GO AND DO THOU LIKEWISE
A sermon preached on August 29th, 1999, by P. G. Watts at Rehoboth Chapel, Coventry.
The Bible puts strong emphasis on the understanding. Paul says: ‘in understanding be men’. When it comes to unkindness or malice, he says, you can be like children, under-developed: but when it comes to understanding you need to be mature, developed.
The better the teacher the more comprehensible the lesson, and no one was ever a greater teacher than Jesus. He chose the simple story-lesson as His main teaching method. He put over the most profound things about the Kingdom of God by using stories, or parables. The purpose of these stories was not to entertain people, but to bring them to the point where the penny dropped. Usually with a parable there is only one major teaching point, one simple lesson to grasp and understand.
Parables were in use before Jesus. We have some in the Old Testament. Perhaps the best known was the parable Nathan told David. Nathan had a difficult assignment from God. He had to go to the most powerful man in the land, the King of Israel, who could easily order his execution, and tell him that God was greatly displeased with him. David had stolen another man’s wife, committed adultery, and used his power as King to arrange for the death of the husband. But David had not understood the enormity of what he had done, was not convicted of his sin. Though the thing was staring him in the face the penny hadn’t dropped. It can often be like that with our sin.
How was Nathan going to tell the King? No doubt he prayed about it, and he was given great wisdom. He told the King a story: about two men, one rich, the other poor. The rich man had a great estate with many flocks and herds, the poor man was so reduced in circumstances he only had one little ewe lamb, treated like a household pet. One day an important visitor arrived at the rich man’s house and he wanted to prepare a special meal for him: but instead of taking a lamb from his own flock he took the poor man’s lamb instead, killed it and used it for the feast. Anyone who listens to the story is shocked, outraged. David, hearing the story, assuming that one of his subjects has acted like this, says ‘as the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had shown no pity.’ So Nathan turns to the King and says:
‘You are that man’: and immediately he sees the point and the King is convicted of his sin. ‘I have sinned against the Lord’. Psalm 51 emerges from this experience and proves that David at last has understood before God what he has done, and has repented of his sin.
I believe that the parable of the Good Samaritan, probably the best known of all the parables of Jesus, was also told to convict us of our sin, to make the penny drop. I have heard sermons on this parable that spiritualize it and make the Good Samaritan stand for Jesus, and the beaten-up man for the sinner, and the oil and wine for the gospel. But they are in great danger of missing the entire point of the parable. The preacher of God’s Word must handle it carefully to bring people to the right understanding of each passage. The key to this passage is with the lawyer who asked Jesus a question in the first place. It was a deliberately testing question: not a question that came from a man who
genuinely wanted answers: but a man who wanted to justify himself. It was a professional question from a religious man. People who are sure that they are right are hard nuts to crack. It is hard for the penny to drop for people who want to justify themselves.
If your questions about Christianity are geared to justify your present position, behaviour, religion, your thinking needs to be humbled. If the parable of the Good Samaritan does not humble you I don’t know what will. If Nathan’s parable did not humble and convict David what would? If Jesus’ parable does not humble and convict us, what will?
So the lawyer asks his rather glib, professional question to test Jesus; ‘Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ Notice the emphasis -what shall I do? How shall I live so that when I die God will be pleased with me and I will go to heaven? Now of course the lawyer believed that the answer to his question was bound up with the law of God. How can a man please God unless he keeps God’s law, is obedient to God? How can a person win a place in heaven unless he is a good person? So Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer and asks: ‘what is your reading of the law?’ The lawyer gives a theologically correct, an excellent summary of the whole law of God, a summary Jesus Himself used ‘Thou shalt 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.’ Jesus commended him for it. If you actually do this, He said you will live, have eternal life.
It looked as if the interview was going to end there. But the lawyer was left feeling uncomfortable. His own words had set a tremendously high standard – to love God wholeheartedly and to love his neighbour to look after his interests, seek his welfare as he would his own. Did he really do that? He was a deeply conscientious religious man, but did he love God with all his heart, and did he love his neighbour as himself Surely no one can give such a summary of the law without being deeply convicted of his sin. This lawyer wasn’t deeply convicted but he wasn’t comfortable. Something told him that if these were the grounds on which God would grant him eternal life he might be falling short somewhere. He felt the need to justify himself. How strong that is in us. How many people think that when they come to face God they will justify themselves. But in that day all self-righteousness and self-justification will vanish away. In that day we will see with awesome clarity the people we ought to have been and were not. In that day we will see that all our righteousnesses are just like filthy rags in the presence of God.
