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Commentary on Luke 10:23-37
by J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) 
from his Commentary on The Gospel according to St. Luke
The special privileges of those who hear the Gospel (10:23-24)

Let us observe, finally, the special privileges of those who hear the Gospel of Christ. We read that our Lord said to his disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (verses 23-24).

The full significance of these words will probably never be understood by Christians until the last day. We probably understand only a tiny fraction about the great advantages enjoyed by believers who have lived since Christ came into the world, compared with those believers who died before Christ was born. The difference between the knowledge of an Old Testament saint and a saint in the days of the apostles is far greater than we can imagine. Doubtless the Old Testament saints looked for a coming Saviour by faith and believed in a resurrection and a life to come. But the coming and death of Christ unlocked a hundred Scriptures which before were closed. In short, “the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing” (Hebrews 9:8). The humblest Christian believer understands things which David and Isaiah could never explain.

The expert in the law’s question to Christ; the rule of faith; 
the summary of duty (10:25-28)

1. The solemn question which our Lord was asked

We should notice in this passage the solemn question which was addressed to our Lord Jesus Christ. We are told that an expert in the law asked Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (verse 25). The man’s motives were clearly not good. He stood up to test Jesus (verse 25). He wanted to provoke Jesus into saying something which his enemies could latch onto and use against him. Yet this question was an important one.

It is a question which deserves everyone’s closest attention. We are all sinners, dying sinners, sinners who are going to be judged after death. How are our sins going to be pardoned?  How can we come before God?  How can we escape damnation and hell?  What must we do to be saved?  These questions are vital ones, and we should not rest until we find answers to them.

2. The great honor our Lord gives to the Bible

We should notice, second, in this passage the great honor which our Lord Jesus Christ gives to the Bible.  He refers the expert in the law immediately to the Scriptures as the only rule of faith and practice.  He does not say in answering his question, “What does the Jewish church say about eternal life?  What do the scribes and Pharisees and priests think?  What do the traditions of the elders say on this subject?”  He takes a far simpler and more direct course.  He sends his questioner at once to the writings of the Old Testament: “What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?” (verse 26).

We see in this verse one of the foundational principles of our Christianity.  Let the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible be the rule of our faith and practice.  It is of no consequence what human beings say about religion, whether it is an ancient Father or a modern bishop or a learned divine. Is it in the Bible? Can it be proved by the Bible?  If not, it is not to be believed.  It does not matter how beautiful and clever sermons and religious books may seem to be.  Do they deviate at all from Scripture? If they do, they are no good as guides.  What does the Scripture say?  This is the only rule and yardstick to measure religious truth.  See Isaiah 8:20.

3. The Jews had a clear understanding about their duty to God and man

We should notice, lastly, in this passage that the Jews had a clear understanding about their duty to God and man in our Lord’s day.  We read that the expert in the law said, replying to our Lord’s question, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind…Love your neighbor as yourself’” (verse 27). That was well spoken.  A clearer description of daily practical duty could not have been given by the most thoroughly instructed Christian today.  This must not be forgotten.

The words of the expert in the law are very instructive in two ways.  First, they show the privileges of religious knowledge which the Jews enjoyed under the Old Testament, compared to pagans.  A nation which had such principles about living was much more advanced than the Greeks or Romans.  Second, these words show that no matter how much head knowledge a person may have, his heart can still be full of wickedness.  Here is a man who talks about loving God with all his soul and loving his neighbor as himself while he is actually tempting Christ and trying to harm him.

Passages like this should teach us about our need for Christ’s righteousness.  We must go to him to seek grace so that love of God and man may be the overriding principle in our lives, In Christ we must abide; then we will not forget our desire to love him, which will then be shown to the world.

Notes on 10:25-28

26. “How do you read it?” Let the following quotation from Quesnel, the Roman Catholic writer, be observed: “Jesus Christ himself refers us to God’s law, though he was truth itself, and could give souls holy instruction. In vain do we seek after other lights and ways besides those which we find there. It is the Spirit of God who dictated the law and made it the rule of our life. It is injurious to God for us either not to study it, or to prefer the thoughts of man before it. The first question which will be put to a Christian at God’s tribunal will be to this effect: ‘What is written in the law? What have you read in the Gospel? What use have you made thereof?’ What answer can that person return who has not so much as read it, though he has sufficient ability and opportunity to do it?”

The parable of the good Samaritan (10:29-37)

These words contain the well-known parable of the good Samaritan. To understand the drift of this parable we must recall the occasion on which it was delivered. It was spoken in reply to the question from an expert in the law, “And who is my neighbor?” (verse 29). Our Lord Jesus Christ answers that question by telling the parable of the good Samaritan and concludes with an appeal to the conscience of the teacher of the law. This must not be forgotten. The parable aims to show the nature of true charity and brotherly love. To lose sight of this aim and claim profound allegories in the parable is to trifle with Scripture and deprive our souls of most valuable lessons.

1. Brotherly love is rare

We are taught, first, in this parable how rare true brotherly love is.  This is an obvious lesson from the parable.  Our Lord speaks about a traveler who fell into the hands of robbers and was left naked, beaten up, and half dead on the road.  Then a priest and Levite come along and see the wounded man but give him no help.  One after the other, they “passed by on the other side” (verses 31-32).

2. Whom we are to show neighborly love to

We are taught, second, in this parable whom we should show kindness to and whom we should love as neighbors. We are told that the only person who helped the wounded traveler was a Samaritan. This man was from a nation that Jews “do not associate with” (John 4:9). He might have excused himself by saying that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho went through Jewish territory and that Jews should care for any injured people. But he does nothing of the sort. He sees a man stripped of his clothes and lying half dead. He asks no questions but at once has compassion on him. He makes no problems but at once gives aid. And our Lord says to us, “Go and do likewise” (verse 37).

Now, if these words mean anything, a Christian ought to be ready to show kindness and brotherly love to everyone who is in need.  Our kindness must not merely extend to our families and friends and relatives.  We must love all people and be kind to everyone, whenever the opportunity arises.  We must beware of excessive strictness in scrutinizing the past lives of those who need our help.  Are they in real trouble?  Are they in real distress?  Do they really want help?  Then, according to the teaching of this parable, we ought to be ready to help them.  We should think of the whole world as our parish, and all of mankind as our neighbor.  We should seek to be the friend of everyone who is oppressed or neglected or afflicted or sick or in prison or poor or an orphan or a pagan or a slave or mentally ill or starving or dying.  We should show such worldwide fellowship, doubtless wisely, so that we should never need to be ashamed.  The ungodly may sneer at this and call it extravagant or fanatical.  But we need not mind that.  To be friendly to everyone in this way is to show something of the mind that was in Christ.

3. How to show kindness to others

We are taught, lastly, in this parable how and to what extent we are to show love and kindness to others. We are told that the Samaritan’s compassion toward the wounded traveler was not confined to feelings. He took great pains to help him. He acted as well as felt. Stranger as the man was, he went to him, bound up his wounds, set him on his own donkey, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. That was not all. The next day he gave the innkeeper money, saying, “Look after him, and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have” (verse 35). And our Lord says to each of us, “Go and do likewise” (verse 37).

The lesson of this part of the parable is unmistakable.  The kindness of a Christian toward others should not be in word only but in deed and in truth. But how few Christians seem to remember that such a parable was ever written.  What an enormous amount of stinginess and meanness and suspicion there is in the church, and this even among people who say the Creed and go to the Lord’s Table.  How seldom we see a person who is really kind and generous and good-natured except toward himself and his neighbors.  Yet the Lord Jesus Christ told this parable of the good Samaritan and meant it to be remembered.

Notes on 10:29-37

29. He wanted to justify himself.  This detail reveals the true character of the teacher of the law.  He was a self-righteous man and flattered himself that he could earn the eternal life he had inquired about by his own efforts.

30. “From Jerusalem to Jericho.”  The road between these two places passed through a wild and rocky country and was notorious for being infested by robbers.  On this account, Jerome says, it was called, “the bloody way.”

31. “A priest.” Jericho was a city specially appointed for the residence of priests and Levites.  No less than 12,000 of them, according to Lightfoot, lived there.  They had to attend the temple in Jerusalem on monthly rotations.