This devotion is taken from the sermon preached at our Divine Service on September 9th, 2020 for Trinity 13. You can join us for midweek in-person worship every Wednesday at 6:30 PM.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Almighty and everlasting God, give us an increase of faith, hope, and charity; and that we may obtain what You have promised, make us love what You have commanded; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
15To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.
19Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
21Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
3 Turning to the disciples [Jesus] said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!
24For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
25And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27And 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.” 28And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus 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. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34He 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. 35And 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.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
The parallels between the Epistle and Gospel lessons for Trinity 13 are extremely helpful to understanding the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel.
The Lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Paul instructs the Galatians that the inheritance of Abraham was made by promise not by Law. In other words you do not inherit eternal life by doing something, but by the promises of God.
“Believe you me!”, Paul is saying, “If there was a law that could save you then God would have given it to you.” Paul knew firsthand, as do you and I, that God loves all people so much that He would never hold anything back from saving them. Therefore, when God says you are saved by His promise to forgive your transgressions and not by works of the Law, you can and should take His word for it! He is not trying to dupe you!
The Galatians had fallen back on the fatal error of works righteousness. Faith in the act of circumcision rather in the Christ to whom circumcision pointed to in first place. Through Abraham’s seed, not seeds as Paul points out, all nations shall be blessed. That Seed is Christ, and Christ has won the inheritance for all by His death for transgressions.
We’re stubborn though. We can’t quit looking for some kind of credit for what God has done. Jesus faces the Lawyer with the reality of why God had given the Law. The Lawyer asks for the Law’s answer to eternal life, what must I do he asks and our Lord asks him what the Law says. If you ask a Lawyer’s question, why not look for an answer in the law? That answer the Lawyer soon discovers is that if you desire to be justified by the Law then do the Law perfectly.
Don’t miss the point of what Jesus was showing the Lawyer. He was not telling Him that the inheritance He seeks can be attained by the Law. In principle and theory it can. If a man can remain sinless he doesn’t need what God in Christ has to offer for he is not under judgment for he has never transgressed the Law. Yet, Christ knows what this answer will actually do the Lawyer. The Law imprisons the man, as it does to all sinners, just as Paul explains to the Galatians. The Law was never given to save you, rather it corners you and cages you in. You’re without excuse. And to that the Lawyer tries to find a wait out, to jailbreak however he can. Seeking to justify himself, or in other words make himself righteous, he challenges Christ asking who is his neighbor.
And Jesus shows the man how futile are our attempts to be justified by the Law. He gives him the most beautiful story of law keeping the world has ever heard. It’s light is so bright it will never be eclipsed. That’s why even unbelievers have a semblance of knowledge of what makes for a Good Samaritan. It is someone who does what is right regardless of reward, recognition, or the cost. It is someone who wholly loves his neighbor even while others ignore him, despise him, or don’t even realize he is there. He is one who acts in mercy without question of whether the recipient is deserving.
We see it in small ways in ourselves. The doctor and nurses save a wounded man even though he is a drug dealer and killer. The American medic attends to the enemy as well as the ally. The church gives drink, food, and clothing to the needy no matter who they are or what creed they confess.
Yet, we know even these are paltry offerings when compared to the selflessness and sacrificial self-giving of the Samaritan. He has endless resources of time, money, and ability to save a dying man and he doesn’t give two-thoughts about it. You can tell from the narrative He will always give mercy.
And when Jesus closes we learn he wants the Lawyer to stop his vain search for eternal life by means of the Law. Notice he did not ask what the Lawyer was asking which would have been “Who should the Samaritan love and help?” Everyone is the answer to that question. “Who is your neighbor that you should serve them?” Everyone. Jesus wasn’t asking that. Instead He asks, “Who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?” Not everyone. Certainly not the robbers, nor the priest or Levite. Not the inn-keeper or the donkey. The One who showed mercy.
The Lawyer was dead in his transgressions and sins. Imprisoned under judgment. How does one gain eternal life? By the mercy that endures forever that comes from the only One who has enough love to care and the endless resources necessary to save – the only Son from the Father Jesus Christ. His compassion put on the healing oil of Baptism and wine of Holy Communion at His own expense. He has carried the burden of us to the cross and placed us in the inn of the Church for our convalescence and recovery. He promises to return and bring us to our rightful home, whole and well.
The most beautiful words this Lawyer ever spoke were in his answer to Jesus’ question. The one who had mercy. Mercy saved Abraham. Mercy saved Paul. And mercy saved him. The inheritance is bestowed upon him by promise, there is One who would have mercy on him, the Christ, the Son of God who spoke to him. He doesn’t say “Go try harder Lawyer. Come back when you’ve been better.” Instead, He loves the man and shows him the path He was taking for him and all people, the way of the cross and resurrection, the way of mercy. You don’t so much need to understand who to be a neighbor to, you already know the answer to that question. Everyone. However, not everyone is a neighbor to you. Who will be there for you with endless resources to help and heal you? You need the Neighbor who is always there and always merciful. God in Christ Jesus.
And finally, it’s only the One who has such mercy who can possibly say, “Go and do likewise.” This is a statement of the Law, but it’s not telling you this is how you’ll inherit eternal life. He’s telling you this because He knows you will love Him. He found you half-dead and imprisoned by your sin. He has freed you with forgiveness and assured you that you will live. He loves you so much He fills you with His love and sends you to love your neighbor, to imitate Him, imperfect as our attempts will be in this life.
So as you serve in all of your callings in this life remember the One who proved to be your neighbor. The One who had mercy, Jesus Christ. Go and do likewise. Amen.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,
forever and ever.
The grace of our Lord Jesus + Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.