Does Jesus ever lie?
Of course not.
But when Jesus says, “Do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:28), does He mean what He says? If the lawyer “does this,” if he loves God and neighbor, will he inherit eternal life—is that what Jesus means?
What Jesus says is, of course, true. Keep the Law in its totality, and you will live eternally.
But St. Paul writes, and this is also true, that “If a law had been given that could give life, righteousness would indeed be by the law” (cf. Galatians 3:21).
That is to say, there’s no law given that can give us life.
It’s impossible for us to keep the Law unto eternal life, and yet—we’re commanded to do so.
“Do this, and you will live” is law and promise.
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.
But Jesus says, “Do this, and you will live.”
That’s law, a command, a perfect summary of the Ten Commandments. Do this law, and this promise is added: “…you will live.”
The Law is good. It promises salvation—just like the gospel does, but it requires unattainable perfection.
That doesn’t mean the Law is bad—that means we are no longer very good, as God created us.
St. Paul makes it clear—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 to anyone who does not keep it perfectly, which is to say, not to you.
Jesus says what He does, because the lawyer’s putting Jesus to the test, desiring to justify himself.
He doesn’t desire to justify God, which is right.
He doesn’t desire to be justified by God, which is necessary.
He desires to justify himself, which is impossible.
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 question practically, with a clear—no.
The second question is: who is the Good Samaritan? And the answer to that 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?
You are the man, beaten and left for dead. The priest and Levite, servants of the Law, pass you by.
They offer no help to one who is dead in sin, because the Law offers no help to one who is dead in sin.
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 the one who is dead in his trespasses and sins, which is to say—you.
He gives 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.
To make things right.
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, binding up his wounds, whether that man’s in the parable or in the pew.
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 water of Holy Baptism to you and fed you with simple temporal, bread and wine, and eternal things, His Body and Blood, for the forgiveness of your sins.
Jesus is the Good Samaritan.
That’s the first part of the answer to our second 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 the gospel, we hear the words, “Do this and you will live,” and we know we can’t “Do this…” perfectly.
We hear Jesus say, “You go, and do likewise,” and we say, “Yes Lord, but I’m the one who needs the help.”
And I don’t mean that falsely.
It’s the prayer of faith that flees to God for refuge and strength: “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 bind up the wounds of the sick, poor, and dying, and you bring them to the same inn where God serves and saves you.
And now, you—the Christian—recognize the Law for the good and godly guide it is.
Do this, and you will live—not because you can save yourself—you’ve been carried by Christ to 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, in need of help the world cannot provide, would rejoice, with you, in the truly Good Samaritan.
Like the lawyer, you can’t justify yourself.
But the Lord our God is just.
He sent His Son into our flesh to bear our sin and be our savior.
He justifies sinners and sends them out to serve.
Believe this, and you will live.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Trinity 13 Sermon, 2020
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt