25 On 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?”
27 He 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 neighbour as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
30 In 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. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He 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. 35 The 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 neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
I’m always nervous when it comes to preparing a sermon on a passage of Scripture as well known as the parable of the Good Samaritan. Along with the story of the Prodigal Son, these are certainly the two most preached about parables that Jesus taught us.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ does not change – it is the same good news, but hopefully this morning we’ll be reminded of some of the deeper truths in this parable that we tend to miss, simply because we know the story so well.
So what is it about the parable of the Good Samaritan that makes it so popular? I suppose the easy answer is because it teaches us to care for each other. Even the non-Christian world will agree that if there were more good Samaritans around, regardless of their religion or belief system, the world would be a better place. There’s no denying that.
In fact, to call someone a Good Samaritan is a compliment – it’s a term we hear often, and even those opposed to Jesus Christ and what He stands for would have to admit that caring for others is a good thing.
The problem is though, that because this parable is so well known, and it’s message (at first glance at least) seems easy to understand, it becomes just as easy to miss what Jesus was really teaching us here.
Unfortunately the secular world has hijacked this story and taken it out of its spiritual context. The world has instead turned it into a moral statement of caring for one another, and not much else, and it ignores what Jesus was really trying to tell us.
The parable of the Good Samaritan has also become a favourite of those who advocate the “social gospel” – the belief that our faith is about social action. Now I need to point out that as the Church we are supposed to be concerned about social issues. We are meant be a voice of conscience in the world, and we are commanded to care for each other. In James 2 we’re told that it is our duty to look after orphans and widows. But merely slotting the parable of the Good Samaritan into the social gospel category and moving on is a mistake. In fact, to do so is a dreadful and tragic misrepresentation of Biblical truth.
This parable is meant to be much more than a heart-warming reminder that we’re to care for each other. When we read it and examine it properly, we’ll see that it cuts to the very heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. While Jesus’ parables may well teach us lessons about ourselves and how we should strive to be better people, the central character is Jesus - always.
I have a Bible commentary that gives this definition of a Biblical parable:
“A parable is a story describing some everyday possible occurrence, told with the fixed purpose of conveying to the hearer some higher spiritual lesson. In other words, a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” It goes on to say that the earthly part is merely the vehicle that conveys the spiritual meaning. The real lesson is the spiritual.
So bearing this in mind, what we’ll do this morning is to look at the different characters in the Parable of the Good Samaritan – what and whom they represent, and my prayer is that we will not only be reminded of our desperate need of a Saviour, but that God, in His mercy, has in fact done exactly that through Jesus. That, after all, is what Jesus intended us to hear through this parable.
The first character is the unnamed man who goes on a journey from Jerusalem to Jericho. The way Jesus tells the story implies that he was alone – not a very wise thing to do as that particular road was a notoriously dangerous road to travel alone. I’ve even heard of a sermon preached on this parable, and the main point of the entire teaching was that we should not travel dangerous roads on our own! It’s good advice, but I think its safe to say that wasn’t the main reason Jesus told the parable.
The man recklessly travels from Jerusalem to Jericho – a notorious trouble spot – and finds himself mugged and mercilessly beaten up by robbers. This is what happens to each of us on our journey through life. We have been spiritually mugged by satan, our enemy. As Jesus says in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”
We need to be careful of shirking our responsibilities here, because we are personally accountable for many of the bad choices and unwise decisions we make in our lives, but the fact that satan mercilessly and consistently attacks us as we journey through life’s trouble spots does not help.
As the man in the parable very quickly learned, and we also learn sooner or later, we are helpless to save ourselves, and we desperately need a Saviour.
The next character we meet is the priest who, on seeing the man left for dead, walks past on the other side of the road. Our first reaction is to be horrified. A priest is a man who is supposed to know better after all, but the real message here is not that a man of the cloth couldn’t be bothered to help someone in need. It’s about what he represents and the futility of trusting those things alone. In this parable, the priest represents religion and religious rituals. But religion in itself means nothing. I wonder how many people all over the world go to Church buildings Sunday after Sunday, believing that their religion and their rituals will save them?
There’s this mistaken idea that religion will save us, but this is what the Lord has to say about meaningless rituals, and if His words feel a bit like a slap in the face, that’s precisely what He intended: “The multitude of your sacrifices - what are they to me? I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations - I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.” (Isaiah 1:11-15)
What all of this means in the context of our parable today, is that when you find yourself in desperate need of a Saviour, and close to death, reaching out to religion and rituals will not help you. Religion will simply cross over to the other side of the road, leaving you helpless.
Then we meet the Levite. The book of Leviticus in the Old Testament is where God first introduces us to the Law. Ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden, mankind had been separated from God. He is holy and we are not, and as God introduced the law, and more specifically the sacrificial system, we began to take the first steps back towards the holiness of God. Keeping the law of God is a good thing. Living according to the Ten Commandments is wonderful. There’s just a small problem though – we are incapable of keeping God’s laws.
And even keeping most of them is also an exercise in futility, as James 2:10 teaches us: “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”
I know I have mentioned this before, but I was talking to someone about our need for Jesus a number of years ago, and he simply could not see his need for a Saviour, as he spoke the words that have been spoken by countless people for generations: “I try to live a good life. My goal is to live according to the Ten Commandments, and although I do occasionally slip up, I am basically a good person, and I refuse to believe that a loving God would send anyone to hell.”
These words may sound quite noble, and we would all agree that trying to do the right thing is good, and again, the world would be a better place if we all tried to live like that, but beneath that statement is nothing more than spiritual pride and arrogance. It is looking at the Cross of Calvary, looking at the offer of mercy and forgiveness, and saying, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m a good person, and I can do this on my own.” We think that using the name Jesus as a swearword is blasphemy, but rejecting His offer to die in our place and taking our punishment on Himself is the ultimate and final blasphemy.
