12. The Parable of the Good Samaritan
The Parables of Jesus
What Must I do to Inherit Eternal Life?
If ever there was a question a teacher of the Word of God wants to be asked, this is it. A question like this is usually posed by a person awakened to their need of Christ. This question was asked while Jesus was teaching about the Kingdom of God. Most of His teaching at this time was outside the town as the synagogues were too small for the people wanting to hear His Word. People were sitting around cross-legged on the ground when an expert in the law stood up. His motive was to test Jesus (v. 25):
25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27He 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 neighbor as yourself.’” 28“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:25-28).
Some translations call him a lawyer. This man was not a secular lawyer, but he was someone who was trained in the details of the Law of God, interpreting it so that the general population could live it out. He was an expert in his understanding of God's revelation to the children of Israel, but there was a God-shaped void in his life. While he had been listening to Jesus' teaching, perhaps, he came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Somehow, in the depths of his heart, he was aware that, with all the knowledge he had, something was missing. There was a vast difference between himself and the Lord Jesus. Was it the joy that emanated from the face of Christ? Was it compassion for people that was so evident in Christ's life? Was it His love for the poor, the downtrodden, and the sick that were present?
Luke tells us the lawyer stood up to test the Lord Jesus (v. 25). Did he put the Lord to the test because he was put up to it by others in the hope of discrediting Christ, or was there an awakened heart to a genuine awareness of the void in his life? We know that, when a person hears the Word of God, it is like a seed planted in his heart, and God works to bring the seed of the Word to germination for a man to be born again and receive life. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them” (John 6:44). A man’s knowledge can hinder him by putting up roadblocks in his mind. Sometimes, people have to put to rest the questions in their minds before fully pursuing the righteousness that comes by faith in the finished work of Christ.
Question 1) What are some of the hard questions that you have for the Lord? Were there important questions that you needed answering before you decided for Christ? Have you ever put the Lord to the test?
Notice that the man’s focus was on what he should do. He said, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 25). At the foundation of this is the widespread belief that eternal life is the reward you get for the good things you have done. Some believe that God somehow weighs us in the balance, i.e., with our good works on one side and our sins on the other. The truth is that eternal life is a gift from God, which one receives upon surrendering his life to the Lordship of Christ, i.e., what the Bible calls "believing" on Him (John 3:16). One never inherits anything by "doing." An inheritance is passed down to us by the gift of a father, and in our case, the relative is the Lord Jesus, and He has not left us to do anything but receive a gift, i.e., the gift of God. There was a passage in the book of John when someone else asked the Lord Jesus something very similar:
28Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-29).
If it depends on what we can do, then salvation is no longer a gift. It becomes wages that we earn for what we have done. It glorifies self and, therefore, fosters pride in one’s accomplishments, something about which man could then boast about. Instead, we find that salvation is given to us as a gift:
8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10).
The expert in the law had no awareness of personal sin; he thought eternal life was a natural inheritance for all Jewish descendants of Abraham. Jesus graciously answered the man’s question with a question: “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” (v. 25). The Greek text brings out that the man was asked as to how he recited it every morning and evening. What did he understand about what he mechanically spoke twice a day?
Suddenly, it was the lawyer who was on the spot, with everyone in the crowd looking at him, waiting for him to share what he knew about the way into eternal life. Jesus was asking the man what role did he understand the Law of God played when it came to man's salvation. Are we saved by fulfilling the Law of God? I wonder if Jesus was looking at the small box on the man's arm as if to say, "What does the phylactery on your arm say?" Religious Jews wore this box on their wrists and, sometimes, on their foreheads. Inside the phylactery was crucial Scriptures that Jews were to keep at the forefront of everything they did and thought. All religious Jews knew these Scriptures by heart.
4Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)
Verse 27 of our passage then tells us the lawyer also quoted a passage from the book of Leviticus:
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:18).
Question 2) If people were to ask you how to receive eternal life, what would you say to them? Do you think it is possible to be good enough to earn eternal life?
The verb to love is in the present tense indicating that one is always and in an uninterrupted way to love God with all his faculties and his neighbor, in the same way, never failing once in his loving. The summation of the 613 commandments in the five books of Moses, could be fulfilled if one were to keep the Ten Commandments, part of which focused on man's relationship to God and the rest on man's relationship to one another. The summation of all the Ten Commandments could be brought down into these two commands: you shall forever and without failure love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul or mind, and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. If we could fully fulfill these two commands in all our lives, and for all time, then it is possible to enter into eternal life. However, how many of us have kept those two commands?
In theory, it is possible to deserve eternal life by obedience to the Law of God, but in practice, none of us can ever be good enough, for the standard is too high. We have a heart problem that makes it impossible to earn salvation by our deeds. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Several years ago when I was out on the streets and talking to strangers about Christ, one person told me that he would be alright when he came to the end of his life, for the man helped two people get out of a plane crash before it exploded; he saved their lives. When I asked him what he was going to do about his sin, he told me that he had never sinned. He was deceived into thinking that his moral standing was better than most and that he would be okay in the Day of Judgment when God will bring all men to account for what they had done (Romans 14:12).
Most people judge themselves by looking at the lives of others. Let us try to imagine that the nearest wall to you represents a scale of all the people who have ever lived, and that the very worst person is at the bottom and that the top of the wall represents the very best and most righteous of people. Who would you put at the bottom? Many might say, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, or maybe Saddam Hussein or even their boss at work.
Who would you put at the top? Perhaps, you would say, "Mother Theresa, Princess Diana, Dr. Martin Luther King, or Billy Graham. I think you would agree that all of us would be somewhere on the wall, e.g., Keith Thomas would be down there, and, maybe, you would be higher up. Well, what do you think would be the standard we must reach? What good thing must I do to get me to the top of the wall is the essence of the lawyer’s question. Many of us would probably reply that the ceiling would be the measure we must reach, seeing as the best of humanity is up there. However, that is not what the Bible says the standard is. Romans 3:23 says that we must achieve the glory of God: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” or the Living Bible translation of Romans 3:23 says, “Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal.”
What is God's great ideal for our lives? The standard is not the ceiling of this room but the sky. None of us have met the standard of God's righteousness—Christ Jesus. We have all fallen short of the target, which is what sin means, i.e., falling short. If we compare ourselves to armed robbers or child molesters or even our neighbors, we may think we come off quite well, but when we compare ourselves to Jesus Christ, we see how far short we fall. Somerset Maugham once said, "If I wrote down every thought I have ever thought and every deed I have ever done, men would call me a monster of depravity."
The essence of sin is a rebellion against God (Genesis 3), and its result is that we cannot ever be good enough to fulfill the standard of the law. The law shows us God's perfection and requirement, but it doesn't give us the power to attain it. Only the gift of God, i.e., the righteousness of Christ imparted to our soul, makes us acceptable to God. What, then, is the function of the Law? The Law was given to show us our sin nature and reveal to us our need for a Savior (Galatians 3:19-22).
Like many lawyers, the one in our study today began to try to find a loophole and justify himself. When Jesus brought up the matter of doing (“Do this and you will live,” v. 28), conviction of sin in the form of another question began to tug at his heart. He began to feel uncomfortable as certain thoughts came to his mind, and he said: “And who is my neighbor?” (v. 28).
Question 3) How does the Holy Spirit speak to us when we "fall short" (what the Bible calls sin)? Is it usually a thought? Are you reminded of a particular person or a situation that has happened? Do you recall a Scripture? Are you aware of the Holy Spirit's voice when this happens?
The lawyer did not seek clarification on the first part, loving the Lord with all his heart. Maybe, he felt that he did not fall short on that part of the commandment. Jesus very lovingly and graciously did not accuse him of sin but waited for his heart to convince him of falling short of that which he held in high esteem. Until a man sees his need for a Savior, he cannot be saved. A person can be led in a prayer of invitation to Christ before they are indeed convicted of sin and see their need for Christ. We can bring the baby to birth before it's time of gestation is finished. Until a man sees that he has fallen short, transgressed the line, and begins to feel within himself indicted by the Law of God, what need does he have for a Savior?
We have a picture of this principle in the Old Testament. God allowed Israel to be under great burdens of slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh, a type or figure of Satan. He did not send a deliverer, Moses, until they cried out to Him in their bondage and slavery: “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob” (Exodus 2:23-24). He set them free from Pharaoh's slave market with the blood of a substitute lamb applied to the doors of their homes. In the same way, God waits until we see that we are not all that we are supposed to be, and we are convinced of our need for a deliverer or Savior.
When Christ said to him, "Do this and you will live" (v. 28), Immediately, questions arose within his heart. He was bankrupt in the area of doing. All of a sudden, he was on the defensive, “But he wanted to justify himself” he asked the question: ‘And who is my neighbor?’” He felt sure he was okay in his keeping of this commandment. To a Jew, a neighbor would have been someone of Jewish descent that lives nearby. Jesus shared a story that illustrated a spiritual truth about who God considers a neighbor. As we read it, we must remember that the context of the parable is all about how good a person must be, according to the Law, to receive eternal life. As we have already said, none of us are good enough. We all fall short of the kind of love, i.e., love for God and love for our neighbor that God requires.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:29-37).
Jerusalem is 2,300 feet above sea level; Jericho is 1,300 feet below sea level. As one travels eastward from Jerusalem to Jericho, the road drops into the Great Rift Valley that extends from Galilee all the way down into Africa. The distance from Jerusalem to Jericho is approximately twenty miles. One descends 3,600 feet in the space of about twenty miles. Jericho is close to the Dead Sea and is the lowest city on earth. The town was given to the tribe of Levi so that they may keep their flocks and herds (Numbers 35).
Only someone descended from Aaron could be a priest and work at the temple and offer sacrifices. The Levites were all descended from one of the twelve sons of Jacob, viz. Levi, and were those that served the priests and helped them in their ministry. The Priests would give their time of two months (1 Chronicles 24) serving at the Temple, and then spend time at home. The only way to get home to Jericho was to go along this route. This road is very rocky, dry, and barren with very little grass or vegetation. There is a tradition that David had this road in mind when he wrote Psalm 23:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me (Psalm 23:4).
Part of the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was called the Pass of Adumin, or "the bloody way," because of the many robberies and bloodshed on this road. It is similar to the road that many of us travel on this journey through life. The Master of storytellers, Jesus, shared a parable of a man that went down that lonely road and was set upon by robbers. Jesus said that the man was set upon, i.e., beaten. The Greek language brings out that he was repeatedly beaten and brought close to death, and on top of that, he was stripped of all his clothes and left naked with his life slowly ebbing away in the hot sun. The Lord then introduced hope as he spoke of a priest coming along the same road. We don't know which way, though, the priest and Levite were traveling. They may have been going up towards Jerusalem. All those listening to Christ began to think the priest would alleviate the need. After all, a priest was well aware of certain Scriptures of what the Lord required of them. Micah the prophet had said, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). Any hopes that the story would end well with the help of the priest were quickly dashed when Jesus told the crowd that the priest deliberately avoided him and passed by on the other side of the road.
Question 4) Can you think of any reasons as to why the priest and Levite did not feel morally obligated to help this man?
For the priest, it is likely that he thought that the man was possibly dead, and if he were to touch him, he would be ritually unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11). However, his time of serving was over if he was going down to Jericho, but, as we said, he may have been going towards Jerusalem. Many a man will justify himself as to why he should not help another. Sometimes, we don't support a person in need because it will inconvenience us. Hope was introduced into the story again by a Levite also coming along, but that hope was then dashed when this man, too, passed by on the other side. If the Levite was also going toward Jerusalem, he might also have thought he would make himself unclean by touching the man. Are we ever off duty, though, in serving our fellow human beings? It’s possible that each saw it as an inconvenience, an interruption to their schedule, and were also fearful that the robbers might still be nearby. They did not want the same thing happening to them. Many of us will justify ourselves as to why it should not be us that reaches out our hand to help another.
