggested to read this passage in its historical context, rather than in some secret hidden meaning, similar to the heretical Gnostics from the 1st century.
Today, the Good Samaritan parable has been told for many purposes. More liberal leaning scholars have justified it as a call for the government to redistribute wealth to the poor, the sick, and the needy. Liberation theology says this is about the all-inclusive reach of unity and harmony. Others apply this passage as a cry for social justice, gender equality, and racial reconciliation. Pastors emphasize this passage as a plea for Christians to radically love and serve others, especially those in need. Of course, these are all good points and you can find some of these themes in the story, but that’s not the main point of the passage.
The main point of this passage is soteriological—it’s about how to be saved. This is a scene of Jesus doing personal evangelism. He is answering the question from the religious expert about how to inherit eternal life. It is similar to Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus in John 3 and it is comparable to Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler in Matthew 19. Its Jesus illustrating a parable and using the story to explain what is required to inherit eternal life. That’s why the topic for this sermon is entitled: “The Most Important Question Ever Asked” because it deals with how to be saved. Let’s set the scene and go back to verse 25.
It all starts with a question from an expert in religious law. He wants to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. This is the first point in your notes: #1: In order to inherit eternal life, God requires perfect obedience.
When Jesus asked the expert what the Law of Moses required, the Lawyer gets it right. He quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said exactly. Do this and you will live. The man was sharp. He knew exactly what Scripture verse to quote to make Jesus happy. The perfect teacher’s pet.
Unfortunately, the scribe never admitted his inability to perfectly love and obey God. He should have been honest and said, “You know what Jesus. I can’t fulfil this requirement. I know I am supposed to abide by the 613 commandments in the Torah, but I can’t even keep the 10 you gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. I can imagine the lawyer saying, “You know, the other day I was sick while studying at the synagogue and thought more about my own well-being rather than giving you glory: I put the god of “me” before you. Then, when I recovered from my sickness, I decided to work on the Sabbath day to catch up on my legal document writings. Oh yea, and if that’s not bad enough Jesus, I was coveting my neighbor’s brand new parchment paper made of sheepskin for the Torah scrolls. I am a sinner, have pity on me.
We know that’s not how the story went. In verse 29 it says the man wanted to justify his actions so he asked Jesus “And who is my neighbor.” First, this assumes the man believed he was already justified before God by his own works. He never brought up loving God with all his heart again. He was good there. Second, it implies the man asked the wrong question by placing a condition on who his neighbor was. When Jews said the word neighbor, they meant only an Israelite; one of the same nation and religion; near to them in blood, someone they can call a “neighbor in the law.” I envision this man saying to Jesus, in a cynical way. I know I am good with loving God and my neighbor too, unless you have some other definition of neighbor.
At this point, Jesus could have stopped the conversation. He could have said this man is so blinded by his own self-righteousness there is nothing I might possibly say to convince him his need for grace and mercy. But Jesus, out of his love for self-righteous sinners, chose instead to illustrate a story about how to love unconditionally and be a true neighbor. Hopefully this will indeed humble the man. Let’s hear the parable again.
“A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell among robbers and they stripped him and beat him and went off leaving him half dead. And by chance a certain priest was going down on that road and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite also when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan who was on a journey came upon him and when he saw him, he felt compassion and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, and he put him on his own beast and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And on the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.”
Jesus introduces a little bit of hope to the story. In Verse 31 it says a certain priest was going down that road. This is good news. Surely the Priest, a man of virtue, a servant of God, one who prays every day for his people, will help this stranger in need. Maybe along the way he was meditating on Exodus 23 that states: If you find your enemy’s donkey in a trench, make sure to rescue the man’s donkey, let alone the man. Maybe the Priest recalled Micah 6: “What is good? What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and walk humbly with your God? But what happens? It says he walked on the opposite side. He completely ignored the man. Ouch.
As if that’s bad enough, a Levite, a member of the Hebrew tribe, one who assisted the Priest in the temple, also came to the place and saw the man half-dead and overlooked the situation. How could this be? Maybe the Priest and Levite were afraid to touch the almost dead carcass because it would be ceremonially unclean. Perhaps the Priest and Levite thought the man was involved in illegal dealings with the robbers and said, “He got what he deserved.” It’s possible the Priest and Levite were more focused on getting to the synagogue than helping a stranger in need. Maybe it’s like driving to church on Sunday and seeing a poor man begging for food but excusing it because God wouldn’t like you to miss church after all, right?
