July 11, 2021

“Won’t You Be A Neighbor?”

Serve Week | Will DuVal |Luke 10:25-37

This morning, we’re taking a break from our study through Genesis, to kick off SERVE week. Over the next 7 days, we are getting outside the walls of the church to serve our community together AS a church. And our prayer is that this week would be a CATALYST for our service throughout the rest of the year. That you would form and deepen relationships with these various ministries we’re partnering with and serving alongside this week, that would encourage you to bring your family back every month, bring your life group back once a quarter, to continue serving together.

I got an impromptu opportunity to serve this past week. On Tuesday, a guy named Matt wandered into our parking lot. Told me his story, how his car broke down, no phone, no family or friends to call anyway for help; he was homeless. He said he needed help fixing his car and getting a new phone. I told him that all we keep on hand at the church is Walmart gift cards. That clearly upset him. He said, “I know in a church this nice, if you’re the head pastor, you can offer more help than that!” He asked if I could AT LEAST give him a ride down to South County and get him a hotel room. And swing by Walmart on the way. On the ride down, he explained why he thought faith was silly, and how he blamed everyone else in his life for turning their backs on him. I offered to buy him McDonalds; he insisted on Steak ‘n Shake. I pulled into the hotel; he asked why I hadn’t booked the nicer one across the street.

Now, the reason I share that story is not to highlight how good of a person I am; I can promise you – I did NOT react to all Matt’s complaining with perfect Christian love. No, I share that story for two reasons: #1 – to explain why I picked the sermon text I did for this morning: On my car ride HOME, my phone buzzed to alert me that I had a “New Podcast Episode available” – a sermon from Tim Keller on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. So I took that as a sign that God wanted me to preach on Luke 10:25-37 today! But #2 – I ALSO share that story because one of the big questions asked in this passage is “Who is my NEIGHBOR?” Jesus commands us to “1) Love God, and 2) Love your Neighbor.” But that begs the question: who IS my neighbor. And as we’ll see, Jesus’ answer is essentially: “the person you have the HARDEST time loving; THAT’S your neighbor.”

For me, that’s probably Matt. This guy was as rude, and entitled, and condescending, ungrateful, and just all around as unpleasant a person as I’ve probably ever met! It’s no WONDER his family and friends disowned him! But Jesus says: “MY followers will LOVE even the Matt’s of the world.” As a matter of fact, if you DON’T love the Matt’s of the world, you can-NOT inherit ETERNAL LIFE. THAT’S the context, for the parable: A lawyer asks Jesus: “What must I DO to inherit eternal life?”

So I want to pull out 8 principles for you here of “Good Neighboring” – how DO we love the Matt’s in our lives? –  but I ALSO wanna WARN you right up front, that there is a twist ending to this sermon, with principle #8. The ultimate answer to the question is: WE CAN’T. You and I will NEVER love, sufficiently love, perfectly love… ANYONE, much less the most unlovable among us. If you are counting, like the lawyer, on YOUR righteousness, your ability to love God and others well enough, as your ticket into heaven, then friend: you are in BIG trouble. Instead, the moral of the story is that while YOU were beaten down, bleeding out, dying on the side of the road… spiritually speaking… with no hope but the undeserved kindness of a stranger, of an ENEMY, that Jesus Christ did the unthinkable; He stepped off his throne in heaven to climb up a cross on Golgotha, to RESCUE you.

But I get ahead of myself; would you STAND… Luke 10:25-37 (give you a Bible…):

“And behold, a lawyer stood up to put Jesus to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”” This is the word of the Lord… Pray…

Now before we rush to principle #8 and throw our hands up and confess that we CAN’T love others perfectly and we need a Savior, we do need to recognize that Jesus ACTUALLY wants us to love people. He really CALLS us, to love God and love neighbor. So how do we do it? Jesus offers us 8 directives here:

#1 – Check your MOTIVES. (vv25, 29)

It’s not enough to LOVE people; we’ve got to love them for the right REASONS. The LAWYER here exemplifies 3 BAD motives. He aims at putting DOWN others, putting OFF troubles, and putting ON airs.

