You Can’t Love Your Way to Heaven

Based on:  Luke 10:25-37

Normally, when you come to church you expect to hear a message of comfort.  You have had to endure the suffering and hardships that this world throws at you and you want to hear that God still loves you.  Today as we look at the story of the Good Samaritan, we look at the person to whom Jesus told that story and why Jesus told that story.  We realize that this story is not intended to comfort.  These words tell us how we fail to love our neighbor.  These words tell us that we cannot love our way to heaven – we cannot by loving our neighbor get ourselves into heaven.

If these words do not provide comfort then, why did Jesus say them? Let’s look at the person to whom Jesus told the story.  The Bible calls him "an expert in the law" and the Bible says that this expert wanted to test Jesus.  He did not see Jesus as his Savior, instead he saw Jesus as a rival.  He wanted to find out if Jesus knew as much as he did.  He asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"  Well, the key word in that question is the word "do".  If he was going to do something to get to heaven then this expert in the law had the right answer, love.  First, he must love God more than anything else, then he must love his neighbor as himself.  Perhaps this man thought pretty good about himself.  The Bible says he wanted to "justify himself".  He wanted to be sure that he was doing everything he needed to do to get to heaven.  So he asked who his neighbor was that he had to love as himself.  Now Jesus tells this story to show him that he had already failed.  He could not by his own love for others get himself into heaven.

As Jesus tells the story we hear about a man who is attacked and left by the side of the road to die.  Two religious men, who knew God’s command to love and should have been willing to help, passed by on the other side.  What were they thinking? "I need to get my dentist appointment", "Ouch, that must hurt but I’m glad it’s not me", or "Well, there really isn’t anything I can do for him." 

But then a Samaritan comes by.  The Jews didn’t really like Samaritans.  They didn’t consider them part of God’s chosen people and treated them poorly.  Yet, this Samaritan stopped to take care of the hurt man who was most likely a Jew and someone the Samaritan could very easily consider an enemy.  Instead, the Samaritan looked on the side of the road and saw a fellow human being in need.  He knew what he would want someone else to do if he were that person on the side of the road.  He had compassion on this beaten and bruised man.  At that point he made a personal sacrifice for the sake of this man in need.  He gave up some of his time; it certainly took time to take care of this person.  He used whatever skill he had in bandaging this man’s wounds, he got his hands dirty, even bloody, in this service he performed for another human being.  Not only that but he spent his own money, using his own oil and wind to dress the wounds and paying the innkeeper to take care of this man.

Jesus said, "Go and do likewise."  This Samaritan is a picture of what it means to love our neighbor.  This is the requirement we must fulfill if we want to get to heaven by our own love for others.  Jesus gives no guidelines for when or how often, it is a perpetual requirement.  You must love your neighbor like the Samaritan loved that man on the side of the road 24 hours a day seven days a week from the time you are born until the time you die.  And if you also love God more than anything else you can then consider yourself perfect and by your own love for others you will have earned a place for yourself in heaven.

That expert in the law could not have gone away after that thinking that he lived up to that kind of love, but what about you and me?  Do we love our neighbor, even our enemies, as the Samaritan loved this man on the side of the road?  Perhaps there are times when we show compassion, this same kind of deep concern, for another individual.  Perhaps it even happens on a regular basis.  But we are all sinful human beings and, being descendants of those first sinners, Adam and Eve, our love for our neighbor is inconsistent and often selfish. 

Are there times when we see someone that we could help and we fail to help with their physical needs?  Perhaps we don’t even make the small effort it takes to pray for them.  And as Christians we are even more concerned about our neighbor’s spiritual needs.  That is the reason Jesus told this story to be expert in the law.  Jesus was concerned about his spiritual needs and wanted him to see his need for a Savior.  We also have many opportunities to help our neighbor both inside and outside of the church by telling them about their Savior, by encouraging them in their faith, by supporting this church, and with our prayers.  We do not measure up to God’s standard for earning heaven on our own.  We cannot love our way to heaven, our own acts of love will not get us to heaven. 

All our attempts at love will get us nowhere.  Then we see how great the gift of God’s love truly is.  In a spiritual way we were like that man on the side of the road – robbed by Satan and beaten up by our own sins, left to die in hell.  Jesus is the one who saw us on the side of the road and had compassion on us.  We were in that wretched state, a pile of bruises and broken limbs, and Jesus came to us and bandaged our wounds.  He spent time on this earth living the perfect life of love that we could not live and spending his precious blood worth more than any amount of money we could earn.  Now when God looks at us through Christ he sees people with perfect love for their neighbor – a Good Samaritan kind of love. 
It is Christ’s love that is now the reason we want to love our neighbor.  We love others not to earn our own way to heaven, but to say thank you to our Savior for showing such great love to us.  I have seen a wonderful example of this just recently.  When you prepared for the arrival of my family, the things you did are examples of Christ’s love shining through you.  You can see the love of Christ in the paint and repairs to the parsonage, in the food that was prepared for us, in the yard around the parsonage, in the cards we received, and in the warm and loving welcome we received from everyone.  These things were love for your neighbor motivated by Christ’s love for you. 

Now, as Christians we want to continue to love those around us by taking care of both the physical needs of others as well as the spiritual needs.  We can do this in many ways.  We can work with our hands, using the talents God has given us for the benefit of the church and others.  As we contribute financially to the work of this church and of the school, we are helping to share the Gospel with our neighbors both inside this congregation and outside.  And please do not look overlook Prayer as a way to show love for your neighbor.  It is a very simple thing that has great effect.  In love we are helping to meet the physical and spiritual needs of our neighbors. 

Now, as we focus on others – as we focus on people other than ourselves, both as individuals and as a congregation, the Lord will certainly bless us.

We are all sinful human beings in a sinful world and we will not love our neighbor perfectly.  Give thanks to God that we can turn to our Savior and ask him to forgive us.  He does forgive.  He forgives and even gives us his perfect love.  You can not earn heaven by your own love, but our heavenly Father gives us heaven by Christ’s love.

Amen.

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