3-1 The Good Samaritan
Salvation in prospect
We've read how the lawyer asked Jesus what he should do " to inherit
eternal life" (Lk.10:25), and in a sense we ask the same question.
But we mustn't be quite like him, in thinking that if we physically do
certain things, then we will at some future point be given eternal life
as a kind of payment; and nor should we think that the eternity of the
Kingdom life is the most important aspect of our salvation. Let's look
over to Lk.18:18, where " A certain ruler asked him" the very
same question: What he should do to inherit eternal life. Christ's response
was that if he kept the commandments in the right spirit, he would "
have treasure in heaven" . When the man found this impossible, Christ
commented how hard it was for the rich to " enter into the kingdom
of God" (Lk.18:24). So there is a parallel here between inheriting
eternal life, having treasure in heaven, and entering the Kingdom. We
are told that now is the time, in this life, for us to lay up treasure
in Heaven (Mt.6:20). So here and now it is possible to have treasure in
Heaven, to have eternal life in prospect. In a sense we now have eternal
life (1 Jn.5:11,13), in a sense we are now in the process of entering
into the Kingdom . We have been translated, here and now, into the Kingdom
(Col.1:13). The very same Greek construction used in Col.1:13 occurs in
Acts 14:22, where Paul says that through much tribulation we enter into
the Kingdom; in other words, entry into the Kingdom is an ongoing process,
and we experience this on account of the effect of our trials. Entering
the Kingdom is used to describe our response to the Gospel in Lk.16:16:
" The kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it"
. Unless we receive the Gospel of the kingdom as a child, we will not
enter it; i.e. respond fully to that Gospel (Lk.18:17).
In prospect we have been saved, we are now in Christ, and therefore the
great salvation which he was given is therefore counted to all those who
are in him. We shy away from the positive promises that we really can
start to enter the Kingdom now, that we do now have eternal life in prospect.
But this shying away is surely an indication of our lack of faith; our
desperate unwillingness to believe so fully and deeply that our salvation
really is so wonderfully assured (1). That
eternal life dwells in us insofar as the eternal spirit of Christ is in
us (2). And so as we face up to the sureness
of these promises, we earnestly want to know what we must do
to inherit this eternal life, to have this great treasure of assured salvation
laid up for us now in Heaven. Of course we are saved by our faith, not
our works (Tit.3:5-7); yet our faith, if it is real, will inevitably be
shown in practical ways. So with all this in mind, we can come down to
that parable of the good Samaritan. That parable is the Lord's answer
to this vital question.
The preface to the good Samaritan parable is there in v.27: " Thou
shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul,
and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind: and thy neighbour as
thyself...this do, and thou shalt live (eternally) "
(Lk.10:27,28). To define this statement more closely, Christ told the
good Samaritan parable. He concludes it by saying: " Go and do
thou likewise" (Lk.10:37); he is referring back to v.28, where Christ
commands the man " this do " , i.e. loving God
with all the heart, soul etc. So the example of the good Samaritan is
a practical epitome of loving God with all the heart, soul etc. To love
our neighbour as ourself is to love God with all the heart and soul and
strength and mind. Therefore the good Samaritan needs to represent us.
And yet when we analyze this good Samaritan parable, it becomes clear
that we are also aptly represented by the wounded man; it is the Lord
Jesus who is the good Samaritan. The Law of Moses, symbolized by the priest
and Levite, came near to man's stricken condition, and had a close look
at it. Lk.10:32 (Young's Literal) brings this out: " Having been
about the place, having come and seen..." , the Levite passed on
by. The Jews regarded Christ as a Samaritan, so they would have immediately
understood the Samaritan of the parable to represent Jesus (Jn.8:48).
The good Samaritan having compassion on the man and being moved to do
something about him has echoes of the Lord's compassion on the multitudes
(v.33). His promise to come again after two days (he gave two pence, and
a penny a day was a fair rate, Mt.20:2) is a clear connection with the
Lord's promise to come again (after 2000 years from his departure?).
