Thursday, 31 October 2013 16:20

The Good Samaritan

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You likely have heard before something about the so- called parable of the Good Samaritan. It is among the most well known of Jesus’ parables. Just the story in the parable about that man robbed as he was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho is one that gets our attention. As Jesus tells it, you can imagine it all happening. And then having those three men come by that poor victim, robbed and beaten up and left on the side of the road, and only one helping him out. It is a gripping and heartwarming story that moves us and makes one just so much appreciate that Good Samaritan helper.

But what really is the parable all meant to teach us? This parable, as we shall see, is full of wholesome, well-rounded gospel teaching, so good for all of us to consider and learn from, time and again. It is a parable that teaches us “the personal knowledge of kingdom mercy” as one commentator put it. In this message let us study this parable under the theme, “The Christian way of life according to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan”.

The story of this man walking from Jerusalem to Jericho, a distance of about 17 miles on a road downhill with many hideouts for bandits, was one Jesus’ hearers could well identify with. There were bandits and robbers in those days just like in our day. With this parable we can see this man suddenly grabbed and robbed and beaten and the thieves running off in hiding till their next victim would come by.

Jesus’ parable of the so-called Good Samaritan is told also in the real context of so much tension and “bad blood”, you might say, between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Samaritans came from people who moved in the area after the Jews were removed from Judea and Samaria centuries before. There was a long history of hatred and rivalry between the Jews and Samaritans. So the parable made sense story wise, just from these facts. The picture of the priest and the Levite not reaching out to help that poor, half dead, badly beaten up man on the side of the road reflected also a sad reality concerning many of the religious leaders in that time, namely, how they were cold professionals with seemingly little heart for God and for people in their needs. Often this has happened throughout history even to the present day, explaining again another reason for the common attraction to this parable in general.    

But now to really get at the meaning of the parable and its important teaching when first told and is still for us today, we need to consider it in light of its context. What led Jesus to tell this parable of the Good Samaritan? The text tells us a certain lawyer, someone among the religious leaders in Jerusalem, approached Jesus with a question. His motive was not right, we are told, for he was out to test Jesus, to tempt Him, to ensnare Him in His words. This man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. While it was good that he thought about heaven and eternal life, something all too many refuse to think about, yet his question was also wrong in thinking that to inherit eternal life was just a matter of his doing something on his part.

We learn too the man thought quite highly of himself in this regard, and he aimed to justify himself before Jesus, in other words, to show he was quite a good man by himself in his life. But Jesus shows him that actually he was a miserable sinner needing the mercy of God to be saved and not having any idea yet of truly showing the mercy of God to others. With this parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus exposes him and teaches that self-righteous man what he needed to learn by the grace of God. He needed to learn the Christian way of life and with the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus would teach it to him, and to us still today.

In light of this parable and its context, let us now consider the Christian way of life truly as Jesus would have us know it and show it. Consider with me at least the following five important gospel truths about the Christian life. To make it easy to recall the points, I will follow the letters of the alphabet with each point.

First then, what Jesus makes plain in our text passage is that the Christian life is something authentic. Authentic means it is something real, and not fake, something true and genuine, and not something superficial or hypocritical. I come to this point because, as already mentioned, this person who happened to be a lawyer in this case was just not authentic in his religion, was he? He was a fake, a pretender, who tried to make himself look out to be better than he was. He was pretending also to ask a sincere question when really he was out to tempt and humiliate Jesus. He was a religious fraud, involved in godly activities but not godly in his mind and heart at all. Jesus exposes this man as not authentic, not for real, in his religious profession and witness. We might ask: “Hasn’t that been a problem in the history of the Christian church throughout the ages? People serving God with their lips but not with their hearts and lives? People serving God hypocritically and not in spirit and truth?”

Are you authentic in your religious profession and confession of faith? When we are authentic won’t that show in not so much arrogance and pride before God and others but humility of mind and heart before God and others? Won’t that show too in an attitude of being teachable rather than thinking you know it all as this man before Jesus reflected? A true believer prays to God and searches his or her heart to be genuine, authentic in the faith, realizing also how by nature we can be so deceitful in our ways before God and our neighbor.

Notice next, the Christian way of life is not just being authentic and pursuing that, but being Bible-based and seeking after that time and again. The Christian way of life is a Bible-based way of life, that is, your life is rooted and grounded in the way of God’s Word. Notice here how Jesus teaches this in our passage. The man asks what he should do to inherit eternal life. And what does Jesus say? Does He say: “What do the religious teachers tell you to do?” or “What is taught by others on this subject?” No, but Jesus immediately directs the man to God’s holy Word. Only the Bible teaches us the one sure way to eternal life. As one put it: “Let the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible, be the rule of our faith and practice - for it is the only reliable guide for us. Holding to this principle we travel on the King’s highway [while] departing from it we enter on a pathless wilderness [that will lead us to destruction].”  

Is his also your conviction and confession? Does that show in you reading your Bible regularly? We live in a time of Bible illiteracy, not just in the world but in the Christian church in general. All too many church people are not reading the Bible much, and few read through both the Old and New Testament. What about with you? Is there a hunger to grow in God’s Word, and a felt need by you too, to be led by God’s Word in spirit and truth? Are personal and family devotions around and under God’s Word happening in your life and home? The question is warranted, or not?

From our text passage we learn too that just knowing about the Bible and something of what it says is not the same as truly being fed and led by the Bible. This lawyer knew the summary of God’s law well. He was blessed with the privilege of covenant upbringing. But at the same time, while he knew something of what the Bible teaches us, he clearly showed he himself was not submissive to the Bible’s teaching. We need the Spirit of God to write God’s Word and will on our minds and hearts, and this man did not yet have that, did he? He had clear head knowledge of the truth, but his heart was full of pride and wickedness still. J.C. Ryle writes about this: “Clear knowledge of the head, when accompanied by determined impenitence of heart, is a most dangerous state of soul.”

Do we all understand this truth too? How we need Christ and His Spirit to guide us in all the truth of God’s Word. We must seek His grace that also the love of God and man may become in truth the ruling principles of our lives in word and deed. Is this a matter of prayer and care for you? Are you learning these gospel lessons from God’s Word with me about the Christian way of life as Jesus would have us know it?

Not only is the true Christian life something authentic and Bible-based, but it is Christ-embracing, Christ-exalting and Christ-conforming. What I mean with this point is that when truly saved then Christ Jesus, the crucified and risen Saviour of sinners, becomes our only trust and comfort and confidence in life and we aim ever to follow Him and to reflect Him in all our life. But here in saying that we come to a challenge with this parable of the Good Samaritan. Two questions often asked and rightly asked in connection with this parable are:

Where is Christ in this parable?

Doesn’t Jesus seem to promote doing good works as a way of being saved in this parable?

I mean, when Jesus says to this lawyer at the end of the parable when he admitted the Samaritan who showed mercy truly loved his neighbor, “Go and do thou likewise”, it seems to promote, ‘Live rightly and you will inherit eternal life’.

Let me answer both these questions and in so doing show how really Christ Jesus and the gospel of grace is truly brought forward in this parable. In connection with seeing Christ in this parable you should know some have thought to present him in this parable by viewing it as an allegory. Augustine’s understanding of this parable is somewhat of a classic in this regard. By allegorizing the parable Augustine put into it what Jesus never intended with it. Augustine meant well, but he made every detail of this parable be a symbol of something else aiming so to bring out the gospel with it. He said, for instance, that the Good Samaritan in the parable was actually a picture of Jesus Himself, and the inn to which the poor beat-up man was taken was the church. The innkeeper was actually the apostle Paul, and the two denarii were the two commandments of love, or the promise of this life and that which is to come.” Clearly such an interpretation of the parable is an unhelpful one and not close to Jesus’ intent with the parable at all.

We don’t need to enforce Christ into this parable to see the gospel message in it. What Jesus teaches here is when you truly know the mercy of God as revealed in Christ’s person and work as Saviour and promised Messiah, then you will also, by God’s grace, show something of that mercy and love towards others. Jesus makes clear in this parable that when He saves you He doesn’t only deliver you from the guilt of sin but He also delivers you from the bondage of sin and transforms you after His image. Jesus makes His people new creatures with a new heart bent on following Christ and reflecting Him. It is impossible, Biblically speaking, to think and believe a person is saved by Christ without that person also aiming to love God above all and to love his neighbor truly.

As one commentator put it so very well: “This parable does not advocate [promote] ‘earning one’s salvation’. [Rather] it advocates [promotes] living out one’s covenant relation with God, which is what Christian faith and the whole Bible seek. To love God with all one’s being and the neighbor as oneself is not something less than faith [but] any claim of faith that does not do that, is not biblical [nor Christian] faith….[ James also teaches this to us in the Holy Spirit inspired book of James in the Bible, isn’t it true?] The idea of knowing God, and yet not being conformed to God is a source of scandal, one that Scripture always combats and that modern Christians must combat as well.” In other words, you see, when truly in Christ and following Him, it is not a question of whether we should work or not, but then we will work by God’s redeeming sanctifying grace in Christ Jesus. How important that we all understand this, surely!

So how is the gospel brought out in this parable? Well, we know by nature as fallen sinners we are prone to hate God and our neighbor. Our sinful state and condition left to ourselves makes us most thankless, selfish, unloving people before God and others. But when Jesus saves you, how that all changes! When you see and grasp something of His undying love as revealed in the cross of Calvary and you are melted by His mercy and grace for a sinner like yourself, then also you begin truly to love God wholeheartedly and to love your neighbor sincerely. Dr. G. Bilkes put it so well in his explanation on this parable. He writes: “The only true way to become a fountain of mercy to others is to experience infinite mercy yourself. When God stoops down in Jesus Christ to pour out His mercy in your soul, that mercy becomes a fountain in you. Though something in you may still make you want to walk away from the misery that you see [in this world all around us yet], the love of Christ ultimately constrains you. Your spouse, your children, your coworkers, your fellow church members, and people all around you will taste the mercy [and love] of God as it is channeled through you.”      

So you see how Christ and His gospel do clearly shine through also in this parable. And think of it, Christ was on His way to the cross even as He told this and all of His parables. What a compassionate caring Saviour of sinners Jesus Christ was and is still! The way to be saved from sin and wretched self is to flee to Him and entrust yourself wholly to His saving work from start to finish. Unless you are a recipient of Jesus’ mercy and love, never will you really know nor show the true mercy and love of God to anyone. Is this something you too confess and believe with all your heart?

Here I need to say as well that sadly and tragically all too often this parable of the Good Samaritan is misquoted and misunderstood as teaching us just to do some good deeds in life now and then and not to have any bias and prejudice against anyone. The parable is misused in defense of the social gospel movement emphasizing just good deeds to all. But that too is a gross misrepresentation of Jesus’ intent with it. Any promotion of good deeds separated from the gospel of Jesus Christ is promoting hypocrisy and a compassion for others from wrong and impure motives. Only when we know the mercy of God in Christ Jesus for ourselves do we truly become like the Good Samaritan example in this parable. Do you too see through the emptiness of falsehood with good deeds apart from knowing God’s grace in Christ Jesus? Even the passage directly following the parable of the Good Samaritan in the last verses of Luke 10 about Martha and Mary reinforces that just busy doing good things by itself is not what describes true Christianity. Rather, like Mary we need to hear and drink in the gospel words and way of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, truly to be God’s children and His servants in this world. How important to grasp this parable in the light of all God’s teaching and gospel word.

Saying that brings me now also to our next main point. We have seen so far that the Christian way of life according to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan is a life authentic before God and man, and Bible-based and directed, and Christ-exalting and conforming. Notice next, the Christian way of life is dedicated in word and deed in following Christ and His Word and will. God’s people are disciples of Christ, ever learning from Him and ever devoted to Him and His gospel cause. This is what also makes all true believers diligent in loving their neighbors. When you are a true Christian you understand we can set no boundaries towards people as far as showing love and compassion to others. Belonging to Christ in spirit and truth removes all boundaries that close off compassion or that permit racism and attitudes of superiority towards anyone at all. Indeed, in the context of the repeated rivalry between Jews and Samaritans Jesus here teaches us, as He says also elsewhere, we need as Christians to love and show love, even to our enemies.

