October 30th 2022: Ian Middlemist

Luke 10:25-37. “The Great Samaritan.”

            Being in prison is not pleasant (to say the least)! Imagine you are in a situation where you have done something and have been charged with a crime, but you want to be cleared of these charges.  You need a good lawyer or solicitor to get you off, to present your case in the best possible light. Well, that is what is happening here in this well-known passage most usually referred to as the ‘Parable of the Good Samaritan.’

            In Israel the Law was uppermost in their thinking. The Law of God, which makes demands on all mankind, can only be interpreted properly by the Creator, for it is He who has defined it. Many people interpret the Law in their own way, from their own perspective. Some say, “Well I have never murdered anyone, so I have kept the commandment ‘thou shall not kill.” But the Lord points out to us in Matthew 5:22 that anyone who is unjustly angry with another in their heart and refers to them as a “fool” is in danger of judgment and hell fire. The Law applies not simply to the external examples set down but to the very heart of each specific issue. Each command in the ten commandments acts as a heading.

            We have in our text a popular and to some their favourite story. This passage has inspired many to become better people (do-gooders) and may well have been the inspiration for charities like the Red Cross and others. We must be kind not simply to strangers but to those considered to be our enemies. But God’s Law is supposed to challenge us – who we are – it is not there for us to pat ourselves on the back.

[1] How may I inherit eternal life?

            We are introduced to a “certain lawyer” who wanted to ask a testing question of the Lord Jesus (v25). He asks: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This is the question uppermost in this lawyer’s mind. Is this our question? Do we ask such a question today? I rather think not. We have other ‘more pressing’ questions (we believe). Questions such as: “how shall I pay my bills in this difficult time?” How will I cope with what I face at work? How will I pay for the petrol and heating bills? How will I deal with this illness I face?” Our questions are very much this world centred and earth-based. But this lawyer who has come to Jesus, is concerned with the issue of life and death. What happens after we die? He wants to know how he will fare in the life to come. Eternity awaits! He knows about heaven and hell. Where will I spend eternity? There is, in fact, no greater question to ask. Where will you go when you die? Do you have assurance of a place in heaven? Or do you deserve to be in hell?

            Now the lawyer spoken of here is a different kind of lawyer to the ones we know of in our day. This man was concerned about the Law and how we interact with God. Modern day lawyers are concerned with cases between people (person A vs person B). This lawyer was concerned with the cases between people and God.

            You may be asking this question, “Why cannot it be true that all people will inherit eternal life?” Surely, we might think, it is God’s good nature to welcome everyone? However, there is the great problem that none are good enough to enter heaven. None are as good as God who is the great definer of good, and He will not admit to heaven anyone who is not good. So, the lawyer asks what he might do to gain an entrance.

            Now the lawyer was well aware that the Lord Jesus would direct him to the Law to make a summary statement – the two great commandments. We get a similar incident in Mark 10 where the rich young ruler asks the same basic question (“good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life”? Mark 10:17). In that instance the Lord Jesus pointed the rich young ruler to the second table of the Law. So, the ‘answer’ to the question concerning eternal life was well known – do the Law and you will live (Leviticus 18:5). The lawyer knew the answer to his own question! However, what the lawyer did not know in truth was whether he met the standard of God. What the lawyer wanted was to justify himself. How could he be sure that he was actually keeping the Law? It is likely that in truth the lawyer knew that he did not keep the Law properly. So, his second question gets to the heart of the issue. He wanted to justify himself (v29). He wanted to have an assurance that what he was doing in his attempt to keep the law was sufficient. In many ways this second question (“and who is my neighbour”) is the lawyer’s attempt at getting around the Law, or of side-stepping it somehow by finding a ‘loophole.’ He wanted to know what he could practically do himself in order to be able to enter heaven.

            Now this, we know, is the wrong approach. None can keep the Law (except Christ Jesus) and so none can actually inherit eternal life by their own works. None can justify themselves. To attempt such is actually to be proud and even arrogant. We need the Law – it shows us the character of God and what is good – but we need deliverance, rescue and salvation.

[2] The good Samaritan, (v30-35).

            There are three options here to the situation described in meeting the requirements of God’s Law that people may adopt.

  1. Ignore the lawyer and his question. Don’t even bother to seek justification.
  2. Seek a loophole. Get knowledge of the Law to find a way of appeasement. This is what many ‘religious’ people do. They make an acceptable religion for themselves and stick to it as best they can.
  3. Humble yourself and seek the Lord for the one way possible. There is one way which will be true to the totality of all of the Law and which will bring great joy. Become a servant of the Living God.

The story that the Lord Jesus relates is very true to life. The priest and the Levite both ‘walk on by’ when they come across the poor beaten man. But we must not be too quick to judge these two men here in this story that the Lord tells. Have you ever done this? Have you passed by on the other side? There are many accounts we could speak of in contemporary life of a similar nature. I heard of a young two year old girl who was knocked down by a vehicle and left bleeding and unconscious and it was reliably reported in the media that many people saw her but did nothing. They just walked on by. There are many other similar accounts and maybe you too have walked by when you saw a beggar or someone in need by the road.

