Jesus Christ who Became my Neighbor (June 2, 2024)

1. Prologue 

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a gathering called BMM (Business Marketplace Ministry). This is a group of Christians in San Diego who are involved in various businesses. These individuals wish to foster deeper connections beyond the typical business-customer relationship, aspiring to connect more profoundly as believers in Jesus Christ. I was greatly encouraged by their desire to glorify God through their business endeavors.

As believers in Jesus Christ, wanting to form deeper connections with others is akin to the biblical command to “love your neighbor.” In the Old Testament, there is a phrase that says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Today, I will speak from a Bible passage related to this phrase. It is the passage about the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” in the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament.

When discussing this parable, understanding its background is crucial. Therefore, in the first part, I will talk about the background in which this parable was told. In the second part, I will discuss the parable itself.

2. A Lawyer

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (Luke 10:25-26, ESV)

27 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.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:27-28, ESV)

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29, ESV)

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a story that Jesus told to a certain lawyer. The scripture from verse 25 to 29 describes who this lawyer is. 

The passage begins with “And behold.” The lawyer “stood up,” which indicates that he could no longer contain himself. He was agitated and could no longer sit still. Why was this? What had just happened before this?

Before the lawyer appeared, Jesus had sent out 70 disciples for a mission, and they had returned to give their missionary reports. The disciples joyfully said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.” Jesus replied, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Then Jesus, full of joy, thanked the Heavenly Father. He expressed gratitude that the names of these little ones, the disciples, were written in heaven, which means they were invited into fellowship with God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son.

Hearing this, the lawyer was irritated. Why? Because he thought, “Such ignorant people of the law, those who cannot properly keep the law, cannot be accepted by God.” He believed, “Their names cannot be written in heaven.”

The lawyer questioned Jesus to test Him. He wasn’t asking out of genuine curiosity. He wanted to prove that Jesus was ignorant of the law or He treated the law carelessly and thus tarnish His reputation.

The lawyer asked, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He asked based on his belief that man can be saved by good deeds. But this is not biblical truth. We know that we cannot obtain eternal life through our deeds.

Jesus needed to break down his belief that he could keep the law and thus draw closer to God by keeping the law. Jesus needed to let him know that humans cannot perfectly keep God’s law. We need to understand the purpose of what Jesus told the lawyer. 

Jesus replied with questions, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” Since Jesus Himself brought up the law, it is likely that the lawyer was a bit puzzled. 

The lawyer’s answer was perfect: “You shall love the Lord your God, and your neighbor as yourself.” These two commandments summarize the entire law. Jesus also said the same thing in another part of the Gospels: “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus then said, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

As I mentioned earlier, Jesus was challenging the lawyer to help him realize that “a person cannot perfectly keep God’s law.” Jesus was not affirming that eternal life could be gained through keeping the law.

Actually, the more we know who God is, such as His heart, His holiness, and God’s love, the more we should realize, “I cannot keep God’s commandments at all; I cannot match God’s thoughts.” But recognizing this leads to a faith that relies on Christ. Jesus wanted the lawyer to have this realization. Jesus expected this kind of answer from the lawyer. However, his response was different.

Verse 29 says this: “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 

“Desiring to justify himself” means the lawyer could not let go of the belief that he could keep the law correctly. However, he didn’t truly understand what it meant to “love your neighbor.” Therefore, he needed a definition. He thought he could keep the commandments if there were certain definitions. 

At that time, Jews had created many regulations related to the Mosaic Law, known as the tradition. For example, they made many rules about the commandment “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” such as one can do this but cannot do that on the Sabbath, how many miles one can walk a day without it being considered work. They made many rules. They became so obsessed with adhering to the detailed regulations that they were far away from God’s heart. 

What was the biggest problem for the lawyer? It is that he had no living relationship with God. He did not understand the heart of the God who gave the commandments. He didn’t know that he was loved by God. He had extensive knowledge about God, but he did not know who God is personally.

Because he is not taught through a living relationship with God, he does not know what to do without detailed definitions. With this background, Jesus will tell the parable to the lawyer.

3. the parable of the good Samaritan   

30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:30-32, ESV)

33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ (Luke 10:33-35, ESV)

36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37, ESV)

What did you think after hearing this parable? The priest and the Levite ignored the man who had been attacked by robbers and left half-dead, passing by on the other side. It’s an unbelievable, terrible story. Of course, this is a parable, so it is not what actually happened. 

Priests are those who serve in the temple. Levites assist those priests. They serve God directly. They are supposed to be role models for the public and serve the people. Yet, these religious leaders, the priest and the Levite, saw their fellow Jew, who had been attacked, half-dead, suffering, and barely alive, and they passed by on the other side. They ignored the neighbor closest to them, who was in need. Probably, they didn’t want to get involved in the hassle because there is a law that says touching a dead body makes one unclean.

What is the biggest problem with the priest and the Levite? It is the same as the lawyer: they lack a living relationship with God. They do not have the presence of God. If we do not have a living relationship with God, His presence or help, we cannot do what we should do. Our flesh (our old sinful nature) is weak. Paul said, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”

I said, “It’s an unbelievable, terrible story,” but when I look back at myself, I recall times when I should have spoken up and helped but couldn’t. When we have a living relationship with God, and God’s presence draws near, God works in us, even if our flesh cannot do it.

The priest and the Levite passed by on the other side, but a Samaritan came near the man who had been attacked, treated his wounds, and provided all kinds of care, securing a place for him to recover, even bearing the financial burden. Earlier, I said it was unbelievable about the priest and the Levite, but what this Samaritan did was even more unbelievable.

Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies. There is a historical background to this. Around 922 BC, Israel split into Northern Israel and Southern Judah. Around 722 BC, Northern Israel was taken captive by Assyria. Because of Assyria’s colonization policy, foreigners entered the region of Samaria, resulting in a mixed race of Jews and non-Jews, the Samaritans.

There is an instance where Jews said to Jesus, “You are a Samaritan and have a demon” To Jews, Samaritans were disqualified as humans, agents of evil. Despite being so hated, rejected, mocked, and despised by the Jews, this Samaritan approached the Jew and provided him with the utmost love.

When Jesus told this parable, who was Jesus likening this Samaritan to in his heart? Who was this unbelievable Samaritan? In fact, this Samaritan represents Jesus Christ Himself.

In verse 33, it says, “But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.” The verb “had compassion” is actually a word used only for God or Jesus Christ. It expresses God’s deep compassion.

41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” (Mark 1:41, ESV)

“I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.(Mark 8:2, ESV) 

Both scriptures express Jesus Christ’s deep compassion.

If this Samaritan represents Jesus, then aren’t we all like this man attacked by robbers and left half-dead? We were spiritually dead. Our relationship with God was severed, and we were wandering like lost sheep.

Just as the Samaritan approached the man attacked by robbers, Jesus Christ approached us. Though he is God, he became human and came down to this earth. Throughout his 33 years of life, he poured out his life for us. Just as the Samaritan poured oil and wine on the wounds, Jesus Christ poured out his life on the cross. This unbelievable Samaritan represents Jesus Christ.

Jesus asked the lawyer, Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He answered, “The one who showed him mercy.” He couldn’t bring himself to say, “It was the Samaritan.” He couldn’t admit that he couldn’t love his neighbor like Samaritans, that no one can perfectly keep God’s law. If the lawyer had been able to admit this, he would have sought the Savior. 

What was the biggest issue with this lawyer? It was that he lacked a living relationship with God. He had abundant knowledge about God, but he didn’t have a personal relationship with God. 

To such an expert in the law, Jesus was saying, “I, who stand before you, have become your neighbor.” 

4. Epilogue 

First, I shared my experience of participating in the Business Marketplace Ministry, and in connection with that, I recall an important memory.

Before I became a Christian, I lived in New York for about three years while working at a bank. In the suburbs where we lived, there was a small Japanese grocery store owned by a Korean couple. I remember that the wife was always at the register.

Whenever my wife and I went shopping, the wife would always speak to us. “When did you come to New York?” “Have you made any friends?” “If you don’t have friends, why don’t you try going to church?” From the moment she started talking about “God,” I thought it was bad news and tried to avoid making eye contact or speaking with her. However, my wife seemed to listen to her attentively.

Interestingly, after some time, we started attending a nearby Japanese church. Even after returning to Japan, we stayed connected to the church, and about six months after returning, my wife and I accepted Jesus Christ and were baptized.

I always turned my back on this woman, rejected, and ignored her. However, I later realized that I was actually turning my back on, rejecting, and ignoring Jesus Christ. It was also later that I understood that Jesus Christ came close and became my neighbor, even to someone like me.

I believe that this Korean woman was trying to be a neighbor to the people who came to her store. At least, she was for my wife and me. If she had only seen her customers as business opportunities, I might not be here today.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” This phrase is not just a command. For those who do not believe in Jesus, being a Christian might seem very restrictive. It might look like they are bound by many rules, such as having to go to worship on Sundays and giving generous offerings.

However, the essence of the Bible is the Gospel of Christ. The Gospel is good news. “Love your neighbor as yourself” actually means “You will come to love your neighbor as yourself.” This applies even to people you find difficult, or those who reject or hate you.

Why is that? Because Christ first became our neighbor. Christ became the neighbor of someone like me, who turned his back, rejected, and ignored Him. Christ lives in those who believe in Him. Therefore, we can become neighbors to everyone. To the lawyer who appeared today, “Love your neighbor as yourself” was just a command. This lawyer had rich knowledge about the law, but he was also a sinner who could not keep this “command.” It was Jesus Christ who sought a relationship with such sinners.

The Gospel is that Jesus Christ became my and your neighbor. And the Gospel is also that we too become neighbors to everyone because Christ, our neighbor, lives and works within those who believe in Him.

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