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Trinity 13, 2015. Do This and You Will Live


13th Sunday after Trinity

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 10:23-37

August 30, 2015

“Do this and you will live”

Iesu Iuva

A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” he asked. Jesus directed him to the Law of God. “What is written in the Law?” And the lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And to this Jesus said, “You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.”

“Do this, and you will live.” Jesus doesn’t say, “Do this”—keep God’s Law—“and you will inherit eternal life when you die.” He says, “Do this and you will live,” that is, you will live now. To love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself is to live now, to have life now. To not love your neighbor and God is to have death even while you are alive. “For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” (Romans 10:5) If you keep God’s laws, if you love Him with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself, you have life. That’s what Adam did when he was created, before he fell into sin. He bore the image of God, and God is love (1 John 4).

If you love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself, you have life right now. “Do this, and you will live.” But even the lawyer seems to be aware that he doesn’t measure up to God’s law. The text says that he wanted to justify himself, and that’s why he asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” As though if he could limit who was his neighbor he might have a chance of fulfilling the commandment. So Jesus explains what it is to love your neighbor. To love your neighbor, to be righteous in God’s sight, is not a matter of being a religious figure, like a priest, a Levite, or a lawyer. It’s not a matter of being a pastor or an officer in a Christian congregation. The priest and the Levite pass by on the other side of the road from the man who fell among the robbers and was left half-dead. They were somebody among the religious community. But that didn’t make them righteous in God’s sight, give them life. They were dead, “for they had not love” for their neighbor. “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2) Or as John says, “Whoever does not love abides in death.” (1 John 3:14)

 

To be righteous in God’s sight is to fulfill the law, and “love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:10) To love is not a matter of being a priest, Levite, pastor, congregational officer. Love comes from God. Whoever is born of God and knows God loves his neighbor, not with an earthly love that expects something in return, but with the love of God. This kind of love doesn’t ask, “Who is my neighbor?” Wherever it sees need, it pours itself out and spends itself for the good of the needy person. That is how God’s love works. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:45-48)

 

The Samaritan in Jesus’ story does not consider whether the man lying on the side of the road is friend or foe. He doesn’t ask what he stands to lose or gain. He simply sees him lying in the ditch, naked and half-dead, and, says Jesus, “He had compassion.” That the man was a Jew and therefore his enemy didn’t enter into his mind. Like the father who sends rain on the just and the unjust, his compassion was unconditional and unsparing. And getting back to the lawyer’s original question, Jesus says, “Now which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell among thieves?…Go and do likewise.”

“Go and do likewise.” The man who does the commandments shall live by them.” The commandments of God hold out the promise of life to those who keep them, but to those who don’t keep them they bring death. That’s why when God gave the Law on Mount Sinai, He came with glory, but it was a glory that terrified the people nearly to death—fire, billowing smoke, the blast of a trumpet. “If there was a law that could have given life, righteousness would be by the law. But Scripture imprisoned everything under sin.” (Galatians 3:21-22). The Law of God describes how we would act if we still had the image of God Adam was created with. We would love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves.

But we have lost the image of God. We are like the man who was set upon by robbers, who was left half-dead, naked, lying wounded in the ditch. We are like that but actually much worse. For in Adam we are not half-dead. In Adam we are born completely “dead in trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1) We have not been beaten up so that the image of God in us is disfigured. It is lost. We do not have some weak ability left in us by which we can begin to love God and our neighbor. In Adam we are devoid and barren of love. We have no ability to love God and our neighbor. We are in death, for whoever does not love his brother remains in death.

The good news is that God saw us lying dead on the side of the road in Adam. He saw how His image was completely defaced in us, how there was no good left in us, not even a drop of love. And like the Samaritan He had compassion on us who had become His enemy. He came to our side, bound up our wounds, putting on oil and wine, placed us on His own animal, and brought us to the inn, where He took care of us.

He did this by coming to our side in the manger where He was born flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. He took up human nature and in the unity of His person He restored the image of God to human flesh. He bound up the mortal wounds of sin by becoming sin for us on the cross and bearing the judgment of God.

He was handed over to death for our sin and in His resurrection He raised us up from the dead with Him. He infused into our mortal bodies new spiritual life so that we are being renewed in the image of the Creator and begin to love—that is, to fulfill the Law. He worked in us faith in Him, and by that faith we live. The man who does the commandments of the Law of God shall live by them. No one besides Christ can live by means of keeping the law of God. But by faith in Jesus we live. We are credited with having fulfilled all God’s commands. “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent,” Jesus said (John 17:3). By faith we know Jesus and through faith in Jesus we know the Father. “He is the image of the invisible God,” says Colossians 1:15. In Him we see the Father.

And what do we learn about the Father from Jesus? We see that He loves us. People think they know that God loves them even though they don’t believe in Christ. In reality they can’t know any such thing. Apart from Christ all we know of God is that He is righteous and that He lets us die. Apart from Christ we are faced with a God who at the end of the day lets us die. But in Christ we see the true God who loves the just and the unjust. He draws near to us who are dead, so that He becomes our brother in flesh and blood and death. He dies our death and raises us from the dead. And He nurtures us whom He has raised. He pours oil into the aching wounds of sin, the balm of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, who proclaims to us the wounds and death of Jesus in which our sins are covered and forgiven. He pours wine into them also, a disinfectant, so that the wounds of the sinful flesh we still bear do not fester and cause us to relapse into death. He gives us our crosses—He gives us pain in our work and calling, so that we remain humble and continue to desire and seek His grace. And He cares for us. He stays with us through His Word and Sacrament and nourishes His life within us.

This is why even though we don’t “do this”—that is, love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves—we nevertheless “live” before God. We live because Christ has “done this.” He has loved His neighbor. He loved us when we were dead in our transgressions and sins. And by His love for us He atoned for our transgressions and restored us to life. And so that we are refreshed and strengthened by what He has done, He commands us to “do this in remembrance of Me”—to take the bread and the cup and eat and drink them, receiving His body and blood under the bread and wine which were given and shed to give us life.

And what happens as we receive His Word and Sacrament? We are being restored to the image of Christ, who is the image of God. We are being nursed back to health. We are daily taking off the old self—our flesh which daily grows more corrupt—and putting on the new self—Christ, into whom we were buried through Baptism and raised from the dead. We are putting off what is old until we finally put it off forever in death. And we are putting on the new man until finally we come to the fullness of our inheritance and put on immortality and incorruption.

But eternal life begins now. If we loved perfectly, if we fulfilled the law, we would have life now. We would not have to wait to inherit it. It would already be ours. We do not love perfectly. But as Christians and believers in Jesus we begin to love. We begin to love God and our neighbor. We begin to fulfill he law because Jesus has raised us up from the dead with Him. We begin to fulfill the Law because we believe that Christ has already fulfilled it for us. He has restored us to God by His love and compassion. He bore the stripes that heal us in His passion; He was crushed for our iniquities. For the sake of Jesus, we are regarded as having fulfilled the whole law of God. So we have life now.

And we get to “go and do likewise.” Not like the lawyer who was trying to justify himself. But as those who are already justified by the obedience of Jesus.

Go and do likewise, Jesus says to us. I have loved you and justified you. Walk in my love. Be compassionate not only toward your friends and those you think deserve it, but toward those who hate and mistreat you, those who are incapable of doing anything besides returning your love with a slap in the face. It’s true that in ourselves we have no power to love such people. In our flesh we have no power to really love anyone. But “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5) We are being transformed into the image of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18) as we behold the love of Christ who was crucified for us. “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16)

 

“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.” (1 John 3:19-20)

 

Amen. Soli Deo Gloria

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