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The Most Misunderstood Parable

Grace To You / John MacArthur
The Truth Network Radio
May 17, 2024 4:00 am

The Most Misunderstood Parable

Grace To You / John MacArthur

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May 17, 2024 4:00 am

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So, the priest has zero love for the man and has zero love for God, right? Because if he loved God, what would he do? He would obey, love the neighbor, show mercy. So here is a priest who is a typical priest in the Jewish system who is self-justified and seems to be righteous but doesn't love God or others. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.

I'm your host, Phil Johnson. For centuries, the parable of the Good Samaritan has inspired vast amounts of charitable work. And while those efforts have done a lot of good, the truth is, they missed the point of the parable entirely. So what is the parable of the Good Samaritan really about? And why is it arguably the most misunderstood of the 40 parables of Jesus? Well, John MacArthur is going to help you see what the Lord was getting at when he told this amazing story and how that parable applies to you today.

It's part of his study titled Stories with Purpose. And with a lesson now, here is John. Parables are familiar to many people but not always correctly understood. And one such parable is the one to which I draw your attention. Open your Bible to Luke 10, verse 30, and the very familiar parable of the Good Samaritan, the Good Samaritan. Very familiar to Christians and non-Christians alike. In fact, we all know what it means when you call someone a Good Samaritan.

That's a compliment. That generally means that someone shows kindness, mercy, compassion, care to some other person in need, and that's good. That's virtuous. God is honored by that. But that being said, the parable of the Good Samaritan is largely misunderstood.

People are familiar with the story but not so familiar with the point of the story. And to some degree, we expect that because the truth of our Lord's parable teaching is hidden. If you go back to chapter 10, verse 21, Jesus says to His followers, at this very time, He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit and said, I praise you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and revealed them to infants.

Yes, Father, for this way was well pleasing in your sight. And then in verse 23, turning to the disciples, He said privately, blessed are the eyes which see the things you see, for I say to you that many prophets and kings wish to see the things which you see and didn't see them, and to hear the things which you hear and didn't hear them. And then He goes into an occasion in which He teaches this familiar parable. Disciples are really the most direct connection with our Lord revealing truth to His disciples and hiding it from His rejecters. This parable, therefore, will be misunderstood by non-believers. It will be flattened out into a simple story of showing kindness.

We kind of expect that. For believers, it should be clearly understood. We have ears to hear and eyes to see, but we do need a little help along the way, I think. For example, if you go back in church history, you get some very bizarre interpretations of this story in allegorical form, and if you follow church history through the intervening years to the present time, you get more misrepresentations of the story. And even today, it has become a very, very popular story in defending the church's interest in social justice, forms of socialism, even Marxism lean on the story of the Good Samaritan. So listen to the story starting in verse 30. Jesus replied and said, "'A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. And by chance, a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan who was on a journey came upon him, and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. And he put him on his own animal, his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day, he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, take care of him, and whatever more you spend, when I return, I will repay you. Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?' And he said, the one who showed mercy toward him.

Then Jesus said to him, go and do likewise." Pretty simple story, easy to understand. We even get the punchline, who's the neighbor? The man who helped the sufferer. But going back, for example, to the early church fathers, you have strange allegories developed around this story as if it had a secret, hidden meaning.

For example, one of the early writers by the name of Origen said, here's the interpretation of the story. The man is Adam. Jerusalem is paradise. Jericho is the world. The robbers are hostile powers, demonic forces. The priest is the law, the Levites. The Levite is the prophets. The Samaritan is Christ.

The wounds are disobedience. The animal is the Lord's body. The inn is the church, and the Samaritan's return is the second coming. That is bizarre, to put it mildly, and has nothing to do with the point. In fact, it was John Calvin who said that misses entirely our Lord's intention when he was exposed to Origen's notion about the good Samaritan. And while this is not an allegory because there are no allegories in the Scripture, there is nothing that has some kind of secret, hidden meaning that must be mystically discerned.

More modern interpreters have missed the point of this as well. Any time you get into discussions with people who talk about poverty and the alleviation of poverty and the reallocation of wealth and taxing the wealthy to provide for the poor and social justice and all forms of socialism, you will find somewhere in their emphasis the story of the good Samaritan, that somebody cared for people, divesting himself of what he possessed for the sake of someone else. One of the social justice advocates puts it this way, quote, getting to know people on the other side of the road so as to tear down the walls between us is essential.

But again, I'm not surprised that it's misunderstood because Jesus said these things are only available to those who have eyes to see. Another advocate of this kind of interpretation said, we need to transform the Jericho Road so the whole community is free from harm. Christian theology says this is about the all-inclusive reach of solidarity.