Doesn’t this all make so much gospel sense too when you really think it through? In Ephesians 3 the apostle Paul speaks of the immeasurable and unfathomable length and depth and height and breadth of God’s love in Christ Jesus. When John 3:16 proclaims God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life, that little word “so” has infinite dimensions to it! And receiving and knowing God’s love for you as a sinner saved by grace, how can you be stingy with God’s compassion and love towards anyone else? In the light of God’s boundless love towards sinners like us as revealed in the crucified and risen Saviour and His perfect finished work for our salvation, how can the question even be asked: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ parable is a divine negation of the question’s premise that there are boundaries to the definition of neighbor. If you and I will be selective to whom we will reach out in compassion and who not, we have to ask: ‘Do we know truly the immeasurable love of God reaching down towards us, undeserving guilty vile sinners as we each and all are by nature?’

Love for God truly shows in love towards our neighbor, humbly and heartily so as God gives us the opportunity. How this parable may challenge us in this regard, or not? Is it not so that all too often we can be so self-centered really, and not look to nor care for the needs of others? Sadly, can’t you and I actually all too often be like that priest and Levite walking by the poor, wounded man who was robbed? Yet this parable clearly teaches us that to be un-neighborly towards others is not a Christian option. As one said rightly: “Loving thy neighbor as oneself is difficult, but no alternative is allowed for followers of Jesus.” Jesus’ words to the lawyer: “Go and do thou likewise” as the Samaritan had done, reinforces this lesson without dispute.

Will you and I by God’s grace show ourselves as disciples of Christ in this regard, devoted and dedicated followers of the Lord also in being truly neighborly towards those around us, thinking of their earthly and eternal wellbeing, time and again?

Here I come to the next point and that is, don’t we see the so-called Good Samaritan in this parable as Jesus told it, serving as such an example in his setting? As confessing Christians, are we, you and I, not called to be examples of true love before God and our neighbor, yes, in word and deed? We live in a day where the love of many waxes cold as Jesus Himself foretold would be a sign of the end times and His approaching return one day. In a world of so much sinful self-centeredness and ungodly lovelessness on so many fronts, do we, you and I, shine forth as examples of true love to God and to our neighbor?

Notice here how the Samaritan was gracious, caring, loving, and self-sacrificing in his regard to his neighbor in need. He let the man ride his donkey and helped him with his physical wounds as best as he could. And the two denarii given to the innkeeper would have provided room and board for the wounded man for about two weeks’ time, and notice, the Samaritan was willing to give more, should it be needed. The Samaritan was so thoughtful towards this neighbor in need, and he went out of his way to help him, above and beyond what might be expected even.

Oh, what a blessing we become to others and what a witness for the gospel cause when we so relate to others at home, school, work, and at church and in our community and world. Our love towards our neighbor must not be just in thought, but in deeds, even in also praying for those in need. That person is correct who wrote about this parable that it serves also to expose “any religion with a mania for creeds and an anemia for deeds.” Surely the apostle John’s admonition and encouragement is in order here too, as found in I John 3:18: “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” Doesn’t this parable stir us up in this way? I think here too of Paul’s words in Galatians 6:9&10: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of God.” Are these exhortations dear friends, not necessary also for you and myself, especially in view of this parable of the Good Samaritan?

The Christian way of life according to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan calls us to live authentic before God and man, Bible-based, Christ-embracing, Christ-exalting and Christ-conforming lives. Yes, being disciples of Christ devoted and dedicated in knowing and showing God’s love and compassion and mercy to others, and indeed, being examples of true love to our neighbors as God gives us opportunity for this. Is this same your focus and aim and prayer and care in life too, day by day, truly and more and more in Jesus’ name and in endless praise for His great salvation so rich and free?

We are not told if that lawyer came to understand what Jesus all meant with the parable of the Good Samaritan, but what about you and me now today? Oh, that others may see we are Christians especially yes, by our love for the truth and our living out that truth in love before God and our neighbor, in and through Jesus Christ the Lord. He that has ears to hear, let him hear. Amen!  

Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor

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