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“And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted Him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, 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 neighbor as thyself. And He said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise”— Luke 10:25-37.
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This to my mind is one of the most misunderstood passages in the Gospel records. It is related only by Luke, and he tells it for a very definite purpose. People generally think of the parable of the Good Samaritan as simply setting-forth a lesson in charity and concern for those who are less fortunate than we. Recently one said to the present writer, “I do not need an atonement for my sins. The religion of the Good Samaritan is good enough for me.” He was basing his hopes for eternity upon doing good to his fellow-men, forgetting that on this ground all are under condemnation, for no man, save our blessed Lord, ever truly loved his neighbor as himself. To face the implication of this story honestly is to realize the utter impossibility of obtaining eternal life by doing. We can only be saved by what Christ has done. It is when we realize that we are helpless, like the man dying on the Jericho road, that we are ready to submit to the gospel and receive the salvation the Lord Jesus came to make possible.
While we should recognize the fact that the Lord was seeking to awaken the lawyer’s conscience as to his responsibility to his neighbor, yet it is evident that there was something far more than that in His mind. During the early ministry of our Lord, He made clear to His followers the principles that should guide them as they looked forward to the setting up of His kingdom. It was in order to show a lawyer his need of a Saviour that He related the parable of the Good Samaritan. What we have before us is the story of a man who was trying to maintain his own righteousness and did not recognize his lost condition. We are told, “Behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted Him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer who asked this question was not a sincere inquirer. He was endeavoring to draw Jesus into a controversy as to the Law of Moses, which declared that he who obeyed its precepts should live, and he who violated them should be accursed.
By the term “lawyer” is meant one who was an exponent of the law of Moses: that is, one who was well versed in the Old Testament Scriptures, particularly the Pentateuch, and who was therefore looked upon as an authority by the people generally. I suppose we would be right in saying that he would answer very much to an accredited doctor of divinity in our day. He should have known, therefore, that no man could ever obtain eternal life by keeping the law of Moses, because no man had ever yet been found who had fully obeyed its holy precepts.
Jesus answered him by asking, “What is written in the law? How readest thou?” Jesus never attempted to argue with one who was unreal. He, in this instance, put the lawyer on the defense, as it were, leaving it to him to answer his own question as far as he thought he could. In this way the lawyer would expose his own attitude toward both God and his neighbor. This was exactly what took place. The law was given to show up the corruption of the human heart, to give sin the specific character of trangression, and to make manifest the utter helplessness of any natural man to obtain salvation by human merit, and to convict of their folly all who, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, are going about to establish their own righteousness. The question comes with terrific force: “What is written in the law? How readest thou?” If conscience be in activity the law must fill the soul with terror as one realizes his utter inability to reach the high standard it sets forth. Apparently the lawyer had no such exercise, for he unhesitatingly replied, “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 neighbor as thyself.” In so replying, the lawyer epitomized the two tables of the law, according to Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. It was a sad commentary on the state of his soul that he could recite these words so glibly and yet evince no sense of his own lost condition. Who has always lived up to these commands? Yet failure in one point puts man in an utterly hopeless state so far as satisfying the law’s demands is concerned. The Lord Jesus calmly replied, “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.” It was a sharp thrust with the two-edged sword of the Word of God, but it made little impression on the smug, self-righteous heart of this lawyer. Yet it was but insisting on that which the law demanded, and because of which it became the ministration of death (2 Cor. 3:7) to all who were under it. Had there been any true conscience-exercise, the lawyer would have confessed that he had violated the law already and he would have inquired if there was any way by which he might be delivered from its curse. Instead of this, he attempted to justify himself by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” It was a telltale question! It showed up the true state of this man’s heart. Think of one who hoped to gain eternal life by his doings, who could be so indifferent to the needs of suffering humanity all about him that he had not yet discovered the neighbor needing his love and care! And yet he might better have asked, “Who is my God?” For if one does not love his brother, whom he has seen, he can have no real love for the God he has not seen (1 John 4:20). It was in reply to this question that the Lord related what is commonly called the parable of the Good Samaritan. Undoubtedly it was a story of fact, for we need to remember that our Lord Jesus Christ was Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It is unthinkable that He would make up an illustration which had no factual foundation, even in order to press home a definite line of truth, unless He made it clear that He was doing this, as on some occasions when He said, “Hear a parable.” In this case He speaks very definitely of a certain man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves who wounded him and robbed him, stripping him of his garments and leaving him half-dead by the wayside. In this man we may see pictured unfortunate victims of sin and violence of every type, whose lives have been wrecked and ruined by adverse circumstances, and whose plight should excite the pity and give the urge to help, of every kindly-disposed person. But in telling this story it is evident that Jesus had more than this in mind. The stricken man on the Jericho road is a vivid picture of all men in their natural state, who have been robbed of their comparative innocence and purity and now are helpless and defiled, unable to regain their former state, needing one who can save them from their sin and the consequences thereof.
