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Why I Can’t Be a Good Samaritan

Well, believe it or not, the story we just watched comes right out of the Bible – although this video gives it a more modern and slightly more humorous twist. But the general idea is the same. As you might have guessed, this story is a parable.

Now it’s important that we start at the beginning. The video we watched told us the parable, but didn’t really give us all the background as to why Jesus was telling it. So let’s just back it up a little bit to see what’s going on here.

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

Luke 10:25

Now let’s stop here for a minute. This is the kick off to this whole story. This all begins when this expert in religious law decides to test Jesus. By this time in His ministry, Jesus had built up quite a following. Just in the chapter before this, we can read the story of how Jesus fed the crowd of 5,000 men with the two fish and five loaves. Jesus’ fame is starting to spread and Jesus is getting to be pretty well known. So this expert in religious law comes to test Jesus. We don’t know what his motives are – whether he wants to prove Jesus is a fraud or whether he really is just curious to know who this Jesus is.

But He asks Him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?” And again, we’re not sure if he’s really looking for an answer to the question – or if He just wants to know how Jesus will answer the question. But here’s what Jesus says in verse 26…

26 Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

And right off the bat, Jesus turns the tables – now its the expert that must give an answer to his own question. Which he does…

27 The man answered, “‘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.’”

Luke 10:26-27

Now this is actually a really good answer. It’s two direct quotes from the Old Testament. One is in Deuteronomy 6 and the other is in Leviticus 19. Let me just read those for you:

4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:4-5

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:18

So taking those two verses and kinda mashing them together, the expert of religious law says to Jesus “When you boil it all down, the law of Moses says we inherit eternal life by doing these two things: Loving God and loving your neighbor.”

And believe it or not – Jesus affirms his answer.

28 “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

Luke 10:28

And this is where I wish we could watch the Bible on tv instead of just reading it, because I almost suspect that when Jesus said that, He said it a little tongue in cheek. Maybe there was just a hint of a smile on his face when he said that. Because think about it: In order to love God with all of your heart, and all of your soul, all of your strength, and all of your mind – basically to love God with everything you are – AND to love your neighbor just as much as yourself, you’d pretty much have to be perfect, right? No sinful human being can perfectly love God or his neighbor.  And just loving God with 99% of your heart, soul, mind, and strength doesn’t cut it. It’s got to be all of nothing. You’d have to love God and your neighbour perfectly.

So when Jesus says “Right. Do this and you will live”, its kinda like when you’re son tells you that he’s going to build a spaceship out of lego and fly to the moon and you say “Sure, son. Go right ahead. Just don’t be late for supper.”

We know his lego spaceship is not going to take him to the moon – just the same as Jesus knew that no one could do this and live.

Because certainly, if we could love God with 100% of who we are – if we could obey Him 100% of the time, if we could love our neighbors without a single thought of serving ourselves every moment of every day of our lives – then yes, we could earn eternal life. But that’s just the point. We can’t. None of us can. All of us are sinners from birth.

This is exactly what we talked about last week. No matter how good or how bad we look on the outside, inside, everyone of us is a rebellious sinner in need of God’s grace.

“The Lord looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. 3 But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one!” Psalm 14:2-3

The truth is, we simply cannot “Do this and live.” It’s beyond us. Our sinful nature makes us incapable of this kind of love. And I don’t think this expert in religious law caught that, because instead of admitting his own guilt and admitting that his own sin was keeping him from eternal life, he goes on to try to justify himself. The next verse says…

29 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29

It sounds like this guy was pretty sure that he had loved God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength – he just wasn’t sure that he had loved his neighbor like himself. It kinda depended on who exactly his neighbor was. So he asked for some clarification – “And who is my neighbor?” And this is where Jesus tells him the parable of the good Samaritan – that is, the original version of what we just watched in the video. Let me read that original version for you now – verse 30.

30 Jesus replied with a story: “A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.

31 “By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. 32 A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.

33 “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. 34 Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’

36 “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

Luke 10:30-37

Now this isn’t just a story about doing nice things to the people around you. Our culture has kinda caught on to this term “Good Samaritan” and we use it to describe anyone who is being helpful. In fact, the dictionary defines a ‘good samaritan’ as “a charitable or helpful person”.

But this story isn’t just about someone being helpful. Look at the three characters that Jesus uses in his story.

The first person to come across this beat up guy is a priest. Now the priest was supposed to be the most ‘God-like’ person on the planet. He was kinda like God’s representative. In that time, if people wanted to come to God, they had to go through the priest first. So surely, being a representative of God, the priest would be the first guy to help. But He didn’t. In fact, he crossed over to the other side of the road to avoid the man.

