Moving Toward Misery: The Call of the Jericho Road (Mark Sermon 67)
November 12, 2023 | Andy Davis
Brotherly Love, Boldness & Courage, Humiliation of Christ
Every moment of the day, Jesus Christ's call to us is to pour ourselves out in service to the needy, deny and spend ourselves for them, and love them as we love ourselves.
- Sermon Transcript -
The scripture tells us that all of creation is groaning because of human sin, groaning through its endless bondage to decay and death. But the groaning of nature is nothing compared to the groaning that sin has caused among the human race itself. I can hardly imagine what it must be like for the perfectly compassionate God to hear those groans 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Bible tells us that God saw the miseries of Israel when they were in bondage in Egypt. He heard their groaning because of their task master's lash, and we are told He was deeply concerned about them. It's a picture of the compassion of God. Then after saving Israel from slavery in Egypt, He taught them not to oppress their neighbor, because then their neighbor would cry out to him. Exodus 22:27 - "And If he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate."
How costly has human sin been? How many times have people rebelled against the Second Great Commandment that we are studying this morning, and have not loved their neighbor as themselves? How many groans have gone up as a result? Not only so, but our general human condition, caused by Adam’s fall into sin, has resulted in miseries, not caused by any direct evil human choice, but they're just part of our fallen condition.
Diseases, like cancer, leave people groaning in hospital wards all over the world. Natural disasters, like hurricanes, and tornadoes, and floods, have wiped out crops, and destroyed homes, and taken lives, and left misery and groaning in their wake. God heard the collective groan of pain and suffering from the human race, and in mercy He moved toward misery. Out of compassion, He moved toward misery. He sent his beloved son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to enter this world, fully-human in the incarnation, to make his dwelling among us, and to share our sorrows. Jesus, in mercy, moved toward misery, and now He's calling on his people to do the same.
Our tendency, naturally, is to flee misery, to run away from it, to avoid it. In our society, there are so-called first responders who are paid by our society to move toward misery, to move toward the car accident, to move toward the fire, to move toward the flood, to move toward the bomb threat, to move toward the collapsed building, but most everyone else instinctively flees. Jesus, in the Second Great Commandment, especially in the parable of the Good Samaritan, has commanded his people, in mercy, to move toward misery, and to alleviate it. That is the call of the Jericho Road that's in front of us this morning. It’s exactly the opposite of our self-saving, self-serving nature. We desire to be insulated from suffering. We desire to move through this world of pain with as little personal pain as possible, until we finally escape it, and go to heaven, a world free from all death, mourning, crying, and pain.
I remember well, a number of years ago, the first time I was ever out of the country, riding through the streets of Mombasa, in Kenya, my first overseas mission trip. It was the last week of a summer-long trip. We were staying in a comfortable resort right on the Indian Ocean. Some of us wanted to see the city, Mombasa, and so we were touring, in some of the poorer districts of Mombasa, in a brand new air-conditioned van. That was nothing unusual for any of us Americans. We're used to air-conditioned vans. What was new for me, anyway, was the site of urban poverty in a country not our own, another country. I had never seen poverty like that in all my life. The more streets that we drove down, the more uncomfortable I became with what I was seeing. The shocking disparity I saw between what I know to be my life, the life I'm used to, and what I was seeing through the tinted glass in that air-conditioned van ride. It also became a symbol of the way that I was making my way through this world, that that air-conditioned van ride, that bubble of security, was the way I honestly wanted to move through this misery-filled world, to be in a different way of understanding this phrase: “In the world, but not of it.” It's like, that has nothing to do with me, and I've been convicted ever since of that tendency.
I had a second experience a year later, when I was in Pakistan, my second time out of the country. I was on a team, at that point, that summer, ministering. It was 1987. We were ministering to refugees who had fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan.They fled because of the Russian invasion in that summer of 1987. Again, I had never seen poverty like that in all my life. As a matter of fact, they're still the most destitute people I've ever seen in my life. They had literally nothing, except the clothing that they were wearing. Because they had fled for their lives, they brought nothing with them. Most of them had recently lost loved ones, violently, to the ravages of war. They had a haunted, and terror-filled look on their faces. They were squatting in a desolate area, across the border, in Pakistan. They were barely tolerated by the Pakistani government. They were basically ignored by the local Pakistani population, and they made an impact on me. But it wasn't really even them that I have in mind. It was a later experience I had in that city, Peshawar. We were going through the streets of the city, and we became accustomed to being accosted by beggars in ways that we don't really face here in our culture. They would come up to us, and pathetically point to their mouths, and to their stomachs, indicating that they were hungry. They were starving to death.
The missionaries that we're working with told us that there were professional begging syndicates that used women, children, cripples. They were organized by strong men, similar to the way pimps work with prostitutes in our country. The missionaries didn't seem that concerned. They'd been in that country for decades, and it just wasn't something they were really that worried about, but they saw our unease with the topic of beggars, and they suggested, "Well, why don't you just go buy some naan", which is that beautiful flat bread in one of the bakeries. “Just carry it with you, around, and as you do your work, and then as they come up and point to their mouths, and their stomachs, you can give them food, immediately.” I thought that was a great idea. So we bought naan, and I carried it around. It was still steaming hot, delicious, really some of the best bread I've ever had in my life.
Sure enough, later that morning, one of the beggars came to me, and she pointed to her mouth, and her stomach, and triumphantly, I produced the bread. When I gave it to her, she angrily threw it on the ground, and walked away. She didn't want bread, she wanted money, and she was using this hand and stomach thing. What really bothered me, however, was my reaction to what she did. I felt somewhat relieved. Relieved from what? Relieved from the whole problem. You can see why. The whole thing's kind of a scam, right, and we don't really have to be that concerned. The only problem was as the morning continued, soon another beggar came with a child and did the same kind of gesture. So I produced the loaves, and she took them immediately out of my hand, and gave one to her daughter, and they both started eating it like they hadn't eaten in a week. So now I was stuck. My earlier happy kind of outcome was now destroyed. I gave her the bag that I had. I realized that I was seeking, like the lawyer in the story you just heard, to justify myself.
This is the big danger, that we seek to justify ourselves, and exonerate ourselves, from the vast problem of the haves and have-nots in the world, and I don't think that Jesus is meaning to exempt us. He's not going to give us... Not in this sermon, not in any good solid right teaching, you'll ever hear a way out from the problem. Probably the most convicting thing I've ever heard in this, is when Jesus said, "The poor, you will always have with you, and you can help them anytime you want." Why is that convicting? There's another understood statement: "We'll talk about that on Judgment Day, how much that was." It's going to be a topic of conversation.
"This is the big danger, that we seek to justify ourselves, and exonerate ourselves, from the vast problem of the haves and have-nots in the world, and I don't think that Jesus is meaning to exempt us."
This morning, we're going to look down the Jericho Road. We're going to look at the Second Great Commandment's call to a heart of compassion, a heart of mercy, that instinctively moves toward misery, and not away from it. That's what I think the call of the Jericho Road is. It's dangerous, because it searches us. Like the Scripture says, "Lord, you have searched us, and you know us." The Scripture is searching us. That's what law does, by the way. Jesus said, "What do you read in the law?" This is law. This whole parable is law. We need to understand that. We need to, therefore, see what is the law supposed to do. What does it do in your life? I went through that in the beginning of my sermons on the two Great Commandments that say, "Law fundamentally crushes your self-righteousness, and brings you to Christ, but then once you've come to Christ, then the law tells you the right way to live."
That's what I expect this law, this Jericho Road, to do. The Jericho Road has to do with interactions with other human beings. The Lord Jesus is testing us to the core. Are we going to see misery, and move toward it in this world, in our trip through the world, or like the priest and Levite, are we going to see it, and move by on the other side of the road? Are we going to put a road between us and the misery? We can imagine, if we're honest, a life in which we move, like that air-conditioned bubble, through this world of misery with as little compassionate suffering as we can, and the Lord is calling us to a better kind of life. It's a relentless call of Jesus Christ, that we would pour ourselves out in loving service to others, to deny ourselves for them, spend ourselves for them, and to love them as we love ourselves.
I. The Two Great Commandments
Again, our context here. We're in the Gospel of Mark, but I chose to focus, this morning, on the Parable of the Good Samaritan as an illustration of the Second Great Commandment, but our home base is the two Great Commandments, and this is the last sermon I'll preach on the two Great Commandments. In Mark 12:28, one of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating, noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer. He asked him, of all the commandments, which is the most important? The most important one is this, said Jesus, "Here O Israel, the Lord our God. The Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength. The second is this, love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these."
As we compare this to the text you heard this morning, in Mark, about an inquirer, a lawyer, who in my opinion, is an honest seeker of spiritual truth. He's a very different individual than the one who came in Luke. In Luke, he comes to justify himself. In Mark, I think this man comes to know the answer he wants to know. The recitation of the same answer is given, but in Mark's Gospel, it's Jesus that gives it. In Luke's Gospel, it's the lawyer seeking to justify himself that gives it. We can know the right answer. These two commandments, the two Great Commandments, are intertwined. True love for your neighbor depends on first, loving God, but true love for God always results in loving your neighbor. They're intertwined. 1 John 4:20 , "If anyone says I love God, yet hates his brother, he's a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen." They're intertwined.
II. What Does It Mean To Love Your Neighbor
What does it mean to love your neighbor? That was the question in front of us last week, and last week I gave this definition: Love is a heart attraction, resulting in cheerful, sacrificial action, for the benefit of another person. Heart attraction, cheerful, sacrificial action. Love is heart attraction. There's a heart movement toward the person. We see that in the Good Samaritan. He is moved with pity, moved with compassion. The Good Samaritan has a heart attraction to the individual. Love is also a sacrifice. It's a willingness to give something valuable: time, energy, money yourself, your attention, your gifts, your personality. Without sacrifice, there's no love, and the more sacrifice there is, the greater love, but the sacrifice must be given cheerfully. You have to be delighted to give it, not reluctantly, or under compulsion. There's something flowing from that heart attraction, and it results in beneficial action. The actions you take are going to be beneficial to the person you're helping. That's last week's definition.
The two aspects I argued last week are indispensable. There has to be a heart attraction, or God doesn't see it as love, and there has to be sacrificial action, or God doesn't see it as love. If it's just the one, or the other, it doesn't meet the criteria of the Bible. Jesus has given us a beautiful example of this through his perfect ministry. A very good example of this is in Mark 1:40 and 41, Jesus' heart of compassion. "A man with leprosy came to him, and begged him, on his knees, 'If you are willing, you can make me clean'. Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. 'I am willing', He said. 'Be clean.'" The number one emotion ascribed to Jesus, in the gospels, is compassion. Again and again He knit his heart with people like this leper.
What would it be like to be a leper? Filled with compassion, He wants to alleviate his suffering. His mercy moves toward misery, and He heals him. In that case, the Holy Spirit, through the gospel writer, Mark, ascribes it to Jesus. Filled with compassion. But later, in Mark 8, He ascribes it to himself. He describes himself. "During those days, another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, 'I have compassion for these people. They have already been with me three days, and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way.'" That's a beautiful picture of that heart connection with a suffering person, or in that case, a crowd. “ I have compassion. I can't just ignore what's going to happen. If I send them home, they're going to collapse.” Jesus says that He has compassion, that’s his heart attraction.
What about his sacrificial action? No one sacrificed more to fulfill the Second Great Commandment than Jesus. Day after day after day, there was a huge urgent crowd of sick people surrounding him so fiercely that, at some places, He almost couldn't breathe. In some places, they couldn't bring the next paralyzed person to him, so they had to dig through a roof. He was crushed by need, every day, and He never once pushed back, or complained, or did anything but be there for hours and hours, caring for sick people.
But of course, the ultimate display of the Second Great Commandment is Jesus' death on the cross. No one has ever more perfectly fulfilled the Second Great Commandment than Jesus's substitutionary atonement on the cross. He took our sins, and the wrath that we deserve under the justice of God, on himself. He took our misery on himself. He took hell, our hell, on himself, on the cross, and died under the wrath of God. There is no more perfect display of the Second Great Commandment than that. That's Jesus’ giving example.
Now, He calls on us to love our neighbor as ourselves. The words of the command is: “To love your neighbor as yourself.” What does that mean? We talked about this last week. You have spent, since last week, a whole week loving yourself. I'm not saying it's wrong. There's not a sense, at all, in the command that it's wrong, that you need to stop loving yourself. It's not saying that at all. It's saying, expand your love. The way you already love yourself, love your neighbor as you do love yourself. How is that? You're constantly thinking about your own preferences, your goals, your pleasures, your desires, your aspirations. Turn it around. What is somebody else's preference? What is somebody else's goal? What is somebody else's aspiration? What is somebody else's emotional state? Expand yourself, and take theirs into you, the way you do for yourself. That's what it means to love your neighbor as yourself.
Also, physical needs. You will alleviate whatever misery you have, as best you can. Again, there's nothing wrong with that. Are any of you uncomfortable right now? There's not much I can do to help you. The temperature's not exactly right, et cetera, but you know at least you can shift around in the pew, and get yourself comfortable. If you have some problem with your lower back, you're going to alleviate it. Love your neighbor as yourself. How can I alleviate suffering? How can I alleviate pain? Mercy moves toward misery. That's the command. We're told in Philippians 2:4, "Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interests of others." That's the Second Great Commandment. The non-Christian is fanatical about self-interest. It's what they do. Philippians 2:21 says everyone looks out for his own interests. Looking out for number one, survival of the fittest, dog-eat-dog selfishness is the root of what makes life here on Earth so utterly miserable. It's been going on since the beginning of our journey in evil, from the tree.
But a loving Christian learns to see others' needs as if they were his. A Christian looks at that third world's urban poverty and says, "What would it be like for me to live here?" What would it be like if I were one of those people on the other side of that tinted glass? What would it feel like for me to be a day laborer in India, clamoring with a hundred, or 200, other day laborers, surrounding one guy who had 10 jobs to offer that day? That's it. If you're not one of those 10 people, you won't work that day, and your family probably won't eat that day. What is that like? I saw day laborers like that, from a hotel room in India, when I was there a couple years ago.
Also, a Christian looks at the lostness of a coworker. It has nothing to do with socioeconomics. It has to do with the fact that they're lost. They're without hope, and without God in the world. They're under the wrath of God, and they're accumulating more wrath every day. We're told in Romans 2, "Every day, more wrath." What is that like? What is it like, that every day that they live on earth, they have more wrath waiting for them when they die? What is it like to be on that broad road that leads to destruction? What is that? Paul responded in Romans 9, with this, "I have great sorrow, and unceasing anguish, for I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ." For the people of Israel, the lost among his own people. “I would be willing to give up my salvation for them, but I can't, but I'd be willing to do it.” That's what it looks like. It's mercy moving toward misery, and seeking to alleviate it.
Jesus gives us this new command: "A new command, I give you: Love one another as I have loved you." That's the newness of it. The Old Testament already told us, love your neighbor as yourself. That's why the lawyer gave him that answer, it was well-known. It's well-known as a summary of the law, Leviticus 19:18. But Jesus says in John 13:34, "A new command, I give you: Love one another as I have loved you." You must love one another. Ultimately, as I said, Jesus going to the cross, greater love has no one, than this, that he laid down his life for his friends.
We're not going to be called to die for somebody else. Paul says in Romans 5, "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man, someone might possibly dare to die." It's a very unusual thing, that you would, literally, physically give your life for someone else. It does happen, but it's rare. But the question is, how can you metaphorically die for another person? How can you die to yourself in evangelism, or in mercy ministry, benevolence ministry? How can you die to your own preferences? It feels like dying, because you have things you want to do, and instead, you don't do them. How can you, like Jesus, be willing to die for a neighbor? It says, in 1 John 3:16... “This is how we know what love is. Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." There is a laying down of your life, similar to Jesus dying on the cross.
III. Heart Attraction Described: 1 Corinthians
The heart attraction, we walked through last week. I want to remind you of it, from 1 Corinthians 13. What does it mean to have a heart that's genuinely attracted? Without it, any sacrifice, even the greatest sacrifice, will be as nothing on judgment day. 1 Corinthians 13:3 , "If I give all I possess to the poor, and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing." Meaning, on Judgment Day, it's not rewardable. I can do this incredible sacrifice in an unloving way. My heart isn't attracted to the person in that way. I have not gone out, in compassion, to them. Then he just beautifully describes what that heart attraction looks like. 1 Corinthians 13:4, and following, "Love is patient. Love is kind. It doesn't envy. It doesn't boast. It's not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. It's not rude. It's not self-seeking. Love does not delight an evil, but rejoice in the truth.” That's what it's like. It carries itself. Love carries itself that way. You could do the most amazing benevolent ministries in the city here, or anywhere, but if you're not like this, it's actually doing more harm than good. That's that heart attraction, resulting in sacrificial action, but it must move out to act, and that's what the Good Samaritan is all about. Look at it if you would, or just listen along.
IV. Sacrificial Action Described: Luke 10: 13
Luke 10:25-37, look at the words again. "On one occasion, an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher’, he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” A very important question. What must I do to inherit eternal life? “'What is written in the law?’, He replied.” How do you read it? “He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘You have answered correctly’, Jesus replied. ‘Do this, and you will live.’” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" It’s a very important moment in this whole account. He wanted to justify himself, and ask, who is my neighbor? 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. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was, and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 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. 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.'"
His inquiry begins as an effort at self-justification. The lawyer was seeking to justify himself, rather than to repent of sin. I can tell you the big picture. The whole point of this excursion into the Second Great Commandment, the law, and this Good Samaritan story, is not to help any of you justify yourselves. Rather, it must be to convict you, so that you can live better, or so that you can come to Christ, but not so that you can look at it and say, "I thank you, God, but I already do the Good Samaritan stuff." Not at all. That's the point. He's seeking confirmation that his righteousness was enough. He's already done enough.
So, day after day, we seek that air-conditioned van ride through the world. We seek to be the priest and the Levite, going on the other side. But along with that, as knowers of the Bible, we seek to justify ourselves. We want some escape, some way to say, "Hey, what I've done is enough." We will make excuses. We'll come up with concepts like the undeserving poor. Things like that. What is undeserving poor? Somebody who I don't have to help, because their poverty, or their circumstances, are their own fault. So we're exempt, because they're undeserving poor. Or we'll look at the costs, and say, "Look, you got to realize how busy I am in my life. You got to realize I have my own limitations." Or I have my own family needs, et cetera. I understand. We make these kinds of excuses. We all try to draw boundary lines around who we should love, so tightly, that it excuses the most difficult mercy ministries.
There are two key questions in front of us in this parable of the Good Samaritan. Who is my neighbor, and what does it mean to love him as myself? But above that is the question, what must I do to be saved? The big question is: What must I do to be saved? Then below that, within the parable, these two questions, who is my neighbor, and what does it mean to love him as myself? Let's walk through the parable.
The setting is the deadly, dangerous, Jericho Road, which was notorious for robbers that could hide in the mountainous clefts, and the twists and turns of the road. This was just a well-known dangerous spot. The story unfolds, as you know. There are six people in the parable. First, we have the victim. We know literally nothing about him. We don't know nothing about him. We don't know his nationality. We don't know his race. We don't know his age. We don't know his socioeconomic status. We don't know anything. That's striking. You get the feeling that none of that matters. It's not important who he is. He's human. He's been attacked. He's lying, bleeding, by the side of the road. Nothing else about him matters. Therefore, Jesus's answer to the question who is my neighbor is: “Anyone in need. It doesn't matter who the person is.”