So why is there a Levite in this parable?
In Galatians 3:19 Paul writes “What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.” The Seed in this verse is Jesus, and we’ll get onto that in a moment, but look at the sequence of events in the first part of this verse: The law was added because of transgressions. Sin came first, and then came the law. It’s crucial that we understand this because this answers the question Paul asks in Galatians 3:19 – “What then, was the purpose of the law?”
Romans 3:20 also helps to clear up this question: “No-one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”
Essentially what Paul is saying here is that even though it may sound like a noble thing to keep the law, all it really does is make us aware of our total lack of ability to do so in the first place. God’s Law is good, and holy and perfect, but because sinners are incapable of keeping the law, all it does is expose our sin, and our desperate need of a Saviour.
And just as the Levite walked past the man in our parable, so too will our futile attempts to keep the law desert us in our hour of greatest need.
The priest and the Levite represent our religious rituals and our futile attempts to uphold the law. They will cross over to the other side of the road and leave us for dead. They will not help us. All they do is confirm our need of a Saviour, a true Good Samaritan.
And this person is of course, Jesus.
He is the stranger on the road, the person we don’t even realise we need until our own attempts at salvation fail us. He is the One who sees us in our need, and who at great personal cost to Himself rescues us and sees that we are cared for. Our true Good Samaritan is the one who binds up our wounds, heals our spiritually broken hearts, and does what is necessary to protect us forever from the enemy. On the Cross of Calvary, He bore the full weight of responsibility for us even though we have done nothing to deserve His favour.
The non-believing world is completely oblivious to the fact that each and every human being is the man lying helpless on the road. By God’s grace He has opened our eyes to the truth that we were lost and without hope, and praise be to God - now we are found.
Our Good Samaritan has rescued us. Sin has destroyed us, and has separated us from God forever, but the good news is that in Christ we have someone who is capable of rescuing us and carrying us home.
It’s interesting that in the parable the Samaritan takes the man to an inn. The inn here is a picture of the Church. The Church is a gift from God to us. It is the place of refuge where our wounds are able to heal until He returns to finally take us where we’ve always belonged – home with Him. The Samaritan gave the innkeeper enough money to care for the man. By His Spirit, Jesus has given the Church what is necessary for us to care for each other until He returns. So the message of caring for each other remains valid. We have a huge privilege and responsibility to care for each other within the Church as our spiritual wounds heal, and as Jesus said in His parable, we are to do likewise – we are to bring others into the Church too. The Samaritan left enough for the man to be cared for, and promised to return with more if needed. And Jesus continually provides the Church with what it needs to carry out its ministry and He will return to make sure that His instructions have been complied with.
So the gospel is in this story, and that was what Jesus has always intended for us to see in this parable. The scene is set at the very beginning, before Jesus even tells the story. A man, an expert in the Law, addresses Jesus as ‘Teacher’. In the original text he would have used the name ‘Rabbi’. A Rabbi was a religious teacher. So the man was a legal, religious person, which is precisely why Jesus put a Levite and a priest into the parable.
The question the man asked Jesus is also important, as it helps set the scene for the rest of the story: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
His question wasn’t about how we are to treat others at all. What this means is that too often we have missed the main point of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, because we have regarded it as a social lesson, rather than a lesson on eternal life.
The whole thrust of the passage is the questioning of Jesus by a religious law-keeper who wants to know how he can get to heaven. That’s what he really wanted to know. And what does Jesus do? He responds by telling him a story that confirms his worst fears. The standard required for eternal life is perfection. Nothing else will do. And we can assume that the reaction of the crowd who also heard this parable would have been the same as those who heard Jesus teaching in John 6: “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” They would have heard the parable, made the connection with and understood the significance of the Levite and the priest in the story, and would have said, “this is impossible”. And that is the point.
We cannot justify ourselves. We cannot save ourselves. Our well-meaning attempts at following religious rituals and habits and our determination to do the right thing and earn God’s favour by keeping His laws are ultimately doomed to fail. When we need those things most to save us, we will see them crossing over to the other side of the road, and they will not help us.
We need a Saviour. We need a Good Samaritan, we need someone who will take us into His heart, rescue us and do whatever is necessary to save us. The Cross of Calvary was necessary in order to save us, and that is why He went to the Cross. In John 10:17-18 Jesus said, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life, only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Jesus is our Good Samaritan. We can trust in our good works for salvation or we can trust in Jesus for our salvation. The message is clear. Trusting in our works will not get us anywhere near the Kingdom of God.
Trusting in Jesus is what brings us to heaven. Nothing else will do.
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Luke 10:25-37
This parable is undoubtedly one of the most popular of Jesus’ teachings, and is known and loved both inside and outside of the Church.
Why do you believe this parable is so popular, despite the fact that it challenges our prejudices and selfishness?
A point made on Sunday was that the secular world has hijacked this parable and taken it out of its spiritual context. Do you agree? Why, or why not?
Discuss in your group the different characters in the parable: the traveller, Levite, priest and Samaritan. How have you traditionally understood the roles each of these people play in the parable?
On Sunday we were challenged to try and see the parable as Jesus intended it to be heard – a representation of the truth that salvation is available through Jesus alone, and not through our attempts at keeping the law and doing good works. Look again at the question Jesus is asked in verse 25, as this question sets the scene for the rest of the story.
In which ways do you see the roles of the people in the parable differently?
Using the parable of the Good Samaritan as a foundation or a backdrop, discuss Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:8-9. In which ways do you see the doctrine of grace versus works in the parable?
Close by praying for each other.
Ask that the Lord would give us a deeper understanding of the truth in Scripture, and that we’d be able to break through what we think the Word says and see the true meaning of His Word