            The story is vivid. A Jewish man is on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. In those days the roads were dangerous on account of robbers who would take advantage of people in isolated areas. We have similar places in our world. Places you would not go about into at night or on your own. Now this Jewish man fell among the robbers who took his clothing and harmed him seriously so that our Lord described him as being “half dead” (v30). In this description of the plight of the robbed Jewish man we have a graphic picture of the threefold lost state of all mankind.

  • None one cared for him – those who should have cared all passed by.
  • He was in desperate need of rescue and kindness.
  • He could not save nor even help himself.

[a] The Priest (a ‘man of the cloth’ v31).

            The priest comes by and saw a man who looked and appeared, to all intents and purposes, as dead. Now the Law instructed this man that to go near a dead person was to become defiled (Leviticus 21:1,11). So rather than risk defilement he passes on by. One commentator puts it like this: “the priest transgressed the entire second half of the law to preserve his keeping of the first.” He was in a dilemma. If he touched the man to help him he would become defiled and then not able to do his duties. Because he wanted to keep his duties and perform his rites he walks on by. So he ignored compassion in order to preserve his own dignity.

[b] The Levite (of lesser rank v32).

            Levites were support workers to the priesthood. They performed various practical functions in the temple. The text indicates that he came by and had a closer look (“came and looked”). He also, however, passes on by. It would be too costly for his reputation to do anything for the man who appeared to be dead. Martin Luther King in his efforts to help the black sanitary workers in 1968 said this: “what would happen if we did nothing?” All acts of kindness are costly and will also cause suffering, but what happens if we do nothing?

[c] A certain Samaritan (v33).

            Now the lawyer may then have expected that the next person to come near would have been an Israelite layman. The priest and the Levite have been shown up as no help, but surely an ordinary Israelite man would do something? But no one expected the Lord Jesus to suggest a Samaritan man. The mention of such a person would have aroused deep feelings within the lawyer. The Samaritans were utterly detested. They were considered to be the scum of the earth. It was natural in Israelite company to pray for the destruction of the Samaritans – they were thought that bad.

            Now we are challenged, as this lawyer was, to show kindness to all people for all needs. But we need to go further than simply looking out for all mankind’s needs.

[3] The Great Samaritan (v36,37).

            Imagine if Jesus had told the story the other way around. Consider the scenario if he had a Samaritan man beaten and left for dead and an Israelite came by? No Jew would ever help the Samaritan! It would have been unthinkable. But Jesus is placing this lawyer in the story as-it-were, for the one beaten and left for dead is an Israelite. As we read the account we are meant to put ourselves in the place of the beaten man. The Lord Jesus is speaking to an Israelite lawyer, and the Israelite in the story is the man beaten and left for dead. The Lord effectively says to the lawyer: “wouldn’t you want even a Samaritan to help you in such a desperate condition?” To such a question the lawyer surely would have had only one response? When in such a poor and needy condition, then surely help from anyone is accepted. When you are poor and needy then anyone could be your neighbour.

            In Ephesians 2:5 we are taught that all people by nature are dead in trespasses and sins, and the only hope for us is rescue and deliverance – being made alive. The tragedy is that most people are unaware of their lost and needy condition. They are, as the Israelite man in the story, “half dead” (v30). They walk around and live in an earthly sense but they are spiritually dead – separated from God – and so half dead. All the people we see in the world are ravished by sin and are dying in sin as ‘that day’ approaches when Christ returns. Some take medication to dull the pain of their (unknown) sin. But sin renders a person helpless and legally undeserving of the kindness of God and eternal life.

            BUT One has come – one most unlikely, unexpected – to rescue and to deliver. His name is “Jesus Christ,” who was once called a “Samaritan”:

Then the Jews answered and said to Him, “do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48).

Christ Jesus is the Great Samaritan. It was He who entered this world of sin and degradation. Jesus entered this dangerous world precisely to see us, touch us, lift us, to bring us to safety, to clothe us, and for this great help to be a permanent reality for the rest of our lives. This is exactly what the Samaritan man did. But Christ Jesus did it at the cost of His life.

            Don’t try to be a good Samaritan! Instead recognise yourself as the half dead Israelite robbed by sin and in need of rescue. You need to receive the love of Christ as depicted here in this story. You are in dire need! And there is One who has come and not passed on by. He has come to deliver and to give you a permanent place of safety. We cannot see ourselves as the good Samaritan. None are like this by nature except Christ Jesus who was once called a “Samaritan” (John 8:48). Stop justifying yourself! Recognise your state and be rescued by the Great Samaritan. And then follow Him as He continues in His plan of rescuing unworthy people. Have you been rescued by this Great Samaritan – Jesus Christ?