Just do it! - Luke 10:25-37

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the morning service on 18th January 2009.

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I want to begin this morning by showing you what used to trouble me about this section of the Bible.

Look at what we’re told in verse 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?’

What a great question, I thought. Here is someone discussing the important subject of eternity. But how sad because he seems to be preoccupied by what he must do in order to be saved.

If someone came up to me with this attitude I know what kind of approach I would take. It’s not about what you do. We come to God on the basis of his mercy not the merit of our own performance.

But it’s not what Jesus did. To be honest, his approach used to trouble me. Look at what he does in verse 26. ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’ 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 neighbour as yourself.’ ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied, ‘Do this and you will live.’

What is Jesus doing? Why all this emphasis on doing something? Does he not realise this is the man’s big problem? His salvation by works mind-set. Maybe, I thought, Jesus will switch tactics. You read on and what do you find at the end of the story of the caring Samaritan? Verse 36, Jesus asks the lawyer, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

How are we to understand Jesus’ words and Jesus’ methods? One popular approach is to say that Jesus holds out an impossible ideal that no one can follow. Just try living like this and you will see how impossible the goal is. When we understand this we would then seek an alternative way to eternal life and that is through faith in Jesus’ work rather than on the merit of our own work.

However, I’ve never been happy with this approach for two reasons. First of all, the Old Testament way of being saved was no different from the New Testament. The Law was never designed as a way of being saved for heaven. It was not so much a way to life but a way of life. It was given to a people who had experienced the gracious rescue of their God and who then were given glorious instructions to live in a way that would bring blessing to them and blessing to others.

Secondly, it seems to let us off the hook. How convenient to read the story of the caring Samaritan and then conclude we cannot live like this and so let us simply keep on trusting in Jesus for our eternal salvation.

What does this section of the Bible mean? It’s not about earning our way to heaven but about how we can be sure we are heaven bound. It’s about how you and me can be sure we are genuine Christians. The Bible makes it very clear that only faith in Jesus is what saves. But how can we know if we have a genuine faith, a faith that saves? The genuine believer always shows the fruit of their conversion.

We know what kind of tree it is by the fruit that it bears. We know that money doesn’t grow on trees but apples do and so do pears. We know what kind of tree it is by the fruit that it bears.

The genuine child of God, the genuine member of God’s rescued people, will live in a certain way.

The big question is then, what kind of behaviour will a genuine Christian demonstrate? How does the heaven bound believer live whilst they are still on earth?
This section of the Bible helps us answer those questions.

How are we to understand the question posed to Jesus in verse 25? Let’s not automatically assume this expert in the law of God thought he could earn his position in heaven by his own performance. He wouldn’t be much of an expert if he thought this! The OT demonstrates on page after page that God responded in mercy to a people who didn’t deserve anything apart from his judgement. Let’s not automatically assume this expert in the law was trying to earn his own way to heaven.

Why not rather assume that he did, in fact, know his Old Testament very well? What would he have concluded? You never eared your way to heaven. This was a gift of God to his chosen people.

Pertinent question was, how do I know I’m one of the chosen? When the chosen are gathered at the glorious resurrection at the end of the age, will I be standing amongst them?

I think this is what the expert in the law wanted to know. How can I be sure I will be singing with the saints in glory? Have you ever asked that? I’m sure you have. How can we be sure that we are heaven bound?

With this question in mind, let’s read what Jesus says to this man in verse 26. ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ 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 neighbour as yourself.’ Jesus says, ‘You have answered correctly…Do this and you will live.’

That’s exactly how the people of God should live. He’s not saying this is how you will merit a life in heaven but rather this is how those who are heaven bound will live. They will display both vertical and horizontal love. They are devoted to God with their whole person and they are devoted to their neighbour. Jesus says, if this is you then you can be confident that not only will you enjoy blessing this side of heaven. It’s evidence that you will be spending the next part of your life in heaven. So be encouraged.

The reaction of this legal expert is very revealing and shows us what really made him tick. Look at what we’re told in verse 29. ‘But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’

I don’t think Luke means that he was trying to justify himself by his own deeds and so earn a place in heaven. But rather, he knew his own behaviour wasn’t actually that convincing. By these standards he was not showing much evidence that he was heaven bound. Yes he knew the theory but the practice of his life told another story. He tries to limit the requirements by limiting who he needs to love. And therefore making the evidence of his life seem more substantial than it was. In response, Jesus tells his famous story about the caring Samaritan in verses 30 to 35.

It’s not that difficult to understand. A man was travelling, Jesus says, from Jerusalem to Jericho. Or more accurately, according to verse 30, a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. Jerusalem was 2,700 feet above sea level and Jericho 820 feet below – so this meant a drop of 3,500 feet over a 17 mile journey through very dangerous robber territory.

The man in Jesus story gets attacked, robbed of his possessions and then left for dead – and left to die – on a road in the middle of nowhere. And then? Well, we get the entrance of the clergy. Verse 31, ‘A priest happened to be going down the same road…’ So far so good. He is a priest, he is going down (so away from Jerusalem) and is on the same road. What would you expect to read next? So he went to the man and attended to his needs with loving compassion. But not according to Jesus. Middle of verse 31, ‘when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite (someone who also worked at the temple in Jerusalem), when he came to the place saw him, passed by on the other side.’

Two men who people would naturally assume were heaven bound. They were the clergy of the day. The men in dog collars. Surely they were destined for the blissful life of God’s future world? No, because where was the evidence of their faith? When confronted with a need they simply walked past and left the poor man to lie in his own blood and tears. No excuse is given for their behaviour, and my friends, we are not to find one. There was no excuse.

The hero of the story appears in verse 33. We’re told that a Samaritan came along the road and when he saw him, he took pity him. What pity he took! He stopped, he went over, he attended to his wounds, and then took him to a place of recovery where he spend the night looking after him and then paid for his care in his absence.

Jesus’ question in verse 36 is not difficult to answer, “Which of the three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus concludes, ‘Go and do likewise.’

What does all this mean for us?

The first thing to notice is that Jesus doesn’t answer the man’s question in verse 29. Jesus doesn’t tell him who he needs to love but rather what it means to love. There are no boundaries to neighbourly love. This Jewish expert would probably have restricted devoted love to his own people but Jesus blows this out of the water by using a Samaritan to care for the needs of a Jew. And so Jesus doesn’t answer the question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ instead he answers, ‘What does it mean to be a neighbour?’ The answer is to show practical love to those in need.

No boundaries but limits apply. We cannot do this for everyone. We cannot meet every need. We need to be wise. But to have no desire or no evidence of this for anyone, Christian or not, – well in that case the alarm bells should be ringing!

Not just a challenge for individuals but also for churches. Christians Against Poverty. The priority is always evangelism but a genuine Christian heart is always a compassion heart and so practical deeds of love should be evidenced by the church – both within the family and also to those who are not Christians.

This is one vital piece of evidence that we are heaven bound, that we are the genuine article. However, it must be stressed that this is not the only piece of evidence necessary.

Loving your neighbour like a caring Samaritan is certainly one strand of evidence but it’s not the only behaviour a Christian will show.

Why do we know this? Because remember how the Law was summarised. It had two directions, the vertical and the horizontal.

Loving your neighbour is the horizontal strand. What about the vertical? How can we know if we are devoted to God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength?

Look at the two sections that come next in Luke’s Gospel. Listening to Jesus’ word and praying as a child to the Heavenly Father.

Let’s put all this together. How can you be sure you are not heaven bound?

•    No love for Jesus’ word, not praying to the Father and no love like this for neighbour.

o    No interest in rituals.
o    Love the rituals.

•    Passionate love for neighbour but no love for Jesus’ word and not praying to the Father.

How can we be sure we are heaven bound?

•    A love for Jesus’ word, prayer to the Father and a love for neighbour.

Makes sense. The genuine Christian knows what Jesus has done for them. This understanding of the love of Jesus will motivate them to love his word, his Father and their neighbour. Also, the genuine Christian also has the Holy Spirit.

We don’t have perfect love yet so don’t be overly worried if you slip up now and again. But let me say that if you have no love for Jesus’ word, prayer and neighbour then you are probably not heaven bound.

There is a place for introspection and self analysis. But I want to end by talking about congregational encouragement. If you see someone who loves the words of Jesus, loves to pray and has a love for neighbour, why not tell them? It would be a wonderful way to offer them encouragement. You could even start this very morning.

Can you get to heaven by your own deeds? Not at all. It is all by faith in Jesus. But can you get to heaven without deeds? No. Because the faith that saves is also the faith that transforms.

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