WHERE YOUR HEART IS, PART 5
by Pastor Mike Fortune
March 7, 2009
- It costs something to be a neighbor [Luke 10:25-30; Leviticus 18:5; Romans 3:20]
- Jesus paid that cost [Luke 10:31-33; Leviticus 21:1-3; Philippians 2:5-8]
- Making everyone our neighbor [Luke 10:34-37; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Hebrews 13:20-21]
In 1993 a mountaineer named Greg Mortenson drifted into an impoverished Pakistan village in the Western Himalayan mountains of Karakoram after a failed attempt to climb K2. Moved by the inhabitants’ kindness, he promised to return and build a school. Three Cups of Tea is the New York Times best seller that tells the story of that promise and its extraordinary outcome. Long story short: Over the next decade Mortenson built not just one, but fifty-five schools—especially for girls—in the most forbidding terrain whose caves and hiding places still shield the Taliban. His willingness to do so reminds us that it costs something to be a neighbor. But it’s worth the cost.
At least Haji Ali, Chief of the Korphe Village in the Karakoram Mountains of Pakistan thinks so. “Here in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” he says, “We drink three cups of tea to do business; the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything—even die.” And THAT is what Jesus did for us. It cost him His life to be our neighbor. Which you may have heard before. But probably not in the way Luke actually says so. So before we go any further, let’s open our Bibles to Luke 10:25-37.
We’re concluding our sermon series Where Your Heart Is with Part 5 today. If you missed any of the presentations in Parts 1-4, I plead with you to go read, watch, or listen to them on our church website: toledofirstadventist.org. I believe the Biblical content of this series is extremely important to us as a church family—not only because of anticipated changes in giving trends and the tanking economy, but because the demands of growing in grace require it [2 Peter 3:14-18].
Which is really the motivating factor for this series. Because it’s not like I’m the one asking for living sacrifices instead of occasional offerings. That would be God in Romans 12:1-3. I’m not the one demanding we share our passions and live prioritized lives. That would be Jesus in Matthew 6:33. Though it sometimes sounds like pastors are always asking you for money, the most egregious of us actually ask far less than God does because there are over 2,500 verses about money in the Bible. Such as Deuteronomy 8:17-18 or Matthew 23:23 or Hebrews 7:8 for example.
It costs something to be a neighbor
So yes, grace demands stuff about our time, talents, and treasure so I make no apology about that. Why? Because it costs something to be a neighbor. And this is point number one today. So let’s see if that becomes obvious to you as well. Luke 10:25-37 says, “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." 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."
Sometimes we forget the point of the parables Jesus tells. We get so wrapped up in their simple but challenging words that we forget why Jesus is saying anything at all. But in this case, some scholars think the story Jesus tells wasn’t a parable at all—though all the people in the hospitals named after it probably don’t know that and neither do the lawyers that pen the Good Samaritan laws still in use today requiring nurses and doctors for example to stop at a car accident to make sure their medical skills aren’t required.
But apparently, this story actually happened. Because Luke 19:30 says “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho...” Which has led some scholars to suggest that Jesus rips a story right out of the headlines everyone was familiar with to teach some startling things about salvation even the wisest religious rulers were not familiar with. Verse 25 says, “An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.” And he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
The Good Samaritan story is about salvation
Please note: Salvation is the context of the story of the Good Samaritan. This is not primarily a story illustrating Godliness being a virtue or that Jesus was a community organizer or that grace demands of Christians the relentless pursuit of social justice on this earth. The point I hear Jesus making first and foremost is that this story is supposed to teach us how we’re saved. Because if we don’t remember that, none of this other good neighbor stuff is gonna matter. Now or ever.
Now maybe you’ve heard there’s no such thing as a stupid question. Well, apparently there is. Because the lawyer’s question reveals the fact that his understanding of salvation is flawed. We know this is true because in the Greek, the emphasis in the lawyer’s question is placed on the ongoing doing. And still today, we are tempted to think that our ongoing doing of good things is how we’re saved or how we stay that way. But coming to such a conclusion would not only be premature, it would be inaccurate, pretty much doing away with any need of the cross.
But being a good rabbi, Jesus diplomatically answers the question with a question. Verse 26 says, “What is written in the law?” Quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, the lawyer replies, “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.” These were words recited by every devout Jew morning and evening as a part of the Shema—not just experts in the law. And Jesus agrees with him. “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replies in verse 28. “Do this and you will live.” Or according to the Greek, “Keep on doing this” and you will live.
The only problem was nobody was perfectly doing that much less continuing to do so. Even though Leviticus 18:5 says they should be. “5 Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.” But how well were they doing at keeping them? Not very well! That’s why Paul, very much an expert in the law according to his own words in Philippians 3:5, says in Romans 2:17 in addition to verses 21-24, “17Now you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; 21you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? 23You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24As it is written: ‘God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’”
We need a Savior
And deep down inside, this lawyer knew he wasn’t perfectly obeying God’s law or keeping His commandments. But like the rich young ruler we studied a few weeks ago, he was reluctant to admit this fact—even to himself. Therefore, partly as a means of evading the demands of grace, he tries to “justify himself.” Which is an oxymoron. Think about that for a minute. How can sinners justify ourselves? It’s impossible! It cannot be done. Why? Because we don’t need a system, we need a Savior! We don’t need a resume, we need a Redeemer! That’s why Romans 3:20 states, “20Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” So our most sincere commandment keeping, our best obedience, or our continued “keep on doing” in the Greek of Luke 10:28 cannot save us.
But this expert in the law didn’t get point number one or point number two: That it costs something to be a neighbor. And that Jesus would pay that cost. So to help understand that and to help us remember that, Jesus tells a story nearly everyone had already heard. Luke 19:30 says, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho...” And from Jerusalem, it literally is downhill to Jericho since Jerusalem is more than 2500 feet above sea level and 17 miles away Jericho is 700 feet below sea level. In between is some of the wildest country of the Wadi Qelt—the name of the dry, barren, uninhabited hills of the Wilderness of Judah through which there was one main road. At one point the main road narrows into a rocky passage filled with caves and hiding places for robbers to hide. And this was apparently the place everybody heard some “certain man” got mugged.
But this wasn’t just an ordinary mugging. With outlaws who demanded money or watches before fleeing. The Bible says in Luke 10:30 that they stripped the man of his clothes. Which means they left him naked. Or nearly naked. Which was humiliating enough. But it also says they beat him. Left him alone. And half dead [which is an important distinction within Judaism we’ll talk about in a minute.] But when I read verses 31-33 in the past, I confess I always associated the guy getting beat up with Jesus who also got beat up. Isaiah 53:7 describes the suffering servant as “oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. He was “pierced”, “crushed”, taken away”, and “cut off.”
But then I started thinking about this Samaritan. He traveled. He came to where the mugged man was. He saw him. He took pity on him. He went to him. He bandaged him. He gave him clothes. He poured oil and wine on him. He put the man on a donkey. He took him to an inn. He took care of him. He paid the cost of all his expenses. He left him with the inn keeper. Whom he apparently knew. He promised to return.
We are the guy in the ditch
And when I compared the guy in the ditch with the Samaritan, I realized that I had read this story wrong for a long time. Because the Samaritan has way more in common with Jesus than the guy in the ditch. Which means we’re the guy in the ditch. We’re the mugged man unable to save ourselves. And when we neglect to see ourselves that way, we often neglect to see others that way.
We are never more Christian than when we feel another’s hurt and seek to help. But when we fail to do so, it makes us more like the rich young ruler and the experts in the law mistakenly convinced our righteousness or commandment keeping makes us worthy of salvation. And that’s why the Levite and the priest didn’t touch a half dead man. Because Numbers 19:11 says, “Whoever touches the dead body of anyone will be unclean for seven days.” And verse 13 adds, “Whoever touches the dead body of anyone and fails to purify himself defiles the LORD’s tabernacle.”
Jesus came to save us
But here’s the thing: The guy isn’t half dead. He’s half alive. Neither the priest or the Levite would’ve been banned from going back up to Jerusalem the next day to continue serving in the sanctuary because the guy wasn’t dead. He just looked dead. But here’s the coolest part: Jesus, though knowing we actually were dead [Romans 5:14 says “Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses...”] hopelessly lost without him, unable to save ourselves, our heavenly high priest [Hebrews 5:15] came to die for us!
Leviticus 21:1-3 said, “A priest must not make himself ceremonially unclean for any of his people who die, 2 except for a close relative, such as his mother or father, his son or daughter, his brother, 3 or an unmarried sister who is dependent on him since she has no husband—for her he may make himself unclean.” But our heavenly high priest came anyway! Whether we’re Jew or Gentile, half dead or barely alive, Jesus came anyway! He was willing to make Himself unclean because He loves us like crazy! Hebrews 2 11 says, “Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers!” Philippians 2:6-8 adds, “Being in very nature God, [He] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped [or held on to], 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
Which means to me that Jesus tithed his time. By actually entering it. By being born as a baby, raised by earthly parents, learning a trade, and waiting until he was 30 years old, like every other Jewish apprentice, to enter the workforce. But during his life on earth I think Jesus also tithed his talents. So much so that He embraced the accusation that He was an illegitimate “Son of a Man” and wore it as a badge of honor identifying Him with us forever. He healed and prayed all day and all night. Jesus never lived a balanced life. He lived a prioritized life. Tithing his talents throughout each one.
But I think Jesus also tithed his treasure. Not holding onto His title as God, not staying in heaven with the streets of gold and unimaginable glory no eye has seen nor ear heard [1 Corinthians 2:9] and came to this earth and as Isaiah 53:12 says actually “Poured out His life unto death.” Jesus wasn’t half dead on the cross. He was completely dead. Thoroughly spent. So much so that he died before the other two criminals crucified beside him. So much so that He couldn’t carry His own cross—so Simon had to help him. He used Himself all up. He spent everything He had. It cost Him everything to be our neighbor.
You can do nothing to save yourself
So the answer to the lawyer’s question about what must I do to be saved is: You can do nothing to be saved. Because you’re the guy in the ditch! The answer to the question about who is my neighbor is: anyone who needs help! Whether they’re Jew or Gentile. Clothed or naked. Clean or dirty. Half dead or half alive. In Afghanistan or Toledo. Because Jesus made everyone our neighbor! We are never more Christian than when we feel another’s hurt and seek to help.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15 says it this way: “14For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” That’s the right motivation. Do we tithe our time, talents, and treasure so we can be saved or stay that way? No! We do this because Christ’s love compels us! Because we have no other option! Because the resurrected Christ so dwells in us that we pour out our lives unto death without a second thought.
Christ's love compels us to be everyone's neighbor
We don’t keep track of our time, we spend it all every day. We don’t do the least we can for the least of these, we do the most we can for the least of these. With the very finest Toledo First hospitality and grace has to offer. We don’t think about how much to keep, we think about how much we have to give! But we don’t do any of this to become orthodox or ceremonially clean or to stay saved, we cheerfully do so because we are saved.
For Christians whose love for Christ compels us, the question is never: Who is my neighbor? The question is: To whom can I be a neighbor? Because point number one: It costs something to be a neighbor. But point number two: Jesus paid that cost. And because He did, point number three, Christ’s love compels us to be everyone’s neighbor. Whether they’re in Afghanistan or Toledo. Half dead or half alive.
Hebrews 13:20-21 concludes, “20May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” So my Toledo First family, will we surrender all?