When Jesus Cross-Examines You
Passage: Luke 10:25–10:37
When Jesus Cross-Examines You
When I was a schoolteacher, one of my least favorite activities was explaining the requirements for an assignment. We had this one project in particular that always tested my patience. It wasn’t that the project was bad per se. What bothered me was that every year, there would be that moment when someone asked, “What’s the minimum I have to do to pass this assignment?” Of course, the student wouldn’t say it exactly like that, but that’s what he was asking. If the rubric said cite your sources, the student would ask, “How many sources? How many citations?” If the guidelines required a six-page paper, the question was, “You mean, all the way to the end of page 6, or just starting page 6?” You get the picture. I just dreaded that question, “What’s the lowest bar I have to clear?”
Perhaps what made this so frustrating was how much it reminded me of myself. I did the same thing in school. I did it at home too. Dad would say, “Clean your room,” and I’d do just enough to keep from getting in trouble. Perhaps you can relate. In fact, I bet you can relate because what we’re talking about here is rooted in human nature. It seems that part of our nature is this bent toward doing just enough to justify our performance, doing just the minimum to be able to say, “Yep, I’m good.”
Now, when it comes to a school assignment or cleaning your room, that might not sound like such a big deal. But what about when it comes to following the Lord? What about when the question is not a six page paper, but a biblical command? Now that heart attitude becomes a lot clearer, doesn’t it? Do we aim for the minimum, hoping to justify ourselves that we’re good enough? Or do we display what God desires – that is, whole-hearted obedience rooted in God’s grace?
This question of the heart is really what our passage in Luke 10 is all about. The parable of the Good Samaritan, as we said earlier, is certainly well known. Even that phrase – Good Samaritan – is part of our cultural vocabulary. What do you call the guy who stops to help change a tire on the side of the road? He’s a Good Samaritan. So, we’re familiar with this idea.
And yet, when we slow down long enough to pay attention to this familiar passage, what we find is something more than a call to be kind to those in need. This text is more than a lesson in mercy. Now, to be sure, showing mercy is certainly one of the takeaways in this passage, as we’re going to see this morning. But at the core, this passage deals with matters of the heart.
Specifically, the Good Samaritan urges us to face up to the reality that our hearts are often quite hard toward God – our nature is to look for the minimum, and then justify our performance as good enough. And this parable confronts that tendency. This parable calls us to recognize how deeply we need something more than performance. We need something only God can provide – we need hearts that are made new. We need hearts that are eager and able to live the kind of life that honors the Lord – the kind of life that doesn’t settle for self-justification, but instead strives to display God’s heart to a world in need. That’s the takeaway of the Good Samaritan. It is, at the end of the day, a matter of the heart.
As we look at the text we should note that the passage has a very clear plotline. There are two main figures – Jesus and a Jewish lawyer. The lawyer is a scribe who is an expert in the Mosaic Law. And in terms of plot, this lawyer does what lawyer’s do – he attempts to prosecute Jesus. Now, in reality, the lawyer is trying to defend himself, but he approaches Jesus as though he is interested in what Jesus has to say. He comes to question Jesus.
But that’s where the plot turns. The lawyer starts with a question, but Jesus very quickly responds with questions of his own. It’s becomes a cross-examination, you might say. It turns the whole passage upside-down, and that’s where our focus should be. As Jesus questions this lawyer, we see a number of points that speak to these matters of the heart we just described. There are three points, in fact, and each one helps us examine our own hearts and respond to Jesus as we ought.
The Word of God Exposes Hard Hearts
First off, in the opening scene, vv25-28, we see how the Word of God exposes hard hearts. The lawyer, v25, stands up to ask Jesus a question. Actually, Luke tells us the lawyer intends to put Jesus to the test. That gives us some insight into the lawyer’s heart. This is not a friendly question. This is an ambush. It’s a trap. The lawyer’s aim is to discredit Jesus.
But despite that insincere motive, the lawyer’s question is a good one. Notice what he asks – “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The idea of eternal life is a shorthand summary for all the blessings that God promised to those who belonged to his kingdom. The unrighteous and the wicked would inherit destruction, but those who belong to God, those who are righteous in God’s sight – they would inherit eternal life.
In that sense, this lawyer asks the question of questions – how can I be sure that come the last day, I will find life with God rather than destruction in the grave? How can I enter that life, Jesus? It’s a good question – the right question, even though the lawyer’s motive is less than sincere.
