We have some friends who live down the street from us. They have a white dog that they take for walks every day. When you look at this dog there is something beautiful about it…at least when you look at it during the summer. You see, the dog looks perfectly white during the summer months. But during the winter months, not so much.
That’s something of what I hope will happen today as we look at this parable. I hope that our discussion today will be something of a revolution for you. I hope that today’s message will help you see this passage of Scripture in a different light and get a whole different perspective on what you’ve probably been taught throughout your life.
As a matter fact, yesterday I was visiting with some of my wife’s family. One of her uncles came over and we started talking. He asked me about what I would be preaching on today. When I told him it was the Parable of the Good Samaritan, he perked up and asked, “What will you be saying about it?” I responded by saying, “Not what you think I am.” He said, “Well, now I’m very interested in what you have to say.” So I asked him, “What do you think it is about? And he went on to give me the typical answer, and we had some fun talking about what the parable really is about.
I hope that you really pay attention to this message today. I really believe we need to revolutionize the way we understand what is said in this text.
I even would like to challenge the heading that you Bible may likely have here. I’d like you not to think of it as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I would prefer that you think of it as the Parable of the Ignorant Lawyer. If you think about it as the Parable of the Good Samaritan, then I think you may already be on the wrong track. You might already be drawing a particular conclusion about what this passage is supposedly telling you.
No. I’d like it if you thought of it as the Parable of the Ignorant Lawyer. Because, if you are going to rightly understand this passage, you got to start by looking at the cause or context of parable.
I. The cause & context of the parable
We began our reading in verse 25 and there we see that what gives rise to the parable is this lawyer. This lawyer wants to put Jesus to the test and so he asks this question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life.”
Now, if you don’t start there, then you’re not going to get what this is all about. If you don’t start in verse 25 and understand the conversation Jesus has with this lawyer, then you’ve already missed the intent of the parable.
And that is what most people do. They don’t understand this passage in light of its context, and they walk away thinking that this passage is all about loving your neighbor.
In other words, most people use this passage to push a social gospel. To them the focus of the passage is what we must do as Christians to improve ourselves, our neighborhoods and the far reaches of the world.
Some have even gone so far as to make that as a summary of the gospel. They say, “The sum and substance of Christianity is the parable of the Good Samaritan.” And what does the parable of the Good Samaritan teach? Well it teaches love to your neighbor. That’s real Christianity, so they say.
Christianity is reduced to ethics and morals and doesn’t have a lot to do with doctrinal distinctions. And you will hear people of this stripe saying things like, “We don’t need to be overly concerned with our doctrine. Jesus wasn’t concerned with that. He told us the parable of the Good Samaritan, and that was all about love. We should focus on love and not be so finicky about doctrine.”
Now, I agree that we need to develop a sound ethical system. Christianity does teach that we are to love one another. But we have to be careful that we do not reduce the faith to simply ethics and love. As you read through the Scriptures, you will find that it has a very high emphasis on doctrine, and it is very finicky when it comes to precision in our beliefs.
And again, this is why we need to pay attention to the context of our parable. For this parable isn’t teaching a social gospel. It is not teaching you the importance of loving your neighbor. And we will start to understand that if we look at what is going on in verses preceding the parable.
Now, notice the question that this lawyer is asking here. He wants to know what he has to do to inherit eternal life. The question itself is an oxymoron. You don’t typically DO anything to inherit something. Usually an inheritance is bestowed upon you. It is a gift that is given and isn’t dependent upon any certain conditions that have to be met.
But this lawyer (who you kind of wonder already his expertise in the Scripture) wants to know what he must do.
So Jesus points him to the Bible and says, “What is written in the law?” And the lawyer gets this right. This is elementary stuff. He says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus responds and says, “good boy! You got it. Do this and you will live.”
You got that? That’s all you have to do. If you want to have eternal life, then all you have to do is love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength and love your neighbor perfectly. That’s all you got to do.
This is like you coming up to me and saying, “What do I have to do to get to the other side of Charles Mill Lake?” and I respond by saying, “Jump.”
You see, once you understand the context of this parable, then you will have a whole different view of what this parable is all about. It is not about loving your neighbor. It is about what it takes to get eternal life.
Jesus certainly isn’t telling you that all you need to do in life is love your neighbor. He’s not saying, “Just give it your best shot.” He’s pointing out how far short we fall of the Glory of God.
If you don’t get anything throughout my ministry, make sure that you get this: In order to get to heaven, God requires absolute perfection. Without that—without a perfect record of obedience, then you can’t have eternal life.
I was once talking with a young lady about this kind of thing. I asked her if she was a good person, and she responded by saying, “Yes.” So I asked her if I could put that to the test. And I said, “Have you ever told a lie?” She said yes. And I asked her, “What does that make you?” She said a liar. I asked her, “Have you ever stolen anything?” She admitted that she had pirated some stuff off the internet. I said, “What does that make you?” A theif. I asked her if she ever said, “OMG.” And I told her that was taking God’s name in vain. It was blasphemy, a very serious offense in the Bible.”
I then said to her, “So by your own admission you are a lying, thieving, blasphemer. If you were to come before God and he were to judge you, would you be innocent or guilty.” The answer is that she would be guilty, right? So I said, “Would he send you to heaven or to hell?”
