Eternal Life—Not a Reward!

The 13th Sunday after Trinity–29 August 2021

Luke 10:23–37

23 Turning to the disciples [Jesus] said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24 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.”

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”  27 And he answered, “You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.”  28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (ESV)

Introduction: What shall I do to  inherit eternal life?

Jesus was throwing wide open the gates of the kingdom of heaven and all sorts of people were coming through. Our Lord befriended tax collectors, prostitutes, and other notorious sinners. He welcomed them with open arms, forgave their sin, and sat down to eat with them!  All without them doing anything but coming to Him with repentant hearts and seeking His mercy!  

Our Lord’s acceptance of such sinners perplexed and angered the Pharisees and their friends, the lawyers. These lawyers were not like the lawyers of today, who are concerned with civil and criminal cases; rather, they were scholars of the Torah, the Law-Gospel Old Testament Word of God. It seemed to these lawyers that Jesus was making light of the holy law.  

So to test Jesus’ orthodoxy, the lawyer asks Him a question about eternal life. The lawyer is not interested in receiving heaven as a gift from a loving God; he would rather do something to earn it. And so he asks Jesus: what shall I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus in effect answers: “You’re the expert. You tell me.” Not the answer the man expects. Still, he knows his law and he knows it well. “Love God with your whole being. Love your neighbour as yourself.” Can you see Jesus smile and respond: “Yes! Exactly! Now, do that and you will live, you will have eternal life.”

Do this, and you will live!—What does this mean?

Jesus does not say do this, and you will live because He thinks we can love God with our whole being and our neighbour as ourself. Rather, He wants to help the lawyer and us realize that if we want to trust in our ability to keep God’s Law, then the only standard God will use is perfection. If you want to do something to earn eternal life, then you must live a life of perfect love. To receive heaven as a reward, you must love perfectly. Perfect love for God and your neighbour. No slip ups, no failures. That is what you have to do if by your doing you would win for yourself eternal life. But the truth is that none of us has lived such a life, nor can we live such a life. No one can love so perfectly that he or she receives heaven as a reward.

We cannot love the way God demands in His Law. Time and again, we have failed to be a neighbour, to show mercy and love. Thus, we deserve hell. But the Good News is that God’s love is perfect. In fact, God is love. And Jesus, God’s Son, is Love Incarnate, Perfect Love in the flesh! The perfect life of love God demands—the life that is impossible for us to live—that is the very life that our Saviour Jesus lived for us. His love for His Father never faltered, nor did His love for people ever fail. Jesus loves perfectly. He did then and He does now. And it is His perfect love which God makes our own by faith in Christ.

The true heart of God’s Word—mercy!

Which brings us to the story of the Good Samaritan. You know it well. The man beaten by robbers and left for dead. The priest and the Levite, who walk by without helping. The Samaritan, who had every reason to keep on walking—for there was great enmity between Jews and Samaritans—, but whose heart is moved by pity. Who helps. Who gives first aid, and then transports the man to an inn, where he is tended at the Samaritan’s expense until he is restored. Jesus tells the story and then asks: So who proved to be a neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?

The one who showed mercy, the lawyer answered quietly. The lawyer was convinced that the Old Testament was all about God’s demand for obedience, but Jesus has driven him to confess what is the true heart of God’s Word—mercy. The prophet Hosea summarized what all the prophets before had said: I desire mercy—steadfast love—and not sacrifice (6:6).

Jesus, our Good Samaritan!

The Good Samaritan parable is all about the mercy in the heart of God. We are the one beaten by thieves and robbed. Satan and his gang waylaid and pounded on us. Satan robbed us of the beautiful Image in which God had first created us. Satan left us for dead in the dust from which we had been taken. And the Law of God—signified by the priest and the Levite— was no help whatsoever. The Law could show us that we were wounded and dying, but it could not heal us. Yet God saw our sad and sorry state, and He was not content to walk on by. For at the heart of God is mercy, pity, and love.