Then along came a Levite (or a temple assistant). This guy wasn’t a priest, but he worked at the temple. To put him in today’s context, he might be the sound technician or the music leader or the janitor or the youth pastor. But he would do some job at the temple. So again, surely a fine upstanding guy like this would help his fellow man. But he didn’t either. He walked right on by.

Then finally, along came this Samaritan. This guy was definitely not a priest. He did not work at the temple. He wasn’t even welcome at the temple.

The Samaritans were considered by the Jews to be the most socially unacceptable people in that culture. To help you see why that was, let me give you a quick history review.

You remember how the 12 tribes of Israel split into two nations – the 10 northern tribes kept the name Israel, and the two southern tribes took the name Judah. Well, the 10 northern tribes were conquered by Assyria and part of the Assyrians strategy for dealing with conquered nations was to scatter the people so they couldn’t unite and revolt. So they took most of the surviving Israelites and shipped them off to different parts of the world. They also brought in people from other conquered nations and settled them in the land of the Israelites.

So when these foreigners were brought in, they intermarried with the few remaining Israelites, and the resulting offspring was a half-breed known as the Samaritans – because they lived in and around the city of Samaria. (And I should mention that God had specifically told the Israelites never to intermarry with foreigners.) So now we have a people, disobedient to God, that were half Jewish – half gentiles. In addition, when these foreigners settled in the land of the Israelites and intermarried with them, they also brought with them their own religions and worshipped their own gods. So now, not only did the Samaritans worship God, they also worshipped a host of other gods as well – going totally against God’s command to worship only Him.

That’s why to the Jews, the Samaritans were a contaminated race. They had contaminated their blood-lines. They had contaminated their faith. As a result, the Jews wanted nothing to do with the Samaritans. They hated them. They called them ‘Samaritan dogs’. The would go out of their way to avoid even going through their cities – and if they had to go through a Samaritan city, they would shake the dust off their feet as they were leaving.

And yet, Jesus choose this Samaritan man to be the hero of the story. He was the one who had compassion. He was the one who went out of his way to help the wounded man.

So what’s Jesus trying to say? What’s the point He’s trying to make? What lesson is Jesus teaching this expert in religious law?

Well, take a look at how this Samaritan cared for the wounded man. And as we read these verses, remember – these two guys were enemies. Imagine a little kid – having been continually antagonized by the school bully day after day, and then one day seeing that school bully beat up on the side of the road. That’s kinda the same dynamic here. And if we were that little kid, our first gut reaction might be “Yeah, serves you right!” But not for this Samaritan. verse 33.

“Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him.” Luke 10:33

Did you get that? He felt compassion. Not a sense of justice. Not a sense of glee. But of compassion.

34 “Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them.” Luke 10:34a

He didn’t just feel compassion – he actually acted on his compassion. And he didn’t just tell someone else about it so they could help him – he took it on himself to help. He went over to him, He soothed the man’s wounds and he bandaged them. 34b

“Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him.” Luke 10:34b

Not only did he sooth the man’s wounds and get him all bandaged up – but now this Samaritan interrupts whatever plans he had for the day, puts the man on this donkey, takes him to an inn, and takes care of him. This Samaritan is crazy generous. He put his whole day on hold to take care of this complete stranger – this enemy! He acted like there was nothing more important than showing compassion to this man – who, had he not been beat up on the side of the road, probably wouldn’t have even given that Samaritan the time of day. And that’s not all. He stayed with the man all night. Look at verse 35.

35 The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’ Luke 10:33-35

The generosity continuous. Some commentators figure that those two silver coins would be enough to care for the man for about a month or more. And not only that, the Samaritan agreed to pay the innkeeper any additional amount that was required. It was like he just handed him his credit card and said – just keep putting this guy’s bill on my card. I’ll pay it all. Who does that sort of stuff? What kind of compassion moves a guy to give that much to a complete stranger?

You know, we give a box of corn flakes to the food bank and think we’ve done well. We give 20 bucks to a family in need and feel we deserve a little pat on the back.

Yet, when was the last time you saw a stranger in need, somebody you didn’t know, better yet somebody who you didn’t even like… and you went over, took care of everything they needed, provided a place for them to stay, and even stayed with them to make sure they were alright, then paid for their care for the next month and said if it’s more than this, I’ll pay for the rest when I come back?  Have you ever done that for anybody? 

Probably not. I mean, you might do that for one of your best buddies, but that’s beyond generous for a stranger – way beyond generous for an enemy.

The only person we do that for on a regular basis – is ourselves. We’ll go that far to take care of our own needs, won’t we. We don’t spare any expense for us. We do everything we can – we take the time, we make the effort – we dedicate all of our resources to making sure that I am well taken care of. We make sure we have a nice house to live in – a nice vehicle to drive – lots of food to eat – a big tv. We take ourselves on vacation. We make sure we have every comfort we need. That’s how we love us, isn’t it?… But how do we love our neighbors? Do we love our neighbors like we love ourselves?

And I don’t just mean once in a while.. I mean all the time. We might show that kind of generosity on occasion, but do we love our neighbor like ourselves every time? Because according the Scriptures, that’s what it takes to earn eternal life.

At the end of the parable Jesus asks the expert in religious law… verse 36.

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

37 The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” Luke 10:36-37

And I think that last statement – “Go and do the same” falls under the same category as Jesus’ earlier statement “Do this and you will live.”

As sinful human beings, we just can’t do it. We can’t love like that. This limitless, lavish love that Jesus is talking about is beyond our capabilities. Its a love that only God has.

The Bible doesn’t record how the expert in religious law reacts to all this. But if he was honest, I think he would have said something like this.

He would have said, “Jesus, I can’t love like that. I can’t love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. And I certainly can’t love my neighbor the same as I love myself. If that’s what it takes to earn eternal life, then it’s hopeless. I’ll never make it. I just can’t do it.”

And those should be our exact words too. If this is the kind of love that is required of us in order to get into heaven – then none of us would make it. We simply don’t have that kind of love.

Thankfully, God does. It was his limitless, lavish love that allowed His Son Jesus to die on the cross in our place.

Colossians 1:21 says…

“You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions.” Colossians 1:21

And yet, Roman 5:8 says…

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 NIV

We had done nothing to deserve compassion. We had done nothing to deserve mercy. The only thing we deserved was eternal separation from God. Yet out of his limitless, lavish love, God offers us forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and eternal life.

You see, we don’t have to earn eternal life – God offers it to us freely. We need only to repent of our sin – to repent of our lack of love towards God and our lack of love towards others, and to cry out to God for forgiveness and mercy and compassion.

And the good news is, that when we do that, not only does God forgive us, but God also lovingly sends the Holy Spirit to come and dwell within us and his love begins to flow through us. Galatians 5:22 tells us

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a

God gives us what we can’t produce on our own. He gives us exactly what we need to learn to love God with everything we’ve got and to love our neighbours as ourselves. We don’t naturally have that within us – but empowered by the Holy Spirit – filled with His love – we can actually begin to love our neighbours as much as we love ourselves. We can begin to love God with all of our heart – all of our soul, all of our strength, and all of our mind.

When we put our trust in Jesus, Christ comes and lives his perfect life through us.

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” Galatians 2:20

Where we were disobedient – Jesus obeyed his father perfectly.

Where we were incapable of loving God or others – Jesus loves us perfectly.

When we have entered into that relationship with Christ, we actually can “do this and live.” We can “go and do likewise.” But only, of course, through the power of Christ living in you.

So this morning my goal is not to convince you to go out and love your neighbor more. That’ll actually happen automatically as Christ’s love flows through you. My challenge for you is to simply consider the state of your own relationship with God – because everything stems from that.

So first of all, have you ever entered into that relationship with Christ? Have you acknowledged your own need for salvation? Have you accepted his gift of forgiveness and the abundant life that comes with it? If not, that’s step #1. And I would encourage you to do that, even today.

And secondly, if you have done that – my question for you is: Are you abiding in Him – like a branch connected to the vine – so that the Holy Spirit can produce that fruit in your life? Are you allowing Christ to live in you? Are you choosing to live in obedience to God and what’s He’s said in his Word? Are you daily choosing to follow Him? Because if we refuse to submit to his leading, there will be no fruit in our lives.

We will not be able to love our neighbours as ourselves – we will not be able to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We can only do that as live in a right relationship with Jesus Christ and allow his love to flow through us.

So are you abiding in Him – allowing his love to flow through you?

If you’re not sure – you can test it by looking at how much you love your neighbour. If you love the people around you as much as the Samaritan man loved his neighbour – if you feel compassion and then act on that compassion for people that don’t even like you – that’s a pretty good sign that God’s love is flowing through you – because that’s just how he loves us. And if you don’t have that kind of love, perhaps you still don’t fully understand how much God loves you.

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