First, the lawyer puts down others. Why does he address Jesus in the first place? V25: “Behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test”. Jesus’ enemies were constantly trying to trap him in his words. Jesus has just prayed in v21: ““I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things – things like SALVATION! – from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children”. Jesus said, “If you can’t become like a little CHILD, you can never inherit the Kingdom of Heaven”.

So the lawyer is offended; “I’M not a “little child”; I am a wise, aged, educated student and teacher of the LAW!” So he TESTS Jesus – “I’ll prove that THIS guy has NO idea what he’s talking about!” – and put Jesus back in his place.

And he does so, secondly, by asking a question: ““Oh wise Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”” Now, the lawyer no doubt DESIRES eternal life. Everyone wants to make it to heaven. The question is: WHY? What’s your motivation, for Heaven? For the lawyer, it’s all about personal reward. The same is true of many self-professing “Christians” today. They come to JESUS, hoping to enjoy the pleasures of Heaven; instead of praying that they might come to HEAVEN so we can enjoy the presence of JESUS. HE is the great joy of Heaven! And by the way, we only MAKE it there, not by passing some arbitrary doctrine test, not by helping enough old ladies across the street, but through a REAL, saving relationship… with JESUS!

But the lawyer has no interest in that. He just wants to escape the troubles of this world: “Jesus, what is the bare minimum I have to DO, that I must be troubled with, in order to make the cut?”

Jesus answers, “Love God and love neighbor,” and the lawyer’s third motive surfaces in v29: “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?””. He’s putting on AIRS. He fancies himself a love EXPERT. Certainly good enough to make it into Heaven; notice he skips right OVER the “Love God” requirement. “Well, obviously I love God sufficiently; so Jesus, unless you’ve got some different definition of “neighbor” than I do, uhhh, I’m pretty sure I’m a SHOE-in for Heaven!” He’s an expert in RELIGIOUS law, mind you, the Torah, OT Law – he’s a BIBLE professor by trade. If anyone’s getting in, it’s ME. He even “stands up” in v25 as a sign of his self-assertion and PRIDE.

Spiritual pride was endemic to the Judaism of Jesus’ day. Their oral tradition, the Mishnah stated, “Great is Torah, for it gives to them that practice it, life in this world and in the world to come” (Mishnah Pirke Aboth 6.7) The better you keep the Law, the more God loves you and SAVES you. Contrast that with the way the apostle PAUL describes the purpose of the Law in the NT; Paul says the law is a mirror, to reveal our sinfulness and our need for a SAVIOR (Rom 7:9); it is a guide “to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith in HIM” (Gal 3:24). “For NO ONE will be justified by works of the law”; rather we “are justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:20-24). By the way, in the Greek: the lawyer asks his question in the aorist (PAST) tense – literally: “Teacher, having done WHAT, will I inherit eternal life?” In other words, give me a list of 5 or 10 or 613 boxes that I can check, in order to punch my ticket to Heaven. But Jesus answers in the PRESENT tense – “DO this, and you will live.” In other words, if you’re counting on your OWN good works to get you in, you will NEVER be done. You will CONSTANTLY be doing, and doing, and doing. But friends: On the cross, Jesus said, “It is FINISHED.” And after his Resurrection and Ascension, he sat DOWN at the right hand of the Father. Because JESUS’ work of salvation, FOR you, on your behalf, is COMPLETE.

What about you? Maybe you faithfully help others. But WHY? Is it to try and justify yourself?

Proverbs 16:2 says, “All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD.”

Did I drive Matt all over town for the jewel in my crown? Because it made for a good sermon illustration? Because it makes me LOOK good, in the eyes of others? Makes me FEEL good, like I’m a good person? Did I do it because I asked “WWJD?”, and decided that JESUS would probably help him out, so I guess I will too, albeit begrudgingly.
OR, do we love others to PLEASE our heavenly Father? To bring Him GLORY? Because nothing brings US more joy than putting a SMILE on God’s face? THAT should be our motive for EVERYTHING in life!

#2 – To truly love others, we need to study our BIBLES. (vv26-28)

Love means acting in another person’s best interest, regardless of the cost to myself. That’s the biblical definition of love. But in order to KNOW what is in another’s best interest, we have to know God’s WORD. Scripture is like our compass that always points to true north, to what is right, what is loving, not just in a relative sense, “what feels loving to ME”, but absolutely loving, for EVERYONE.

When Jesus is asked here about eternal life, he doesn’t ask for the lawyer’s opinion – “Give me YOUR take on the afterlife…”; No; He asks, “What is written in the Law? How do you understand IT.” And sometimes the Bible’s answer on what is most LOVING surprises us. Our life group just read through 2 Thessalonians last week. It says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (3:10) Matt flat out told me, “I used to have a good paying job; I’m not going back to work at McDonald’s!” And I probably SHOULD have replied, “Well then I’M not buying you Steak ‘n Shake! When you get hungry enough, you’ll get a job and buy it yourself!” That doesn’t FEEL loving. But it’s God’s honest truth, straight from his word.

It may FEEL loving to buy him dinner… it may FEEL loving to “bear with”, aka ENABLE your child’s bad behavior instead of disciplining her, to attend your co-workers’ “gay wedding”… to use your transgender neighbor’s preferred pronouns… but if our love of others isn’t grounded in God’s WORD, we won’t know how to truly act in others’ best interest.

#3 – To love your neighbor, you’ve got to KNOW your NEIGHBOR (v29).

The minute the lawyer asks in v29: “And who is my neighbor?”, he proves that he’s already failed the love test. Because you don’t accidentally love people. If he doesn’t even know who he’s SUPPOSED to be loving, you can rest ASSURED he ain’t doing it! If I went outta town and asked you to feed my dog, and I returned and you asked ME, “Oh, by the way, Who’s your dog?”, I’ve got a pretty good HUNCH that poor Bentley went hungry all week long.

But consider motives again: Why does the lawyer ask who is his neighbor? It’s cuz he wants to RESTRICT the size of his neighborhood. He knows he’s supposed to love his neighbors; he recites Leviticus 19:18 from memory here in v27. He’s not ignorant of the LAW. No, he is ignorant, willfully ignorant of, whom the Law CONCERNS. If God calls you to love your neighbor, then the fewer the folks who are your neighbors, the smaller the circle of folks you’ve got to LOVE. The lawyer thinks: “According to the dictionary, a neighbor is someone CLOSE to you. My immediate family, closest friends, the people who live on either side of my house; yeah, I can love them.” But Jesus is about to blow his whole concept of neighborhood up.

What about you? You can only LOVE someone to the extent that you KNOW them. By contrast, it is MUCH easier to judge and condemn someone you don’t even KNOW. Racism, homophobia, any and ALL looking down your nose at others – it’s all FUELED by ignorance. The minute you learn someone’s name, shake their hand, take the time and pay them the respect and dignity to listen to their story, you’ve already won half the battle in LOVING them.

So do you KNOW your neighbors? Not just the next-door ones; the “MATT” ones. The hardest to LOVE ones. If not, it’s gonna be awfully hard to LOVE them.

#4 – For some of us to expand our neighborhoods, we’re gonna have to Change our ROADS (v30).

Jesus begins the parable in v30: ““A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.”

Philip Ryken explains (REC: Luke, 542): “The Jericho road passed through treacherous country. With its narrow passages and dangerous precipices, it was an ideal place for thieves and bandits to ambush lonely travelers. In ancient times, people called it ‘the bloody way’.”