The story was intriguing to the listeners. Who would help? What would be the outcome of the man if two of the most religious men that kept stringently to the law had passed by on the other side?
Question 5) Was there ever a time in your life when you had a need and were unable to help yourself? Did someone come to help you or was you left on your own?
As the listeners around Jesus were waiting for the hero to appear, Jesus had already relieved them of two heroes. Who would be the hero? Their minds must have been racing to think who it could be. They all would have presumed it to be an Israelite. When Jesus introduced a Samaritan into the mix, it must have shocked them. The expert in the law addressed in the midst of the crowd could probably think of many individuals with whom he worked in his ministry as a scribe and lawyer. Jesus wasn't talking, though, about how to be good enough to earn salvation, He was talking about the depth of one's love for God and another human being.
The Samaritans and the Jews hated one another. In the story, the Samaritan went to the poor man; whereas, the others had avoided him. Secondly, he treated his wounds, pouring wine as an antiseptic on the wounds. The Samaritan liberally poured the wine and did not seek to spare any for himself. He was quite lavish in his application of the cleansing and washing of the wounds. Not only that but he also poured oil upon the skin to soften and close up the wound. The Samaritan then tore up his clothes to bandage the wound. He undoubtedly saved him from death for the robbers had left him half dead (v. 30). He would not have lasted much longer, for the temperature in that region gets close to 100 degrees and above.
Thirdly, he put the man on his beast, perhaps a donkey, and walked alongside, holding him on the animal and taking him to an inn. Probably, the Samaritan would have finished his journey if he had not made the time to stop and take the man to the inn. Fourthly, he took care of him at the inn; he got him in a bed and then fed him, staying with him all night taking care of him until the next morning (v. 35). Fifthly, in the morning, he gave the innkeeper two denarii, i.e., two silver coins, enough money to keep him for two weeks with food and a bed.
The Samaritan promised the innkeeper that, when he returned that way, he would pay more if the man stayed longer. It was shocking to the Jewish listeners as this was the kind of thing that only close relatives would do. The thought that a Samaritan enemy would do it for a Jew was mind-boggling to them.
Life can be a lonely journey, and many of us have been beaten and left for dead by an enemy, Satan has met us, robbed and stripped us, wounding us in the process, and left us suffering in pain and close to death. We were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1; 5). The Law of Moses came to us but had no compassion for us, leaving us in our state and passing by on the other side. We have been found by One who was called a Samaritan by his enemies: “The Jews answered him, “Aren't we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?" (John 8:48). Our Lord Jesus has come to us and lovingly bound up our wounds, poured on us not only the wine, symbolic of joy in communion and oneness with Him, and the oil, symbolic of the Holy Spirit, but He has also shed His blood for us, thus cleansing us of all shame and guilt. He has taken care of us and put all expenses for our care to His account.
Jesus now applied the parable to the lawyer and Pharisees convicted of having passed by the general populace time and again on the other side, disdaining to help them in their heavy loads. “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:36-37). This lawyer had spent many years learning his trade of ministry with the Law of Moses, but Jesus sent him to the school of the Samaritan. This part of the story is designed to bring conviction to the lawyer—for none of us can love like this for all our lives. We are all bankrupt and in need of mercy and grace from God. The Lord Jesus shows us the standard of the glory of God, and we all fall short. No matter how good you think you are, no matter how loving, none of us have ever loved our enemies to this degree and always. This story is designed by the Lord Jesus to bring us to our knees again in recognizing our abject poverty before God, and our need of grace. Thank God He is so willing to give it!
Prayer: Father, please give us compassion for the poor and disenfranchised of the world. Could you help us to feel what they feel? Lord, I confess that I don't love in this way. I cast myself upon You to be gracious and merciful to me, for I don't love my neighbor as You have loved. I need You and Your forgiveness.