"What Do I Have to Do?"
A sermon based on Luke 10:25-37
Sunday, July 10, 2016 – Pentecost 8C
He knew he wasn't going to like the answer to his question. He knew it wasn't going to be fun. It might even be painful. So before he asked, he steeled himself, he found his nerve and with determined resolve he asked his mom, "Okay. What do I have to do?" You see, she had just told her son that he had some chores to do.
"What do I have to do?" That's a question moms and dads get asked when kids want to get their allowance. It's a question teachers get asked when students want to pass a class. It's a question bosses get asked when employees want a raise. It's a question doctors get asked when their patients are told they have to make some serious lifestyle changes. "What do I have to do?"
And it's a question that Jesus was asked by a man wanting to know how he could get to heaven. "What do I have to do?" It's a question we'd all be wise to ask Jesus ourselves. And Jesus' answer to this man's question is surprising. It's surprising because what one needs to do to earn eternal life is so difficult, so extreme, so overwhelming, that we all have to throw up our hands in despair recognizing that we could never do it! But that despair in ourselves lead us to rejoice in the surprising answer to the question, "What do I have to do to get to heaven?" "You don't have to do anything. Jesus has done it all. You just inherit what he's left you.
In our text for this morning we get to listen in to a conversation between Jesus and a man who asked, "What do I have to do?" Our text is found in Luke 10:25-37…
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
27 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.'"
28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
30 In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins 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.'
36 "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
37 The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
I. What Do I Have to Do to Earn Eternal Life?
Now, when a kid asks mom, "What do I have to do?" in response to the news of impending chores, he's usually asking, "How can I get this done quickly and to your satisfaction so I can go play and do the things I want to do?"
When an employee asks, "What do I have to do?" he really means, "What's it going to take for me to a raise around here? What do I have to do make you happy, boss?"
When a patient asks the doctor, "What do I have to do?" He's asking what changes he needs to reluctantly make in order to not die in the next year.
Usually, "What do I have to do?" isn't a question driven by love, but a question driven by a selfish desire to give you what you want so that I can get what I want. What do you need to be happy so I can get what I want to be happy?"
Of course, we can't blame this man for wanting eternal life. Who doesn't? But in his question this man assumed he could do something to earn it. And that's the way the sinful nature always works. We all, by nature, think we can do something for God so that he owes us heaven. But how foolish! When God created the entire cosmos by the power of his command, when he gives us our very life and sustains that life every day, what could we possibly give to God or do for him that he might possibly need from us?!
It's been said that every legalist is an anti-nomian. That is to say, that everyone who wants to earn heaven by keeping God's law (a legalist) must reduce God's laws and minimize them so much that they can actually keep them. And in doing so, they're really against the law (that is, they are "anti" – against – "nomian" – the law.)
So Jesus would teach this "expert in the law" the full extent of the law. He would teach him what it meant to earn heaven by keeping the law by telling him a story…
A man was robbed, stripped, beat half to death, and left lying on the side of the road to die. A priest (in our context, a pastor) saw the man and just passed by. He was too busy to help this dying man. Likewise, a Levite (or for us a staff minister, an elder, or a principal) also passed by, doing nothing to help this man in need. For them, the answer to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" was "Certainly not this guy. He doesn't deserve my help or my time." But finally a Samaritan (maybe in our context, a Muslim or an atheist) sees his man in need, pulls over to the side of the road, helps him up, takes him to a doctor, and offers to pay for all of his medical expenses, seeking nothing in return from the man.
Well, Jesus' point is clear, isn't it? The parable needs no key. This man's "neighbor," wasn't just his friends, his co-workers, his family, or those in his social or economic class. No. His neighbor was anyone that he ever came into contact with that had a need that he could meet.
So, in answer to this man's question, "What do I have to do?" Jesus told him to keep the law perfectly, always showing love to everyone that he would ever encounter. He wouldn't be able to "justify himself" by redefining "neighbor." How surprised the expert in the law, who thought he was doing a pretty good job of keeping it all, must have been. "What do I have to do?" Way more than he could ever do. He couldn't justify himself.
And we can't justify ourselves either. We can't reshape God's law into our liking to make it easy enough for us to keep. We can't say, "Lust is too hard to avoid. So let's just say God is happy with us as long as we don't have sex outside of marriage," or "Greed is too hard to overcome. So let's just say God is happy with us as long as we put a few dollars in the offering plate whenever we happen to show up to church." We can't say, "Laziness is a sin that I like, so let's just pretend that as long as I keep away from gross outward sins, God and I are just fine.
