The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity: The Way to Eternal Life

Readings: 2 Chronicles 28:8-15, Galatians 3:15-22, Luke 10:23-27
Hymns: 876, 683, 716, 619, 895

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

When Peter preached his famous Pentecost sermon as recorded in Acts 2, the people were cut to the heart and asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). They heard Peter preach that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures, that Jesus was crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men, and that God raised Jesus up, loosing the pangs of death (Acts 2:23-24). After having heard this Word of Christ, they wondered, “Now what? What shall we do? We believe, what are the next steps? How are we saved?”

Peter tells them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:38-39). Repent and believe. These actions are worked by the Holy Spirit through His Word.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus turns to His disciples and tells them, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Luke 10:23-24). For the Savior of the Nations had come—the Messiah—the Son of God. The prophets had longed to witness His incarnation. Kings—as powerful as they could be—could not change the Advent of our Lord or advance time to see Jesus in the flesh. So, the disciples are truly blessed to be in the presence of the Lord. The Word made flesh now dwelt among them.

But a Lawyer does not seem so convinced. He knows the Law. That is, he knows what is written in the Old Testament. He feels the need to test Jesus. He asks Jesus the age-old question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

Is this not the question that vexes many? Is this not what many wonder? How does one achieve eternal bliss? How does one know when he’s not on the path to perdition but is on the path to life? How does one obtain favor with God and salvation to eternal life?

The assumption that many make is that they must be good. This is what the world’s religions will have you believe. Philosophers will give you that same answer. They will have you believe that the way to eternal life is through your good behavior.

Even though the Lawyer knew the Scriptures, he was also leaning toward that line of thought. He wanted to know what he had to do. He wanted to know what works were necessary to obtain salvation. His question is not much different than what the crowd asked Peter on Pentecost. “What shall we do?”

Jesus responded to the Lawyer, saying, “You know what the Law teaches. What does it say?” The Lawyer responds with a summary of the entire Law of God. “You shall love God and your neighbor.” Jesus says, “Your answer is correct. Do this, and you will live.”

You see, if you could love God perfectly and if you could love your neighbor as yourself, then it could be possible to obtain eternal life through the observance of the Law.

But it appears the Lawyer was beginning to doubt his ability to perfectly keep the Law. After all, he begins to justify himself. He wants to prove to himself and to God that he has loved God and his neighbor. So, he asks the question, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus didn’t respond by simply asking another question, nor did He respond by saying something pithy like, “Your neighbor includes everyone everywhere.” Instead, Jesus speaks by way of a parable—a most memorable parable—one that many hold as their favorite.

A Jewish man was traveling to Jericho and was beaten, robbed, stripped, and deserted. He laid there half-dead.

This serves as a picture of the Law and our condition as we face it. The Law of God is perfect, and His Law is good. His Law was a delight for Adam and Eve to keep when they were perfect in the Garden of Eden.

But when they sinned, the Law became an impossible burden. The more we try to perfectly abide by the Law, the more it beats us up, the more wounded we become, and the more we realize how dead we really are. For the Law says, “Do this,” and it is never done. While Jesus certainly taught us to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48), the Law does not produce in us the ability to keep it. In fact, as we hear the Law, we gain the desire to break the Law (Romans 7:8).

Yet the Law remains good and necessary. It informs us of how God would have us live. It drives us to repentance. Its aim is our salvation.

Sometimes we feel that the best way to shape people up and make them good is through the Law. Pastors are sometimes encouraged to preach those old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone sermons to get people to do what is right. Society thinks that if we just add a few more regulations or restrictions, then people will behave better. Just one more threat, one more decree, one more rule. That will set everyone straight.

But what really happens? People develop the desire to break the Law, and the Law beats them to a pulp. The thunderous threats of the Law are more than we can bear. The perfect demands of the Law keep people anxious and always wondering how they can possibly be saved.

If all we had was the Law, we would be left laying there half-dead, robbed, stripped, wounded, and beaten. We would not achieve eternal life.

And to illustrate the Law’s inability to cause people to do what is right, Jesus continues the parable, saying that first a priest and then a Levite come along the road, but both pass by the dying man. While the men holding the Levitical priesthood were to deliver the Gospel by offering sacrifices to God, thereby pointing God’s people ahead to Christ who would serve as the sacrificial Lamb who takes away the world’s sin, much of their work was centered on the Ceremonial Law, which did not earn life. For, as we heard in our reading from Galatians, “For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal. 3:21-22).

So, the perfect demands of the moral Law basically killed us. Then the Ceremonial Law did not save us. So, who did? And who could? The very person one would not expect. Jesus says a Samaritan comes along and helps this man out. Now, Samaritans and Jews did not get along. And yet, this Samaritan comes to rescue the Jew.

When Jesus became flesh and made His dwelling among us, many were opposed to Him. Even at His birth, there was no room for Him in an inn. He would later lament, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). Many of the Jews would reject Jesus and His ministry. Yet, Jesus had come to save them and earn for them forgiveness as He sheds His Blood on the cross. In the same token, many throughout the world have rejected Jesus, but that did not stop Him from coming to serve as our Savior by dying in our place as our substitute.

      In our parable, the Samaritan has compassion, binds up the Jewish man’s wounds, brings him to an inn, pays the bill, and promises to pay any additional debt that will accrue.

Remember, Jesus teaches this parable to a Lawyer who was trying to test Jesus. The tables have certainly turned. The Lawyer wants to justify himself. Now Jesus teaches the true way to be justified, but can the lawyer see it? Or does he continue down his path of self-justification? For if he continues to simply justify himself, he will see that the only way he can do so is to love everyone perfectly —even his enemies and all foreigners. This is not something he can do. So, if we attempt to justify ourselves from this parable, learning that our neighbors include every last person on the planet and we must do good to them all, then we will never be saved.

Yet this parable does teach us how to be justified. To be justified means to be declared not guilty. How can we be declared not guilty of our many transgressions of God’s perfect Law?

Jesus teaches His very work of justifying grace in this parable. He saw us dead in our sins and trespasses. He had compassion on us and visited us. He poured the oil of Holy Baptism upon us. He feeds us His Body and Blood. He went to the cross to pay our debt. And He promises to pay for absolutely every sin.

This, my friends, is the way to salvation. In Christ alone. He alone shed His innocent Blood as the ransom payment for our sin. The promise of eternal life is granted not by our observance of the Law, but by faith in Christ Jesus—what He has done for us.

So, have you wondered if you can be saved? Just put yourself in the shoes of the man laying there on the road to Jericho. Know that you cannot save yourself. And then see that Jesus has already come to you in compassion, added you to His family through the waters of Holy Baptism, nourished you with His Word, fed you His Body and Blood, paid your debt, and promises to come back for you.

That is the way of salvation. What must you do to obtain eternal life? Believe in Jesus. And even that is the work of God. Amen.            

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen