Wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In Luke 10, Jesus responds to the lawyer who asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life,” with a question of His own: “What is written in the law? How does it read to you?” In other words, “You’re the expert, Mr. Lawyer. You know the Old Testament backward and forward. What do you think you have to do to be saved?” The lawyer answers, “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” (v. 27).
Jesus said, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live” (v. 28). In other words, “You have cited the two greatest commandments. Now all you have to do is keep these perfectly and you can go to heaven. You can have eternal life.”
Had the lawyer been sincere, at this point he would have hung his head in shame and said, “But Jesus, I haven’t loved God with all of my heart. I have allowed other things to take His place in my life. And I haven’t loved other people the way I ought to love them. I have allowed my own self-interest to eclipse their needs. What am I to do?” Had he said that to Jesus, I believe Jesus would not have told the story of the good Samaritan. Instead, Jesus would have told a story about forgiveness to show how we can have eternal life even when we fall short of God’s plan. He would have told a story about grace instead of the law.
But notice the lawyer’s response. Verse 29 says he was “wishing to justify himself.” That’s what the Pharisees did. They tried to make themselves look good to prove they were good enough to get into God’s kingdom. “But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” In other words, this lawyer is looking for a loophole. “Exactly what do you mean, Jesus, by that term ‘neighbor’”? He wanted to define neighbor in such a way that he could keep that commandment. You see, if “neighbor” meant “people I like,” then he figured he could be good enough to make it into heaven. Most rabbis restricted the term “neighbor” to mean only fellow Israelites. One group of Jews restricted it further and said, “It’s not just Israelites but purebred Israelites,” leaving out the Samaritans and foreigners who were in the land. It is easy to love people who are just like you, so this lawyer says, “Okay, Jesus, define the ‘neighbor’ I’m supposed to love.”
Jesus did not restrict God’s law; He expanded it. Some people think the Old Testament had all these hard requirements, but when Jesus came He said to live however you want and you can make it into heaven. That is not the case. In fact, Jesus’ standard for righteousness was stricter than the Old Testament. Jesus would say, “You’ve heard in the Old Testament, ‘You shall not murder,’ but I say to you, to hate somebody is to be guilty of murder.” He was raising the bar. Or He would say, “You’ve heard in the Old Testament, ‘You are not to commit adultery,’ but to even look on another person with lust is the same as committing adultery.”
Jesus revealed the true heart of God. God demands absolute perfection not only in our outward actions, but also in our heart. He demands complete perfection if we have any hope of making it to heaven. You say, “Well, who can meet that kind of standard?” That’s the point! No one can. That’s why Christ came to die for us. He paid the price for our sin so that when we stand before God, we stand not wrapped in our own goodness but we put on the righteousness of Jesus. And that’s why Christ died for us to pay the payment for our sin.
Today’s devotion is excerpted from “A Lesson in Workman’s Compensation” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2008.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.