At this point she got very queasy. She said, “Well, if that’s your standard, everyone is going to hell! Who hasn’t told a lie?!”
Exactly! That’s the point that Jesus was trying to make with this lawyer. You cannot do anything to inherit eternal life. By virtue of the life you’ve led and the sins you’ve committed, you’ve forfeited your rights to eternal life.
Unfortunately, this lawyer didn’t get it. For having supposed to have been and expert in the Law and the OT writings, he didn’t get it. It blew right past him.
Perhaps that was because he was more interested in a theological debate. You see, the passage goes on to say in verse 29 that he wanted to justify himself. And so he asked, “who is my neighbor?”
Back then there was a big debate on the idea of neighbor. And the prevailing notion was that anybody who was a Jew was your neighbor.
So Jesus says, “Ok. You didn’t get it, but I’ll play along. You want to know who your neighbor is? I’ll show you.”
And that brings us to the content of the parable. Now that we understand something of the cause and context of the parable, we can talk about what the parable actually says.
II. The content of the parable
As you heard, the parable is about this guy who is on his way to Jericho, who gets mugged and left for dead. Then there come upon him 3 different travelers. The first two are two religious leaders, a priest and a Levite. Now if anyone should have helped these guys, it should have been these guys. They were sort of the pastors of their day. They were to be the most kind and godly people. But what does the text say? It says that they each passed him by.
Some say that it might have been for reasons of ceremonial cleanliness. You know, the OT specified that a certain amount of time that had to be designated for cleansing if you came into contact with a dead person. And that was an inconvenience. So they thought that it would be better just not to touch the guy at all.
Or it might have simply been that they saw this guy laying there and thought, “If I stop and help, what might happen to me? What if the bandits are still in the area?” Whatever the reason, they chose to keep on keeping on.
At long last, this Samaritan came along. Now remember what we said about Samaritans and Jews. They hated each other. They Samaritans were half breeds and theological heretics. In the eyes of the Jews they were a freak of nature when it came to their race and their doctrine.
But it was this Samaritan who came along and took care of this guy. You notice the details that Jesus adds in verse 34 and following. Jesus tells us that the first thing he did was bind up his wounds and then poured some oil and wine on it (that was like the Neosporin of their day). But he didn’t stop with just some simple first aid. He went above and beyond the call of duty by taking the guy to a hotel and setting him up there. He even said, “If there are any other expenses, charge it to my account. I will pay it when I come back through.”
You know, Jesus talked about going the extra mile in another place. And that is exactly what this Samaritan does. He was ready to do whatever was within his power to see to it that this guy was nursed back to health again. He went way out of his way to attend to his needs.
And that brings us to the end of the parable. Jesus looks at the lawyer and says, “Who was the neighbor?” And you can almost see the guy seething. He is so disgusted—he hates the Samaritan so much he can’t even say his name. He just says, “The guy who showed mercy.”
And Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.”
You see how Jesus played along with this lawyer? The lawyer asks, “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life.” Jesus says, “Oh, I’ll show you what you need to do. You need to demonstrate a supreme and undefiled degree of love. You even have to go so far as to fulfill your duty to your enemies. You can’t just turn a blind eye to their needs. It can’t just be your family. It can’t just be people you like or are like. God requires liberal benevolence to all humanity.
What Jesus does is press the full extent of the law’s demands. He basically says, “If you want to inherit eternal life, this is the standard to which you are held.
Now, we are not told whether or not the lawyer man got it or not. But we are brought to one conclusion. If we really consider the context and the content rightly, this parable brings us to one conclusion.
III. The conclusion & culmination of the parable
And that is this: There is no possible way we can do anything to inherit eternal life. Our conclusion has to be that there has to be some other way to get to heaven than by our own works.
You see, the point of this passage is to drive us to Christ. The purpose of this parable is simply to render us helpless and make us seek the one who can provide the way of salvation.
That’s why this parable really culminates in Jesus.
And that is why this passage cannot be understood rightly apart from Jesus. You see, Jesus is the Good Samaritan. He is the one who has compassion on poor miserable wretches like us. He is the only one who ever loved perfectly and fulfilled the full demands of the law.
And, I don’t think that it was an accident that Jesus used a Samaritan—someone who was despised by the Jews—as the hero of the passage. Because Jesus too was despised. He was hated, so much so that he was eventually crucified.
Earlier I talked about the conversation I had with a certain young lady. I asked her about how good she was. I asked her if God were to be her judge, whether she would be guilty or innocent and if she would go to heaven or hell. And I said she was in a frizzy because if that’s the standard, we’d all go to hell.
Well it is here that we have good news. We do deserve to go to hell. But God has provided a way of Salvation. Jesus fulfilled the law and merited for us the righteousness we need, and in his death on the cross he underwent the punishment that we deserve.
And that is the gospel. The gospel is not go and do your best. The gospel is the answer to the human dilemma. You have offended God. You have forfeited your rights to eternal life. But God has provided a way of salvation in Jesus.
And all you have to do is own up to your sin and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. If you want to inherit eternal life, then look to Jesus. He is the Savior.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.