. The Real Christ...
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.
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 strength.
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 life eternal.
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.
(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!
(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. 102.
(7) J.D.M. Derrett, Law In The New Testament (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1970) p. 220.
Duncan Heaster has written over 20 books, some of which contain material relevant to The Real Christ. And there is a host of other relevant material...