God's Law: Easier Said Than Done

Text:  Luke 10:23-37

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

The Lawyer desired to self-justify himself.  By his questions and answers, it is clear that he felt that he was special, right, and whole.  By his questions and answers, the Lawyer was demonstrating that he supposedly had it all together and was worthy of eternal life. And get this, he was trying to get Jesus to applaud and approve of how great he was.  The Lawyer thought he could win great glory from Christ because of his supposed godliness.    

However, Jesus would play no such game.  And so, to smash this Lawyer’s religious snobbery and self-deception, Jesus told him a story.  And if you look at our Gospel lesson close enough, you will realize that this story was a setup.  Yes, it was a setup. 

You just heard the story.   But let us hear it again. 

A man journeyed from Jerusalem to Jericho, traveling down a steep and windy road where he fell among some robbers who took everything from him and then left him for dead.  And there he laid, helpless on the side of the road.  Injured beyond his ability to take care of himself.  Without help from somebody, he will die.

And so, we hear in Jesus’ story that a Priest comes by and looks and goes on his way.  Then a Levite comes along to the same place and looks, and goes on his way.

Now, we must pause here.  What is the Lord trying to accomplish and set up in this story?  Well, He is convicting us all for every time we walk by another person without concern, going our own merry way, without wanting to get our hands dirty in their pain.  But there is something far more profound that Jesus is doing in this story.  And that is this.  He is demonstrating how the Levite and the Priest saw the problem of the man in the ditch and then did nothing.  The Priest and Levite may have even said to themselves, “Yup, that man is going to die.”  But then, they failed to act. 

In other words, the Priest and Levite show us how God’s Law works.  We hear about this in our Epistle Reading from Galatians.  You see, God’s Law shows us what is good, right, and true.  The Law shows us the problem and what needs to be done.  However, like the Levite and the Priest who saw what needed to be done and then didn’t do it, we too do not do what needs to be done.  And my friends, when we do not do what needs to be done, we are certainly not justified or right or whole, but sinful. 

This is what the Lawyer was not getting.  Sure he had all the right answers.  He knew God’s Law, for he was an expert at the Law.  He knew what should be done.  However, he did not do it.  And Jesus, through the story showed the Lawyer that even though he ‘knew’ what was righteous and good that he was ‘not’ righteous and good because he did not ‘do’ what was righteous and good.  Frankly stated, the Lawyer could talk the talk but did not walk the walk.  He was a hypocrite – a sinner.

Dear friends, God’s Law calls us to love the Lord God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  If you understand that God’s Law is about perfect love towards God Himself and perfect love towards our neighbors – good!  But knowing the Law and doing the Law are two different things.  You see, the Law not only calls you to set God above everything else and direct all your thoughts, knowledge, and insights towards Him, but to do the same in acts and deeds.  God’s Law calls us to commit to God’s will in all that we have in body and soul and mind. 

Now, keep in mind that this is easier said, than done.  This is not a partial calling to love God and neighbor with a half-hearted attitude. 

What this looks like is this: to do God’s Law – to walk the walk – you should let love should spread throughout your whole body and your whole being, into every part of you.  From head to foot, inside and outside, all that you do should be captivated by love.  No hate in the heart, no resentment on the face, no grumbling tongue, no apathetic eye roles, and no frowning are allowed. If you are to ‘do’ God’s Law, you are to love and delight in God completely, never annoyed to go to church and never annoyed to read your Bible and never hurried to study the Catechism.  And with your neighbor; you should not see anything filthy in your neighbor.  You should always put the best construction on your neighbor, never giving into gossip.  Your mouths should not speak any evil, and your hands and feet need to be innocent too, only going the way of goodness.  In short, to do the Law and to be right and good and whole, all of your thoughts must be clean.  All of your deeds must be kind.  All of your words must be pure and uplifting.  Even your ears must filter out the negative and only hear the best construction about your neighbor.  And get this, you should desire to die a thousand times over than anger God with just one sin.[1] 

So, how are you doing?  Have you done enough?  Have you loved enough?  Have you given enough?  Has love permeated your whole being completely? 

