Does Jesus ever lie? Of course not.
But when Jesus says, “Do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28), does He mean it? If the lawyer “does this,” if he loves God and neighbor, he’ll inherit eternal life—is that what Jesus means?
Actually, yes. What Jesus says is true, of course. Keep the Law in its totality, and you will live eternally.
But St. Paul writes, and this is also true, “If a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law” (Galatians 3:21).
The clear implication there is that there’s no law given that could give us life.
It’s impossible for us to keep the Law unto eternal life, and we’re commanded to do so.
“Do this, and you will live” is actually a promise.
We have to remember that the Law is good.
It’s God’s word, God’s will.
The dynamic in Lutheranism of Law and Gospel sometimes—and inadvertently—teaches us to pit the Word of God against itself.
Law, bad. Gospel, good.
Law, damnation. Gospel, salvation.
Law, death. Gospel, life.
But Jesus says, “Do this, and you will live.”
That’s a command, a perfect summary of the Ten Commandments—love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself—Do this…That’s a law.
With this promise added: “…and you will live.”
The Law is good.
And it promises salvation to those who do it.
But St. Paul also makes it clear that there’s no law that can give us life.
He writes that “the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22).
So—the Law is good. The Law promises salvation.
But not for you.
Not for anyone who does not keep it perfectly.
Jesus says what He does, because the lawyer’s putting Jesus to the test, desiring to justify himself.
The Law does promise life and salvation. Jesus says so.
But—and we all know this—salvation by the Law is impossible.
The parable of the Good Samaritan answers two questions specifically: 1) Can the Law save?
It answers this questions with a clear No.
And 2) Who is the Good Samaritan? And the answer to this question is also clear.
Thus says the Lord: “‘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. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 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. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise'” (Luke 10:30-37).
Can the Law save you? Clearly, no.
You are the beaten man left for dead. The priest and Levite, servants of the Law, pass you by.
They—that is, the Law—is of no help to one dead in sin.
Having failed the demands of the Law, the priest and Levite have no help to offer.
But something unexpectedly good has come out of Nazareth—the plan of God from before the foundation of the world—the truly Good Samaritan—Jesus the Christ.
He applies the medicine of immortality to you, water and bread and wine, simple things to which God has attached the promise of life eternal.
He brings you to the inn, the Church, He pays for your care, and provides an inn-keeping Pastor for you, that the medicine may be applied as needed.
And He promises to return. To settle accounts.
The Law cannot save you, but the Good Samaritan, Jesus the Christ, can and does.
That seems to answer the second question, right.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan who finds the beaten, half-dead man and binds up his wounds.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan who found you by the side of the road, dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, who applied the holy water of Baptism to you and fed you with simple things, bread and wine, and not-so-simple things, His Body and Blood, for your forgiveness.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
That should be the answer to our question.
But Jesus has a bit more to say.
The Law is good.
It’s true, primarily, the Law shows us our sin.
It’s true that, hearing this gospel reading, we hear the words, “Do this and you will live,” and we know we can’t “Do this…”
We hear Jesus say, “You go, and do likewise,” and we say, “But Jesus, I’m the one who needs help.”
And I don’t mean that falsely.
It’s the prayer of faith that prays, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
But here is where you must realize the help that God has provided.
He sent His Son, the Good Samaritan, to seek and find you, to bind you up, to feed and clothe you, to help you in time of need, to give you life when all you had was death.
What is there that cannot be endured if life is waiting for you, come what may?
I’m not saying that’s easy. But I am saying that’s true.
You—the Christian—need to hear this parable as God’s plan for your salvation.
You were lost and dead.
Christ finds you and gives you life.
That’s the way of it.
But you—the Christian—also need to hear this parable as an exhortation to live and practice the Christian faith.
First, Jesus is the Good Samaritan.
And then, once you realize how you have been saved and by whom, then, you are free to be the Good Samaritan that your neighbor needs.
Saved, now, not by works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Galatians 2:16), you now bring the sick, poor, and dying to the same inn where God serves and saves you.
And, now, you recognize the Law for the good and godly guide that it is.
Do this, and you will live.
Not because you can save yourself—you’ve been carried by Christ to the Church and washed and fed.
He keeps you.
Jesus says, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:37) so your neighbor, left for dead on the side of the road, would rejoice, with you, in the truly Good Samaritan.
Like the lawyer, you cannot justify yourself.
But our God is just.
And He is the justifier of sinners, of you.
Believe this, and you will live.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 13 Sermon, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt