August 21, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
Today we are presented with a classic case of self-justification. And behold, a certain lawyer stood up to test Him saying, “Teacher, what should I be doing to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And answering, he said, “You shall love the Lord your God from the whole of your heart and in the whole of your soul, and in the whole of your strength, and in the whole of your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He said to him, “You answered rightly. Do this and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (vv 25-29).
To begin, we must first distinguish between knowing the right answer and knowing what that right answer means. There are a number of Bible-answer-men out there who, like this certain lawyer, know their Bibles very well, and would graduate with flying colors from their local Awana club. But knowing the answers isn’t enough. The devil knows all the answers. But he does not have knowledge that saves.
The lawyer knows the Law. He knows what it says, and what it expects. He even knows how to summarize the Law. He ticks off Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18 from the top of his head without missing a beat. As if he was ready for Jesus’ question. What he wasn’t ready for was Jesus’ answer. ”You’re right! Love God; love your neighbor. It’s as simple as that. Do it, and you’ll live.”
The lawyer’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t know the Law, it’s that he doesn’t know what the Law means. He doesn’t know why it was given. He thinks that the Law his means for justification, which is simply self-justification. His error is revealed in his first question: “What must I do?”
He recites the Law of love, but what he fails to realize is that the Law always demands love, but it never produces it. In fact, it often works the other way. St. Paul says the Law’s purpose is to reveal sin. What shall we say, then? Is the Law sin? Let it never be! But I did not know sin except through the Law. For I would not have known covetousness, except that the Law said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin took hold of an opportunity through the commandment and produced in me all coveting, for apart from the Law sin is dead (Rom 7:7-8).
This is the nature of humanity, and you can’t escape it. God gives the Law that demands your love, and you hate it. The Law stirs up sin. Does that indicate some sort of defect in the Law? Certainly not. The defect is completely and utterly in you.
The parable, or perhaps it’s an actual story that Jesus knows, of the man who fell among the robbers is a parable to destroy any last notion of self-justification.
Jesus supposed and said, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell into the hands of robbers who after stripping him and putting a beating on him departed leaving him half-dead. By coincidence, a certain priest was going down that road and upon seeing him, passed on the other side. In the same way, also a Levite, upon coming to that place and seeing him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, while he was journeying, came upon him and seeing him, he had compassion. And he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine, then placing him upon his own animal he brought him into 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 you spend in addition, I will repay you upon my return.’ Which of these three do you think came to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers?” He said, “The one who did mercy with him.” And Jesus said to him, “You go and do likewise.”
Now throughout the entire parable, it seems as if Jesus is going to define love as doing the right thing for someone in need. Right up to the very end. The one in the story who ends up loving is the half-dead man who was rescued from death and restored to life. Did he love the priest or the Levite? Certainly not! They did nothing for him. Did he love the Samaritan? Despite all social conventions that said otherwise, the half-dead man loved this Samaritan because he gave him life.
99% of Christians will read this story and think they need to become like the Samaritan. But that’s not the point. The Samaritan already exists. “Are we rightly saying of You that You are a Samaritan, and that You have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor Me” (John 8:48). It’s interesting that Jesus denies that He has a demon, but He doesn’t deny the charge that He’s a Samaritan. Not that He’s ethnically a Samaritan (although Matthew’s genealogy reminds us that there’s quite a bit of Gentile in His bloodline). Like the Samaritan, who comes from outside the Jewish people to rescue the Jewish victim, Jesus came from outside our human race to save us. But He’s not entirely a foreigner. He is divine, yet He is also human.
And He finds us in our half-dead state. Sure we walk and talk and breathe. Our hearts beat and our brains wave. But that’s not all that life is. We are half-dead in our trespasses. The Law does not produce love because the Law cannot rescue us. It passes by on the other side, in a sense. But Jesus gets down in the ditch, bloodies Himself for our benefit, cleanses our wounds and binds them up with healing salve—water and His Word. And he entrusts us to caretakers who continue to change the bandages with a weekly word of forgiveness until He comes again.
You go and do likewise. This doesn’t mean be the Good Samaritan. It means, be the man who was delivered from death into life. He doesn’t mean to abandon the Law, but instead to find that Law filled full by Christ’s mercy. And in finding the mercy of Christ, you will find that the mercy of Christ shows love, and through it produces what the Law never could.
Christ’s Mercy Produces the Love the Law Demands
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard