Jesus is Our Greater Good Samaritan

This past Sunday I preached on the fruit of compassion in the Christian life. My primary text was the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The point of that parable is not first and foremost, “stop being so cold and callous to your neighbors and start being more like the Good Samaritan.” No doubt we are commanded by Jesus to “go and do likewise” (v. 37). But this parable is given in the context of a lawyer (an expert in the Old Testament) who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life (v. 25). Indeed, it’s emphasized that he was seeking to justify himself (v. 29). And so, the point of the parable in the first place is to drive people who want to justify themselves by their own works to seek eternal life outside of themselves and to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation, because Jesus is our Good Samaritan. We fail miserably at loving others as we would ourself and by works of the law no one will be justified (Gal. 2:16; Rom. 3:19-26). But if we believe in Him, we already have eternal life and will be raised on the last day when Jesus returns (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:40).

So the parable of the Good Samaritan is a parable of the second greatest commandment, love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:39). And the parable is meant to drive us to our knees in repentance and to seek our salvation outside of ourselves through faith alone in Christ alone as a gift of free grace. But not only is Jesus our Good Samaritan, he is even greater than the Good Samaritan for us. This is a point that Phil Ryken puts beautifully in his commentary on Luke:

“When Jesus came to our aid to give us life, we were not merely dying but dead, dead in our trespasses and sins. Jesus came out of his way to help us, not just crossing the road, but traversing the infinite distance from heaven to earth. Furthermore, it took him more than a day or two of his time and a couple coins from his pocket to gain our salvation. It cost him the sufferings of earth, the blood of his body, and the agonies of his soul on the cross. Jesus traveled a much greater distance, to help people in much greater need, at much greater cost. He is equally committed to seeing our salvation through to the end, for he has promised to come back and carry us all the way to glory.”

AMEN! Jesus is the Greater Good Samaritan! Indeed, He’s the greatest and the only one who has ever lived who is perfectly good! And so, when Jesus says, go and do likewise to us, it comes to us in a different context. It comes to us not as those who are seeking to justify ourselves by our own good works, but as those who are already justified by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. We are clothed in his perfect righteousness and we have already passed from death to life through faith in Him. And so, our motivation to “go and do likewise” is “we love because He first loved us” when we were beaten, bloodied and left for dead. And if he had such compassion and mercy towards us, let us show the same kind of compassion and mercy towards others out of thankfulness for God’s amazing grace in Christ!

In the Spirit’s strength and with the gospel fueling every effort, let us love anyone in need, anyone at all, whom in the providence of God we may be able to help, no matter what social status, no matter what religion, no matter what political party, no matter what nationality, no matter what gender, no matter what age, no matter if we like them or not, no matter if they are deserving of our love or not, no matter if its convenient or not to love them, and no matter if they have done us wrong in the past. Every person has been created in the image of God and by reason of their dignity as image bearers and even more by reason of the love of God that has been poured out upon us in Christ, we are to have compassion on them and love them as we would want them to love us if we were in need. But let us always remember that we are justified by faith alone, we have the Spirit’s enabling power, and we love because he first loved us (Rom. 3:28; Gal. 5:16, 22-25; 1 John 4:19).

Sow Faithfully and Wait Patiently for the Harvest

Recently I preached a sermon on Galatians 6:9-10: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” We can easily grow weary in doing good and there are various reasons for this. But one reason that we can easily grow weary in doing good is because we sow and sow and sow and sow and we hardly see any fruit, if any at all. And so, we grow impatient, frustrated and weary. And this is why Paul says in Galatians 6:9: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

At the Valiant for Truth blog, I was reminded of this truth once again. One pastor encouraged the pastor and author of this post with the following words,

“Don’t think that Sunday is when people are sanctified. Be prepared for a lifetime of ministry to your congregation, one where you will see them struggle with certain sins and shortcomings for years. Be prepared to labor at great lengths and be long-suffering. Over time, you will see Christ sanctify his people. It just probably won’t happen in one day as a result of one sermon.”

This is so true and yet so hard to remember. Pastors and Christians in general get easily discouraged in doing good to others because of the lack of fruit that they see for all of their sowing. But God’s Word encourages us that “in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

In his commentary on Galatians Philip Ryken gives a couple illustrations of this point that have greatly encouraged me in my ministry. He writes,

“The harvest will come. It will come at the proper time, a time determined not by the seasons or the weather, but by the will of God. Whether it comes during this life or when Christ comes again (cf. 1 Tim. 6:15), the harvest will come in God’s own good time. In due season, those who do good will reap their reward. Jesus says, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done” (Rev. 22:12).

Until the harvest comes, we must keep sowing. A good example of what it means to sow and then to wait for the reaping comes from the life of William Carey, the first modern missionary to India. From the day that he arrived on the subcontinent in 1793, Carey began to teach the Bible to anyone who would listen. This he continued to do for the next seven years without winning so much as a single convert to Christ. Not surprisingly, Carey sometimes got discouraged. On one occasion he wrote back to his family in England: “I feel as a farmer does about his crop: sometimes I think the seed is springing, and thus I hope; a little time blasts all, and my hopes are gone like a cloud. They were only weeds which appeared; or if a little corn sprung up, it quickly dies, being either choked with weeds, or parched up by the sun of persecution. Yet I still hope in God, and will go forth in his strength.” Though he sometimes grew weary in doing good, Carey refused to give up. In 1800 he finally began to reap what he had sown, baptizing his first Hindu convert in the Ganges River. This was the firstfruits of a great harvest among the Indian people.

Or consider another example, this one from the colony of Virginia. It concerns the conversion of a man named Luke Short at the ripe old age of 103. Short was sitting under a hedge when he happened to remember a sermon he had once heard preached by the famous Puritan John Flavel (d. 1691). As he recalled the sermon, he asked God right then and there to forgive his sins through Jesus Christ. Short lived for three more years, and when he died, this inscription was put on his tombstone: “Here lies a babe in grace, aged three years, who died according to nature, aged 106.”

But here is the remarkable part of the story: The sermon Short remembered had been preached by Flavel back in England eighty-five years before! Nearly a century had passed between the sermon and the conversion, between the sowing and the reaping. But a man reaps what he sows, and at the proper time Flavel reaped his harvest.

This is a reminder not to evaluate ministry on the basis of immediate results. Too many churches, especially in America, want to taste the fruits of their labours the day they are planted. Yet most spiritual produce takes time to grow. A long time. Often it takes years before parents, teachers, or ministers are able to see their work pay off. “Be patient, therefore, brothers,” wrote the apostle James, “until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand”” (James 5:7-8).

And so, if you have grown weary in doing good. . .to everyone, especially those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 5:9-10), remember these words from the Apostle Paul “for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 5:9). In thankfulness for God’s grace to you in Christ, sow faithfully and wait patiently for the harvest.

What is Christian Joy?

Here is part one of a two part sermon series on Christian joy that I preached this past Sunday (if you prefer, you can listen to it here):

Charles Spurgeon, instructing a group of seminary students on sermon delivery, said, “When you speak of heaven, let your face light up with a heavenly gleam. Let your eyes shine with reflected glory. And when you speak of hell–well, then your usual face will do.” As funny as that is, there is some truth to it. Sadly, too often, Christians lack joy in their life. And I am hear today to exhort you with Paul the apostle, Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). Elsewhere Paul wrote, For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). As Christians, joy ought to be a characteristic of our life. Others should know of your joy in the Lord. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit AND Jesus says in John 15 that one of the reasons that he came is so that His joy may be in us and so that our joy may be full (John 15:11). So once again we are called to rejoice in the LORD, and not just some times but ALWAYS. But in order to understand and appreciate and heed this command we need to understand what true Christian joy is this morning, which is fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Theme: Christian Joy

  1. What Christian Joy Is and Is Not (Part 1: morning sermon)
  2. How We Cultivate Christian Joy (Part 2: afternoon sermon)

1. What Christian Joy Is and Is Not

Phil Ryken says that, “Joy. . .is not so much happiness as contentment. Joy is the ability to take good cheer from the gospel. . . It is not, therefore, a spontaneous response to some temporary pleasure. It does not depend on circumstance at all. It is based rather on rejoicing in one’s eternal identity in Jesus Christ.” And is this not what Paul says in Phil. 4? He doesn’t just say, “rejoice!” He says, “rejoice IN THE LORD!”, not rejoice that things are going well for you right now or even though things are going bad for you right now, stop being such a Debbie Downer and rejoice anyway. NO! Paul says, rejoice IN THE LORD. In fact, speaking of contentment, Paul goes on and says: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11-13). And remember, Paul was writing all of these things while he was in prison for the sake of Christ and the Gospel.

Another way to define what Christian joy is and is not is as Tim Keller puts it: “Joy is delight in God and his salvation for the sheer beauty and worth of who He is. Its opposite is hopelessness/despair, its counterfeit is elation that comes with blessings not the Blesser! Mood swings based on circumstances.” So you see Christian joy is NOT simply a happy-go-lucky attitude despite what I am going through; Nor is it mere optimism for the future; Nor is it mere happiness in present circumstances that are good (these are all counterfeits to what real Christian joy is. . .not that these things are necessarily wrong. . .they just aren’t to be confused with genuine Christian joy because even a non-Christian can have these things). Furthermore, Christian joy is not incompatible with sorrow and grief. . . You see, the opposite fruit of joy is not sorrow as one would think. Rather the opposite fruit of joy is as Keller points out, hoplessness/despair.

You see, Christian joy is much more deep and profound than these things. It truly is a fruit that can only be produced by the Holy Spirit that only Christians can have. Simply put, Christian joy is rooted in the good news of the person and work of Jesus Christ and is produced in us by the Holy Spirit through faith in God’s Word. R.C. Sproul: “The mandate of Christ, “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world,” is not superficial cheerfulness or irrational escapism but is grounded in cosmic reality.” And so, a Christian sermon on joy is not a superficial happy clappy pep rally despite our present circumstances. . .rather it’s a deep, heartfelt, Spirit-wrought rejoicing in the Lord that’s rooted in God’s Word to us about Christ’s present circumstances and our union with Him. Now, all of that said, where do we see this in the Bible?

Well, once again, the Bible reveals this to us in many places. Joy is an attribute of our Triune God. All three members of the Trinity delight in one another and they delight in the work of their hands in Creation and Redemption. But the supreme revelation of God for us is the person and work of Jesus. He is the one who bore the fruit of the Spirit perfectly in his life on our behalf, for our salvation, and as our supreme example. And He is the vine and we are the branches, apart from Him we can do nothing. But as we abide in Him and behold His glory we will bear much fruit by the Holy Spirit. And so we must look to Jesus to know what Christian joy looks like. And the author of Hebrews talks about Jesus’ joy in Hebrews 12: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1-2).

Here we see that Jesus had joy in his life. But as I said earlier joy in the Christian life is not incompatible with sorrow. It often overlaps with sorrow in our life. And we see that especially with Jesus. The author of Hebrews tells us that it was for the joy that was set before him that Jesus endured the cross. And when he says that Jesus had joy, he doesn’t mean that Jesus had some kind of superficial happiness on the way to the cross, and especially while he was on the cross. In fact, we know from Isaiah 53 that Jesus is characterized as being a man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief. But you see his delight, his joy, was in the knowledge that he was being obedient to His Father’s will and redeeming His people. Isaiah 53 also tells us that through suffering, Christ would see his offspring, and that his days would be prolonged and that the will of the Lord would prosper in his hand. He goes on and says, Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous” (Isa. 53:11). You see, Jesus didn’t take joy simply in suffering and dying on the cross. Rather, he took joy in knowing that he was redeeming his Bride. He took joy in knowing that one day he would see his bride walking down that aisle, white and glorious, at that wedding supper of the Lamb in the new heavens and new earth. And he took joy in knowing that it would please his Father and bring him great glory.

How do we cultivate the joy of Christ in our life, that same kind of joy that he experienced even as he went to the cross? We all long for that kind of indestructible joy, don’t we? J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the epic trilogy Lord of the Rings, in his essay “On Fairy Stories”, says that every good story is a reflection of the Gospel story. All good stories have some kind of catastrophe that gets to a point where it seems like the protagonist has no way out, where all hope is lost, and it’s all going to end in tragedy. But then there’s that great turn of events where the hero is saved, his enemies are conquered and they all live, what?. . .happily ever after. Tolkien even came up with his own word for this type of story. He calls it a eucatastrophe. Eu is a Greek prefix which means good. So a eucatastrophe is a catastrophe that turns to good in the end. And Tolkien says that the stories we love most are eucatastophes. And it’s true. I saw three movies this week with my wife (we went on a date night binge since grandparents are in town to babysit our kids). And all three movies had some catastrophe that turned to good in the end. And that’s because we are all longing for redemption. In this world of sorrow, we are all longing for indestructible joy in the end. And Tolkien says the only difference between those stories that we love and the Gospel is that the Gospel is the eucatastrophe that came true! The life, death and resurrection of Christ is the eucatastrophe of human history. And Jesus says to you and me today, as he said to his disciples: So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22). 

But we don’t have to wait until heaven to experience that joy now. Jesus was originally speaking about his death and resurrection appearances. They had great sorrow when Jesus was in the grave but then he rose from the dead on the third day and appeared to his disciples and they rejoiced greatly to see him face to face once again, risen victorious over the grave. And Jesus gave them his Spirit so that no one would ever be able to take their joy from them (John 20:22). And he gives you and me His Spirit as well to produce the joy of the Lord in our hearts more and more until Christ comes again to bring us into the glory of the new heavens and new earth where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore at God’s right hand (Gal. 3:13-14; Gal. 5:22; Ps. 16:11). In the words of Peter: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet. 1:8-9).