July 10, 2016

Rev. Mark F. Bartels

Old Testament Lesson; Deuteronomy 30:9-14

Epistle Lesson; Colossians 1:1-14

Sermon Text; Luke 10:25-37

(Pastor Mark, since the reader does not have a Service Guide, we may want to skip this next sentence and future references to it.)I am going to have you get your service guide out, to page 5.

I am going to ask you a question. Maybe you have seen a picture of someone who kissed the cross, or the crucifix. I have seen that. Have you ever seen anybody put their lips to The Ten Commandments, and kiss The Ten Commandments? I have never seen that. Well, they are both God's Word. The Good News of what Jesus did to save us, that is part of God's Word. The Law, where God tells us what to do, and what not to do, that is part of God's Word, too. So, why do we feel like kissing the Gospel, but the Law, we have a tendency not to want to kiss? That is what today's scripture reading really is all about. In today's scripture reading, it confronts the fact that most of the world has this tendency to believe the answer to the question, “How do I get to Heaven?”, is this.

“I get to Heaven by keeping God's Law.”

       -“If I am good enough, if I can keep The Law well enough, if there is more good in my life than there is bad in my life, then I can get to Heaven by what I do.”

Maybe we compare ourselves to other people.

       -“If I am better than these people, then I can get to Heaven by what I do.”

That is what we call, Works Righteousness. “I get to Heaven by my works.”

In Jesus' day, it was the predominate teaching in the Land of Judah, that the way to get to Heaven was by what you do, by your good works, by keeping God's Law.

When Jesus came, the religious leaders felt like Jesus was minimizing The Law, like Jesus was saying The Law wasn't important. For example, Jesus would heal people on the Sabbath Day. The Jewish leaders felt like Jesus was minimizing The Third Commandment. They felt like healing on the Sabbath Day was working on the Sabbath Day, and Jesus was downplaying The Law.

Jesus talked more about forgiveness, than He did about keeping God's Law. And so, the Jewish leaders were very concerned that Jesus was somehow downplaying, or minimizing The Law.

Which takes us to today's scripture reading. Here is how it begins.

“And behold a (what?)

a lawyer...”

Now, this is somebody who studied The Law. This type of lawyer wasn't the guy down the street who was in to real estate law, or estate planning. This was a lawyer of The Old Testament, who had studied all of The Old Testament Laws, knew The Ten Commandments backwards and forwards, knew all of the Ceremonial Laws, all of the Civil Laws, all the Traditional Laws of the Jewish people.

So, this 'lawyer stood up to put Him, (to put Jesus) to the test, saying, “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?'”

They thought Jesus was minimizing The Law, and this man stands up to put Jesus to the test. He wanted to see where Jesus stands, when it comes to The Law.

Jesus, masterfully, (because this man was trying to trap Jesus), Jesus masterfully turns the tables, and answers the question by asking a question. He is going to let this man, who is trying to trap Jesus, He is going to let this man trap himself. Here is what Jesus said.

“What is written in The Law?

How do you read it?”

So, the man has just asked Jesus the most important question in the world, and he has asked the right person.

“How do I get to Heaven?”

Jesus knows this man thinks you can get there by keeping the Law. So, Jesus asked him,

“What is written in The Law?

How do you read it?”

This man, this lawyer, gives a fantastic answer. Listen to what he says. This man shows he truly is an expert in The Law, because the answer he gives is a beautiful summary of The Ten Commandments.

“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.”

Now, those two, little, sentences summarize the entire Ten Commandments.

       -The First Table of the Law are the first three commandments. They tell us our duty toward God.

       -The last seven commandments tell us our duty to our neighbor.

And so, the man gives this masterful summary of God's Law. Interestingly, he shows he understands this is not just about your actions. It is also about what is going on in the heart, because what does he say? The Law is about love, and he says,

“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.”

Now, listen to Jesus' answer to him, and tell me if Jesus in any way minimizes The Law. What you are going to discover is Jesus maximizes The Law. He puts heavy, heavy weight on The Law. He says, “You have answered correctly.”

The man just asked, “How do I get to Heaven?”

And Jesus asked him, “Well, what do you think?”

So the man replied,

“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.”

Jesus said,

“You have answered correctly.”

That is how you get to Heaven. Then He said,

“ this, and you will live.”

You notice, Jesus did not say, “Do this as best as you can, and you will live”. He doesn't say, “Try to do this, and you will live”. He doesn't say, “Do it better than most people, and you will get to Heaven”. He doesn't say, “Do it 50%, or “75%, or “99% of the time”.

He says,

“ this and you will live.”

If you can love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, all your strength, all your mind, and you can love your neighbor as yourself, you will be perfect. And, you deserve to be in Heaven. So Jesus is telling the man, “Do it, but not just partially. Do it 100%”. That doesn't just mean come to church, sit in church, and listen to the Word. It means with all your heart. Wrap your heart around every word, with all your mind, and soak it in. Then, walk out of here, with all your thoughts, everything, all of it! It is a priority, always around God, His Word, what He says, and what He does, throughout your life. When you wake up in the morning, it is the first thing you are thinking about. It is everything you are thinking about. Do that all of the time, with all your heart, with all your strength, all your soul, and all of your mind, and you will get to Heaven.

