What Must I Do?
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
A young lawyer comes to Jesus and asks Him the question, What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus responds with another question: What is written in the law? What is your reading of it? Now this would be easy to overlook, but we have here a hallmark of the Old Testament faith. Jesus asked the question first of all about the Law. What is written in the Law? And the lawyer knew the answer! He responded, not by saying what he felt was right or wrong; no, he responded by God’s own words from Deuteronomy: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.
This lawyer didn’t learn these words on his own. Someone had to teach them to him. His parents. It is the responsibility of the parents to teach and pass on the faith to their children. This lawyer knew the answer to Jesus’ question, and responded with a summary of the 10 Commandments. Now this gives us a little insight into how our Lord wants this done. Passing on God’s Word is something that is active. Children and adults don’t simply learn these things by observing. No, it’s work. It has to be taught, step-by-step, and even word-by-word. Certainly this is a labor of love, because passing on God’s Word is the most important gift that you can ever give someone. But it doesn’t just happen by occasionally talking about it or wishing it will happen.
So we then move to Jesus’ second question: What is your reading of it? In other words, what does the Law mean? Now this is the harder question. In order to answer this question, the lawyer first of all had to know the answer to the first. He had to know the words of the Law. He knew the words, but he didn’t get the meaning. Learning the words without knowing the meaning does no good in the end. The lawyer believed that the point of the Law was that you could keep it. He thought, he firmly believed in his heart, that he could do everything in the Law. He thought he could be perfect. But obviously this is not so. This lawyer was dead in trespasses and sins. He knew the Law, but he didn’t keep it. He worked with the false assumption that keeping the Law was easy. As long as he didn’t kill anyone or cause any real harm, then, so he thought, he had kept the Law.
Now this is how you and I think about the Law by nature. When we think about the Law at all, we think that it is good because it applies to other people. I will teach the Law to my children so that they will behave. Or, I will teach the Law so that it will look like I am a better person. This is the way the Law works in the world. The Law teaches us to behave. It teaches me how to be a better person, so that I can get to heaven, right? Wrong. The Law kills. It teaches us first of all what God’s will is, and then secondly that we cannot keep it. No one can. But we in our arrogance and pride blithely go through life believing that we can do God’s will. Jesus, though, is about to teach us the true nature of Law and Gospel.
How? He tells us a story. A certain man went from Jerusalem down to Jericho and fell among thieves. He is stripped, beaten and left for dead. A priest sees him and goes on the other side, and so does a Levite, another keeper of the Law. The impression you get from the text is that these so-called pious men had more important things to do. The priest had to do his duty in the Temple, the Levite had to keep up with his duties for God as well. They didn’t have time for this man who fell on hard times. But another man came along the road. He was a Samaritan, a outsider and not a part of the chosen people. But he saw this man left for dead and had compassion on him. The word for compassion there is a great one. It means that his guts were moved to help him. He ached to help the man. This Samaritan, this outcast then helps the man, binds up his wounds, pours oil and wine on them, sets him on his own animal, and took him to an inn to care for him. Then this Samaritan says to the innkeeper, Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.
What’s the point of the story? The point of the story is that the lawyer is the man lying half dead beside the road. And so are you. The Law reveals to us that even if we think we can go along life without a care in the road, sin seeks constantly to destroy. And so we really are half-dead, helpless and without hope, left to ourselves. Knowing this, how can I presume to go and do likewise?
But Jesus is the Good Samaritan. Where you and I fail to keep the Law because of sin, Jesus is the one who binds up your wounds, sets you on His animal, the Word of God, and carries you into the Inn of his Church. Jesus does it, because you can’t. No amount of willpower, no amount of work or planning or anything on our part will ever save anyone. You can’t force someone into heaven. But Jesus uses His Word, proclaimed from the pulpit, taught in Bible class and Sunday school and Catechism instruction, and taught by fathers and mothers around the dinner table, and in Christian schools. He uses this word to bring healing and forgiveness. What a treasure! What an opportunity and blessing God gives to us! We are His hands and feet and mouth to pass on his Word. And even though our efforts are incomplete, because of Christ and His work on the cross, God’s Word is taught and carried forth to the ends of the earth.
So no matter how great your sin, no matter how much you have failed to teach God’s Word or to hear it, your sin isn’t too great for the God who saves by His blood. As we heard in Hosea 6, Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. We may not always understand God’s ways, but one thing is certain: you can look at His cross and know that He loves you, and that He will never leave you nor forsake you. And that means there is nothing left for you to do. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.