Of course, Jesus, as he always does in these moments, proves to be too wise to play games with fools. Notice how Jesus flips the responsibility back on the lawyer. Jesus responds with a question, v26 – “[Jesus] said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Now, we’ve got to see the wisdom of Christ here. Perhaps this lawyer hoped to trap Jesus and expose him as some kind of radical zealot who opposed the Mosaic Law. But with this answer, Jesus evades that trap. Think about it. Where does Jesus direct the lawyer’s attention? To the Word of God. This is the common place of authority for Jesus and the lawyer. This is their sacred text. In other words, Jesus is saying, “Don’t ask me, friend. Let’s look at what God’s Word says. If you want to know about salvation and eternal life and the kingdom of God, let’s not debate our points of view. Let’s look to the Scriptures.”
It’s a powerful reminder, brothers and sisters. When it comes to the things of God, Jesus himself reminds us that there is only one source for insight and wisdom, and it’s not us. It is God’s Word. “What does the text say,” Jesus asks.
And the lawyer, for his part, gives the right answer. Notice v27 – “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.’” So, the lawyer goes to what is arguably the heart of the OT – Deuteronomy ch6. This passage is Israel’s central confession of faith – “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the Lord is one.” It is that confession that made Israel the people they were. And flowing from that central confession was this one, great commandment – Love the Lord your God with every aspect of your being – heart, soul, and strength.
And then the OT went on to say, Leviticus 19, that those who love God must also love their neighbor as themselves. Again, this was central to Israel’s life. A right relationship to God would produce a right relationship with others. So, here in Luke 10, the lawyer gets this right. The lawyer knows the Scriptures, and he answers correctly.
And therefore, Jesus simply affirms what the lawyer has said, v28 – “And [Jesus] said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.’” In other words, Jesus tells the lawyer, “Submit to God’s Word. Follow the Scriptures with a humble heart that trusts what God has said, and you will enter eternal life.” Jesus has nothing more to add. And that is really key here. Notice what Jesus has done in this exchange. He’s exposed the fact that the lawyer already knew the answer. He already knew the truth. So, the tables have turned, haven’t they? Under cross-examination, it’s become clear that this lawyer’s problem is his hard heart. He already knew what the Law required – he just didn’t want to do it. He knew the commandment, but he didn’t want to follow it.
It’s really a striking moment, isn’t it? Of all the people in Israel, you would expect a lawyer to understand and apply the OT Law. And yet, for all his understanding, this lawyer doesn’t understand. He sees, but he doesn’t see. And through the Scriptures, Jesus has brought this hardness of heart out into the light.
This is what God’s Word does. It opens us up under the penetrating, searching light of God’s truth. As Martin Luther once said, when we read the Bible, it reads us. It reveals our hearts, and often times, what the Scriptures reveal is that our hearts are hard. This is our natural condition. We don’t come into this world open and ready to respond to God’s Word. No, we come into this world opposed to God and his Word. We come with insincere motives, and even when we can give the right answers, we don’t want to follow them. We’d rather play games with the Bible. We’d rather fool around with truth, as though it’s something that we can manipulate to serve our purposes. But God won’t be trifled with. That’s one of the takeaways here. The lawyer wants to play games, but the Scriptures powerfully expose him.
And at the same time, this first exchange also shows us why we cannot live without God’s Word. There is only one source of truth – only one light that is able to expose us and bring us to see how desperately when need more than right answers. And that is the Scriptures. This is why we put such an emphasis on being a Word-Driven church – because only the Scriptures are powerful enough to overcome our deeply rooted hardness of heart. This is why, brothers and sisters, our pastors so regularly call you to be Word-Driven Christians – because only the Scriptures are able to bring us back and keep us faithful to not just know the truth, but to do the truth, by faith, just as Jesus commands here.
The Son of God Highlights the Need for a New Heart
Now, I said just a moment ago that the lawyer knows the right answer. He knows the commandments, but it seems he doesn’t want to follow them. That may sound harsh, but the second point of the text confirms that view. Beginning in v29, we witness how the Son of God highlights the need for a new heart. Again, the lawyer asks Jesus a question, and as before, the question tells us quite a bit about the lawyer’s heart. Notice v29 – “But [the lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’’ The key phrase there is desiring to justify himself. That is the lawyer’s aim. He wants to prove himself right. He wants to establish that he is doing enough to inherit eternal life. And so, out of a desire for self-justification, the lawyer asks, “Who exactly is my neighbor?”
Now, think about that question. What is the lawyer doing with that question? He’s aiming to minimize his obligation, isn’t he? If the lawyer can define neighbor narrowly enough, then he can justify himself before the Law’s commands. He’s attempting to exclude certain people from the category of neighbor. It’s really a clever scheme. If the lawyer can lower the standard, then he’s less likely to fall short. And so, he says to Jesus, “Yes, yes, I know the commands. But who, exactly, is my neighbor?”
