“What Shall I Do to Inherit Eternal Life?”

(Luke 10:25-37 – Pentecost 8 – July 31, 2022)

Luke 10:25-37 – 25And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” 27So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.'” 28And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” 29But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. 33But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. 34So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ 36So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?” 37And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Dear fellow Redeemed in Christ Jesus,

“What must I to do to get a passing grade in this class?” “What must I do to get paid for this job?” “How slow must I be going not to get a speeding ticket?” Questions like these may come to mind when people think of getting what they want and where they want to go with the least amount of effort and good behavior on their part. All too often, this minimalistic spirit even enters into questions about the afterlife. “How good must I be in life to make it to heaven?”

In our text, a man described as a lawyer asks Jesus a similar question: “What Shall I Do to Inherit Eternal Life?” Even his question is asked with a minimalistic spirit, as he imagines that he is able to satisfy the necessary requirements for getting to heaven. Jesus’ response leads to two questions: 1) What does the Law say? When God’s Law shows what it requires to merit eternal life, and that all have sinned and fallen short, we are sent fleeing to the second question: 2) What does the Gospel say? The Gospel declares that when it came to winning our salvation, Jesus did not do the bare minimum. He spent His life fulfilling the Law of God for us, giving Himself in perfect love, giving Himself even unto death to win our forgiveness and eternal life.

1) What does the Law say?

The lawyer who came to Jesus was one of a class of Jews considered experts at teaching Old Testament Scriptures, with emphasis on the books of Moses, referred to as “the Law” (Torah). These teachers thought Moses taught that man is saved by works of obedience to God’s Law. They had lost sight of the Gospel of God’s grace, proclaimed by Moses and the other prophets, which always had pointed to the Messiah who was coming to do all the work of saving sinners. So when this man asked Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (vs. 25), he was thinking of what he must do, in obedience to the Law, to earn a place in heaven.

Jesus pointed to the Scriptures in which the man was supposed to be an expert, asking him: “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” The man summarized the Moral Law: “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself'” (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18). Jesus replied: “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live” (vs. 26-28).

Jesus was telling him that if he wanted to merit eternal life by obedience to the Law, it would take more than expert knowledge of the Law to be saved. He would have to show perfect love toward God and his neighbor, without ever lapsing into the slightest failure. This is what the Law demands if we are trying to earn a place in heaven with the holy God (Matthew 5:48).

This lawyer did not want to admit that he had failed to meet the Law’s demands, for that was his whole hope for entering eternal life. “But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'” (vs. 29) If a self-righteous man hopes to appear right under God’s Law, he tries to narrow it down and make it convenient to obey, so he can feel justified before God. The question, “And who is my neighbor?” betrays an attitude that wants to avoid responsibility. It really means, “Whom must I consider my neighbor?” It is like those questions: “What must I do to get a passing grade?” “What must I do to get paid for this job?”

This is how the sinful nature responds to God’s Law. It tries to pass the minimum requirements to feel justified. It says: “Sure, I’ll love that person who shows kindness and generosity to me; but must I love that one from whom I expect nothing in return, who will only take from me? Sure, I’ll love that person who loves me back; but must I love that one who treats me like an enemy? Sure, I’ll love that person who is part of my inside group of family or friends; but must I love that outsider, that person who is so different and difficult to be around?”

Jesus now tells the parable of the Good Samaritan to show this expert in the Law how he fell short of being a good neighbor to those in need around him. For one’s neighbor includes, not just those who are convenient to love, but anyone with whom with whom our paths cross.

Jesus began by saying: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side” (vs. 30-32).

Of all people, the priest and the Levite should have stopped to help. Both had come from serving in the temple at Jerusalem, where God’s Law of love was regularly taught. Yet, both violated that Law heartlessly. They justified themselves in thinking that they were not obligated to help this half-dead man. They did not recognize him as a neighbor, or a friend, or anyone to whom they owed a favor. So they hurried by. No one saw their sin of omission, except God.

“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you’ ” (vs. 33-35).

When Jesus used a Samaritan as an example of a good neighbor, it must have shocked the lawyer. The Samaritans were a mixed breed living in Israel. The Jews despised them as heathens, outside of God’s favor. Yet Jesus has the Samaritan in His parable teaching this expert in the Law who his neighbor is. If the beaten man lying along the road was a Jew, the Samaritan could have reasoned, “Why should I help this Jew? We are enemies. He would never help me! If I stop to help, I might be attacked in these dangerous parts where thieves lie in ambush.”

But the Samaritan’s attitude was not, “Whom must I consider my neighbor?” but rather, “Whose neighbor can I be?” He acted in the spirit of the Law of love, no matter whether it was a friend or enemy. He was moved by pity for one who needed the help he could give. He gave the injured man first aid and took him into his care. He put the man on his animal and brought him to safety. When they came to an inn he generously paid for the man’s care until he returned.

Jesus concluded by asking the lawyer the obvious: “‘So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’ And he said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise'” (vs. 36-37). The expert in the law should have felt the stab of guilt in his conscience, as he realized: “My neighbor is all those people in my life who could have used my love and help; but how often I made selfish excuses and passed by.”

It is one thing to know what God’s Law says; it is another thing do perfectly what it requires. Who of us has loved God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind? Who of us has always put God absolutely first in our life above all people, things, and desires? Who of us has always loved our neighbor as ourselves, never acting selfishly toward anyone whether it be family or friend, stranger or enemy? Who of us has always treated our neighbor’s needs equal to our own? If we were to ask the question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” and our only answer was “What does the Law say?” who could ever hope to make it to heaven?

2) What does the Gospel say?

But thankfully, God gives us His gracious and comforting answer in the Gospel. The Gospel shows us who the Good Samaritan really is. Who has done all that was required so that we can inherit eternal life? It is not you or me, but Jesus. He is the real Good Samaritan. As the Son of God in our flesh, He alone has kept the Law of love perfectly. The Gospel tells us how He came into this world to rescue us from our desperate, fallen condition as sinners. The Gospel removes all the burden of earning eternal life from our shoulders and places it completely on Jesus.

Let us see ourselves in the place of that beaten, broken soul left for dead along the road; and let us see Jesus in the place of the Good Samaritan. For Scripture pictures the Lord as finding us dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). The devil and his demons were like a band of thieves, overpowering us and doing what they wanted with our souls; for we had forfeited God’s protection as sinners. In our fallen state, there we were facing eternal death for our sins.

Jesus, the Good Samaritan, did not avoid us, but He came to us in our wretched state. He did not look at us and ask, “Why should I help this miserable soul? He has made himself an enemy by his sin! She would never help Me in this situation! If I help, I myself might be in danger.” Jesus did not ask, “Whom must I consider a neighbor?” but rather, “Whose neighbor can I be?”

Our Good Samaritan acted in perfect love. As He saw us sinners, left for dead in our fallen state, He was moved by pity to do what it took to save us. For all the ways we have brought judgment on ourselves by failing to love one another, Jesus did what it took to make us right with God, to restore us to life with God. He fulfilled the Law of love perfectly for our credit. He showed perfect love to all, even to His enemies. He did not just put His life at risk to save us; He gave His life unto death on the cross, to pay for our every failure under God’s Law. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2), that He might win for us eternal life.

Now, see how our Good Samaritan has cleansed and bound up sin’s wounds by His blood. See how He has brought us into His personal care by faith. In Baptism, He washes away our sin and clothes us in His purity and love. In the inn of His Church, He continues to give us His healing forgiveness and faith’s nourishment by His Gospel. In His Holy Supper, He gives us His Body and Blood for our forgiveness and strength of faith. By His wounds we are healed, as our Good Samaritan applies the healing balm of His salvation to us through Word and Sacrament.

This is how the Gospel answers the question: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” It shows that it is not something we earn; it is something we are freely given. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The Gospel shows what Jesus already has done for our eternal good. It shows how He continues to provide for us until He returns to take us to His heavenly inheritance.

Fellow redeemed, who have been saved by our divine Good Samaritan. Now we have been healed, set free from bondage to sin, Satan, and death. We have been brought into “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). Now, no longer do we want to ask, “What are the minimum requirements for doing God’s will – what must I do?” No, we are free and inspired to love God, in thankfulness for His gift of salvation. As His eternal children in Christ, we are free and inspired to share His love with our neighbor, that amazing love our Good Samaritan has shown us. Yes, His Gospel frees us and inspires us to go and love as He has first loved us.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now, and ever shall be. Amen.