In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, as Jesus continues His journey toward Jerusalem, He meets an expert in the Jewish Law who tries to entrap him with a question. The question itself is a good one, and one that we should all ask: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” How sad that so many people go through life never giving a thought to their eternal destiny. This has to be one of the most important questions of all. Certainly, it is of more importance than ‘Who am I’ or ‘What am I doing here’ – for you can have oodles of self-confidence and a great career plan for your life, but as Jesus said, what’s the point in gaining the world but ultimately losing your soul? (Matt 16:26).
However, this lawyer’s question wasn’t out of a genuine concern for his own eternal destiny, it was an attempt to justify himself and expose some flaw in Jesus’ teaching.
As was typical with Jesus when asked a question, He turned the question around and asked the lawyer “What is written in the Law? How do you read it”. As an expert, this man surely should have known what the Law said, so Jesus puts him in the spotlight.
John Gill, friend and colleague of Charles Spurgeon, highlights how blessed we are to have access to the written Law in the first place: “It is a great mercy that we have the law written, that we have it thereby reduced to certainty, and that thereby it is capable of spreading the further, and lasting the longer. Having it written, it is our duty to read it, to read it with understanding, and to treasure up what we read, so that when there is occasion, we may be able to tell what is written in the law, and how we read. To this we must appeal; by this we must try doctrines and end disputes; this must be our oracle, our touchstone, our rule, our guide. What is written in the law? How do we read? if there be light in us, it will have regard to this light.”
The lawyer’s answer is spot on: “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself”, but there is a slight twist. His question had been “What single thing must I do…” He was looking to justify himself and his way of living, a ‘quick fix’ solution that would allow him to carry on right as he was. Jesus tears through the heart of his self assuredness, saying that if he can continually do this, continually without ever wavering, never for a moment ceasing to love God fully, or to always and consistently unfeignedly love his neighbour, then he would be saved!
John Gill, once again, gets to the heart of this:
“We must love God with all our hearts, must look upon him as the best of beings, in himself most amiable, and infinitely perfect and excellent; as one whom we lie under the greatest obligations to, both in gratitude and interest. We must prize him, and value ourselves by our elation to him; must please ourselves in him, and devote ourselves entirely to him. Our love to him must be sincere, hearty, and fervent; it must be a superlative love, a love that is as strong as death, but an intelligent love, and such as we can give a good account of the grounds and reasons of. It must be an entire love; he must have our whole souls, and must be served with all that is within us. We must love nothing besides him, but what we love for him and in subordination to him.
We must love our neighbours as ourselves, which we shall easily do, if we, as we ought to do, love God better than ourselves. We must wish well to all and ill to none; must do all the good we can in the world and no hurt, and must fix it as a rule to ourselves to do to others as we would they should do to us; and this is to love our neighbour as ourselves.”
Rather than expose a flaw in Jesus’ doctrine, this lawyer had exposed the problem that we all face in reged to God’s perfect Law… namely, we can’t keep it!
In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul explains the real purpose for the Law: “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3:19). In other words, the Law was given to show us that we cannot meet or keep God’s righteous standard.
Paul continues in Galatians: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” (Galatians 3:10). Even if you could keep 99% of the Law, and only make one mistake, you would be guilty before a holy God whose standard is (and has to be) absolute perfection! ‘Close’ is a gulf so fathomlessly great as to still separate man from God for all eternity.
This underlines the very purpose for the Law. “But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith”. (Galatians 3:22-24)
In a nutshell, the Law was given to show us we cannot come close to God’s perfect holy standard, so we need a Saviour!
Maybe for the first time in this lawyer’s life he had come face to face with his own predicament, but rather than humbly seeking salvation from the One before Him, in Whose name alone salvation can be found, he sought to justify himself, and so asks “And who is my neighbour?”
Jesus then tells the famous story of ‘The Good Samaritan’. A number of commentators think this may well have been an actual event that had recently happened, and that Jesus’ hearers would have been aware of. Certainly, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was a treacherous winding path down from the mountainous region around Jerusalem to the flat plain around Jericho.
The story is self-explanatory, our neighbours are anyone in need that it is in our power to help, regardless of colour or creed. But there is also within this account the whole of the Gospel message:
- We were (before the fall) in a place of blessing and God’s presence (represented by Jerusalem in this account)
- We ended up descending to a cursed place (represented by Jericho here)
- We were robbed by an enemy and left for dead.
- The Law and religion offered no help.
- The Priest represents all religion.
- There is the hope of help and restoration, but it cannot perform it
- The best religion can do is leave you in the same condition you were found!
- The Levite represents the Law. Note the statement “and looked on him”
- The Law knows our condition……yet “passes by on the other side”
- There is a gulf between the Law and Salvation
- As with religion, it cannot redeem fallen humanity.
- Then One despised and rejected of men came our way.
- He rescued us, bound our wounds took it upon Himself to pay for our restoration.
- Note that the robbed and injured man had nothing to pay for his sojourn, restoration…
- Nor had he anything with which to repay the Samaritan.
- This was entirely the work of Grace.
- He entrusted us to the care and safekeeping of another whilst we remain in this temporary accommodation – all our needs are taken care of!
- He promised to return, our gratitude will be great!
We are not told what the lawyer did. Maybe he humbled himself at the feet of Jesus, and now genuinely sought the salvation he had initially so casually inquired about? Maybe he hardened his heart and walked away, unwilling to acknowledge his own desperate need?
His response is not your concern, for it is your response that matters.
This is what you must do to inherit eternal life: Accept the mercy of the One who was despised and rejected of men, yet Who picked you up when you were without strength, bound your wounds, paid for your restoration in His own blood, has undertaken to provide all you need, and leaves you in the safekeeping of the Holy Spirit until He returns.
What say you?