The following are Pastor Kevin’s preaching notes. They are neither a transcript nor a professionally edited document. They are provided for personal and devotional use and should not be distributed without permission.
Good morning, my name is Kevin Labby, and I'm the Senior Pastor at Willow Creek Presbyterian Church. I want to welcome all of our guests here today! And I also want to welcome everyone watching this online either live or throughout the week. We know that most people will check us out online before they ever visit. We hope to see you soon.
This is the Word of God from Luke 10:25-37.
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
This ends of the reading of God’s Word. Let’s pray.
Our Father in Heaven, we thank you this morning for the gracious gift of your Word. In view of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, and through the powerful presence of your Spirit, we ask that you illuminate the meaning of this passage for us this morning. We ask that it renew the thoughts of our minds; realign the priorities of our hearts; and reshape the practice of our faith for your glory and our good and the good of our neighbors, even our enemies. We ask it in the precious and powerful Name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Compassion is critical.
We have all had times when we needed help. I sure have - like the time I was stranded on the side of the road with a broken-down car and some kind Canadians returning from vacation drove me the rest of the way home, over an hour away. Or the time when I was visiting a relative experiencing a significant health issue, and the elders from the local church reached out with prayers and offers of hospitality. Or the time when I was discouraged in ministry, and some fellow pastors and friends listened and encouraged me to press on. I could go on and on, and I’m sure you could too.
In those moments, think what life would have been like if no one responded. What if no one heard or bothered to listen to your cry for help? How would your life have changed? For some needs, maybe it wouldn’t have made much difference. However, I imagine that, for others, it might have been a matter of life or death.
None of us can do life alone, at least all that well. We need one another. We need compassion. Compassion is critical. It can be life-changing, even life-saving.
Compassion is seldom convenient.
However, let’s be honest: compassion is seldom convenient. It wasn’t convenient for those kind Canadians to drive an hour out of the way to get me home safely. It wasn’t convenient for those elders to take time out of their day to pray and visit with my family, even invite us into their homes. It wasn’t convenient for those pastors to move beyond their own problems and discouragements into mine. Compassion is essential, but it usually isn’t easy.
That’s a little bit of what we see in our passage this morning. Jesus tells a story filled with difficulty and tension designed to reveal and resolve our greatest difficulty and tension: our shared need of God’s compassion.
Jesus and the Lawyer
“What is the least I can do?”
The first five verses of our passage set the stage for this story. A lawyer - that is, an expert in the law - tried to test Jesus. Specifically, he wanted to know what he had to do in order to inherit eternal life (v. 25). We might be bold enough to say this morning that he actually wanted to know the least he could do and still inherit eternal life. He was asking, in so many words, “How good is good enough?”
Now, let’s pause here because this is vitally important. If you miss this, you miss the meaning of this entire passage. Again, what was the lawyer’s concern? It was salvation and, more specifically, how he could attain it (we might even say earn it) through his efforts. That is the frame for this story; it’s the question Jesus aims to answer. Don’t forget that. We’ll come back to it in just a second.
How did Jesus respond? He lowered the boom. He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (v. 27). In so doing, he summarized the entire law of God (cf. Matt. 22:37-40). In other words, Jesus responded that if you want to attain or earn heaven through your efforts, you need to do everything God commands, with every fiber of your being, every single time - no exceptions.
Clearly, the lawyer understood the awful implication because he immediately felt the need to justify himself (v. 29). How did he do so? As Jesus lowered the boom, the lawyer tried to lower the bar. He responded, “And who is my neighbor?” Again, this was his attempt to lessen the all-encompassing and uncompromising demands of God’s law; he wanted to know what was the least he could do and still inherit eternal life.
To answer his question, to identify his neighbor, Jesus then told a famous story involving six characters: robbers, a presumably Jewish man, a priest, a Levite, a Samaritan, and - only incidentally - an innkeeper. This morning, I want to show you something someone showed me a while ago - how three of these characters illustrate the three basic approaches we can have toward God’s blessings.
Approach #1: The Robbers
“What’s yours is mine.”
The first approach is that of the robbers. Their view is: “What’s yours in mine.” Verse 30 continues:
Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.
The strong implication here is that these are irreligious folks. They’re thieves and men of violence. They don’t fear God and don’t care about others. They care only about themselves and will take advantage of others for their own gain. They’re cruel, not compassionate.
Our natural impulse here, as would have undoubtedly been the case for the lawyer when originally hearing this, is to vilify these robbers - to see them as somehow different from, somehow morally inferior to us.
However, we should be very careful at this point. Jesus invites us to a much deeper level of introspection. Consider the implication of such thinking. If we find nothing in these robbers similar to ourselves, what we’re saying is that there are standards of God that we’ve met and commands that we’ve fulfilled. We’re saying that we’re not only better than them; we’re different from them.
For instance, when we hear the eighth commandment (“Thou shalt not steal.”), we won’t think it speaks to us - but it does, in many ways. Dennis Prager points out that the eighth commandment is, in some ways, a summary of all the others. Violating the first table of the law is to rob God of his glory. Violating the second table of the law is to rob parents of their rightful honor, innocents of their lives, husbands or wives of their spouses, and innocents of justice or their reputations. Even coveting is the desire to have what others possess - to “steal” it in our hearts. In other words, we are all robbers. Like the roadside bandits in Jesus’ story, we want what we want and, all too often, we’ll do whatever it takes to get it.
So, here we have a wounded innocent laying on the side of the road, half dead. He needs help. He needs compassion. It’s critical, but far from convenient.
Approach #2: The Priest and the Levite
”What’s mine is mine.”
It’s here that Jesus introduces the second approach. He describes a priest and a Levite. Their view is: “What’s mine is mine.” The story continues in verses 31-32:
31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Here, Jesus takes an interesting and unexpected turn. Unlike the godless robbers, Jesus introduces eminently religious figures - a priest and a Levite. It’s possible that the lawyer expected these to be heroes in Jesus’ story. However, it’s even more likely that Jesus employed a common story device of the time - two religious leaders who fail and then a common man who succeeds. This would be somewhat akin to our three-fold joke formulas - ex. “Three guys walk into a bar - an Episcopalian, a Presbyterian, and a Pentecostal.”
One thing is for certain: these two are not heroes. They both walk by the wounded man. In fact, they - probably to avoid touching a possibly dead man and defiling themselves after religious service in Jerusalem - each “passed by on the other side.” Not only did they not help; they didn’t even go near! They wanted to keep what was theirs - in this case, a religious record and reputation.
Now, again, our instinct is to condemn these two - to not see ourselves in them. That would be to miss the point.
How does the Bible describe those apart from God’s salvation in Jesus Christ? It uses many metaphors, right? We might say they’re lost or blind or hardened or we might use any of a myriad of other descriptions. One of the direst is this: dead. Before we known by Christ, we were spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins.
In other words, we live and walk among those who have yet to find new life in Jesus Christ every single day. Do we pray for them? Do we get to know them? Do we strive to help them? Do we share with them? Or do we, fresh from religious worship and service, pass by on the other side, so to speak. I don’t know about you, but that cuts me deep. I’m man dead by the side of the road. I’m the robber. I’m the priest. I’m the Levite. You know who I’m definitely not? The Samaritan.
Approach #3: The Samaritan
”What’s mine is yours.”
We read the third approach in verses 33-35. It’s the approach of the Samaritan: “What’s mine is yours.”
33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’
The lawyer probably expected Jesus to introduce a common man, to zing the religious establishment by exalting a member of the laity as especially righteous. Instead, Jesus blows his mind by introducing the universally loathed and despised Samaritans into the picture.
In other words, Jesus shows that salvation, for the wounded man left for dead, came from a most unexpected place: an enemy, not a friend; the unclean, not the clean; the despised and rejected, not the admired and accepted.
