Departure To Your Neighbor, Part I
(Luke 10:25-37)
by Bruni Wolters, Vineyard Church, Hamburg/Germany

Very often, neighbors nowadays are merely the person living next door. Sometimes you know them, often you don't. It's even worse in the public nowadays; people are being called up by numbers, not by their names.

We are becoming numbers and the receptionists are automats giving out those numbers. It's good to know that it's totally different with God! With Him we are and will remain destinctive personalities. Everyone is important to Him, He draws His attention to every single one. My subject today is our neighbor and how this person is of importance to us or can remain that way. Today, it's about the departure to our neighbor.

Luke 10:25-37

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?":

"What is written in the law? How do you read it?"

He answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your hearts and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,' and 'Love yoyur neigbors as yoursel' ."

"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?"

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 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 travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine, Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought 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.'

Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to them man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."

Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

Jesus is being tested here - a situation like at high school during exams. Many years ago, I was leading an evangelistic discussion group in the context of a campaign called "New Beginnings". Those joining there were interested in faith but didn't belong to any church. Some were open, curious and positive, while others were very censorious. The censorious ones were criticizing - especially their leader! "Let's listen to what she thinks the answers are!" Often, they came with a preformulated, stone hard opinion without wanting to get away from it. I was very young in faith and had no answers to several questions. I felt like going through exams - a very unpleasant feeling. Sometimes I was overstressed and helpless. In such moments you truly learn to pray: "Help me, Lord, what am I supposed to say?"

Jesus is being tested in His competence, in His knowledge of Scripture. And the one interrogating Him was not a poor, illiterate fisherman or farmer, but someone with a tremendous Scripture knowledge himself: a teacher in the law, a theologian. The man did not ask out of curiosity or personal consternation. He asked out of his religious arrogance and pride, wanting to lead Jesus up the garden path.

Yet Jesus reacts in a very sovereign way. No way is He agitated or unsecure. He is answering in a very easy-going way and can see through the intentions of the teacher in the law. He knows the question behind the question. This guy is well-versed in Scripture, he knows the ropes, he knows the answers, he can't be fooled.

Jesus throws the ball back asking, "What is written in the law?" And then He abandons the level of knowledge and changes toward the personal level asking, "How do you read it?" Jesus challenges the man toward a personal commitment.

The teacher gives kind of an automated answer saying what godly Jews are saying at least twice a day, "Love the Lord yoyur God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself."

And Jesus replies: "You have answered correctly."

Wow, two connoisseurs of Scripture agreeing! At least at that point. You don't have this very often. They agree, there is no discussion - at least in theory. But now it's getting unpleasant. Jesus is proceeding. First, He abandons the level of knowledge requiring a personal commitment and now, He even gets practical. He says, "Do this and you will live!"

Outch! The teacher in the law suddenly finds himself in a totally different role. It was him challenging Jesus and now, he finds himself being questioned! How will he react? For which way will he decide? For the way of honesty or will he try building a fassade around himself? Does he know Jesus already well enough to know that he is being accepted by Jesus unconditionally, despite his shortcomings and weaknesses?

How do we react when the claim that Jesus lays on us and our shortcomings clash? God's word is alive and wants to be lived. But we simply cannot do it. Do we know Jesus well enough in order to be honest? In our home groups we can talk fantastically about the Bible and shine with our knowledge. But how will we react if someone puts this embarressing question, "Well, and how do you do it? Are you living up to it?" Will we answer out of embarressing consternation or do we dare giving an honest reply?

The teacher could have said, "Oh my, Jesus, I know very well how I should think and react, but I don't succeed in it. I always fail in suiting the action to the word." The teacher in the law decides against honesty and in favor of the fassade. He dodges the issue. He wants to justify himself asking, "And who then is my neighbor?"

You could formulate this question also in a different way. Some formulations are very familiar to me:

"How do I have to understand this nowadays?"

"Do I have to take it literally?"

"Do I have to care for everybody, no matter who, or are there also limits, loopholes?"

The teacher wants to confine himself. He wants to know exactly who he'll has to care for, to love, and who not. We all need limits. We, too, feel more secure having guidelines and rules that we can abide by. But Jesus is very clear with His parable of the good Samaritan: there are no limits, mercy has no limits, charity and love have no limits.

If we stay glued to the question who we have to care for, then this will lead us into a oneway road. Jesus in His wonderful, counseling manner offers the teacher a great chance to get to know the gospel. He wants to lead him out of his legalism, out of the narrowness of his heart and He opens the door to the heart of God as wide as can be. Jesus changes the perspective.

Who does the teacher think of when speaking about the "neighbor"? He thinks of the poor victim. He thinks of the man who was being beat up. He thinks this is his neighbor.

Who does Jesus think of when talking about the "neighbor"? He thinks of the Samaritan, the helper! Jesus thinks from the side of the victim. There is someone in need of help, looking out for help.

Jesus asks, "Who was the neighbor?"

The teacher answers, "The one who had mercy on him and helped."

He even doesn't dare mentioning the word "Samaritan", for the Jews hated them so much.

The teascher asks, "Well then, who shall I love?"

Jesus turns the question around, "Who should love?"

Actually the teacher should have blurted out, "I - I should love, I should help, I must be merciful. You are thinking of me, Jesus!"

He did not do this. Again, he replies in a diverting way, again, he does not allow himself to be compassionate, merciful, again he locks himself up against changes. Again he shows that the need does not really touch him, he shows that in reality, he is unmerciful. This is why Jesus finally says, "Go and do likewise."

Are we ready to be questioned? Do we allow Jesus to change the narrowness of our hearts? This requires an honest inventory control of oneself and the question, "How merciful am I really? How much does the need of someone else touch me? Am I able at all to sense compassion? Do I realize how people are in my environment?"

Having clarified this point, I mean really clarified, we then face the next question, "How can I become more merciful? How will I become able to love my neighbor?"

It is a spiritual priciple for God not to require things of us He has not given us first. This also goes for charity and loving our neighbor. The subject of this sermon "Departure Toward Our Neighbor" has two parts. Today, I want to talk about what God has given us and next time, it will become very practical! Then it will be about how the love for our neighbor can grow.

What has God given us? How did He lay this healthy fundament, thus forming the precondition that enables us to live out the requirements of His word? Let me tell you how Martin Luther has interpreted the parable of the good Samaritan:

Jesus Himself is this good Samaritan, for all people at all times! We all are those that have been fallen into the hands of robbers. Those robbers are sins and demonic powers. We were all injured. We were all robbed. we were all beat up. We were all laying helplessly on the ground, at the mercy of death. Priests and Levites come along. They symbolize the law that God had given man. But law cannot help man to get free of sin. So they walk by and don't help.

Then comes a stranger - the Samaritan in this parable. He is a man surpassing boundaries - cultural and political boundaries. Jesus Christ has surpassed boundaries. He came from the invisible world of God to live among us people. A stranger in our world. He came to His people, but He was turned down by hostility. Jesus had given up His safety in heaven and has hazarded Himself. The Samaritan who stopped in order to help, also hazarded himself, too. For the robbers might have hidden nearby, to also attack him. Jesus took the risk and endangered His life.

He made His hands dirty. Blood mixed together with the dirt of the road is not a very pleasant matter. The Samaritan washed the wound with wine. Wine is a symbol for Jesus' blood. Sins are a dirty matter. Jesus has taken all sins of the all people upon Him. His death was the price for our freedom.

Then He pours oil over the wound. Oil is a symbol for the Holy Spirit given to us by God, also in order to experience healing. Afterwards, the Samaritan takes the man to an inn. For Luther, this inn stands for the church. The redeemed are being taken to church in order to be cared for so they can heal.

We are the ones in need for help. And who is our neighbor? Jesus Christ! He has done everything what God's law requires of us. Everything! Once we get aware of this fact, we don't need to worry any longer about how to get eternal life. Then we don't put the question any longer, "What do I have to do?"

This is law. Law is done, it's past.

Then we can completely rejoice in grace. Jesus has done everything! He is my neighbor! He has given me eternal life! I am really free, I am reconciled with God. What a gift! What a joy!

When Jesus then says, "Go and do likewise!", then it is no strain, He simply tells you, "Pass on what I have given you." And Jesus has given us so much! Are we aware of it? How do we handle His gifts? Let's take a look at some on them.

One of them is the possibility of confession. Jesus says, "Confess your sins to each other." Is this a gift or an unreasonable demand? When did you last confess your sins to another person, receiving God's forgiveness in return?

Or the gift of forgiveness. We don't need to carry our anger or our hurtings around anymore. Who has stepped on your feet lately? Have you already forgiven him/her?

Quiet time - gift or duty? God wants to spend time with us, because He loves us so much and longs for having us close to Him. Are we aware of this? Are we tending our relation to Him?

Worship - gift or only part of the church service? In our worship we can express who God is for us and bring our thankfulness to Him. Thankfulness releases joy. Concentrating on everything good God has done in our lives changes all our thinking and feeling.

These are all gifts, all offers - yet if we don't make use of them, we will never experience the meaning of grace and freedom. Pass on what you have been given! If you think you don't have anything to pass on then make yourself aware again of what Jesus has given you! Charity and love will then become a natural concequence of your faith.

Well, now go and do likewise!


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