Monday, August 23, 2004

The following are excerpts of a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Ken Baugh, associate pastor at McLean Bible Church.

One of the defining characteristics of a follower of Christ is that they sacrificially meet the needs of others.

And if we are going to continue to be the kind of church that impacts Washington, D.C., for Jesus Christ, we have to be men and women of mercy — willing to extend a helping hand to others in need.

Jesus illustrated this point clearly in the story of the Good Samaritan.

Luke 10:25 says, “On one occasion, an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’”

Jesus doesn’t answer his question; instead, Jesus asks him a question: “What is written in the Law?”

So the scribe answers Jesus’ question with Deuteronomy 6:4. He answered: “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.”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this, and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself — this guy knew he hadn’t loved his neighbor as himself — so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

If he had to love his neighbor as himself, he wanted to know who was supposed to be in that circle. This guy didn’t want to know who his neighbor was so that he could really love them, he wanted to get specific details on who they were so that he could fulfill his legalistic duty and ignore the rest.

Jesus … goes right to his heart and tells this story. The story illustrates what mercy is, as well as reveals what is really important to God. In reply, Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers.” …

It was a 17-mile-long road … out in the middle of nowhere. Everyone knew that bandits frequented this road. They could hide behind the bends in the road, attack travelers and escape into the hills before anything could be done. And that’s what happened to this guy. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half-dead.

Three different men came by. “A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.”

Now you would expect a minister to help a guy in need? He’s religious, he loves God, surely he would want to help.

But no. According to the law, if a priest touched a man, he was ceremonially unclean for seven days (Numbers 5:2; 19:11-13).

This guy had priestly work to do. He couldn’t become unclean for seven days. That would be inconvenient. That would mess up his schedule. You see, friends, acts of mercy are going to be inconvenient.

And then Jesus says: “So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”

Now Jesus ups the ante a bit. A Levite held a place of high standing within Jewish heritage. Surely, a Levite would stop and help. But no.

Why did both these guys walk by? Probably because they didn’t have to [stop].

But God always wants us to err on the side of mercy. In Matthew 9:13, Jesus said: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

Then Jesus introduces the last guy, the Samaritan. Jews hated Samaritans. To them, “the only good Samaritan was a dead Samaritan.” They were thought to be apostates and traders.

“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, pouring on oil and wine.”

This Samaritan saw the man and had compassion on him. He felt for this guy.

And he stopped at risk to his own safety. The bandits could come back at any time and rob him and leave him for dead as well. …

“Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day, he took out two silver coins (a silver coin was … the pay for one full day of hard labor) and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”

You see, mercy is going to cost you something. You’re going to have to give something up.

Now, Jesus asks the real question of this scribe, but it’s not the same question that the scribe asked: The real question is not “Who is my neighbor?” but “What does it take to be a good neighbor?” That’s the real question. So Jesus says: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’”

In other words, “you don’t define a neighbor by who they are, you define a neighbor by whomever you extend mercy towards in times of suffering.”

Dallas Willard puts it this way: “We define who our neighbor is by our love. We make a neighbor of someone by caring for him or her … we don’t first define a class of people who will be our neighbors and then select only them as the objects of our love — leaving the rest to lie where they fall. Jesus deftly rejects the question ‘Who is my neighbor?’ and substitutes the only question really relevant here: ‘To whom will I be a neighbor.’”

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