Trinity Three Sermon
June 21, 2015
“Joy Over One Sinner Who Repents”
Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them." So He spoke this parable to them, saying: "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!' Likewise , I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Luke 15:1-10
When God made us in his own image he gave us a dignity and a value far greater than that assigned to us today. Nowadays the human being is regarded as the human animal. Children are discarded as inconveniences. The most noble of female occupations – the bearing and nurturing of children as a wife and mother – is regarded as a second rate venture. Why? Because making money is thought to be more important. Money is more important than children, as they are pawned off on daycare centers and worn out grandparents. The lack of maternal attention they receive leads them to a low view of their own worth, so they must be indoctrinated in the teaching of our civil religion: the gospel of self-esteem. But since these uncivilized, disrespectful, and undisciplined children aren’t particularly lovable the adherents of the religion of self-love aren’t truly devoted to their religion. What’s there to love? So, as has been the case with religious hypocrites from the beginning of time, they pretend. That’s better than acknowledging how wretched we have become.
But that’s not really true. We haven’t become wretched. We’ve always been wretched. Yes, from Adam’s fall, we’ve been anything but lovable in the eyes of a just God.
The evidence cannot be denied. We trust in our feelings instead of God’s Word. We honor our appetites instead of God’s holy law. We place our selfish desires above our neighbor’s needs. Yes, and we stand in judgment of others. All of this is but outward confirmation of the radical sin that lies deep within us and bubbles up into every form of idolatry. That’s the nature of fallen, sinful, humanity.
And God loves these people. He loves sinners. But they are lost. They are alienated from God. They don’t know God. They don’t love God. They don’t worship God or serve him. They are unbelievers. They believe in something; but it isn’t the truth. It’s a form of idolatry. They are always searching but never finding the truth. Only God can show them the truth. He shows them the truth by showing them Christ. Christ came to save sinners. St. Paul wrote: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world so save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” St. Paul had seen his own sin. He had persecuted Christ by persecuting his church. Paul knew that what he had done in sincere religious zeal was sincerely wrong. He was the chief of sinners. This is why he rejoiced in the forgiveness of sins and why he loved to preach it.
In the parables we are considering today the lost sheep and the lost coin represent lost sinners. The Pharisees objected to how Jesus treated lost sinners. He was kind and gracious to them. He taught them. He treated them as if they were valuable. His teaching is what led them to repentance. The lost sheep and the lost coin represent lost sinners. When the lost sheep and the lost coin are found by the one searching for them, this refers to when a lost sinner repents of his sin and believes the gospel. He is found. Christ seeks out the lost and finds them. He is the man with a hundred sheep who leaves the ninety-nine to search for the one who was lost until he finds it. He is the woman with the ten coins who searches the house looking for the one that was lost until she finds it.
In the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, the focus is on the one searching for that which was lost. In the parable of the lost son, the focus is one the one who was lost. But these parables go together. They teach that repentance comes by God’s grace. They teach that repentance is necessary. They teach that heaven rejoices when a single sinner repents.
Repentance comes by God’s grace. There is a popular but false notion that faith is the result of the freewill decision of the one who believes. A famous American evangelist named his magazine “Decision” to reflect the teaching that faith is a decision that we make. Perhaps you have met folks committed to decision theology who have asked you when you made your decision for Christ. When did you invite him into your heart to become your Lord and Savior?
Tell me, when a sheep is lost, trapped, alone, and helpless, can it simply decide to figure out where he is and how to get out of the fix he is in? Or does he need someone to come and rescue him? Or a coin, when it is lost, can it decide to be found? Of course not! Jesus tells us these stories so that we can understand that we have no more power to decide our way into God’s grace than a sheep or a coin have the power to find their way back to where they belong. It is solely by the power of God’s grace, grace that works through God’s word and sacrament, that lost sinners can be found. They don’t find themselves! They are found. As we sing in the hymn:
Repentance comes by God’s grace alone. We don’t help God find us by making the right decision. Our will is bound, enslaved by the devil, until Christ sends us his Spirit who sets us free. Only then can we trust in him as our Savior from sin.
This is necessary. Repentance is necessary. It entails two parts: sorrow over sin and faith in the gospel. Literally, repentance is a change of mind. It is a change of faith. What we valued and trusted in we now reject and condemn. What we despised we now trust. We valued and trusted in our sins, thinking that by giving our heart to them we would find true joy. Now we know that what we thought was so precious is in fact worthless. What we spurned, the suffering and death of Jesus to take away our sin, we now treasure. The hymnist says it well:
Sinners repent. Sin is a multifaceted thing, involving feelings, words, and actions. It entails a variety of activities. You know it is sin because God’s law says so. Your conscience should, but sometimes the conscience doesn’t work so well.
Faith doesn’t consult feeling or passion or anything else within us. Why don’t we trust what lies inside of us? Because that’s where the sin is! As Jesus says, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. (Matthew 15:19) Faith doesn’t rely on itself. It relies on God’s word. This is why Jesus talked to sinners. His talking brought them to faith. God speaks and what wasn’t now is. This is the way it has always been.
This is why we sinners come to church to hear the talk that Jesus talks. It’s how God brings us to repentance. Faith is a gift by which we know God as our loving Father, our Redeemer, and the One who makes us holy. Faith is God’s work in us. We learn to regard our sins as dangerous and destructive. Then we are brought to faith by means of the words Jesus speaks to us. His words are spirit and life. That’s why we treasure them. Without Christ’s word we could not repent and if we don’t repent our sins will be bound to us forever. Only Christ’s blood can wash away sin. Only through faith in Christ’s blood can forgiveness of sins be received. If we don’t repent, we don’t receive forgiveness of sins. It’s as simple as that. We cherish the word of God not just because of what it is – God’s unerring truth – but because of what it does for us. It brings us to repentance and keeps us in the true Christian faith.
Heaven rejoices when a single sinner repents. That’s because the value of a human being cannot be fully appreciated until he is set at peace with his Creator. All human life is precious. But our souls cannot find their true rest and peace except in Christ. When the Father chose to send his Son, when the Son submitted to being sent, when Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, deliberately traveling to his crucifixion and death, when he drank down to its bitter dregs the cup of God’s anger against all sin and all sinners – it was all for you. It was so that you would repent and find in Jesus the forgiveness of all your sins, reconciliation with God, a new life of lived at peace with God and in hope of eternal life. That you, a sinner, should repent – hate the sins you loved and trust in him who took those sins away on the cross – is the goal of God’s eternal love. This is what brings joy to the angels in heaven.
Some resent this grace. The Pharisees resented it because they sincerely believed they were better than other people and Jesus, by treating all sinners the same, told the Pharisees that they were no better than the tax collectors, the prostitutes, and the common thieves. They all needed to repent or they would be lost forever.
Others resent this grace because they don’t want to repent. They would rather persist in their sins. They want to stay lost. When their sins are pointed out to them they become angry with the one who points them out. They call Christians names because Christians teach repentance and forgiveness.
The doctrine of God’s grace shows how precious we sinners are to God. He spares no expense to seek and to save the lost. We are precious, not because the world values us. We obtain our worth from him who died for us, sought us when we were lost, found us, and carried us home.
Rolf D. Preus