Once more, however, the wisdom of Christ is on display, as Jesus responds with this familiar and powerful parable. The details are clear – so clear, in fact, that by the time we get to Jesus’ final question in v36, the answer is inescapable. Note the details of the parable:
V30, a man is going down from Jerusalem to Jericho. This is a steep mountain road that goes through a number of passes and ravines. It’s the perfect place for thieves to hide, and that’s what happens in the parable. The man is attacked, robbed, beaten, and left for dead. If anyone is need of a neighbor, it’s this guy. He needs help, or he’ll die.
V31, by chance, a priest passes by. This is someone who knows the Law, someone who serves God’s people under the Law, so you might expect this pious priest to help the man in need. Wrong. The priest passes by on the other side. Perhaps he thinks the man is dead, and he doesn’t want to make himself unclean by getting near a corpse. Who knows? What we do know is that the priest, a minister of the Law’s commands, refuses to be a neighbor.
But then v32, a Levite passes by. This man is a descendant of the tribe of Levi, but he’s not a priest in Aaron’s line. Still, a Levite would have helped out with various duties around the temple, so he knows the Law. Surely, then, the Levite will be a neighbor. Wrong again, Jesus says. The Levite passes by on the other side.
Finally, Jesus brings the twist, v33. A dreaded Samaritan passes by. Jews and Samaritans despised each other – no relations between the two, with Jews in particular looking down on the Samaritans. So, this is the last person on earth you would expect to be a neighbor to this Jewish man in need on the side of the road. In fact, the Samaritan could have easily justified the decision to just pass on by. “That man probably doesn’t even want my help,” the Samaritan could say. “He wouldn’t want me to be his neighbor, so I can exclude him from the category.” Do you see how easy the justification would be?
And yet, that’s the power of the parable, isn’t it? The Samaritan doesn’t justify himself. V33, he has compassion on the man. And then notice the detail Jesus includes, vv34-35. The description of the Samaritan’s compassion is nearly as long as the rest of the parable. He cleans the man’s wounds, he transports him to a safe place, he stays with him overnight, and then he covers the cost of the man’s ongoing care. In fact, the Samaritan even promises to pay whatever else is needed. Instead of asking, “Who is my neighbor,” the Samaritan asked a better question, the right question. The Samaritan asked, “How can I be a neighbor, no matter the cost?”
Now, we’re going to come back to compassion in the final point, but for now, I want us to finish up with the lawyer. Notice how Jesus uses the parable to highlight what the lawyer truly needs. V36, Jesus asks a question with a clear answer – “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?” The answer is inescapable, isn’t it? The lawyer can’t hide. V37, he says, “The one who showed him mercy.” Notice the lawyer can’t even say the word Samaritan. He just refers to the action – the one who showed mercy, which is the very thing the lawyer aims to avoid. The parable, then, has shown the lawyer how short he falls.
And so, with the point now made, notice Jesus’ final instructions, v37 – “And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.’” That final word from Jesus is a profound challenge to this lawyer. Let’s be clear – Jesus is not telling the lawyer, “Go try harder, and perhaps you’ll inherit eternal life.” That’s not the point at all. The lawyer has just convicted himself for failing to show mercy. The parable has shown the lawyer that his attempt at self-justification is a fool’s errand.
And that is precisely Jesus’ point. With those last words, Jesus is telling the lawyer, “You don’t clever legal definitions that will allow you to meet the standard for eternal life. You need profound heart transformation. You need a kind of change that the Law can never provide.” Do you see the heart-focused takeaway? The lawyer knows the commands – he knows the Law. That’s not his problem. The lawyer’s problem is that he doesn’t want to keep it.
And that means this lawyer must stop trying to justify himself, and he’s must admit to Jesus, “I can’t do this on my own. I know the command, but I cannot meet it.” Every attempt at self-justification ends up in one of two places – either in despair that we cannot go and do likewise, or in humility before Jesus, confessing our utter failure and therefore our complete dependence upon him to give what we cannot earn or attain.
You may remember from last week that Jesus said, “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” That’s what this lawyer needs to hear and believe. If he’s looking to inherit eternal life, he won’t find it through self-justification. He won’t find it through lowering the standard so he can do just enough to earn his way in. Eternal life is a gift of God, and that gift comes only through God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
Won’t you trust Jesus Christ? Perhaps you’re not a Christian this morning – you know that you are not repenting of your sin and trusting in Christ alone to save. Or perhaps you’ve always thought you were a Christian, but you recognize today that you’ve been living like this lawyer – trying to justify yourself, trying to lower the standard so you can do just enough to be right with God.
If so, then I pray your eyes are opened today that there is only one way to inherit eternal life, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. The gospel is not God’s promise to make up the gap between what we can do and what he requires. That’s not the gospel. The gospel is the good news that God has taken the initiative to show compassion to us, even when we did not deserve. The Lord Jesus left the glory of his Father’s presence, and he came down to dwell among us broken people. And in dwelling among us, Jesus was rejected, despised, beaten, and crucified on the cross. With compassion, Jesus laid down his life for those who would not and could not do what God’s Law required.
And now, by grace, Jesus calls his people to trust him, to bank their lives on him. Friend, if you’re not a Christian today, that is the only way to eternal life. That is only way for hard-hearted people like us to be reconciled to God and forgiven of our sins. It’s not through lowering the standard so we can meet it. It’s through the compassion of Jesus who bore the cross in our place.
So, I don’t know the state of your soul this morning, friend, but if you came to church thinking you were right with God because you’re keeping some standard – if you came in today justifying yourself – then, I pray you hear the good news. There is only one person who merits eternal life – Jesus Christ – and today, the Bible is calling you to trust only in him.
For those who are Christians today, there is another call here in Jesus’ familiar parable. The good news is that Christ, by his Spirit, has given his people new hearts – hearts that both delight and desire to obey him. That’s the really the deepest blessing of the new covenant, the most astonishing reality of being a gospel people – God is now transforming us to display his character in this world. Our hearts are being renewed after the image of Christ – praise God! And in light of that gospel reality, there is one final point to note from the Good Samaritan. It’s how the Spirit of God calls us to cultivate compassionate hearts.
The Spirit of God Calls Us to Cultivate Compassionate Hearts
Brothers and Sisters, this final point comes from the word compassion in v33. You see it there in your Bibles – the Samaritan saw the man in need, and he had compassion. Now, here’s the interesting piece to the story. That verb to have compassion is only used two other times in Luke’s Gospel. The first is in Luke 7, where Jesus meets a widow who has just lost her only son. Do you remember the scene? How did Jesus respond? Luke 7.13 – “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her.” And then he raises the woman’s son. That’s the first instance in Luke, and it comes from the Lord Jesus himself.
The second instance will come later, in Luke 15 and the parable of the prodigal son. You know that parable, don’t you? When the prodigal son finally decides to come home, Jesus says this: “While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion.” Now, the father in that parable represents God, and that means Jesus is really telling us about the heart of God the Father. When wayward sinners return to God, how does the Father respond? With compassion.
So, those are the only two other instances in Luke’s Gospel where we see this verb to have compassion. What is that telling us? Brothers and sisters, it’s telling us that compassion is a uniquely divine characteristic. Compassion – this sense of loving sympathy that steps into situations of need – that kind of compassion is uniquely illustrative of God’s own heart. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him,” Psalm 103.
So, here is the connection with us, brothers and sisters. God, by his grace, has given us new hearts in Christ Jesus. And as his grace continues to sanctify us and transform us, one of the virtues that we ought to purposefully cultivate is compassion. That’s the call for us as Christians from the parable of the Good Samaritan. Does our attitude match God’s heart? Do we look for ways to show compassion whenever and wherever the situation arises? Or, are we like the lawyer in this text? Do we prefer to ask the question, “Well, who is my neighbor? Am I really accountable to show that person compassion?”
Do you see the difference? The lawyer’s attitude looks for the minimum he has to do. But God’s heart is to say, “Show me the need, and I’ll do whatever I can to step in.” That’s the difference in perspective. It’s the difference between asking, “Who is my neighbor?” and “How can I be a neighbor, in whatever situation the Lord puts me?”
Listen, I am not going to stand before you today and give you a list of things you have to do in order to be compassionate. I’m not going to turn this passage into a law and then demand that we all meet it. But I am going to urge each of us, brothers and sisters, to do two things. One, ask yourself, before the Lord, “Whose attitude do I more often have – the lawyer’s or God’s?” Examine yourself, and where you need to repent, ask God to give you the grace to do so.
And then the second thing is pray. We take prayer far too lightly, you know. Pray for God to give you a greater desire to show compassion. Pray for him to allow you to see the world with his eyes, from his perspective, and then pray for the grace to respond with his heart, which is surely a heart of compassion.
We all have hard hearts. That’s why we need to hear God’s Word. And our hearts are actually so hard that we need God to do what we can’t and won’t do ourselves. We need God to give us new hearts by his grace. And brothers and sisters, praise God – the Father has done that, by his Spirit, through the gospel of his Son. We’ve been made new by God’s grace.
And now, flowing from his work of grace, let’s strive together to cultivate the kind of compassion that helps broken, needy people see and hear the good news that there is a merciful God who saves hard-hearted sinners like us. Amen.