We’ve talked about two major things concerning you and me. One is God’s unconditional love. In Luke, Jesus tells the story of the Prodigal Son which is His most famous story about the unconditional love of God. He came to demonstrate that and did so clearly. Another thing we’ve talked about and touched on is how Christians are to live, about why we’re here. To that end, Jesus’ second most famous story seems to touch on that.
Now at first glance, it looks as though you’re looking at last Sunday’s sermon as far as sermon title and Scripture is concerned. This is not deja vu all over again. There was a preacher who came to a new church, and for the first several weeks he preached the same sermon on tithing, morning and night ... word for word. The church got up a committee, and they came to him and said, "Sir, we like your sermon, but do you have another one?" He replied, "When you do everything I say in this one, then I’ll give you another one."
Well, that’s not what this sermon is about. It is a different one about the same subject. We talked about this "expert in the law" (Luke 10:25). He was one who had his doctoral degree in Scriptural jurisprudence, and he didn’t come to learn from Christ or with a teachable attitude.
Rather, he came to test Him, to check Him out. The implication is that he came either to make Jesus look bad or to make himself look good. So he asked a question he thought would start a theological debate for which there was no real answer. Then he planned to impale Jesus on the horns of a dilemma, make himself look good in the argument, and discredit Christ.
He learned very quickly that was not the way this debate was going to go.
He found himself trapped in a trap of his own making. He was like a schoolboy who worked up his own examination and flunked it. Jesus said to him, in essence, "Knowing Me is not about studying the doctrines of grace and works. Knowing me is a matter of relationship. Having eternal life is a matter of how you relate to the Lord God, to My Father and to Me."
So Jesus answered the question with a question: "What do you read in the Scripture? What do you think?"
The expert had to say it because he had never seen it before. He’s like a lot of us. He had read Scripture all of his life. He had memorized and quoted this,
but he had never truly grasped it before: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ’Love your neighbor as yourself.’"
Trying to justify himself and keep this argument going so he would look like he was justified in asking, he asked, "And who is my neighbor?"
That’s a good question, but Jesus had an even better question in mind, and He set him up for it by telling him this story:
Luk 10:30 Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead.
Luk 10:31 "And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.
Luk 10:32 "Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Luk 10:33 "But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion,
Luk 10:34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.
Luk 10:35 "On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ’Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’
Luk 10:36 "Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?"
The question was: "And who is my neighbor?" (10:29) Jesus asked him, "Whose neighbor are you?" That’s the question for you and me.
There are a lot of things about this story that I’d like to know, wouldn’t you? As we picture this event, wouldn’t you really like to know how deep the ditch was? How hard was it to get that man out of there? Then, was this a big man?
Was he heavy? What about the Samaritan’s donkey? Was he able to carry such a load? Was it an old donkey ... a young one, a strong one, a weak one? And how old was the Good Samaritan? At what age are you to start doing ditch patrol for the glory of God? When can it end?
I heard about a little girl whose desk-mate in the first grade had lost her mother to a terrible disease. The desk-mate came back to school after mourning for her mother. When the little girl came home from school that day, her mother asked, "What did your desk-mate do today when she came back?" The little girl said, "Mother, it was a terrible day for her. She just mostly put her head down on her desk and cried." The mother asked, "Honey, what did you do?" She said, "I put my head down on my desk and cried with her."
Being On Ditch Patrol
That’s being on ditch patrol. That’s understanding how God wants us to react in this world. When do you become exempt from that? When do you stop being on ditch patrol? I’ve noticed in our society nowadays that people are living longer, but they’re not getting old. People just stay young. They just keep doing better and better.
Some time ago I read:
In the dim and distant past
When life’s tempo wasn’t fast,
Grandma used to rock and knit,
Crochet and tat and baby-sit.
When the kids were in a jam,
You could always count on Gram.
In a life of gracious living,
Grandma was the gal for giving.
Grandma is now at the gym,
Working out and keeping slim
Or off touring with a bunch
Or taking a client out to lunch
Or driving north to ski and curl
All her days are in a whirl.
It seems that nothing can stop or block her
Now that Grandma’s off her rocker.
I guess you keep being on ditch patrol as long as you’re off your rocker or as long as you can do it. Our Lord has put us here for some reason, and I think this story gives us a vast reason. We’re here to show that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and that we love our neighbor as ourselves.
In the sermon, last week, we learned that our neighbor is anyone we see whose need we can meet.
The question now is: Whose neighbor am I? The probing question is: To whom will I be a neighbor? Who am I responsible for? How far am I willing to go to be a neighbor? Why was this man concerned when others were not? How could wonderful, respectable, religious people pass by on the other side? What made this man who should have been the avowed enemy of the man in the ditch, stop. What made him a neighbor?
First, You Need A New Heart
There’s a line in the passage that gives the answer. It says, "...when he saw him, he took pity on him." He cared. He had a heart for caring.
Where do you get a heart like that? Our natural heart is not like that. It’s not the way we’re born. It’s not the way we are. The Bible tells us, "...for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God..." (Roman 3:23). The Bible literally says, "The heart is deceitful above all things..."
(Jeremiah 17:9), and we’re honest with ourselves when we recognize that.
We need a heart transplant. We need God to come and give us a new heart. In Ezekiel, God says, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you..." (Ezekiel 36:26).
The Apostle Paul, who used to be the hatchet man for the religious Mafia, became one of the greatest Christians and one of the sweetest, most loving
ditch-patrol persons you ever saw. What happened? In 2 Corinthians 5:17, he said, "Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come."
God gives you a heart transplant when you come to Him through Christ. It is only those who have come and received that new heart that are going to see the people in the ditch. Those who have gotten that new heart can say, "I finally do have the ability to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and I’ll love my neighbor as myself."
Tell me, do you see them? Do you see the people in the ditches all around you?
Do you see the woman whose husband has been stolen by another woman and her life is crushed, her heart is broken, and she’s lying in that ditch? Do you see that woman who lost her husband to some terrible disease, and the light in her life is gone? Do you see that teenager facing what this pitiful society is throwing at him or her? Do you see the little child who will never have a chance for joy or a happy childhood because he has selfish and abusive parents? Do you see these lying in the ditches around you?
People are all around us, lying in the ditches. They’ve been beaten and left there half dead. They’re ignored by so many of us who call ourselves religious.
Do you see them?
If you have the heart of Christ, you see them. When you get that new heart, then you are enabled to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and you can love your neighbor as yourself. Christians can become hard. I’m not saying you’ve lost your salvation. We can become hard. David did. He became so hard that he committed adultery. Then to cover it up, he committed murder. This man, who was a man after God’s own heart, let his heart get callused over. When he came back, he said, "Oh, God, give me a new heart. Renew a right spirit within me. Clean up my heart." (Ps. 51).
Then, You Can Change The World
Do you see the people in the ditches all around you? You see, this world has been changed by people on ditch patrol, by people who can see a need, by people who can see hopelessness and helplessness and are willing to do something without expecting anything in return. These are the people who change the world.
Most all of us know the story of Helen Keller. Before she was two years old, she was stricken with a disease that left her blind, mute, and deaf. She was in a deep, dark ditch where there was no communication with any other human being.
What deeper, darker ditch could you be in?
Years before Helen Keller was born, there was a little girl in a mental institution outside of Boston. They called her Little Annie. Back in those days, they felt there wasn’t any help for people who were as insane as Little Annie apparently was. So all they did was just put them in an institution. They put her in what they called "the dungeon," the cellar of that building. She received no treatment ... just food and clothing in a cage.
There was a sweet, elderly nurse who thought all God’s creatures needed love, respect, and help. So she went down where Little Annie was living in that cage and sat by that cage every day while she ate her lunch. She tried to talk to Little Annie, and many times, Little Annie was violent. Often, she seemed almost comatose.
One day, the nurse brought some chocolate cake and left it there. When she came back the next day, it was gone. So she began to bring chocolate cake every day.
She began to work with Annie, and Annie responded. Soon, Annie was taken up to where the patients received treatment. In not very many years, Annie was told she could go home if she wanted.
Annie decided that institution meant so much to her that she would stay there and help others, and she trained herself to be a nurse.
Helen Keller became one of the most sensitive, caring, and ministering people that the world had ever met, even through all of her handicaps. When she was being given an award by Queen Victoria for her great and wonderful service in this world to humanity, the queen asked her to make some remarks.
Helen Keller said, "Had it not been for my nurse Ann Sullivan, no one would have ever heard of me. She is the one who loved me, who prayed for me, who witnessed to me, who shared Christ with me. She is the one who taught me that I was loved and that I could be loving. She is the one who taught me how to make sounds and speech and to move my lips even though I couldn’t hear. She gave her life to helping me have this ministry. Without Ann Sullivan, you would never have heard of Helen Keller."
Ann Sullivan was Little Annie, the one someone else wouldn’t give up on.
Someone else had gone into her ditch and helped her, and then she went into Helen Keller’s ditch and helped her. The world changed because of that.
These kinds of things are happening all around us.
When I was thirty years old, I woke up one day and realized that I was not becoming the man of God I was always told that God wanted me to be. And there was a man who said, "I will invest my life in you and help you to become that man of God." He came down into my ditch and helped me.
At about the same time, I was in a church service one day when one of the Senior Adults gave a testimony. He said that he and his wife had been married for over fifty years, and that they made up their minds going in that they would tithe.
I realized that I would probably not live long enough to ever be able to offer that testimony. But it stuck in my mind. That couple did not even know I existed, but they helped me, they came down into my ditch and helped me. And we made a commitment to tithe. And we have since that time. There are many ways you can go into people’s ditches of distress and despair and be a minister to them.
How Will Your Story Turn Out?
I’ve often wondered about this man in the ditch. I’ve wondered what the rest of his life was like. Did he remember the cruelty of the robbers and, therefore, was bitter and angry for the rest of his life? Or did he remember the kindness of the Good Samaritan, and the rest of his life was spent in trying to be like that?
There used to be a church in a rural area that just had one Sunday School department. So the boys and girls of all ages met together for the General Assembly, and each class would take turns coming up, and the kids argued heatedly about what they would do. They decided they would act out a Bible story, and they chose the story of the Good Samaritan.
On that day, everyone knew it was going to be good because Miss Train always had her children well prepared. The best reader in class, Olga, stood up and began to read: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead."
Little Mark, who had been sitting on the front row, got up and walked across the stage. Boys who had been waiting behind the piano and a desk, jumped out and grabbed him. They cleaned his spark plugs and gave him a general overhauling, and left him half dead right there on the stage.
Olga continued, "A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side."
With all dramatic aplomb and unkindness, this little "priest" pulled his robes around him and walked by and had nothing to do with him.
More Scripture was read: "So too, a Levite..." Troy came by and did the same thing. He ignored Mark and walked on.
Then Olga read, "But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds ... put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him."
Everyone was all excited about the good ending to this story, but nothing happened. A little boy on the front row punched his friend and said, "That’s you."
The friend said, "No, it’s not. She told us last Sunday you were supposed to be the Good Samaritan!" The little boy said, "She did not! She said you were supposed to be him!"
While those boys argued, little Mark just laid up on the stage and "died."
I wonder, how many of us think God told somebody else to be the Good Samaritan?
I wonder, how many of us think that someone else is supposed to be seeing those people in the ditch and doing something about it?
I wonder, whose neighbor are you?