Most of us wouldn't get so caught up in forms of social justice as that. We would just say it's about helping people that are suffering. It's about being kind. And certainly God requires us to be kind.

God establishes that in His Word to be sacrificially kind. But remind yourself of this, all parables are salvation stories. This is a salvation story. In fact, this is Jesus doing personal evangelism.

This is Jesus doing personal evangelism on a particular man standing in front of Him. All stories, all parables, there are 40 of them or so, all of them are about salvation in one form or another. And they are profound, and they are theological, and they are doctrinal, and they are presentations of propositional truth that is hidden from those who have no ears to hear, but revealed to those to whom it is explained. They are riddles if not explained. Jesus in the text of the New Testament explains many of them. For those that aren't explained specifically, when you begin to hear the explanations of some of them, you have enough information to explain the ones that He doesn't specifically explain. If we get the whole of Scripture and the New Testament, we know enough soteriology, truth about salvation, to interpret them for ourselves.

But they are salvation stories. This is a scene of personal evangelism. It is parallel to Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3. It is parallel to Jesus and the rich young ruler in Matthew 19. Jesus doing personal evangelism.

So let's set the scene. Go back to verse 25. This is what establishes the intent of the parable. A lawyer stood up, pulled out of the crowd, came before Jesus, took his position in front of him for the purpose of putting him to the test. This tells us his motive was not good. He wasn't seeking truth.

He wasn't seeking information. He was doing what all these religious scribes and lawyers did. He was trying to trap Jesus so they could condemn Him and find reason to have Him executed. He was part of the religious establishment. He was a lawyer not in a civil sense. He was a lawyer not in a criminal sense. He was a lawyer in the sense of Scripture.

He was an expert of the Old Testament law. So he stands up and like they always did, the Pharisees, the scribes, the priests, puts Jesus to a test hoping He will fail. And he asks Him the same question the rich young ruler asked Him.

He asked Him the same question that Nicodemus had on his heart. Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? What shall I do to inherit eternal life? What is the path to heaven?

What is the path to a right relationship to God that's going to guarantee that I'm going to live forever in the presence of God? That is a very important question. That is the most important question that any person can ever ask.

That is the right question. That is the right question asked to exactly the right person who is Himself eternal life, the very life giver. But he didn't ask it for any legitimate intention. He asked it to put Jesus in some kind of bad light and put Him on the horns of some dilemma that would allow Jesus to become embarrassed, and even more than that, to become ashamed and therefore to be guilty of some crime. So he says, what do I do to inherit eternal life?

Now notice the path that Jesus takes. He said to him, what is written in the law? How does it read to you?

What does the law say? Let's go back to the Word of God. You have the Old Testament. What does it say? Well, this is a sharp scholar. This is a scholar of Old Testament Scripture, and he gives exactly the right answer in verse 27 about what does the law say.

How does it read? He combines two Scriptures, Deuteronomy 6, 4, and 5, and Leviticus 19, 18, two familiar Scriptures. They are two Scriptures that sum up the entire law of God. In Matthew chapter 22, Jesus said, these are the two things that sum up the law of God. All the law of God is summed up in these two things. 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. Jesus says in Matthew 22, and these is the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets. The first half of the Ten Commandments deal with loving God. The second half of the Ten Commandments deal with loving others.

This is the summation of that. All the rest of the law either has to do with your relationship to God or your relationship to people. So it gathers up the whole law, and what does the Old Testament require? Perfect love to God, perfect love to man. Loving God with all your heart, soul, strength, mind, all faculties, all capacities, and loving your neighbor in the same way that you love yourself. He said, that's the right answer.

Verse 28, you have answered correctly. Do this and you'll live. So go do it. You want eternal life? Fulfill the law.

Do this and live. You say, whoa, whoa, why is He telling him that? Where's the gospel here? Why doesn't he just say, believe in me, believe in me? Because there's another issue to be confronted here, and that is how the man views himself.

There's no good news unless the man accepts the bad news, right? Well, this man doesn't have any interest in a true evaluation of his condition. Verse 29 makes it clear. But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, and who is my neighbor? He is so self-righteous, so self-justifying that he doesn't even think about how he loves God or how he loves man. All he thinks about is maybe you've got a different definition of neighbor.

The only thing I need to work on is maybe you've got a different spin on who's my neighbor. He is oblivious to his true condition. He is hostile to the notion that he is not righteous, that he is not justified, that he does not already have eternal life, that he is not right with God. He loves God. He keeps the karachamah, Deuteronomy 6, 4, and 5, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. He does keep Leviticus 19, 18. He loves his neighbor, but oh, wait a minute here.