No. That's not how it works. "What do I have to do?" We must keep all of God's laws perfectly, all of the time if we wish to earn eternal life! That means that we always look out for the best interest of others, that we always put everyone else's needs above our own, that we always love even our enemies, Muslims, gays, atheists, family members, co-workers—everyone we meet!—with a love in action, serving them at our own expense. That's what Jesus meant when he said, "Go and do likewise."
Ah, when you realize the full extent of God's law, it quickly becomes obvious that we cannot, "Do this and… live." "What do I have to do?" I can never do what's required! So we all must despair of any more thoughts of earning eternal life by our efforts. We all have to admit that we need help – and we need it badly…
II. What Do I Have to Do to Inherit Eternal Life?
Last year I read a book called, "The Ultimate Gift." In it, an incredibly wealthy business man dies but in his will he leaves behind a series of videos with assignments that his slacker nephew, who still lives in his parents' basement, must complete before he receives a dime of his uncle's inheritance. Throughout the course of the book the nephew learns responsibility, compassion, generosity, and, in short, maturity. While he learns a lot along the way and gets a gift better than the cash, he at first did the assignments only in order to get the money. If he didn't complete the tasks to the satisfaction of the executor of the will, he got nothing.
But that's not normally how it works with a will. You don't normally have to do anything to inherit something. What an unusual question the expert in the law asked Jesus then! "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
You know how it usually works with an inheritance. Someone dies, you get something. That's it. It sounds more complex with all the legalese that goes into writing a will, but on the end of the recipient, it's usually really that simple: Someone dies, and you get something. You don't have to do anything for it.
And while this account in Luke 10 is pretty much all law as Jesus explains to this expert in the law that he is not loving his neighbor as much as he loves himself and that he cannot do enough to earn eternal life, well… in this man's question is hidden the Gospel comfort.
"What do I have to do to inherit?" The surprising answer hidden in this account is this: Do nothing. Just inherit what Jesus won for you. Someone died—the God man—and you get something—eternal life. Just as you do nothing to inherit some cash from an uncle or grandparent who's passed away, so too you and I did nothing to inherit eternal life. Jesus earned it for us.
When we lay not just dying, but spiritually dead on the side of the road, he came and found us. He picked us up. He was the great physician who could make us healthy again. And he paid all the expenses, to not just restore our lives, but to give us live when we were spiritually dead. And the price was more than silver or gold or dollars or time or energy, but his very life and his very soul.
[1 Peter – Not with silver or gold…
And now we are healthy and whole. Now we are sons and daughters of God. And as such we will the inherit eternal life that our brother Jesus won for us. It's ours because he died, and we receive. He gave his life, and we get eternal life. "What do I have to do?" The surprising answer is, "Nothing!" "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Nothing. Do nothing to inherit. Someone dies. And we get something. Jesus died. And we get eternal life.
And that eternal life changes the way we look at this life. We no longer ask, "What do I have to do?" but instead ask, "What can I do to show God how thankful I am?" And he tells us. He tells us what we can do to show our thanks to him: "Go and do likewise." "Go, and be like the Samaritan who did whatever he could to serve others." This is how we show our thanks to God.
So we don't do right to be right, but because we are right we do right. Let me say that again: We don't do right in order to be right. But because we are right because of Jesus, we do right to show our thanks to him. We no longer ask, "What do I have to do?" But instead we ask, "What can I do? What can I do to show my thanks to God? What can I do to show love to others?" We no longer ask, "Who is my neighbor?" but instead ask, "To whom can I be a neighbor?" "Who can I help? To whom can I show the love of Jesus?" And instead of asking, "What do I have to do?" or "What's this going to cost me to get what I want?" we ask, "How can I serve others?" and not just in their physical needs, but in their greatest need of learning about their Savior.
So go home this afternoon and write down a list of your "neighbors"—that is, your friends, your family members, your co-workers, your fellow church members, your literal neighbors. And ask yourself, "How can I show my Savior's love to them? How can I help them? How can I serve them? How can I help lead them to our Savior?" In thanks to Jesus, who didn't ask, "What do I have to do to save them?" but, "What can I do to give them eternal life?" we, too, no longer ask, "What do I have to do?" but "What can I do to share with them the eternal life that is their inheritance?" Think of ways that you can reach out to them and share with them our Savior who won eternal life for them, for you, for me, by his death when he died. For he died and we do nothing, but inherit eternal life. In his name, dear friends, amen.