We next read that by chance (or, rather, coincidence) there came down a certain priest, who looked upon the man and then passed by. He represented the spiritual side of the legal covenant. He saw the afflicted man, but evidently feared to defile himself by touching- one so near to death and polluted with his blood (Lev. 21:1). So “he passed by on the other side.” Next a Levite came. He seemed to be more interested in the poor, wounded victim of the thieves, for we are told that he “came and looked on him,” but again we read that he “passed by on the other side.” He represented the manward aspect of the law, but he did not consider it part of his duty to assist one in so deplorable a condition. How possible it is to be intensely religious, devoted to some church or society, and yet have no real exercise of heart for those who are in trouble and distress, or who are perishing in their sins. The Levite was presumably a servant of God, dedicated to ministering in Israel, but in his self-conplacency he ignored the need of the poor, dying wretch, lying on the Jericho road. God grant that all who profess to be servants of the Lord Jesus Christ may ever remember that we have a great responsibility, not only to preach the gospel, but, as much as lieth in us, to do good unto all men.
Finally help came from a most unexpected source. The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. A certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, saw the man in his wretched condition and had compassion on him. This was almost the last man in the world from whom the poor, wounded Jew had any right to expect mercy. But the Samaritan’s heart was filled with sympathy for the helpless sufferer. When the Jews sought to express their contempt for Jesus, they called Him a Samaritan (John 8:48). It is easy to see in the one who succored the dying traveler, a picture of our blessed Lord Himself, who came to us when we were in our sin and need, and manifested His boundless grace toward us.
The Samaritan bound up the wounds of this poor man, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn. Using the best remedies he knew, the Samaritan proved himself a real neighbor to the afflicted one. He did not leave him by the roadside, but took him to an inn where he might have proper care. It is an interesting fact that halfway between Jericho and Jerusalem, there remains to this day an inn which is commonly known as that of the Good Samaritan, where travelers may rest on their way up the long incline from the Jordan valley to the city of the Great King.
Nor did the Samaritan’s interest in his patient cease when he had brought him to the inn, but ere he left to go on his own journey, we are told that “he took out two pence,” that is, two denarii— Roman coins about the size of our twenty-five cent piece, but with the purchasing power, in those days, of many times that amount. He gave the money to the innkeeper and bade him, “Take care of him,” promising to meet all further charges on his return, Note his exact words—”When I come again, I will repay thee.” How suggestive this promise is! Does it not remind us of the fact that our blessed Lord, who has gone back to heaven, is coming again, and when He returns He will repay for everything that has been done for Him.
One can imagine the object of the Samaritan’s bounty growing stronger day by day. As his strength increased, we may think of him as going to the entrance of the inn and looking up the road expectantly. If someone inquired for what or whom he was looking, I think he might have replied, “My friend, the one who was such a good neighbor to me in my need; the one to whom I owe my life. He said, ‘I will come again.’ I am waiting for his return. I want to fall at his feet and express my gratitude for what he has done for me.”
To the lawyer the Lord Jesus put the question, “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among thieves?” It was indeed a searching inquiry, designed to manifest the selfishness of the lawyer’s heart and cause him to realize that he was the man on the Jericho road needing Someone who could deliver him from the plight into which his sin had plunged him. But alas! He had no such realization of his need. He replied, “He that showed mercy on him.” No thoughtful man could have answered otherwise, and so the lawyer convicted himself out of his own mouth. Jesus simply enjoined him, “Go, and do thou likewise.” He left the lawyer then to his own thoughts. Had he been an upright inquirer, he would have acknowledged that so far as obtaining eternal life by law-keeping was concerned, his case was hopeless, for he had violated it already and was under its curse. If he had maintained a right attitude toward God, he would never have been indifferent as to his neighbors. There was no evidence of conviction, for otherwise he would have exclaimed, “I am that man on the Jericho road—I am the one who needs mercy.” And then Jesus would not have pointed him to the Levite or the priest for help, but would have said, “I am come to seek and to save that which was lost; I can heal your soul and undertake for you. I have come to give eternal life to all who put their trust in Me.”
Legal religion can do nothing for a man already fallen and defiled. The priest and the Levite represented the two tables of the Law, Godward and manward, but once broken, they become a ministry of death and condemnation. Jesus Himself bore that condemnation and died in our place, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God. Thus He has manifested Himself as able to meet every need and to save for eternity all who put their trust in Him.