Who's his neighbor? Well, we know that from Matthew 5. Jesus said, the rabbis have taught you, love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemy. So enemies weren't included as neighbors. The Old Testament actually says very clearly, love your stranger in your midst. Love the stranger in your midst.

That was required from the Old Testament. They did not love their enemies. They did not love the strangers. Furthermore, they didn't even love other Jews. All they loved was the people who were part of their very narrow elite group. They loved other Pharisees, other scribes.

How in the world would you justify that? Well, they justified it in one sense, and perhaps they had many justifications, but one with which I'm familiar is that they parked on Psalm 139, 21 and 22. This was virtue to them. Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord, and do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with the utmost hatred. They have become my enemies. So they had turned hatred of the enemies of God into a virtue in which they justified themselves for rejecting people in their own world, in their own society.

In Exodus 23, the Old Testament required that if an ox fell in a ditch or an animal fell in the ditch, you show compassion on the animal. They were a long way from caring for people. They were so self-righteous that they had turned hating other people, enemies, strangers, and Jews who weren't part of the elite religious core.

They had declassified them as neighbor. So that's why the mocking statement, well, who's my neighbor? You're going to have to show me a different definition of neighbor, which means that he had passed the test of loving God perfectly, and he had passed the test of loving who he believed were neighbors perfectly.

This is a man who will not come to a real understanding of his condition. He thinks he loves God perfectly the way God requires him to. He thinks he loves the people he's supposed to love, the ones that God expects him to love perfectly. I'm okay with God.

I'm okay with people. I'm fine justifying himself. All he says is in a mocking tone, maybe you better tell me who my neighbor is. This is a lost man. This is a doomed man. This is just another one of many religious people that Jesus encounters in his life who think they can earn eternal life by their virtue, by their morality, by their religion, by their emotional connections to God. Now, Jesus could have left him sitting there or standing there.

He could have walked away, left him in his self-righteous pride, never said another word. But instead, Jesus engages in an act of evangelistic compassion with this man, and he gives to this lawyer one more powerful insight. The purpose of this story is to crush this guy's self-righteousness. It is really a wake-up call that he is damned and doomed. The story is to shatter his pride, to shatter his imaginary spirituality. It is a crushing, unforgettable work of conviction. By the way, you may feel self-righteous when you encounter the priest who went on the other side of the road and the Levite on the other side of the road. I hate to tell you this, but in condemning them, you condemn yourself because you're going to have to be honest enough to see yourself in those people because that's how we behave most of the time, most of the time. On the surface, it seems like a simple story about kindness. It is anything but a simple story about kindness.

So let's look at it. Verse 30, Jesus replies to this man who is justifying himself. Now, what are you going to do if you're talking to somebody and you're going to evangelize them and give them a message of the gospel, and they are self-righteous because they're religious, because they go to church, because they were baptized, because they love God, because they know about Jesus, because they do religious works, they maintain a level of morality? How are you going to approach them?

How do you break through? There's a popular thing today to throw out some Ten Commandments and say, do you violate this commandment and do you violate this and violate this? I know there's a lot of that. Jesus doesn't do that. He has a far more devastating approach than just isolating commandments, although that is a legitimate way to do it. Jesus steps that up a great deal. How am I going to get this guy to realize he's lost?

That's the point. That's where you start in evangelism, isn't it? How do I get him lost before I can get him saved? Jesus replies to this man who is self-justifying and says, a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. That's a very short version of what happened, but that's all there is. He made up a story.

He made up a simple story. Jerusalem is 3,000 feet up. Jericho is 1,000 feet, say, below sea level.

You've got a long down road. It's only 17 miles, so you're going down fairly radically. It's a severe winding road in ancient times.

It still is a very windy road. It's a road that scares people when they go on bus tours if they're driving it at night because the edges are precipices that go way down into these huge, deep, foreboding canyons. It's filled with dramatic drops and rocks providing ideal hideouts for robbers. It's a scary place and a very familiar one. History notes that for centuries after the New Testament time, it was a highway that literally featured robbers, highwaymen, bandits, favorite site.

History tells us of Arab robbers. Going down, you would have to go to the Pass of Adumim mentioned in Joshua 18. The Pass of Adumim.

Adumim is a form of the Hebrew word blood, blood pass. It was a place of death, and it was a place of bloodshed. It's a very dramatic story to see this man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho on this road that was very familiar to everybody in ancient times. Fell among robbers. A group of highwaymen pounced on the man. They didn't just rob him. They stripped him, beat him, went, leaving him half dead. Just out of nowhere, they hit him, took everything he had, including the clothes on his back. He's left probably with undergarments, and that is it.