But the thing for now which was troubling this lawyer was whether he really did love his neighbour and the whole question seemed to hinge on this: ‘who is my neighbour?’ The lawyer probably felt he loved his fellow-religionists, he probably had a great fervent love for his fellow-Jews. But just how far does it go to love your neighbour? Who does it
include? Perhaps only that day he had spat at a Gentile or said something unkind about a tax-collector, or ignored the need of a leper. If God were to judge him on the basis of his everyday dealings with his neighbours and enemies how would he fare? If God judges you and me on the evidence of our lives how do we do?
So Jesus told this parable of the Good Samaritan to show just how perfect and demanding and far-reaching is the law of God that we should love our neighbour.
A Jew goes down from Jerusalem to Jericho. You do go down. It’s a long descent, a desert landscape, wild, bandit-friendly. The man is ambushed, beaten up, stripped, robbed, left for dead. That is not such an unusual occurrence. A priest happens to go down the very road where the man is lying. Justice, compassion, everything human and divine calls out for this priest to do something to help his fellow human being in his hour of need. But the priest, the religious man, hurries by on the other side. Perhaps he is late for an engagement, perhaps he fears the man may carry disease, or may be already dead and therefore would make him ritually unclean and unfit for his priestly duties. He does not get involved. He fails utterly to love his neighbour, to value his life, to care for him as he should. He is a priest, but what is the use of all his pretended love to God and service to God if he cannot look after his brother? Then comes a Levite, another member of the religious establishment, and exactly the same thing happens. He passes by on the other side. He looks but he leaves.
Who is going to help then? An ordinary Jew perhaps? No, the shock of the story is that the man who shows compassion, the man who acts as God would have him act is a Samaritan, the last person the lawyer would think of as his neighbour. Samaritans were not on the lawyer’s list of people to love. Far from it. The lawyer would justify his lack of love for the Samaritan by his theology. Samaritans were outside the covenant, a hybrid people, dangerously wrong in their theology. Look what the Samaritan does: how his compassion shines in action! See how he goes out of his way, digs into his own pocket, spends time and effort to help the man, though he is a Jew. Yes, this Samaritan with all his wrong-headed theology comes closer to the heart of God in what he does than the lawyer with all his correctness. ‘Which of the men who encountered this man in his need was neighbour to him?’ asks Jesus. ‘He that showed mercy on him’, was the reluctant reply. What the Lord said next undoubtedly touched a raw nerve in the lawyer’s life and exposed his sin: ‘Go and do likewise’.
Perhaps we are tempted to say ‘Surely the Lord isn’t going to leave it there. Surely He is going to point out to this man the way of salvation?’ But what is the point of telling people the gospel till they are convicted that they are sinners? Only broken, convicted people, the poor in spirit come to Christ. Only those who stop justifying themselves come to
Christ to be freely justified by Him. The law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. By the law is the knowledge of sin.
So Jesus says to the lawyer – ‘Go and do likewise – it is what God requires of you: unless you love your neighbour to perfection you can by no means experience eternal life.’ Do you think the lawyer could go away feeling comfortable, hopeful? Could he ever recall the parable and feel comfortable? Could you? Could I? Can you be sure that whenever you see a person in need you are always going to act in a loving way putting aside all selfishness? Does not this parable convict you of your sin, your selfishness, selectiveness? Does it not condemn the way you prioritize your time and energies, spend your money? Does it not make you realise that if God were to judge you on the basis of your love to Him and your love to your neighbour you would fail all examination1 dismally? Does it not show that you need a Saviour, to prove and experience the power of the love of God in your heart so that you begin to love God with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself, not as
an exercise in winning the approval of God, or working out a
righteousness of your own, but as a thank-offering and a love-offering for the great compassion He has shown to you.
Who are Christians? They are people who have stopped justifying themselves, who have given up trying to work out their own righteousness, who have become convicted of their sin as they have seen how holy and perfect is the standard God’s law requires of us. Like the tax-collector in another parable Jesus told, they have come to God with a simple, heartfelt prayer – ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’. Yes they have come to God on the basis of His mercy, His grace, and have experienced His compassion. They have come to the One God has sent to be our Saviour, and have found in Jesus the righteousness they need Here is a Man who God approves of perfectly, who has kept God’s law who has loved the Lord His God with all His heart and mind and soul and strength and who has loved His neighbour as Himself. Jesus never passed by on the other side, always gave Himself fully, unstintingly to the service of others. Christians are those who find that as by God’s grace they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, His righteousness becomes
theirs, imputed to them. They find that their sins are dealt with by the love, blood and sacrifice of Jesus. In Him they experience the power of God and they begin to live a new life, a life moved, energized and constrained by the love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. And although because they are still sinful, there are many failures and shortcomings, they are people who have new attitudes to God and to their neighbour, who are learning not to be selective, selfish, learning to stop and give help and time to people in need, learning to show the love of God in action, learning how to go and do as the Good Samaritan did
Do you see the point? The only way to go and do likewise is in the name of Jesus, constrained by His love.