Next we have the robbers. Let me line up the mentality that each of the actors in this drama has about resources, about money. The robbers have this attitude: “What's yours is mine, if I can take it from you.” These are the people in the world who are takers, they’re thieves, they’re violent. They absolutely are breaking the Second Great Commandment. No doubt. They're criminal elements, and they will assault, or invade, or do what's necessary to take other people's stuff. The robbers; what’s yours is mine, if I can take it from you.
Then you've got the priest, and the Levite. They're basically the same. It's just two times the same person. The doubling is for emphasis. There's no essential difference between the priest and the Levite. It's just doubled for emphasis. Their attitude is: “What's mine is mine, and what's yours is yours,” period. I mean, you live your life, I'll live mine. Your problems are not my problems. My problems are not your problems. This is the way most people go through this world. Furthermore, Jesus makes it clear that both the priest and Levite see the guy on the side of the road. They see him, and move by on the other side. They willingly choose not to get involved. The separation by the road, the distance, represents willful ignorance, staying far enough away from the suffering so you don't know its details, because if you find out the details, you might get drawn into it. You might get involved, and you don't want to, so you're on the other side. It's willful. It's a symbol of willful ignorance, and that's also a problem for most of us Christians. Most of us aren't just cold-hearted, bad people. We just are ignorant of the suffering of the people in the world. We just don't know that much about it, and we choose to be that way.
Notice, also, that they're both religious people. The priest is religious, the Levite is religious. They're religious people. It's just a common problem. The lawyer, who's coming, is a religious person seeking to justify himself. For us, we need to be mindful of the fact the most terrifying sins that we're going to be pressed on, on Judgment Day, will be sins of omission. These would be good works, that God went ahead of you, in advance [Ephesians 2:10], and set up for you to do, and you didn't do it. That's what sins of omission are. Good deeds, good works God set up, and you didn't do them. This is the topic, very much the topic, of the sheep and the goats, which isn't a parable, it's just an analogy of what Judgment Day is going to be like. Jesus is going to come and sit on a throne of glory. He's going to assemble all the people that have ever lived in front of him, and He's going to separate them into two groups; the sheep and the goats. He's going to say to the goats, the reprobate, those about to be condemned, "I was hungry, and you did not feed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me in. I was sick, and you did not visit me. These are things you did not do." The sins in the sheep, and the goats, are sins of omission. We know full well there are sins of commission too, but that's not what He describes there.
"We need to be mindful of the fact the most terrifying sins that we're going to be pressed on, on Judgment Day, will be sins of omission. …Good deeds, good works God set up, and you didn't do them."
What will it be like for us, on Judgment Day, to see a replay of our lives, and see all the good works that God set up, day by day, for us to walk in? What will that be like? My job as a pastor is to make that moment acute to you now, by faith, and by the ministry of the Word. To make it sharp. Make it clear what's going to happen. You are going to give an account to Jesus, and so am I, for every moment you've lived on earth. "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done in the body, whether good, or bad.” [2 Corinthians 5]. "Please don't tell me" [Romans 8:1] "I thought there was no condemnation." Friends, I'm not talking about condemnation. I'm talking about accountability. You're going to give an account to Jesus, and that includes sins of omission.
Then we've got the innkeeper. What's his attitude? “What's mine is yours, for a price.” This is the innkeeper, a merchant. This is a professional medical person. This is their job. It's what they do, but that's not Second Great Commandment stuff. That's the market. That's the job. That's what it calls the price.
Then you've got the Good Samaritan. His attitude is “what's mine is yours, if you need it. What's mine is yours if you need it.” I find it amazing that Jesus chooses the Samaritan to be the hero. Jesus loved doing this kind of thing. It's like, "Oh, I'm not supposed to heal on the Sabbath. Watch me heal on the Sabbath." He goes right at things that would be irksome to the Jews. The hero of the story is an outcast, that they all hated. I think the feeling is if the victim had been a Samaritan, and we are supposed to... In the story, we're Israelites. What are we supposed to do? Help the Samaritan. That's the point. So what does he do? He helps sacrificially. He stops. His heart is moved with compassion. He's drawn over. He stops. He helps. He pours oil and wine on the wounds. He binds them up. Immediate first aid is given, then he puts him on his donkey, and gets him down to an innkeeper so that he can be cared for. He spends the night caring for this individual, and then he gives of his money, paying the two days' wages to the innkeeper, to meet the needs, and he promises to come back later, and make certain that the man's all right. He's invested, he's committed.
Then Jesus summarizes the whole thing [verses 36-37], “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” It an interesting way to phrase that. “Then the expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’" You just feel like, for all of us, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that's what He's saying to us, “Go and do likewise”. Now we have those questions. Who is my neighbor? Any needy person that God brings into your life. What does it mean to love him as I love myself? Sacrificial acts of service to meet the need presented.
Let's ask the hard questions. It starts with that whole question, what must I do to be saved? Is mercy ministry necessary for me to go to heaven? That's an interesting question, isn't it? What must I do to inherit eternal life? Do I have to be the Good Samaritan in order to go to heaven? Let me say, directly, the law cannot save you. No one is saved by obedience to the law, and this is law. When Jesus says, "go and do likewise”, He understands the theology of salvation by grace very well. He's just doing something different there. He's not saying law can save you. Then what is the function of the law? It is to convict you, to kill you, basically, and bring you to the cross. Fundamentally, we are not justified, that is forgiven of our sins, by our own mercy ministry. We are justified, forgiven of our sins, by Jesus's mercy ministry toward us. Jesus had compassion on us, and in mercy, moved out to alleviate our eternal misery, which is hell. Therefore it says, in Romans 59, "In order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy, we're going to spend eternity glorifying God for his mercy." We're not justified by our own good works, we’re not justified by our own obedience.
"We are justified, forgiven of our sins, by Jesus's mercy ministry toward us. Jesus had compassion on us, and in mercy, moved out to alleviate our eternal misery, which is hell."
The next question: What is the scope and dimension of my life of loving my neighbor? Like the lawyer, aren't we ready to ask who is my neighbor again, and again? We tend to excuse ourselves from this service. I've argued that the law crushes you, kills you, and brings you to the cross, but then it's not done with you. Then having been forgiven, we are now filled with the Holy Spirit, who wrote the law to begin with. Now, He enables you to obey it, by his power through Christ. We circle back to the Good Samaritan, and say, "Okay. How can I do this? Who is my neighbor?" Let's begin by acknowledging we have the tendency to justify ourselves, and try to get out of it by... Like I said, the whole idea of the deserving poor. I'm not saying that there's not addictive behaviors that destroy people's lives, and it would be very good for them to stop doing them. I'm not saying we should just give money to anybody that comes up and asks, especially to addicts, knowing full well that that money will go right into intensifying their addiction. I think we have to be intelligent about it. What I'm saying is, we can't excuse ourselves from this whole thing. That's all I'm saying.
V. Priorities in Love
How then can we be transformed to be a person that actually fulfills this law? I want to give you priorities that I have discerned in Scripture based on this topic. What are our priorities? Top priority: Justification before mercy ministry. First, make certain that your sins are forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ. What is the work of God? John 6, "This is the work of God. Do you believe in the one he has sent?" Start there. Don't try to earn your way to heaven by your good deeds, by being the Good Samaritan. You'll never do enough. Besides which, it's apples and oranges. You can't use present, or future, obedience to the law, to pay for past disobedience to the law. You can never get ahead or get extra credit. If you do a Good Samaritan thing today, you were supposed to do it. So you can't use it to pay for the fact that you didn't do a Good Samaritan thing last week. So, the top priority is your own justification by faith in Christ, before any mercy ministry.