Every possession he had in his sack that he must have been carrying as they did on a journey. Even the clothes that he was wearing, they took. They beat him.

It's a constant verb. They kept on beating him. They kept beating him until he was virtually on the bridge of death. Critical condition. Now, he is in a desperate situation. He needs help.

He can't help himself. He can't move. He can't lift himself out of that condition, and this would create a moment's drama because one could say, well, maybe no one's going to come by.

Maybe when someone does, it'll be too late. He'll be gone. What's going to happen? So Jesus immediately says, by chance, in verse 31, a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Well, at first, that sounds good. As soon as the lawyer hears a priest coming by, maybe he had a little bit of hope. Maybe the others who may have been listening to Jesus, his own followers, thought, well, maybe this will turn out good. After all, a priest was somebody who, like the lawyer, knew the Old Testament, knew you were to show kindness, knew you were to minister to strangers. Leviticus 19, 34, the same chapter that says, your neighbor says, love the stranger as yourself. Psalm 37, 21, the righteous is generous and gives. Proverbs talks about showing mercy. There's that really wonderful passage in the prophet Micah in chapter 6 where Micah says in verse 6, what shall I come to the Lord with? What shall I bring? And what shall I bring to bow myself before the Lord on high? Shall I come with burnt offerings, yearling calves? That's what priests did.

They did that. Was that enough? Was that good enough? Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams and 10,000 rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? What does the Lord want? Does He want animals? Does He want like the worshipers of Baal? Does He want my son burned on the altar?

No. He has told you, O man, what is good. What does the Lord require of you? Do justice, love, kindness.

Walk humbly with your God. He knew that passage. I mean, theoretically, you would say that's what a priest would do because a priest would know that. So here comes the priest, and this should provide a little hope in the story as the lawyer listens, but the priest passes on the other side.

Very strong language. He uses the Greek term anti. It means he goes against, completely opposite the other side, the complete ignoring of this man, complete indifference.

He shuns him, and he's lying there in critical condition. So the priest has zero love, right? Zero love for the man and zero love for God, right? Because if he loved God, what would he do? He would obey, love the stranger, love the neighbor, show mercy, kindness. So here is a priest who's a typical priest in the Jewish system who is self-justified and seems to be righteous to those around him, but doesn't love God or others.

That's John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church, chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary in the Los Angeles area, and he calls his current series here on Grace to You, Stories with Purpose. John, as we've noted in this study, you're talking about portions of Scripture that are often misunderstood. You've been a pastor for more than 55 years, and you've been studying God's Word for more years than that, but even with all your experience, are there ever times when you realize that you have not completely understood a particular passage? Is studying the Bible still a learning process for you? Yeah, you know, the Bible recognizes that when you approach Scripture, there is a milk and there is a meat element. That's Pauline language. That is to say, there is the first sort of understanding of Scripture, the simplest, most direct interpretation.

That's the milk. But as you go back to a text over and over and over, it all of a sudden becomes bottomless. And you know that as you study the Word of God. I can go back to a passage I've preached on 20 times and find depths of meaning that I've never seen before, and that's because it's alive. And that comes by not only looking at a given passage, but developing out of that given passage the doctrines that are there, and then tracing those great doctrines through the rest of Scripture. It's as if every individual passage has in itself a meaning, but at the same time that interpretation unlocks truth all over the Scripture, and that is virtually inexhaustible.

Thanks, Jon. And friend, to experience the life-changing power of God's Word, to see how its teaching applies to your family and work and church, pick up our flagship resource, the MacArthur Study Bible, when you contact us today. You can order by calling 800-55-GRACE or by visiting our website, The MacArthur Study Bible is available in the English Standard, New American Standard, and New King James versions of Scripture.

Prices are reasonable, shipping is free, and again, to order, call us at 800-55-GRACE or shop online at Now if you've been helped by Jon's verse-by-verse teaching, perhaps from our current study titled Stories with Purpose, or if this ministry has equipped you to give your friends and family the gospel, or if you or someone you know has come to faith in Christ through grace to you, we'd love to hear your story. Be sure to include this station's call letters when you email your note to letters at, or when you mail a letter to Grace to You, PO Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412. Now for Jon MacArthur and our staff, I'm Phil Johnson. Tune in for Grace to You television this Sunday, DIRECTV Channel 378, and then join us on Monday when Jon continues his series Stories with Purpose, Unlocking the Parables of Jesus. It's another half hour of unleashing God's truth in one verse at a time, on Grace to
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-05-17 05:44:59 / 2024-05-17 05:55:58 / 11

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