And, not only that but,

“ your neighbor, as yourself.”

How do you love yourself? Whenever you need something, or you are in trouble, or you are sad, or lonely, you are always there trying to take care of yourself, somehow. So, whenever you see anybody in any situation where you would want help, or you would have a need, be there and take care of them, just the way you would take care of yourself. Jesus says, “Do that. Do that perfectly, 100% of the time, and you will get to Heaven.”
I want you to see what starts to happen, all of a sudden, with this lawyer, who thought he could get to Heaven by keeping God's Law. Jesus maximizes it, when He says, “Do it perfectly, and you will get to Heaven.” The man, all of a sudden, starts to back paddle. Now he wants to minimize God's Law. It says,

But he, desiring to justify himself, (because he starts to realize, “I can't do that perfectly”), said to Jesus, “And, who is my neighbor?” “I can't love everybody, everybody the way I love myself.”

I want you to see what Jesus does, next. Jesus now continues what I am going to call, maximizing The Law. He is going to show him, “If you want to get to Heaven by keeping God's Law, here is what it means to love your neighbor”.

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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 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. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.'

“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
The man had asked Jesus,

“And who is my neighbor?”

So, Jesus tells this parable that we know as the parable of The Good Samaritan. I want you to see what Jesus is doing in this parable. He is maximizing The Law. As religious people, (and Jesus was speaking to a religious man, and we are also religious people), sometimes we have a tendency to say there are some people who we have a good excuse not to help. We make excuses for not helping our neighbor. Jesus, here is saying, “Anybody who is in need, anybody who God puts in your path, and is in need, is your neighbor.

One by one, Jesus knocks out every excuse you could think of, as to why you should not help some particular person.

       -First of all, one of the excuses we often come up with, as to why we might not help a particular person is this. That person has been mean and cruel to me. “That person has treated me with disdain.” “That person has been so unkind.” “That person has called me a bigot.” “They have called me a homophobe.” “They have called me stupid.” “They have called me chauvinist.” “They have called me a 'Bible thumping Bible believer'.” “Why in the world would I help someone like that, when they have been so unkind to me?”

Listen to what Jesus says, here. He says a Samaritan helped this Jewish man who had fallen among robbers. Who were the Samaritans? The Samaritans were hated by the Jews. 500 or 600 years earlier, when the Jews were in Babylonian captivity, some of the Jews stayed behind in the Land of Israel, and they ended up interbreeding. Those people were known as the Samaritans. They were considered half-breeds. They had part of the Jewish religion, but they had other religions involved with their religion. And, the Jewish people hated the Samaritans. They hated them. In fact, one day when Jesus was preaching, some of the leaders accused Him of two things. They said, “You are demon possessed, and you are a Samaritan.” That was like, “Whoa, you just called Jesus a Samaritan!” They hated the Samaritans.

So, along comes a Samaritan, who has been mistreated by the Jewish people. They are mean to him, cruel to him, unkind to him. And, he is the one who has compassion on this man who is laying half dead. The question is:

“Who is your neighbor?”

It is even those who are cruel, mean, unkind to you in any way, whatsoever.

       -The next excuse we may often come up with is this: I am not going to help that person, because they got themselves into their own problem. They should have known better. “They should have known better, than go out drinking like that. Now they got themselves into this situation.” “They should have known better, than to have an affair with somebody. This is their problem.” “They should have known better, than waste all of their money on gambling. Now, look at what has happened to their lives.” “It is their own stupidity that got them into this, so why would I help that person?”

Jesus said this man was traveling, the man who fell among robbers, he was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. That way, that particular road, was called, The Way of Blood. It was a very dangerous way to go. If you traveled on that road, you knew, “If I am going on that road, I better take some companions with me. It is dangerous, because there are robbers and thieves on that road.” Or, you waited, until the Roman soldiers went, and then you went with the Roman soldiers.

But, this man went all by himself, and he fell among thieves. It was his own fault, his own problem, his own stupidity, that got him into this situation.

But, the Samaritan didn't walk by, and say, “Well, it is your own fault”. He stopped, and helped.

“Who is my neighbor?

Who is my neighbor?”

       -The next excuse we often come up with is: I would help that person, but there are other people. That is their job to help them. “Isn't it the government's job to help the people who are in need?” “Isn't that the churches' job to help people in need?” “Isn't it the pastor's job to help people who are in need?”

What happened to this man, who had been robbed, and was laying on the ground half dead? The people who should have helped him, were the priest, and the Levite. They both worked in the church, and they received alms, that is offerings. Part of their job was to use those offerings to help people in need, but they passed right by that man who was laying on the ground. They didn't help him.

But, the Samaritan didn't stop and say, “Well, the priest should have helped him. The Levite should have helped him. That is not my job. Other people should be doing that.” He took personal responsibility, even though there could have been other people out there to help.

“Who is my neighbor?”
       -The next excuse we sometimes use is this: I would help that person, if I could afford it. “That is going to cost a lot of money to help that person.” “I might have to change my standard of living, if I were to help that person.” “I might have to give up my 400 channels I have on my TV.” Or, “I might have to give up something, like how many times I go out to eat each week.”

This man, this Samaritan, didn't count the cost. He said, “I am going to help that man.” He picked him up, put him on his own animal, took him to an inn. He paid 2 denarii, which is 2 days wages. That would be several hundred dollars to have him taken care of. Then, he went on his way, and told the innkeeper, “You take care of him. You do whatever it takes to get him better. I will come back, and I will pay the bill, whatever it is.” He didn't question how this was going to affect his standard of living, or his life. He didn't question any of that. He just said, “I am going to help this man in need.”

“Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus was telling this Teacher of the Law, “If you want to get to Heaven, by keeping The Law, then you need to keep it perfectly. That means there are no excuses. It doesn't matter, if that person is your enemy, and they are the cruelest person in the world. It doesn't matter, if they got into the trouble by themselves. It doesn't matter what it is going to cost you. It doesn't matter. You help that person.” In fact, Jesus said this to the lawyer.

“Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

The lawyer answered, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Jesus said to him,

“You go, and do likewise.”

You see, that is why we don't kiss The Law, because when I look at The Law, I am convicted. I can't do that. I cannot do that. I cannot love people the way Jesus demands in that parable. It is impossible, because of my sinful nature. I could never get to Heaven that way. That is what Jesus is showing this Teacher of the Law.

But, that is why we kiss the Gospel, because there is a different way to get to Heaven. The different way to get to Heaven is not by keeping The Law, but it is by what Jesus has done for us.

We see Jesus hidden inside this parable. He hides Himself in the parable. You are the one in the parable who has fallen among thieves, and you are lying there half dead. The thieves you have fallen among are the devil, and all of his evil angels. They have caused you to fall into sin, and now you deserve nothing. You are half dead, and you are almost on your way to Hell. But, there is a Good Samaritan who stops to help you.

That Good Samaritan is Jesus.

Jesus doesn't make any excuses,

as to why He should not help you.

Oh, He could make excuses. He could say, “Father, these people are my enemies. He is my enemy. He was born in sin. He loves what is evil, and hates what is good. They are going to spit on me. They are going to mock me. They are going to beat me. Why would I help them?”

The key word in this parable is, “he had compassion”.

He had mercy.

He didn't make any excuses in helping you. Jesus doesn't say, “Well, it is your own stupidity that got you into this situation. You should have known what would happen, if you went out drinking, or you did this, or you did that”.

Jesus comes down,

and in His mercy, He helps us.

Jesus doesn't say, “Other people can help”.

There is nobody else that can help. He is the only One who can do it.

And, Jesus didn't say, “It is going to cost too much. It is going to cost me just too much to help you”.

He had mercy.

       -And, even though it cost Him everything,

       -and He knew we would spit at Him, mock Him, beat Him, nail Him to the tree,

       -even though He knew many people in this world would never believe,

       -even though He knew many people would use His forgiveness as license to sin,

none of that stopped Jesus from coming, and being the One who helped us in our deepest need.

It is only because of what Jesus has done for us. He is the true, Good Samaritan, who helped us in our deepest need. That is the only way we can get to Heaven. There is a Bible passage in the book of Romans that says,

“Therefore, no one will be declared righteous in His sight

by observing The Law.”

That is not how we get to Heaven. It says,

“Rather, through The Law,

we become conscious of sin.”

I see my sin, when I look at The Law.

But then it says,

“But now a righteousness from God,

apart from Law

has been made known

to which The Law and the prophets testify.

This righteousness from God

comes through faith in Christ Jesus

to all who believe.

There is no difference.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

and are justified freely,

justified freely by His grace

through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

The Teacher of the Law tried to justify himself. We can't do that. We are justified, we are declared not guilty, because of what Jesus did.

How do you say “Thank you,” for that? How do you say, “Thank you,” for what Jesus has done for us? We do it by striving to love our neighbor, not because we have to, not because we are forced to, not because we are compelled to, not because we feel guilty, not because that is what is going to get us into Heaven. We are going to Heaven, because of what Jesus did, and we say, “Thank you,” to Jesus by loving our neighbor the way we love ourselves.

One of the things we should consider as a congregation is this. When a visitor comes here to Holy Cross, they are coming into a place where God's people are. How do I know God's people are here? Well, the marks of the church are this. Wherever The Word is taught in its truth and purity, and the Sacraments of Baptism and The Lord's Supper are rightly administered, there the Holy Spirit is working, there He is creating faith in people's hearts, and there are God's people.

God's people are in this place. How does a visitor know that, when they come here? Faith changes hearts. It changes hearts. When they come to this place, do they see that you love them, as you love yourself?

Thank God, Jesus loves us, and we are forgiven. With His help, let us love our neighbor, as our self.