It was the kind of road that most of us sensible West County folks wouldn’t be CAUGHT dead on! But here’s the thing: sometimes to help the kinds of people Jesus is calling us to help, you and I have to be willing to risk taking the roads that those folks travel on.

When Darrin Patrick started The Journey Church’s “Theology at the Bottleworks” ministry, down at Schlafly Brewery, the Southern Baptist Convention sent him a letter asking why this Baptist church was hanging around bars. Darrin replied, “Because I imagine that’s where JESUS would be hanging out on Thursday nights if HE were here.” Jesus, the friend of sinners and drunkards and gluttons. Darrin changed roads.

Growing up, my church took mission trips down to Guatemala City, to dig trenches for plumbing and serve meals in the city’s garbage dump, where people would otherwise scavenge and fight vultures for food. One night after lights out, one of my friends, Farr Curlin, snuck out and took a taxi from the safety of our host church in the “nice” part of town, down to the dump, and when the trip chaperones frantically found him the next morning, he said, “I couldn’t sleep peacefully in my comfortable sleeping bag, knowing that these precious kids we’ve been playing with all day were sleeping in cardboard boxes with rats and hypodermic needles.” Farr Curlin changed roads.

What about US, West Hills? Will we change the roads we take, so we can encounter and SERVE those in greatest need? Will you serve with R3 this week, even though it means venturing into East St. Louis? Will you serve at Bridge of Hope, in North City? I’ll be honest: I don’t take my KIDS down there with me. I didn’t invite Matt to come crash at MY house last week. I got him a hotel. There are SOME roads I guess I’m not willing to travel. I don’t claim to love perfectly, and I don’t claim to know where that line is drawn, if it exists at all – what degree of self-SACRIFICE Jesus desires from, DEMANDS of us – I don’t WANT to believe that Jesus is calling me to recklessly endanger my own life, the lives of my family, for wicked people, but then again, that’s EXACTLY what HE DID! He went to the CROSS for a wretch like ME!

What I do know is that if we’re going to love people the way JESUS did, we have to be willing to GO the places JESUS went in order to reach them. Tax collectors and prostitutes’ houses. Gadarene cemeteries. Samaria. Places no self-respecting 1st c. Jew would be caught DEAD. Dangerous places. Will WE go?

#5 – To love others, you must Forget your POSITION (vv31-33a)

There are TWO reasons that both the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable could have been tempted to REFUSE love to this half-dead man, based on their position:

The first is that as religious leaders in the Temple, the Law stated that coming into contact with a dead body would have made them ritually unclean for a week, and they’d have to go through this whole complicated, costly cleansing process. So they told themselves, “I better AVOID this guy, just to be safe, IGNORE his moaning, pretend like he’s already dead (I mean, he’s probably gonna die ANYWAY, even if I TRY to help him, with no medical care out here in the middle of NOWHERE… What’s the use?). Despite the fact that the Law ALSO clearly stated that it was a person’s duty – priest or otherwise! – to do everything in their power to try and preserve life, to rescue those in need.

The second reason they would have been tempted to ignore him is that the Levites and priests were those specifically assigned in the OT with the task of distributing from the Temple funds to the needs of the poor. These guys are both professional people-helpers! They got PAID to do it! I imagine they felt pretty self-satisfied about the work they’ve ALREADY done for those in need. So when a situation came along that required them to give SACRIFICIALLY, when it actually COSTS them something, they decided, “Ehhh, I do enough already.” But once again, their very positions AS professional care-givers, not to mention simply as fellow Israelites – God commanded in the Law, Deut. 15:11 “‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy” – that should have duty-bound them to help this desperate man. But ironically and tragically, it was their POSITION that prevented them from helping.

By contrast, the Samaritan in v33, based on HIS position, his identity, was the LAST person on EARTH who should have stopped to help this man. Ryken explains (544): “In centuries past, the Samaritans had defied God’s law by intermarrying with the Assyrians. Over time, they had developed their own version of the Torah and set up their own center for worship. As far as the Jews were concerned, the Samaritans were half-breed heretics.” And the feeling was MUTUAL, for the Samaritans. In fact, another ancient Mishnah, oral law, warned AGAINST a Jew helping a Samaritan in need; declared it would be more righteous to let that infidel DIE and burn in SHEOL!

To get a sense for just how radical this parable would have sounded to a 1st c. Jewish listener, you and I need to think about the person we would LEAST expect, least want to ACCEPT help from. To contemporize the story, we might title it “The Parable of the Good JIHADIST.” “The Good NAZI.” For some of you, it could be “The Parable of The Good Trumper;” for others, “The Good Democrat.”

The point here is TWO-fold: #1 – we’ve got to see past others’ positions, and learn to see them as people, as made-in-the-image-of-God with INFINITE intrinsic dignity and worth people. And #2 – we can’t let OUR position get in the way of us helping them. I’ll be honest; I was TEMPTED TO on Tuesday. Matt came knocking, and I thought, “I can’t be bothered to drive this guy all over town; I’m busy doing the LORD’S work. MINISTRY.” Yeah, so were the priest and the Levite. But friends: we follow a Savior who RENOUNCED his position as the Sovereign King of the Universe – who did not consider his co-equality with God a thing to be CLUNG to, but EMPTIED himself, “taking the form of a servant… he humbled himself… to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Why? To serve YOU. To save ME. To RESCUE us.

#6 – To love others, we’ve got to Cultivate our COMPASSION (v33b).

What was different about the Samaritan? Why did he help, when others passed the man by? V33: “when [the SAMARITAN] saw him, he had compassion.” Splangch-nizomai. It is the word used more than ANY other in the Bible to describe how Jesus feels toward US. Compassion.

Is that how YOU treat those who are HARDEST to love? With compassion? The Samaritan would have had every reason to SPIT on this Jew as he passed him by – “You got what you DESERVED, Jew!” And we LOVE justice, when it comes for people we don’t LIKE, don’t we? Let’s flip the roles around for a second: If you passed by a half-dead NAZI on the side of the road? A half-dead TERRORIST? Are you feeling compassion? Or justice. Vindication.

But here’s the good news, friends: I know I’m supposed to wait til point #8 but I can’t help myself: YOU’RE NOT THE GOOD SAMARITAN! You’re not the hero of this story! You’re the one in the DITCH! Jesus is so FRUSTRATING – he doesn’t at ALL answer the lawyer’s question here, does he? The guy wanted to know what HE could do to EARN eternal life? And Jesus tells him a story in which the only character he could possibly identify with is the BEATEN guy in the ditch. Clearly the priest and the Levite are not the protagonists, so they’re out. And the guy’s thinking: “there’s no way in SHEOL I’m the Samaritan, so I guess that makes me the half-DEAD guy…?!” What?!

Friends, the point is: you don’t have the compassion you ought to. You AREN’T willing to set aside your position as God has called you to. You WON’T change your roads to help those in greatest need. You DON’T know your neighbors; you restrict the size of your neighborhood so you only have to love lovable people. And even THEN, you don’t LOVE them in the most difficult, biblical ways. And even when you DO, you do it for selfish, impure reasons. You’re NOT the Good Samaritan.

And let’s go ahead and get #7 out of the way, while we’re at it: #7 – You won’t Risk your WELL-BEING (vv34-35) to love others.

You won’t risk your well-being. Someone here is thinking, “Yes I will! You don’t know me!” That just proves you’re the LAWYER! The lawyer had CONVINCED himself he can love enough to get into heaven. Jesus says, “Oh really? How about Samaritans?” So if you’re sitting here this morning, like the lawyer, getting defensive about how you really DO love others, “Yes I would risk my well-being; I’d jump into traffic to save a stranger’s life. I’d jump down on the subway tracks to pull him out.” Even when you notice his SWASTIKA tattoo? His turban? Even when he’s drunk and he CHOSE to jump down there, got himself in that mess – would you send your only CHILD down to save him?

The fact that the man in the parable is only HALF-dead means that the robbers could still be nearby! Not to mention if the Samaritan is caught by other Samaritans helping a Jew, he could be shunned and banished from his own community. If he’s caught by a group of JEWS, they’re gonna assume the Samaritan mugged him! There’s no GOOD scenario here for the Samaritan. He is putting his LIFE on the line. And then he spends the NIGHT with the guy, to personally take care of him?! Pays for a MONTH’S worth of lodging, and then just decides, “You know what, here’s a BLANK CHECK actually; whatever more you spend [on caring for him], I will personally repay you when I come back”. He doesn’t know this guy from Adam. This guy could take ADVANTAGE of the Samaritan’s generosity. Recover and just run up the tab. The Samaritan could go BROKE helping a sworn enemy.

So I’m gonna give you one last chance to confess and admit you’re NOT the Good Samaritan, before point #8: you writing a blank check for the Nazi? For the Marxist, BLM, LGBTQ+, SJW activist?

If NOT, then #8 – you better Trust your SAVIOR (vv36-37).

Friends, you’re not the hero. You’re not the Savior. You NEED a savior. Because of your LACK of neighbor love, you’re FAILURE to follow God’s 2 Greatest Commandments – there’s only TWO. That’s it: Love God, love neighbor. But we’re so pathetic, we can’t even follow TWO commands.

And SPIRITUALLY, that makes us as good as dead, on LIFE-support. As a matter of fact, your situation is far more dire than this man’s. You’re not as GOOD as dead. Ephesians 2 says that “you were dead – ALL the way; full-on rotting CORPSE –  in the trespasses and sins…by nature children of wrath – you were Almighty GOD’S sworn enemy – But God, being rich in mercy, compassion, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved”.

You’re not the Good Samaritan. And yet JESUS is far BETTER than the Good Samaritan.

You weren’t just DYING; you were DEAD.

He didn’t just cross the ROAD to help. He hung ON the cross for you.

It didn’t cost him a few days wages; it cost him his LIFE. He endured God’s FORSAKENNESS, ABANDONMENT for you.

So unless you love PERFECTLY, you better trust in a Savior who loved YOU perfectly to forgive all your sins. Because here’s the thing: once you DO, all of a sudden you’ll find yourself loving people better than you used to. Being neighborly.

You wanna know how my conversation with Matt ENDED? After he complained that I substituted the french fries for chili in his combo meal instead of just ADDING the chili for an extra 99 cents. After he critiqued my choice of hotel. I said, “Matt, you know what I believe? I believe that no one owes you ANYTHING in this life. You are 39 years old with 2 good legs; your parents don’t owe you financial help. Your boss doesn’t owe you your job back. Your girlfriend doesn’t owe you a second chance. God doesn’t owe you the breath in your lungs. And I sure as HELL don’t owe you the 3 hours I’ve just spent with you, the hotel, the Walmart gift card, the car parts I paid for, the fries OR the chili, or the old iPhone I’m gonna go home and scrounge through my drawers to find for you tonight DESPITE how you’ve treated me all afternoon.”

I said, “And I can tell you this much: if you’d of showed up at my door demanding help and treating me like this 10 years ago, I’d of given you the only thing I DO owe you right now – a swift kick out the door!” I said, “But I figure if God loved a rude, entitled, prideful, ungrateful, all-around unpleasant sinner like ME enough to send his only Son to DIE on a cross for me, the LEAST I can do is help a sinner like you out.”

I’m not the hero. I used a lot more four-letter words that I’m not allowed to repeat in church. I didn’t love Matt perfectly. But I tried. And Christ is calling you to do the same this week, SERVE week, and EVERY week. But when you inevitably fall short, he’s calling you to confess, repent, and trust in a Savior who loves like you can’t. Let’s pray.