Until the good Samaritan's return, the man was kept in the inn, with
everything that was needed lavishly provided. Surely the inn is symbolic
of the ecclesia (3); in the ecclesia there
should be a common sense of spiritual improvement, of growing in health,
of remembering our extraordinary deliverance, realizing our weakness,
looking forward to seeing the Samaritan again to praise him for the wonder
of it all. This ought to characterize our gathering this morning, not
just partially , but very very fully .
He " bound up his wounds" , alluding to the manner in which
Christ was to bind up the broken hearted (Is.61:1). He cured those mental
wounds by pouring in oil and wine, symbols of his word and his blood respectively.
So the brutal beating up of that man, leaving him half dead, refers to
the broken-heartedness which the sin of this world and our own natures
inflicts upon us. Picture the scene on that Jericho road, the body covered
in blood and dust, massive bruises swelling up, flies buzzing around on
the congealed blood, face in the dust, frightened donkey neighing among
the scrub somewhere. That is they very picture of our broken heartedness,
the broken heartedness which Christ came to heal. The physical grossness
of those wounds is a picture of our mental state. Yet the flesh deceives
us that there is nothing really that wrong with our minds, with our natures.
Yet there is , and we need to come to terms with it more
and more completely, to realize our deep mental need for Christ's healing.
Once we do this, we will be able to see the need, the urgent need, for
his healing of our minds through his spirit, his
perfect, clean mind, being in us. And how were those wounds healed? How
are our mental wounds healed? By the Son of God tearing up his own
garments to bandage up the wounds (how else did he do it?), and healing us
with his blood and his word.
The description of the stricken man being "stripped"
of his clothing uses the very same word, rarely used in the NT,
to describe the 'stripping' of the Lord Jesus at the time of His
death (Mt. 27:28,21; Mk. 15:20). Likewise the robbers 'left him'
(Lk. 10:30), in the same as the Lord was 'left' alone by the disciples
to face the end alone (Mk. 14:50 s.w.). The robbers "wounded
him" (Lk. 10:30), a phrase which translates two Greek words,
'to lay upon' and 'stripes'. The cross was 'laid upon' Jesus (Lk.
23:26 s.w.); and we are familiar with the idea of the Lord being
'wounded' and receiving 'stripes' in His final sufferings (Is. 53:5).
The connection is surely that in the process of His death,
the Lord came to know the feelings of the stripped and stricken
people whom He came to save. No wonder He can powerfully "have
compassion" upon us. And it’s been pointed out elsewhere that
the ‘two pennies’ paid by the Samaritan are the equivalent of the
half shekel atonement money under the Mosaic Law, whereby a man
could be redeemed. Our redeemer is of course the Lord Jesus. The
redemption was ‘paid’ in His blood- which implies His putting us
on His beast of burden and carrying us to the inn, where
He paid the money, is a picture of His final sufferings which lead
up to the actual shedding of His blood.
"He brought him to the inn" can also
be translated "He led it [the donkey] to the inn". In
this case, the Samaritan is acting as a servant, for it is the master
who rides on the donkey and the servant who walks on foot, leading
it there. Remember how Haman has to lead the horse on which Mordecai
rides (Esther 6:7-11). All this speaks of how the Lord took upon
Himself the form of a servant in order to lead us to salvation-
when at the time we could do nothing, and had no awareness of the
huge grace being shown to us. The Samaritan was of course making
himself vulnerable to attack by robbers by doing this. But think
through it some more. There was an eye-for-eye vengeance syndrome
alive and well at that time. If a Samaritan turned up with a wounded
Jew, it would look for all the world like he was responsible
for the damage. It would be the first time a Samaritan was known
to have done such an act of kindness. And he risks himself all the
more, by staying at the inn, leaving, and then returning there,
thus willing to face the inevitable suspicion that he had
attacked the man, or was somehow involved in the incident. This
risking of His own salvation was what the cross was all about. The
parable gives a rare window into the Lord's self-perception on this
point. And so for us- we may stay up all night serving someone's
need, only to make ourselves irritable and impatient and more prone
to sin ourselves the next day. And in any case, it's my experience
that no good deed goes unpunished; we have to pay various prices
for it in this life. In all these things we are living out the spirit
of the Samaritan saviour.
" Do likewise..."
So there's ample evidence that the despised Samaritan of this parable
refers to the Lord Jesus. He was 'neighbour' to stricken humanity, he
came near to us, binding up our broken hearts, and carried us to the haven
of the ecclesia. " Go thou and do likewise" is therefore a real
challenge to us: to have the same dedication for others' salvation as
Christ had. His zeal to achieve God's plan of redemption should be ours.
Remember how the good Samaritan parable is an exposition of how to love
God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind (v.27). Every fibre of
the Lord's mind and body was bent for us , for bringing
about God's plan of redemption. He loved us, his neighbour, as himself.
Because of this it is impossible to separate Christ from the work He came
to do, i.e. our redemption (4). The point
of the good Samaritan parable is to teach us that his same devotion to
the work of conquering sin should be seen in us; our concern for the salvation
of others should be as great as that for our own. We need to be totally
filled with the idea of bringing about God's glory, of seeing the conquest
of sin achieved through Christ. So all our strength, our mind, will be
given over to the conquest of sin in ourselves, to the spreading of the
Gospel to others, and to the binding up of the broken hearts of our brethren.
One of the many Old Testament quarries for this good Samaritan parable
is found in 2 Chron.28:15 (5). Here we read
how Israel attacked Judah whilst Judah were apostate, and took them captives.
But then they realized their own shortcomings, and the fact that Judah
really were their brethren; then they " clothed all that were naked
among (he captives taken from Judah), and arrayed them, and shod them,
and gave them to eat and to drink, and anointed them, and carried all
the feeble of them upon asses, and brought them to Jericho...to their
brethren" . Now there is allusion after allusion to this scene in
the Samaritan parable. Surely our Lord had his eye on this incident as
he devised that parable. The point he was making as surely this: 'In trying
to follow my example of total love for your brethren, your spiritual neighbours,
remember your own shortcomings, and what the Lord has done for you by
His grace; and then go and reflect this to your brethren'.
The opportunities in our days for expressing this love of our brethren,
with all our mind and strength, are just so numerous. Letter writing,
preaching, organizing meetings, visits, above all fervent prayer for their
salvation. If we are really pouring out all our heart and soul into the
salvation of our brethren, after the pattern of Christ on the cross, our
worldly careers will mean so little, our every practical decision will
be coloured by our commitments to the body of Christ; where and how we
live, what hours we work, hobbies (if any!), holidays (if any!)... our
very soul, every aspect of our life, must be affected by our loving our
neighbour, and thereby our God, with our whole soul and mind and physical
As we behold the agony of our Lord Jesus, we really see our example.
We see a man driven to the physical limits of his humanity, not in striving
to achieve salvation by works, but in ministering God's wondrous grace
to others. 'Gethsemane, can we forget?' we sing, as if it was so unthinkable
that we should. But of course we do, hour by hour, day by day even. We
really need to seriously get down to remembering his agony, the intensity
of his struggle, more frequently and more deeply. This is surely what
we need exhortation about. We are bound together by the fact that
we all fail to do this as we should. I tend to visualize him with stooping
shoulders, graying hair, hair line well receded, lined forehead reflecting
that tremendous mental torture he experienced, quietly spoken, and with
eyes which spoke a message of commitment which we have never seen in any
other. Of course, we don't know exactly, neither is it ultimately significant.
But if we love the Lord Jesus, if we truly have a relationship
with him, if we really focus on his example of sacrifice on the cross,
that sacrifice of body and mind which went on throughout his life, then
surely it's inevitable that we start to think of him physically, as a
friend, a reality, a glorious example. So I've opened my heart to you
there, that's how I see him in his life and in his agony, as the moonlight
reveals him to us, kneeling in Gethsemane.
But outside the reverie, we are walking on down that Jericho road, Christ's
example really is ours. " Be going on, and do likewise" Christ
concluded (v.37 YLT). Verse 38 appropriately continues: " Now it
came to pass, as they went " , in the same was
as the Samaritan Saviour " as he journeyed" (v.33) showed such
energetic compassion , with all his heart and strength, to the stricken
man. We must be able to use our own realization of our own desperate need
for Christ's grace to motivate us to zealously devote ourselves to ministering
to others. Our lack of zeal in this is largely due to our own failure
to appreciate our own need, and the degree to which this has been satisfied
by Christ. Christ knew (and knows) the feelings of the stricken man. As
the man was stripped and wounded, so identical language is used about
the sufferings of Christ on the cross (Mt.27:28,29; Lk.20:12; Zech.13:6).
As his would-be neighbours passed him by on the other side, so the neighbours
of Christ stood aloof from his stricken body on the cross (Ps.38:11 AVmg.).
Through this he can fully enter into our broken hearts, into our intense
spiritual loneliness without him (if only we would realize it) and therefore
he will come alongside us with a heart of true compassion. So because
of his sufferings which we now behold, he can so truly, so truly and exactly,
empathize with our spiritual state.
So here we are as it were in the inn, thinking back to our salvation
by that suffering Samaritan, the strangeness and yet the glorious wonder
of it all. I'm sure Christ meant us to fill in the unspoken details in
his parable. Of course the saved man would have re-lived time and again
his wondrous salvation, how he had come to with the eyes of that man peering
earnestly into his, the laying on the ass, and the slow journey to the
inn. As Israel remembered their Passover deliverance through the Passover
feast, so we lie here on our sickbed in the inn, as it were, and remember
our great salvation.
All Of Us
The wounded man is
all of us- "a certain man" (Lk. 10:30) is a phrase more
usually translated 'any man', 'whomsoever' etc. The idea of journeying
downwards from Jerusalem to Jericho has some definite OT connections,
not least with wicked King Zedekiah, who ignored repeated prophetic
please to repent and fled from Jerusalem to Jericho, only to be
overtaken on the way by the Babylonians and sent to Babylon to condemnation
(2 Kings 25:4). ‘You’re every one a Zedekiah’, is the implication-
but we’ve been saved from out of that condemnation by the Samaritan’s
grace. Another allusion is to the incident in 2 Chron. 28:15, where
the captured enemies of Israel are marched from Jerusalem to Jericho,
and yet by grace they are given clothes, food and water. In all
these allusions, Jesus is radically reversing all the roles. The
true people of God are the repentant enemies of the people of God,
the “thieves” who spoil the people of God are the Jewish elders
(Hos. 6:1,29), the Divine Saviour is not a Jew but a Samaritan etc.
The helplessness of
the injured man is a fine picture of our weakness. We can only accept
salvation; there is nothing we can do to earn it. Hence
the Lord warned those who seek to save their own
lives (Lk. 17:33)- He uses the same two words to explain how He
is the one who seeks and saves (Lk. 19:10). Acceptance of salvation
is perhaps what faith is all about in its barest essence.
It's easy to think that the
focus of the parable is upon being like the good Samaritan; but
the focus equally is upon seeing ourselves in the wounded man. The
Lord's answers to questions nearly always seem to provide a simple
answer to them, and yet more subtly turn them upon their head, and
redefine the terms. The parable was told in response to the question
"What shall I do to inherit eternal life?". One
answer appears to be: 'Recognize you're the injured man. Accept
the Good Samaritan's salvation; for the Law which you so love can't
save you'. Indeed if read the other way around, the Lord's answer
would appear to be 'If you want eternal life, you must do
lots of good works, after the pattern of the good Samaritan'. But
this would contradict the whole message of salvation by pure grace
which was central to the Lord's teaching. It seems to me that the
parable is often interpreted that way- and it’s actually the very
opposite of how the Lord wished us to read it. No matter how much
good we do to people along the way, this cannot give us the
Who is my neighbour?
The Samaritan parable
appears to be an example of the way the Lord left His parables open
to multiple interpretations and reflections, all of which express
aspects of the many truths He was expressing to us. We need to reflect
who the ‘neighbour’ actually is. The parable is told in extension
of the Lord’s approval of the statement that to love God is to love
our neighbour, and vice versa (Lk. 10:27). The Lord was explaining
that what we have to ‘do’ to get eternal life is to perceive that
God is our neighbour. This is and was a challenging idea.
As challenging and provocative as when a black sister in southern
USA said to me once ‘Ya know, God’s ma nigger’. She meant, ‘God’s
my buddy, my close one’. The turning point of the parable is in
it’s end stress [as so often in these stories of the Lord]: “Which
of these three… was neighbour unto him that fell among thieves?”
(Lk. 10:36). Obviously, the neighbour was the Samaritan, whom we
have shown to be symbolic of God and His Son. This is the
answer to the question of the lawyer: ‘And who is my neighbour?’.
Answer: God / Jesus. The lawyer was wondering to whom he should
do his good deeds. So he asks ‘Who is my neighbour?’. He misunderstood
the whole thing, as people do today. The Lord was turning the question
around. Who is your neighbour? God / Jesus is your neighbour. You
are lying there stricken. Your fellow lawyers and legalists / Priests
/ Levites can’t help you. To receive eternal life, you must let
God be your neighbour. This is the work of God, to believe
on the one whom He sent (Jn. 6:29). This was the Lord’s response
to a similar question about what good works ought to be done. And
the Samaritans were despised and rejected… yet the Lord chose them
as a symbol of Himself. It's easy to under-estimate just how much
the Jews despised Samaritans- "The Samaritans were publically
cursed in the synagogues; and a petition was daily offered up praying
God that the Samaritans might not be partakers of eternal life"(6).
We see the sheer bravery of the Lord in framing the parable as He
did. He doesn't chose to speak of a good Jew helping a stricken
Samaritan; it's the other way around. The watchful student will
find up to 12 allusions in the Good Samaritan parable back to Hosea
6:1-10- which portray the Jews as the robbers, and God as the Samaritan
saviour. It is none less than Yahweh Himself who "will bind
us up... revive us... raise us up... come to us"- all the very
things which the Samaritan did. In all this was a huge challenge
to the Lord's audience- as to whether they would accept His grace.
"Oil and wine are forbidden objects if they emanate from a
Samaritan"(7)- hence the challenge to the Jews in accepting
the Lord's teaching. We in our turn struggle with the extent and
purity of His grace.
But of course, we are intended
to be the Good Samaritan too- in that we are to manifest and replicate
the saving work of Jesus in our lives and in our interactions with
people. There are details in the parables that need to be thought
about, the story reconstructed. The Samaritan ‘happened’ to have
“oil and wine” with him, i.e. medicaments for a wounded man (the
wine would have been an antiseptic). And he was travelling alone,
when people usually travelled in convoys. And the Jews had no dealings
with the Samaritans, they wouldn’t even talk with them on the street
(Jn. 4:9). So perhaps the Lord intended us to figure that the Samaritan
was actually going to help one of his fellow Samaritans who needed
attention, but on the way, he met one of another race in even greater
need, and changed his plans in order to save him. In all this we
have an exquisite example of the self-revelation of Jesus in His
own parables- for He saw Himself as the Samaritan. And for us too,
the call to save often comes when we are on our way to do something
else, at the most inconvenient moment, to people we would never
have considered would need nor accept our help towards salvation.
(1) See " The Problem Of Certainty"
in Beyond Bible Basics for a discussion of this.
(2) See " The Promise Of The Spirit"
(3) But in this case, who is the inn-keeper?
Ecclesial eldership? The 'Comforter' Angel which super-intends the body
of Christ? Or just an irrelevant part of the story? All of these solutions
have their problems!
(4) This is a point frequently made
by Robert Roberts in his debate with J.J.Andrew and in his book The
Blood Of Christ .
(5) Another will be found in Hos.
6:1,2,9, which seems to equate the Jewish priesthood with the thieves
which attacked the man. This was also Christ's estimation of them
(Mt.21:13; Jn.10:1). This allusion would have been especially relevant
in the first century context. Another connection will be found in
2 Kings 25:4.
(6) W.O.E. Oesterley, The Gospel Parables In
The Light Of Their Jewish Background (London: SPCK, 1936) p.
(7) J.D.M. Derrett, Law In The New Testament
(London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1970) p. 220.