Second priority: Minister to the soul, above the body. What would it profit someone, if they should gain the whole world, and lose their souls? Therefore, any mercy ministry this church does has to prioritize the proclamation of the Gospel, for the salvation of souls. It is more important, like when Jesus forgave the sins of the paralyzed man, before healing him of his paralysis. There is a clear priority structure. Your sins are forgiven. This was, by the way, the flaw of the social gospel, and I worry sometimes that American evangelicalism might go right back into the social gospel again, caring more for the temporal needs of people, and forgetting that they are on their way to hell, apart from the gospel. Therefore, I think this is a good slogan: We Christians care about alleviating all misery, but especially eternal misery. And what is eternal misery? It is condemnation in hell. So the top priority of our ministry to others is the soul above the body.
Third priority: Ministry to the family of believers, especially your own family, above ministry to outsiders. Our top priority, in terms of physical provision, is for our own biological family. As in 1 Timothy 5:8,”If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith, and is, worse than an unbeliever." In other words, all you families, and heads of households, and all that, take care of your own people. Don't bring them to the church for benevolence. That's the strong message of 1 Timothy 5. But then, even within our benevolent ministry, we should care about the needs of Christians, before we care about the needs of outsiders, as it says plainly in Galatians 6:10, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." What does the word “especially" mean? That's our top priority, but it doesn't exclude the other ministry.Wh Start with the household of faith. We start with believers. We seek to alleviate their misery as best we can, and then it moves out from there.
Then fourth: Ministry to the poor, above ministry to the rich. What does that mean? Jesus said in Luke 14, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers, or relatives, your rich neighbors. If you do, they may invite you back, and so you'll be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you'll be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." That's the priority structure, but that doesn't mean we can't do mercy ministry to rich people, because they suffer in other ways, and ultimately, through the proclamation of the gospel. Those four priorities should shape the way we do mercy ministry.
VI. Application: Moving Toward Misery
As I finish applications, let's just start, all of us, with repentance. “God, show me my sin.” It could be, for some of you, repentance and faith in Christ. You came here an unbeliever. Start there. Repent, and believe the good news of the Gospel, for the forgiveness of your sins. Start with that. But if that's happened to you years ago, say, "Lord, how am I like the lawyer seeking to justify himself? How am I like the priest who saw him, and move by on the other side? How am I like the Levite who saw, and moved on the other side?" Then, "How can I then move out into mercy ministry here, where I live? Who are my neighbors, my actual physical neighbors? What do I know about them?"
We have less of a neighbor-feel than we've ever had in our society. Do we even physically know our neighbors? What do we mean by the word “neighbor”? Wouldn't it be a shock if we actually, in some cases, got to know our neighbors, and then found out what was going on in their lives? Maybe see a tree down, and bring a chainsaw over there, and maybe find out that one of them has been in the hospital for while, and bring a meal.
Love your church member as you love yourself. Take the church phone directory. Go through it. Pray for people daily. A page a day, or two pages a day, whatever. Then also say, "Is there some kind of suffering in the church that I can alleviate, some way that someone's hurting? What can I do?" Use the home fellowship as a basis for that.
Then love your urban neighbor as you love yourself. Our urban setting has changed radically in the last number of years, some call it gentrification. More and more wealthy people are buying up ramshackle properties, and then renovating them, et cetera. You used to be able to walk, literally, three minutes, and get to poor and needy people, and care for them. Now it's a different time, but like Jesus said, "You'll always have poor people."
So the question is, what benevolent ministries can our church be involved in? We're already involved in refugee ministry. We could be involved more. There are always more ministries. Find out what opportunities there are in our city for this kind of service. And then finally... I'm going to preach, God willingness, on this sermon soon, in Mark 13. How can we love unreached, people groups better? How can we care about eternal suffering of people that have never heard the gospel? How can we love our lost coworkers better. In evangelism, how can we use mercy ministry to couple it with the words of the gospel? What is God calling us to do, individually, and as a church?
Close with me in prayer. Father, we thank you for the time we've had to walk through this powerful passage. God, teach us to have a heart of mercy that moves toward misery. Teach us, O Lord, to care about the suffering around us, and to seek to alleviate it. Give us opportunities to share the gospel with people who are on that broad road that leads to destruction. Help us, out of compassion for them, to do that. God, give us opportunities to alleviate suffering here in our community. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.