Our Good Samaritan did not just happen down the road. Our Jesus was sent because of the Father’s love. Jesus had every right to walk on by, leaving us in the dust of death. But in mercy He came to heal us. Mercy led Jesus to the cross, forgiving our sin. Mercy led Him to the grave, dying our death. Mercy led Him to the glories of Easter morning, shattering the power of sin and death over all who trust in Him, all who are baptized into Him.

Our Lord still carries on His healing work in the Inn of His church. Here He pours out the saving water of Baptism. Here He proclaims the Gospel of salvation for undeserving sinners. Here He still reaches out to you with His healing touch in the bread and wine that are His own body and blood. Here He still speaks to wounded consciences the Word of Holy Absolution that heals broken and contrite hearts.

The church, then is the Holy Inn where broken sinners are touched, held, loved, and healed at the direction of the Son of God. The church is where the medicine of God’s forgiveness is poured out liberally—for our Good Samaritan has commanded that every soul be cared for richly and He has paid the price in full.

You are born from above, adopted, and married into God’s family!

In Holy Baptism, Jesus came to you as you lay lying in the ditch of sin and death and enmity against God. You were lying in the ditch, not half-dead, but fully dead towards God. But in the waters of Holy Baptism, Jesus made you God’s child; Jesus became your brother and He welcomed you into the family of God.

The only way you inherit anything is by being born or adopted or married into a family. Well, guess what, the Bible uses all three ways of proclaiming what Jesus has done for you. In Baptism, you were born from above; you were adopted by God; and now—changing the imagery from children to wife—you were also brought into the holy, Christian, apostolic church, which is the Bride of Christ.

You live in the freedom of those who belong to God’s family!

God the Father loved you so much that He gave His only-begotten Son to save you from death for eternal life. In Holy Baptism, you are now His dear children. God gave you salvation while you were still sinners and could do nothing to earn it. And now, you live in freedom. You are God’s children, and so you do not live in fear of losing your inheritance through your failures nor are you scheming to be rewarded. Rather, in humility you simply confess your sins to God, trusting Him to forgive you and to fill you with the Holy Spirit, who gives you the power to love and serve and give, not because you have to earn anything, but because you live in the freedom of those belong to God’s family; you live in the freedom of Christ! Because God first loved you in Christ, you now love both God and neighbour in thanksgiving for God pouring out His mercy upon you through your Saviour Jesus Christ. You do not boast of your love and service, for you know that even your highest acts of love are still stained by sin. And you also know that whatever good you do in this fallen world is a gift to you from your loving heavenly Father.

The life of Jesus poured out for sinners lying dead in the ditch of sin!

The lawyer asked what he had to do to inherit eternal life. But eternal life is not a reward for good deeds. Eternal life is the gift of God to be received and lived even now by faith in Christ. Eternal life is the life of Jesus being poured out for sinners lying dead in the ditch of sin. And thanks be to God, the life of Jesus has been poured out upon you in mercy and love. Now, you do not have to wait for heaven to taste this eternal life; in Jesus it is already yours.  

That is why Jesus says to you: Mercy—Go and do likewise! Yes, do likewise—not as a slave but as one set free by the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ. If you thought you had to earn heaven by your obedience, then you would always be questioning whether your good deeds are good enough. Of course, they are never good enough because God demands perfect obedience. This way of thinking keeps sinners enslaved to sin and leads to eternal damnation. But thanks be to God that you who are baptized into Christ are no longer slaves but free children of God, who have been set free by and in Christ, free to live in and to give away the mercy He first gave you.

For you who are baptized in Christ, the command to Go and do likewise has become our Lord’s gracious invitation: “Come and live in My love!  As I poured out more life for you and into you than you will ever be able to hold, so now I give you the grace to pour out yourself for others in love and mercy.  Yes, come and live in Me—in My love, in My mercy—and so taste the joy of life unending and serve others with the joy of heaven itself.”  

Let us, then, rejoice that life eternal is not a reward for what we have done but a pure gift, from Jesus, Love-in-the-flesh, Who did not pass us by but Who stooped down to embrace us in His mercy and love! Amen.