The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
There are some things in life that don’t have to be taught or just plain can’t be taught. Some things you’re just born with, and some have “it” and some don’t. There are some things you can teach. You can teach someone about baseball. You can even teach them how to hit the ball. But…you can’t teach the inner drive and the desire to want to practice and perfect the skill. Some people have it, and some people don’t. You can teach managerial and leadership skills. But…not everyone is a leader. Some are natural-born leaders, and some are followers by nature. Some lead, and some are too busy worrying about what everyone else thinks. Some people have “it,” and some people don’t.
The reason I begin in such a way is because as we turn our attention to the Gospel lesson (the parable of the Good Samaritan), we hear Jesus teach “Now you go and do likewise.” We get it, right? The meaning is clear. The Samaritan showed love to the poor sap dying in the ditch, even though the two men were enemies by nature. Samaritans and Jews hated each other! And yet…the poor sap’s fellow Jews didn’t show him love at even the lowest, most basic level. They ignored him. They crossed to the other side of the road, pretending to not even see him. Not the Samaritan. He showed merciful love to the very man who called him “enemy.” Jesus teaches this because we need to learn it. Such compassionate and merciful behavior doesn’t come naturally to us children of Adam. We may, by nature, have compassion for some, especially for those whom we love, but the same can’t be said for those whom we deem “enemy.” Instead, what comes natural in the case of an enemy is the old “pound of flesh/karma” mentality. “Good! They’re getting what they deserve!” Jesus teaches otherwise. The Good Samaritan had compassion on his enemy; you go and do likewise.
But…as true as this is, there is a major problem with such a moralistic approach. Don’t get me wrong: Jesus is very clearly teaching that we are to be like the Good Samaritan. There is no denying this fact. And many Christians immediately cite Matthew 25 and serving Jesus by serving the least of His brethren as further proof that good Christians are to be like the Good Samaritan. After all, we’re serving Jesus when we serve and show merciful love to even the lowest of our enemies. Jesus loved that person enough to die for them. His merciful love for them took Him all the way to the cross. We show our obedient love to Jesus by showing love to our neighbor…even if that neighbor happens to be someone we can’t stand.
Now, again, all this is most certainly true, BUT…we’re missing the key to properly understanding all this. We’re missing the key point that differentiates this from mere moralistic, works-righteous command. Fill in the blank: “We love because ___ first loved us.” That’s right. We love ONLY because Christ/God first loved us. We forgive just as we’ve been so graciously forgiven. We show mercy to others out of the humble thanksgiving that He has first shown us such undeserved mercy.
I’ve taught on this in the past, but it bears repeating. Jesus Christ is our truly Good Samaritan. He is the One who is, by nature, the enemy of sinful Old Adam. The righteousness of the Law, represented in this parable by the priest and Levite, cannot and does not save a person. The Law shows us our sins. The holy Law of God shows us how we aren’t just half-dead or sick with sin, but wholly dead in our sin. The Law shows us our sin, but it doesn’t give us the cure. It cannot and does not make atonement for our sin…not even a little. Like St. Paul says in the Epistle, “If a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the Law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
This is why our truly Good Samaritan Savior came to us and saved us. We were dead in our trespasses. Not just a little under the weather. DEAD! In His divine mercy and compassionate love He stooped down to serve us by pouring out Himself on His cross for us and our salvation. Our sins were put upon Him as He paid the price in full with His own life. He is the One who left the glories of heaven and went into the hellish enemy territories of sin, death, and the grave in order to put us on His shoulders and carry us out in His holy and life-giving exodus into the heavenly promised land of life everlasting. He is the One who has drowned your sinful death sentence, putting it to death by baptizing us into His death and resurrection. It is here at the font that He has poured out His life-giving baptism upon your corpse of sin, breathing His holy life into you. He is the One who continues to pour out His life-giving Word and Body and Blood so that you may be nourished and healed and satisfied in His grace and mercy and peace.
Folks: Just take a moment and think about all that your God and Lord has done and continues to do for you. NONE of this is known by nature, is it? No one is born with a natural saving knowledge of Christ Jesus or what He has done for them. By nature, all children of Adam are children of wrath, ignorant and living in the darkness of sin. By nature, they know that there is “something” bigger than them. By nature, all children of Adam know that there is something terribly wrong with them and the world they live in. There has never been a people so debased and out of touch that they didn’t have a god which they tried to please. IF they didn’t have a god, they invented one. This is what comes natural to all children of Adam. This is why, by nature, every child of Adam has endeavored to do works of the Law in an attempt to make things right. You don’t have to teach works-righteousness. EVERYONE has that!
But…you do have to teach the alien righteousness of Christ; the all-availing righteousness that is an absolutely free and unmerited gift of God; the all-atoning and all-availing righteousness that is revealed in God’s Word alone and is apprehended through faith alone. Faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone. It is this precious gift of God’s gracious, Christ-centered justification that takes root and springs up to bear the abundant and God-pleasing fruits of sanctification; that fruits that joyfully and effortlessly serve God by serving the neighbor.
This is precisely why we teach what NEEDS to be taught and heard and inwardly-digested: the Good News of Christ crucified for you. It is this Good News of your justification by God’s grace alone because of Christ alone that will, by His grace, take root and bear abundant God-pleasing fruit. To cite (properly) the Matthew 25 text: “Lord, when did we do these things?” Those holy sheep who are called “blessed” by God didn’t formulate a plan or a chore list of all the things they had to do in order to please God and earn His favor. Their works of the Law didn’t save them. Faith in the Gospel of Christ saved them—faith alone. The God-pleasing fruit they bore in their everyday lives was borne quite naturally. It didn’t have to be taught or commanded. By faith; by virtue of their birth from above through Water and the Spirit, they had “it.” Their good and God-pleasing works flowed forth quite naturally and effortlessly out of the joy of their justification. Their good and God-pleasing works weren’t efforts meant to incur God’s grace and favor. Rather, they were joyful, reflex-responses to His grace, mercy, and favor.
The same goes for the proverbial Good Samaritan. Jesus justifies him; that is, He declares him “good,” not because he did certain or specific good deeds, but because the fruits he bore to his neighbor—even one who deemed him “enemy”—were fruits of faith; fruits that flowed forth out of the joy of his justification by God’s grace alone. He was forgiven much by his God and Father. How could he not, in turn, forgive so little? He was loved so much by His God and Father. How could he not, in turn, love as he had been loved? He was shown mercy by his heavenly Father, even though he deserved nothing but present and eternal punishment. He knew the gift of God’s grace and mercy to him. How could he not, in turn, show grace and mercy to others? His was a faith grounded in the undeserved mercy, grace, and love of God. Now…you go and do likewise.
May this Christ-centered peace of your justification—the peace that surpasses all understanding and is apprehended only through faith alone in God’s grace alone because of Christ alone—be and remain with you always, and may it be witnessed in all that you say and do, to the glory of Christ’s holy name.
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