“Who is My Neighbor?”
For many people, attending church services is a part of life. They make it a practice to worship God on a regular basis. They spend time with other believers, loving God and obeying His commands. When they assemble at their church, they consider things from God's Word, and perhaps hear something they have not heard before. For many, that is what it means to be a Christian. They devote some time to worshiping God and studying the Bible. In their minds, it is what secures their eternal salvation. Certainly those things are important. God desires us to worship Him and to celebrate the life we have through His son, Jesus Christ. Then what? What difference does that make in one's life? Does worshiping God on Sunday change the way we live on Monday? Oh, we sometimes quickly forget that what we learn is to change the way we live. Our time in God's presence and in His Word is to impact the way we interact with others. In our lesson today, we will look at a familiar story found in the Gospel of Luke. Someone asked Jesus a sincere question about receiving eternal life. He responds by telling a parable. In fact, Jesus does not give the man an answer to his question, rather, He responds with a question of His own. As we spend time with this story, may we put ourselves in the midst of it. May we consider and ask the question, "Who is my neighbor?" I hope you will do that with me as we open our Bibles and study together on "Key to the Kingdom."
One of the most familiar stories recorded in Jesus' public ministry is found in the gospel of Luke, chapter 10. The title is "The Good Samaritan." We have heard those words and we have used them before, haven't we? We often times refer to a 'Good Samaritan'" as one who does something good for someone else, or we might refer to a person as a 'Good Samaritan'" if he or she takes a risk and helps a complete stranger in a time of need. Yes, we are familiar with and we use the term the 'Good Samaritan'". As we study verses 25 through 37, we will explore what that phrase really means and the purpose of this story. Almost one third of Jesus' recorded teaching is done in either a story or a parable form. Now, a parable was designed to present a new idea about God. It challenged those who heard that particular story to evaluate his or her life and then make some changes or adjustments; and, in this way, a parable became a judge over a person's life. Well, as we put ourselves in the midst of this parable today, we are challenged as to how we need to respond to Jesus' teaching. In the last part of Luke, chapter 9, Jesus begins to make a journey from Judah in the south up to the land of Galilee in the north. He goes through the land called Samaria. His disciples are very concerned about Him because there was a great deal of bitterness that has built up over the years between the Samaritans and the Jews. The disciples even thought Jesus, perhaps was in danger of losing His life, as He traveled through Samaria. And the Samaritans and the Jews didn't just 'not like' each other, they 'hated' one another. There was bitterness and there was animosity and they could not stand one another. And so, the disciples were rightly concerned, but Jesus was determined to go to Galilee through Samaria, and as He is traveling along, He is confronted by a teacher of the Law who is an expert in the Law, and we find this exchange in verses 25 through 29. <On one occasion, an expert in the Law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked. "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" "What is written in the Law," He replied. "How do you read it?" He answered, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul with all your strength and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself." "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?"> Five people would be identified in this story. The first one is the teacher of the Law. We might refer to this man, today, as a Bible professor. He read and studied the older part of the Bible, the Old Law. He studied that, he thought about it and then he shared it with other people. He was a student of the Law. Well, he had a good question to ask Jesus, and he said, "Tell me, what is it that I need to be doing?" Jesus asked, "Well, you tell me what it is." And he responded by saying, "I need to love God with everything I have and then love my neighbor as myself." And Jesus said, "That's exactly right. You have answered correctly." But then the man wanted to look good among those who were watching him, so he asked a follow up question, "Who is my neighbor?" And Jesus asked him a question by telling him a story. Oh, this man did not want his neighbor to be someone who was not like him. He was hoping that Jesus would not mention a Samaritan. He was hoping that his neighbor would be someone who was like him, perhaps of the same skin color or who spoke the same language. He hopes that Samaritans are not on that list. Perhaps he might have even thought about asking the question, "Jesus, who do I not have to love?" Well, Jesus tells a familiar story. He turns the table and He presents to him a story about a man who does love his neighbor. Let's read that story, beginning with verse 30. <In reply, Jesus said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was attacked by 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 he 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 traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on 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 denarii 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."