You see, if you make the love sign with your hands, and gush about love, and think that you have done enough to love, you are living a lie.  If you think you have done enough that you have somehow racked up enough brownie points before God, then you are severely deceived. 

Dear friends, when we look at the 10 Commandments, we not only learn what we should do, but we quickly learn what we don’t do.  We learn what love looks like and we learn that we fail to love God and our neighbor properly.  This is what Jesus was showing that Lawyer in the story.  He was showing the Lawyer and us that simply knowing the Law and gushing about love in social media hashtags is not enough.  He was showing the Lawyer and us that we are not complete, whole, and justified, because we do not do the Law perfectly – we do not rightly love, which means that we are not right ourselves.     

And so, what we are learning with the Lawyer today is that we are the same as the Priest and the Levite.  The Priest and Levite saw a poor half-dead fellow on the side of the road and did nothing for him because they had neither love for God nor their neighbor. And we too, know God’s Law, but every single day we do not do it with all our heart, soul, and mind. 

Truth be told, though, we are probably much closer to that poor man on the side of the road than the Priest and Levite.  You see, when God’s 10 Commandments do their work on us, they reveal to us that we do not love the way that we ought to.  And there is more – this is the setup – the Law does something more.  It shows us just how dark and depraved our sinful nature runs through us.  The Law helps us see that we have been beaten up by our sin and left half-dead in the ditch of life.  Indeed, the Law shows us our sins, reveals our sickness, and makes us aware of our misery.  And so, the Law helps us understand that we cannot do anything to inherit eternal life.  The Law helps us realize that the only thing we have earned is damnation. 

Dear friends, God’s good and true Law has no power to help us out of the ditch of our sin.  God’s Law cannot restore us or heal us.  The Law only identifies our problem.  And that is why we need something more; that is why we need someone like the Good Samaritan to come to our rescue. 

Consider the parable again.  The Priest and Levite passed by the poor man in the ditch, but the Good Samaritan came to help.  The Good Samaritan touched the half-dead man.  He washed him and anointed him, bound his wounds, and provided for his time of recuperation, paying whatever it cost to get the man back on his feet.

Dear Baptized Saints, do you realize what is going on here in this story?  The Good Samaritan in the story – this is our Jesus, and this is the Gospel. 

Baptized Saints, your God did not pass by and does not pass by you and me who lay in the ditch of sin.  Your God came and comes all the way to where you are.  Not only in putting on flesh, but coming to carry our sin.  That is what His cross was all about.  Him reaching into the depths to bring you forgiveness.

Like the Samaritan who brought the man to an inn, Jesus has brought you to the Church and given His Word to be that medicine of forgiveness that is continuously delivered to you, restoring you unto salvation.

And so, we see that the Law shows you and me our lack of love. It shows us that we cannot justify ourselves.  We cannot make ourselves right.  It shows us that we cannot scrub hard enough to get the stain of sin out.  However, the Gospel shows you and me our Good Samaritan – Jesus Christ. 

Daily the Law shall remind you of your inability to properly love and your failure to justify yourself.  But the Gospel… yes, the Gospel continually declares to you that you have a Good Samaritan that loved you and out of pure gift, declares you righteous - justified! 

That is your hope this day.  You are not left for dead in the ditch of your sin – unjustified – but rather you have a Good Samaritan.  His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, the only one who has fulfilled the Law and does not pass by sinners.  He is the one who binds your wounds and justifies you, by loving you from the manger to the cross, and from the cross to the empty tomb.  

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

[1] Partial quote and paraphrase from: Johann Spangenberg, The Christian Year of Grace: The Chief Parts of Scripture Explained in Question and Answer, tr. Matthew Carver (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2014), 298-299.

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