The Stranger who saves you–Trinity 13 sermon
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 10:23-37
September 2, 2012
“The Stranger Who Saves You”
Dear Christians, blessed to see and hear what many righteous people longed for but were denied:
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed are the eyes that see what you see, for many prophets and kings longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. Jesus says those words to disciples who have returned from journeys around Israel preaching, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you.” With this message Jesus gave them authority to heal the sick and cast out demons. You can imagine the excitement of the disciples at the power that was at work among them.
But when you stop and think about it, there’s something a little strange about Jesus’ words. The miracles the disciples have just seen are marvelous. But why would the righteous men of the Old Testament long to see them? In terms of pure power, the righteous ones in the past had seen greater works of God; Moses saw the Red Sea part to let a nation of over a million escape through it. Then it closed up over the heads of the armies of Pharaoh. He saw God give bread from heaven to his people for forty years in the wilderness. Elijah called down fire from heaven in front of the whole nation. When Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land, God kept the sun from going down for about a day so that Israel could wipe out an army of their enemies. Surely these miracles were greater than what the disciples were doing in terms of pure power. To heal an individual is not a small thing, but is it as impressive as parting the sea so that a million people could cross it?
Blessed are the eyes that see what you see , Jesus said, not because the miracles were bigger, but because the message they came with proclaimed the greatest blessing and wonder of all history. The miracles Jesus did and gave his disciples authority to do were signs testifying that the Kingdom of God was near, and that the Messiah, God’s King, was not coming in terrifying power, but to heal and save. What the disciples were seeing and hearing and proclaiming was God’s grace and compassion to sinners, to those who had turned away from Him and against Him.
Blessed are the eyes that see what you see, for many prophets and kings longed to see [it]…Jesus doesn’t say those words only to the disciples 2000 years ago. He says them to you. You have probably never seen a demon cast out except in movies, and you have probably never seen a Christian lay his hand on someone who was sick and they recovered. But many prophets and kings longed to see and hear what we see and hear, and were not allowed to. They eagerly longed to hear the good news that God had come in our flesh to redeem us. They would have rejoiced with unspeakable joy to be baptized into the body of the Son of God and to eat the body and drink the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
But how often does it occur to us that what we see and hear would be the envy of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah? Christians, particularly children, will sometimes in catechesis say, “Why doesn’t God do the same wonders today that we read about in the Old Testament?” I tell them, “Because He does greater things today.” Which is true. Christ’s birth in Bethlehem was greater than the great fire that burned and melted Mount Sinai when Moses went up to receive the ten commandments. It is a greater miracle when we receive the body and blood of Christ than when Elijah was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire, because in the Sacrament of the Altar we are given the body of the Son of God which was crucified and condemned and took away God’s just anger against us forever.
But even those who have a deeper understanding of the Word of God and recognize this intellectually do not show in their words and actions that they have received the greatest blessings from God that this old creation will ever see. We act as though God neglects us, when really He gives us more than He ever gave Abraham or Moses.
The proof of this is our lack of love. If I had unlimited money—if I could never run out of money—I could afford to be generous in a way that would be shocking. The Gospel that Christ proclaims in our midst says that God has given unlimited mercy in Christ—that though our “sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (Isaiah 1) “Whoever hears my word,” Jesus says in the 5th chapter of St. John’s gospel, “and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24)
We will live forever in paradise because Jesus suffered for us; He promises in our Baptism that His suffering washes away our sins. Since that is true, I can afford to love my neighbor, even if it costs me money, or pain, or headache. I will live forever in paradise! If I lose honor, or comfort, or wealth, or health, I really haven’t lost anything, but actually I have gained, because, as it is written in Romans 8:17, we are children and heirs of God, fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. Suffering with Jesus proves that I share His inheritance.
But we don’t give much evidence that we believe these things, even the most devout and knowledgeable of us. When presented with opportunities to love our neighbor, we start to get afraid. “Well, if “love your neighbor as yourself” is taken too literally, we’ll end up out on the street. So it can’t mean that. It just means, ‘Love your neighbor as much as you can’, or ‘love your neighbor as much as is reasonable.’”
That is why Jesus tells this parable. An expert on the law—which means the books of Moses—comes to test Jesus. He asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” But he isn’t really worried about it. And even if he was, he wasn’t looking to Jesus for an answer. He thinks he is good enough. Not perfect, surely, but good enough. Better than most.
Jesus says, “Well, you’re an expert on the law. What does it say you have to do to be worthy of eternal life?” The teacher of the law says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says, “You’ve got it. Go do that and you will have eternal life.”
“But what does God mean by ‘neighbor?’” says the teacher of the law. He says this because Jesus acts like you’re supposed to love the unfaithful Jews who live a godless life, even though they’re the reason that Israel is falling apart. Jesus acts like you’re supposed to love pagan Romans who persecute God’s people. He talks about loving your enemies. If “love your neighbor as yourself” means that, then the teacher of the law would be a sinner who is unworthy of eternal life.
Yes, says Jesus, that’s exactly what it means. Love doesn’t say, “Do I need to love this person? How much do I have to love them without getting sent to hell?” It simply sees a suffering person and has compassion on them and helps them. It doesn’t say, “Is this person a friend or an enemy? Do they deserve help or not? Are they Christian or pagan? Can I afford to help them or not? Are they part of my group, which are the good people, or some other group?” Loving your neighbor as yourself means that you seek the good of others without worrying about whether it will hurt you to do so.
Everything short of that love is sin. When God judges us, if He sees less than that, the law is that we will die. We have transgressed his will.
But we are like the levite and the priest who see the man lying on the side of the road. It’s a hassle to love that man. It might get us robbed. We have other things we have to get done, important work for God, maybe. Jesus gives a Samaritan as the example of love for one’s neighbor. Samaritans were people who were brought from another country to the land of Israel after the Israelites were removed for their sins. They believed in the God of Israel, but they worshipped and believed falsely—they had a corrupted version of God’s teaching. So the Jews hated them as imposters.
But it is the Samaritan, the stranger, the enemy, who helps the beaten man by Jericho, and this happens because his heart is full of compassion.
Spiritually, we are half-dead men. Apart from Jesus, we are deeply wounded in our bodies by sin, so that our hearts and minds and bodies always sin. Apart from Jesus, our souls are completely dead; we are cut off from God. We have lost His image. We are alive in the body but very sick, but we are dead in our souls.
That is the reason we do not fulfill the law to love our neighbors as ourselves. We can’t do it because we are always out to preserve our own lives and our own comfort and happiness. So we shut up our hearts against the need of others, and we think, “That’s not my problem. I do enough.”
Blessed are your eyes and ears. The prophets and kings longed to have what has been given to us. That was because they lived under the law, and they saw how continuously they failed to love their neighbor as themselves, and they knew that there was no hope for them under the law. So all of their hope was in the promise God had given to send them a savior, a good Samaritan, who would take their sins away and begin to heal the wounds made by the devil when he led Adam and Eve into sin, into which sin we were born.
In that hope they were saved, but they longed to see the days of the Savior, when He would heal the sin of the world.
But you live in the days when the salvation has been accomplished. Jesus is your good Samaritan. He came as a stranger. He was rejected by men, because men thought they were good enough. We loved the members of our family and our tribe—at least some of the time—and figured that was good enough for God, just as Cain thought his offering was good enough and was angry when God didn’t accept it.
But God looked upon us in our arrogance, ignorance, defiance, and saw us like the man beaten and left half dead by robbers. We were His enemies, but He had compassion on us.
He came and bandaged our wounds by being whipped, crowned with thorns, and pierced with nails on the cross. By his stripes we are healed. He paid for our transgressions against God; He was wounded and wrapped in bands and laid in the tomb for our deliverance from sin and death.
He found you lying in your blood, left mangled by the evil one who had robbed you of the image of God and left you unable to rise up and walk according to the law of God. He soothed the wounds by which the devil had ruined you with the balm of the Gospel; He proclaimed to You the forgiveness of Your sins on account of His suffering and death. And because the wounds are still liable to become infected he poured in the antiseptic law, which continues to work against the infection of the old Adam. The law cleanses the infection of self-trust and pride, and the Gospel-oil soothes the burning wounds on your conscience, proclaiming that Your sins have been paid for by Your Good Samaritan, Jesus Christ.
He took you through Baptism and placed you in the inn of the Holy Christian Church. There He tends to your injuries and comforts You, giving you the health-restoring food of His body and blood, which gives You life by His death. Through this food, the power of sin and old Adam is fought and put to death by the body and blood of Jesus—His life which was given in exchange for your life.
He entrusted you to the care of ministers, innkeepers who are to care for you until His return. They tend to your wounds with the same medicine Jesus gives. Through His kindness, you are being restored to health until the day of His return, when the image and the wealth which was stolen from you by the devil will be yours and You see Him in His glory.
We were not looking for Jesus to help us, not expecting to be visited by this stranger. We were content to tell ourselves that we were good enough and to associate only with those who were like us, who we felt were worthy of our love, who would tell us that we were good enough even as we constantly turned away from the neighbors we saw lying on the road, stripped and left for dead by the evil one.
Instead, He came and had pity on us; we who were enemies, proud, defiant, self-righteous—He came and was stripped, beaten, robbed of dignity, mocked, and killed, perishing under God’s unfaltering judgment as the one who carries all the world’s sin.
Blessed are your eyes and your ears, because they see and hear what the prophets and kings longed to see but did not see. Your eyes and ears see and hear God deal with us sinners not in His righteous anger and limitless power. Your ears hear God proclaiming that He deals with us in His undeserved compassion and in weakness. He put on compassion as His garment and weakness and death was His reward, and in so doing He removed His wrath from you. You hear Jesus proclaimed to you as your Good Samaritan, as the enemy who showed mercy to you when no one else could help you.
May our Lord Jesus strengthen our faith so that we cling to Him as our Good Samaritan who freely shows us compassion, and work this same compassion in us, so that we see with eyes of mercy the many people around us upon whose wounds Jesus would pour the oil and wine of His gospel through us.
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.