At this point, if you’re tracking with this amazing story, you should be connecting some dots. You should be realizing that, in this story, Jesus is the Good Samaritan. We treated Jesus as our enemy. He was defiled that we might become clean. He was rejected that we might be received.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan
There is a tendency to read and reduce this parable to a morality tale. That’s the way most people read it. We can almost hear our well-intentioned Sunday School teachers:
“Now listen, little boys and girls: who pleased God in this story - the robbers? The priest? The Levite? No! It was the Good Samaritan. Now, you know what Jesus wants, right? He wants you to be a good little Samaritan, too.”
Is that the ultimate point? No.
Remember the frame for this parable? The lawyer asked Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This parable is primarily designed to answer that question. It’s about salvation. Specifically, it’s about justification - not simply behavior modification.
Jesus presented the lawyer with a portrayal of the high standard of God’s all-encompassing, never yielding law. The lawyer, if he had any sense, was completely demoralized by it. He might have asked himself, "Who could love like that?” That’s precisely the point: only One can love like that and only One has - Jesus. Salvation/justification can never and will never come by what we do, but rather can only come through what Christ has done.
Compassion takes the initiative.
What has Jesus done for us? Well, like the Good Samaritan, he took the initiative. He didn’t pass us by at a distance. He drew near. He literally took on our flesh that he might share in our humanity. He was tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin. He became one of us that he might become one with us.
The Bible tells us that “We love God because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). It also says that “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus didn’t wait for us to draw near; he left his seat in glory to accomplish our rescue and redemption (cf. Philippians 2). Jesus took the initiative.
Compassion takes risks.
You know what else Jesus did for us? Like the Good Samaritan, he took risks. No, I don’t mean that he left anything to chance. He didn’t. I don’t mean risk in that sense. I mean that Jesus exposed himself to hardship, danger, suffering, and death - all to rescue and redeem you from spiritual peril and poverty. No cost could exceed his compassion. No risk was too great.
Compassion takes time.
But Jesus didn’t only move us out of harm’s way. Like the Good Samaritan, he put us on the road to ultimate and lasting healing. He’s present and paid every price necessary for our complete restoration. He’s promised to see the good work he’s begun through to completion (Philippians 1:6).
Will you ask, “What is the least I can do?”
The lawyer wanted to know what was the least he could do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him the truth: the least you can do is everything. Knowing that he could not, Jesus created a crisis that only he can solve. Jesus shows that salvation cannot come from within us - no matter how irreligious or religious. It must come from outside of us, even from a most unexpected place.
Will you ask, “What can I do for the least?”
We can praise God that it has! Jesus did not ask, “What is the least I can do?” He asked, “What can I do for the least?” And he’s done it - for you and for me.
We need to make one more important point before we close. It’s this: while the Parable of the Good Samaritan is not ultimately a morality tale, it does show us the nature of God’s love to us and through us.
The Spirit of the risen Christ - our Good Samaritan - lives in you (Galatians 4:6). He ministers through you. As he took the initiative, the risks, and the time to not only remove you from harm’s way, but to put you on the road to ultimate and lasting healing, he now wants to do the same through you for others. This isn’t about earning God’s affections; it’s about enjoying them. It’s not about receiving God’s mercy; it’s about responding and reflecting that mercy toward others. It’s about loving others because we’ve been loved.
This Compassion Sunday, we take time to remember that there are countless children in our world today who are as imperiled and as endangered as the man beaten by robbers. They are children who will go to bed hungry tonight. They are children who have lost siblings to malnutrition and fear they might be next. They are children who will otherwise die of preventable and addressable diseases. They are children who are at risk of gangs and sex traffickers and drug abuse.
Will you walk by them, on the other side of the road? Will you be animated by the question of the least you can do or the invitation of what you can do for the least?
We know how Jesus answered that question for us. How will we, in him, answer it for others? No - you can’t help every child. That’s beyond any of us. But most of us, if not all of us, can help at least one. You can release a child from poverty in Jesus’ name and, as God graciously enables, I hope you will.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.