> The second man in the story is the man who was beaten. That's really all we know about that man. He is not identified. We don't know for sure who he is. We can only suspect that he is a Jew; but, he is beaten, he is left for dead, he is stripped of his clothes, of his money, he has no identification, and he is lying there on the side of the road about to die. We don't know for sure who he is. We don't know his name or anything else about him. And that is the point Jesus is trying to make. He is simply a generic human being on the side of the road who desperately needs some help. The third man in the story is a priest. A priest was a well respected man who knew the Scriptures. He was similar to this expert or teacher of the Law. He read the Scriptures. He studied them and then he put them into practice. He shared them with other people. Yes, a priest was very important in that day and time, and he was to represent the Lord to the people. Well, perhaps this priest had just left his shift there in the temple at Jerusalem and he was going down the road toward Jericho, perhaps to his home where he would take rest and then be prepared for another shift the next day, back in Jerusalem. And as he is traveling, he sees this man on the side of the road, who is beaten, stripped of his clothes and about to die. And he thinks, perhaps to himself, "I wonder if that man is dead? If he is dead, I cannot touch him," because if the priest did, he would become defiled and unclean and unable to carry out his duties in the temple. Perhaps the man was a non-Jew, maybe even a Samaritan. Certainly, it would be not in his best interest to minister to someone who was not like him. And so, considering his role as a priest and his duties, and considering the cultural traditions of the day, the priest decided to pass by on the other side. The next man in our story is a Levite. He, too, is a Jew. Perhaps he has just seen the priest walk around a man in need and he might not even think much about this man lying on the road, but then perhaps he thinks, "I wish I could help him, but maybe he's a Samaritan and I don't want to get involved. Perhaps he is dead and I certainly don't want to touch him and become unclean myself." Or, perhaps, the Levite thought, "This is a trap." Often-times people would fake some kind of illness or problem, perhaps even a death, and lie on the side of the road; and, when someone came along to offer assistance, then the person lying on the road would jump up and attack that unsuspecting well doer. And so, the Levite was thinking about that. He did not want to be ambushed and taken advantage of, himself. And so, thinking about those things and considering what the priest had just done, the Levite also passed by on the other side. The fifth and final person in the story is the Samaritan. He, too, is walking down the road from Jerusalem going down toward Jericho, and he sees a man in need. But he, unlike the others, stops and helps. He bandages up the man's wounds. He pours on some oil and wine, some kind of medicinal ointment to ease the pain or to heal the wound. He then picks up the man and he puts him onto his own donkey and he then leads that donkey into the nearest village where there is an innkeeper. Now, imagine the risk this man is taking; he being a Samaritan trying to help a Jew in a different place. The innkeeper himself is a Jew, and when he sees what is going on, perhaps the innkeeper is thinking, "You, a Samaritan, have just beaten and robbed and stripped naked one of my fellow Jews. I don't trust you." Yet, the Samaritan offers care. He takes care of him. He sees about his needs. And then he tells the innkeeper, "If you incur more expense than what I'm going to give you, now, then I will make that right when I return in a few days." When the Samaritan saw the Jew in need, he didn't ask too many questions. He didn't worry about what other people might think about what he was doing. And even as he took his life in his own hands to help someone who was not of the same nationality, he was willing to do that, simply because he saw someone in need. Yes, this man was a neighbor to someone who needed help in a most desperate way. And this was the kind of person that God was looking for, who would follow in the footsteps of His son, Jesus Christ. This is the type of person who knows what it means to not ask questions and to not be judgmental, but rather to see a situation and to do something that will be a blessing to someone else. Well, the story ends, then, with Jesus coming back to this expert in the Law, this teacher of the Law, and asking some questions. Let's notice the end of the story, in verses 36 and 37. <"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" The expert in the Law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."> Oh, the teacher of the Law would have felt much more comfortable if Jesus had not brought up a Samaritan in the story. He would have felt more comfortable if it would have been a fellow Jew. It would have been more comfortable for this teacher in the Law to say, "Well, my neighbor is someone I have helped in the past or someone who has helped me. My neighbor is of the same skin color and speaks the same language. My neighbor would be someone who lives on my block or in my part of town." Yet, Jesus did not do that at all, did he? In fact, the expert in the Law could not even say the name Samaritan. He simply said, "The one who showed mercy on him." Yes, this man, even though he was an expert or teacher in the Law, was still unwilling to recognize someone who was not like him. When we put ourselves into a situation like that, how do we respond? As we think about this story, where do we fit with these other people? Are we like the teacher of the Law who does some reading and studying of the Bible and we want to do what is right, we want to make sure we are on that road to inherit eternal life and we do everything we can to be pleasing and acceptable unto God? Yet, we have some questions in regards to how that looks in our own life. Or, are we like the priest, holy and righteous and a good example to other people, yet we don't want to get our hands dirty with messy situations? We want to avoid those people or those things that might make us feel uncomfortable, or might make us unclean or un-pure in some way, and we move ahead. Or, perhaps we are like the Levite. We follow the example of our spiritual leader. We, too, don't want to get involved, although we know that it might be the right thing to do. And yet, we don't want to get our hands dirty. We don't want to minister to someone that might come back and get us in some form or fashion, so we wonder about what that might look like in our life, but we don't make that commitment to help. Instead, we pass by on the other side. Or, would we be like this 'Good Samaritan'"? We see someone who is in need and we offer our assistance. We do what we can without asking questions. We offer aid and assistance to someone who is in need and we go the extra mile. We perhaps put ourselves at risk, just a little bit, in order to do something good for someone we don't even know. How would we respond if we were in a situation like that? Would we stop and help or would we pass by on the other side? As we think about this story, perhaps what Jesus was teaching us, above everything else, is that genuine love for people requires we do for others what we would want them to do for us. What if we were in the shoes of that man lying on the side of the road? What if we were half-dead, had no money, no clothes or no identification? Well, my guess is we would not care who it was that came by and offered assistance, we would readily accept it. Perhaps that's where we are, today. When I think about this story, perhaps Jesus is also teaching us something else. God is no respecter of persons. God does not discriminate and He does not judge. Everyone is made in His own image. Yes, we might speak a different language. Yes, our skin colors may not always be alike and the same, and yet God loves all of us. God created all of us; and, we are to be mindful of that as we see the people whom God puts into our lives. Yes, there is no distinction of people, and when we see someone who is in need, we are to respond as the Samaritan did. We are to stop and help and offer assistance. As I think about the teacher of the Law asking that question, "What do I need to do to inherit eternal life?" Perhaps he got it, when Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise." Minister to the people God puts in your life without asking questions, ministering to those who are in need. A number of years ago, as I was traveling down the highway, my car ran out of gas. I pulled to the side of the road, secured the car, and decided I would walk almost 10 miles to the next gas station. And as I was walking, not long after that, a truck driver pulled over and asked if I needed a ride, and I quickly accepted his invitation. He took me to that fueling station, I purchased a gas can, put some fuel into it, and then I looked around for a ride to get 10 miles back down the road to where my car was sitting. Yet, it seemed nobody wanted to help. Nobody wanted to provide me a ride. Everybody had something else to do or just happened to be going in a different direction. But then there was a couple who approached me; husband and a wife. They asked if I needed help. They were of a different skin color. They spoke with broken English. I recognized that they were from halfway around the world. And then, I looked at their automobile. I thought to myself, "I don't know if that car will make it 10 miles down the road." Yet, it was getting late in the evening, my options were few and so I took them up on their kind offer. I got into the car and rode with them and we had a delightful visit for a few minutes. We got to where my car was, I jumped out, thanked them kindly and offered to pay; and, they refused. They simply drove on down the highway. And I've thought about that experience a number of times, as I think about the story in Luke chapter 10. What would I do, if I was in a situation like that? Would I ask lots of questions? Would I be hesitant? Would I be afraid? Or, would I be a 'Good Samaritan' to someone who was in need and offer my assistance? When I think about situations like that, I realize, as disciples and followers of Jesus, one of our roles is to lift up our eyes and to see the needs of the people in the world around us; and not only see those needs, but to do something about them. That's what it means to be a 'Good Samaritan.' That's what it means to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and to be a disciple of His. And as we think about that story, as we think about the situations that we encounter from day to day, perhaps the final word would be this; Jesus would tell us, "Go and do likewise." What about you? Are you doing that? Are you ministering to the people God puts into your life?
I'm walking down this sidewalk in what I consider to be my neighborhood. Yes, I live nearby. And as I walk down this sidewalk, I recognize some of these houses. I know some of the people who live in these houses. I call them my neighbors. I call them my friends. I can call on them to help me in a time of need, and hopefully they can call on me to help them as well. I know their name and I know some things about them. Yes, this is my neighborhood. Well, what about the people living over there on that street? What about the people in that neighborhood or perhaps those people who live across town, those people who speak a different language or are from a different country? Would I consider them to be my neighbor? In Leviticus, chapter 19, verse 18, we are told to love our neighbor as our self. In fact, that is one of the two greatest commandments. Number one, we are to love God with everything we have and then to love our neighbor as our self. You, perhaps, are in a similar situation. You live in a neighborhood with people all around you. Do you consider them to be your neighbor or your friend? Are you willing to do something to help them, to minister to them at a time of need? I really believe that when we love God with everything we have, our heart, soul, mind and strength, then we will love our neighbor as our self. And as we love our neighbor, we in essence are showing love to God. I would encourage you to lift up your eyes and to see your neighbors and to love them.
Thank you for being a part of today's lesson. Hopefully, the story of the 'Good Samaritan' does not become so familiar that we forget to apply it to our own lives. Oh, it is good to be aware of the people and the opportunities God puts before us to serve others. What we know is to make a difference in how we live. This lesson is available on our website, keytothekingdom.com. It, along with many others, can be downloaded without any cost or obligation. Other resources and information is there as well. I trust you will take a look at that which is of interest. There are several Bible studies, which are free and require no commitment. They emphasize God's love and salvation. I hope you will take time to go through them as well. By calling the number on the screen and leaving your name and address, we will follow up with any additional help or information you might request. Other ways to access this ministry is to find us on Facebook and Roku® television and even by downloading an app onto your smartphone. There is no charge for any of these things and I do hope you will take advantage of them. It is our privilege to share messages from God's Word on this same channel, and at this same time, each and every week. Thank you for joining us for today's broadcast, and consider joining us again next time, as we continue to study the Bible on "Key to the Kingdom."