Then you have the least likely character, a Samaritan, the one hated by the Jews, as the hero. He was the one who truly loved his neighbor in an unconditional way. This is my second point. In order to inherit eternal life, God requires unconditional love. Here’s a Samaritan, a half-breed, equal to the wretchedness of demons according to the Pharisees, helping out a stranger. In fact, some translations say the stranger was a Jew. Remember, there was a tremendous amount of racism between the two. The Good Samaritan didn’t set any requirements for loving his neighbor like the Lawyer. He just did it because it was the right thing to do. This Samaritan was risking his own life for his enemy. Keep in mind the robbers could still attack. Keep in mind the road is a 4,000 foot drop in 17 miles, so he could easily die trying to save this man’s life.
This is just the beginning. It says the Samaritan bandaged up the man’s wounds. How did he do that? By ripping off his own clothes. Remember, the Jewish man’s clothes were stripped off and stolen. Then, he takes his own oil and wine, which were items he used for cooking his own food, to heal this strangers wounds. This is a 17 mile journey with quite an incline and yet the Samaritan is willing to use his own food and drink to help the man? Wow. Also, the verb used in the Greek indicates the Samaritan generously poured out the oil and wine. He didn’t just dab a little and save the rest. He joyfully did it. This is relentless, unconditional love.
Two years ago, my son Evan was dangerously sick. We were in Ukraine at the time and he contracted a strange fever that lasted several days. I felt hopeless. I did everything I could to help my son. We went to the local doctor to get antibiotics, I emailed my brother the situation and asked for advice. We drove to another city and got more expert opinions to see if there was any remedy. I can honestly say I would have gladly took the place of my son. At that moment, I loved him unconditionally.
Could I say the same for a stranger? No. I never loved a stranger unconditionally. Yes, I have volunteered hours at the Rescue Mission. Yes, I once gave $100 of my own birthday money to a stranger in Indianapolis. Yes, I volunteered many hours sawing down trees and picking up debris in stranger’s yards when the tornado hit Kokomo, but this is not the extreme love found here in the parable. The point of the parable is to once again show this religious man that if he wants to inherit eternal life, he needs to love everyone, even his own enemies, unconditionally, and he simply can’t do that. Only God loves that way.
Honestly, if you are debating right now whether you can love this way, you have missed the point of the parable. You are being like the expert in religious law, trying to justify yourself that perhaps maybe you can love this way, but you can’t.
How do I know that? Because God doesn’t just stop with unconditional love, which leads to my third point. #3. In order to inherit eternal life, God requires limitless servanthood.
We already mentioned the Samaritan used up all his oil and wine for the stranger’s wounds, he used his own clothes to bandage the wounds, he spent careful time soothing his pain at the expense of the robbers seeing him, and he did all of this for a stranger who was his greatest enemy. Following this, The Good Samaritan serves him in a profound, limitless way. First, he puts the man on his own donkey, which implies the Samaritan walked the rest of the way and also had to make sure the man wouldn’t fall off since he was half-beaten and most likely unconscious.
Second, the Good Samaritan transports him to an inn. Right there you might say, Chad, I would go this far. Okay, I will grant you that; you brought him safely to a location where his medical needs will be attended to. But the Samaritan goes much farther than this. Third, he stays the whole night by his bedside taking care of his wounds. How do I know that? It says in verse 35 that he woke up the next day. Fourth thing we see is that he gave the innkeeper two silver coins. That was enough money for the Jewish man to stay at the inn for 2 full months. It’s important to note that the money he gave the innkeeper, was notorious for being a swindler but the Samaritan still proceeded to give him the money. Fifthly, The Samaritan tells the innkeeper that if his bill runs higher than that, he will pay more. Lastly, the Samaritan tells the innkeeper that he will come again to check up on the stranger. This is lavish, unconditional love. This is limitless servanthood. This is perfect obedience of loving God and neighbor as yourself. Is Jesus trying to make a point here?
I think he is. And the final point I think Jesus is trying to make here in your notes is this: In order to inherit eternal life, God requires heartfelt conviction these standards mentioned are impossible apart from Jesus Christ.
There’s a story about Martin Luther, a German monk, priest, and important figure to the birth of the Protestant Reformation in 1517. When he was traveling through a terrible thunderstorm, a lightning strike nearly killed him. He cried out a vow to God that if he survived he would live as a monk. And so he did. He entered the Augustinian order at Erfurt. He prayed eight times a day, slept little, and performed painful self-infliction for his sin. He was attempting to love God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength, and yet he was miserably bound to the law. Luther was known for confessing his sins so often that he would stay up all night and the Priests grew weary. Oh no, Luther is here.
It wasn’t until Luther meditated on Romans 3:20 that he finally understood what God desired from him. It says: “By the works of the law no flesh will be justified in his sight; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. That’s when he came to the brink of his own self-righteousness gave up, and asked for justification by faith alone in Christ alone!
Don’t get me wrong. We are called to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength through prayer, fasting, sharing the gospel, and memorizing Bible verses. We are commanded by God to love our neighbor as self. 1 John 4:20 says whoever claims to love God yet hates his brother or sister is a liar. Jesus hopes we love others unconditionally, including our enemies. Romans 2:11 says “For God does not show favoritism,” and neither should we. And yes, God calls us to serve in a limitless way, for we are the hands and feet of Jesus. But God also reminds us these standards are impossible apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ.
If you do not abide in Him, if you do not die to self, if you do not cast away your legalism by constantly trying to earn God’s favor, then you will never be truly free. You will never be truly free. You will be bound by the law like this religious leader. You will be bound by the law like Martin Luther was. And my friends, for all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. The law will condemn you.
Let me just share with you how I acted like the religious leader last Sunday. How I failed to love my neighbor. There was a couple in a car who came to our church immediately after service. They were asking for money. They said, “We came to visit relatives and need gas to make it back home to Indianapolis. Can you help us out?” My cynical self said on the inside: “Hmm, and why didn’t you ask your relatives for gas money? What are you really going to use the money for?” I then proceeded to justify myself and took out my wallet. I showed them: “I really have no money or else I would give it to you.” They said, “Don’t worry about it and drove off.”
You know what my first thought was: I am one of the Pastors, two church members saw me neglect helping a stranger in need, and I am preaching on the Good Samaritan next week. I am such a hypocrite. How sad of a testimony. But think about that first thought. That thought itself was sinful. I was more concerned about my own reputation, my own identity, what two church members might think about me, than I was about God and this stranger. They came to church looking for assistance, out of all places, a church, and didn’t get it from me. How Sad. A wasted opportunity to share the gospel. Even if they had wrong intentions, what if I told them: “Look, I don’t have any cash, but I can follow you to a gas station, use my card, and fill up your gas.”
But then I wrestled with these thoughts again. The Lord spoke to me and said, why are you surprised you acted like this? Yes, you sinned. Yes, you should have followed them to a gas station and used your debit card to fill up their gas. But you are not the Savior. You are not perfect. You will sin against your neighbor. Confess your sins and I will forgive you.
In that moment, I realized I was tempted just like the Lawyer. If you notice at the end of the story, the expert answers correctly concerning who loved his neighbor and Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” The man still didn’t get the story. He thought he could satisfy this radical love like the Good Samaritan. He never said. Okay Jesus. You got me this time. I hate Samaritans. I can’t even love my best friend this way, yet alone my own enemy. Please forgive me. Please, I beg you, have mercy on me. The story ends without a response.
You know the exact response Jesus was looking for. It’s found in Luke 18: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Brothers and sisters, until you realize it is impossible to obey God perfectly, impossible to love unconditionally, and impossible to serve limitlessly, you will never truly come to the cross of Christ for forgiveness. You will by no means truly comprehend the depravity of your human nature. The treadmill of your good works will lead to vanity and despair.
You may say you’re trusting in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, but deep down you might be tempted to feel justified like the religious leader through serving as a deacon in the church, volunteering at the rescue mission, attending 3 bible studies a week, and sharing your faith with others in the park. These actions are good. These things please the Father, but these things fall exceedingly short of God’s holy and righteous standard. Only the righteousness of Christ is sufficient to save you from hell. Only the righteousness of Christ is able to set you free from the law of sin and death. So go to the cross, go to the cross, go to the cross of Jesus Christ, and only there my friends can you inherit eternal life. Let’s pray.