The Third Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| June 12, 2016| Luke 15:1-10
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.” St. Luke 15:1-10
There is a difference between being unworthy and being worthless. Every sinner is unworthy. No sinner deserves salvation. We don’t deserve to be forgiven. As we confess in the Small Catechism under the explanation of the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer,
We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them . . . for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment.
One of the problems people have in forgiving others is that they assume forgiveness must be deserved. But forgiveness cannot be deserved. Sinners don’t deserve to be forgiven. They deserve to be punished. This is why the Pharisees and scribes judged Jesus for associating with tax collectors and sinners. Tax collectors were notorious cheats who enriched themselves at the expense of their neighbors. The sinners mentioned here referred to those who marketed in vice, such as prostitutes and other lowlifes of society. Surely, if Jesus were a righteous man he would know that these sinners didn’t deserve to enjoy fellowship with him. But he ate with them. What did that make Jesus? Birds of a feather flock together. They stood in judgment of Jesus and convicted him by the standard of guilt by association. If Jesus expressed fellowship with sinners, that meant that he approved of their sin.
But they made a theological error. They confused unworthiness with worthlessness. The human race is corrupted, sinful, estranged from God, and deserving of eternal damnation. This does not mean that the human race is worthless. Our worth is assigned to us by God. He who in the beginning said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness,” gave to the human race a value greater than anything else in all creation. Thomas Kingo, the great Danish hymnist, writes:
Praise to You and adoration,
Blessed Jesus, Son of God,
Who, to serve your own creation,
Came to share our flesh and blood. (LSB 692)
Unworthy? Yes! But God’s creation – the crown of his creation! Our unworthiness doesn’t negate our worth. We don’t determine our worth. Our Creator does. Our Creator became our brother.
I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
When Jesus talks about a man looking for his lost sheep and a woman looking for her lost coin he is talking about himself looking for lost sinners. He is answering the criticism of the religious establishment that judged the unworthy to be worthless. Jesus answers such a judgment by redeeming the unworthy with his own blood and by that redemption establishing their true worth. They are valuable to God.
Jesus redeemed the whole world. He shed his blood for all sinners. Those who wander in unbelief and impenitence; those who live lives serving themselves alone; who cheat, lie, commit adultery, get drunk, break their promises, and commit violence against their neighbors; abortionists, rapists, sodomites, terrorists, corrupt politicians, bullies, and murderers – Jesus loves these lost sheep. He died for them. He redeemed them by his blood. He looks for them. He pursues them with the purpose of rescuing them from damnation in hell. He loves them.
He loves you when you go astray. When you misuse God’s name, ignore his word, fear, love, and trust in sinful people instead of your faithful God, disobey those who are accountable for you, and treat your neighbor unkindly – he loves you. He searches for you. He wants you back where you belong. He wants you to repent.
There is no greater event in the world than the repentance of a sinner. If we have good government, good prices for what we are selling, and good neighbors; if we have a faithful spouse, respectful children, loving parents, and loyal friends – we are blessed. But to be brought to repentance – that is the greatest blessing of all! For when a sinner repents, Jesus brings him home. When a sinner is reconciled to God and receives forgiveness of all his sins, the whole company of heaven rejoices.
That’s why Jesus seeks them out. He seeks them. They don’t seek him. The doctrine of free will is a lie. It was invented by the father of lies, Satan himself. He loves to deceive us into thinking that our will, our choice, our decision is what saves us. The Bible says that a sinner has by nature no spiritual ability at all. But if we teach that everyone born into this world is born spiritually blind, spiritually dead, and an enemy of God, are we not degrading humanity and promoting a negative and unhealthy view of human potential? We are not degrading humanity by speaking God’s truth about its spiritual condition. And as far as human potential is concerned, that depends on God, does it not?
When we speak of humanity’s spiritual helplessness we are teaching God’s truth. St. Paul writes that those who are in the flesh cannot please God. He writes that we were born dead in sin. He writes that the things from the Holy Spirit are foolishness to the natural mind. Jesus put it plainly: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” If we are going to repent and be saved, it will have to be by the grace of God alone.
If God does not find you without any help from you, you will remain lost forever, never to find your way back to God. The sheep is lost. If the shepherd doesn’t find him he dies. He cannot find his way back to the fold. The coin is lost. Jesus chooses an inanimate object to illustrate how much spiritual power we have of ourselves. A coin cannot find itself. It must be found.
A friend falls into sin and stubbornly defends it. You hope he will come to his senses. Here is something to keep in mind. God works through his word that is spoken by people here on earth. He’s not in the habit of bringing people to repentance by speaking directly from heaven. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.” St. Paul talks about how preachers must be sent and then he says that faith comes by hearing the word.
You know how sin is taken away. It is taken away at the cross where Jesus bore it. That’s the objective fact of the matter. All sin of all sinners was taken away, forgiven, when Jesus died on the cross. He bore it. He removed it. It is forgiven. It’s done. Jesus doesn’t wait for the sinner to come to him. He takes the sinner’s sin and bears it on his shoulders and goes to the cross to die.
But he didn’t give out this forgiveness on the cross. He gives it through his word that he speaks and he speaks his word through the mouths of his Christians. He calls pastors to preach this word publicly, but it is not given only to pastors to speak the gospel to sinners. Jesus loves every lost sheep. Every Christian shares this love, for there is between Jesus and his Christians a mystical union that joins us to him. He is our head and we are his body. We love those he loves. We seek those he seeks. We find those he finds. What joy there is when a sinner repents!
To speak the truth in love to someone who is engaging in openly unrepentant sin is difficult to do. Love is not for sissies. It can be hard. To climb down into someone else’s sin with the purpose of exposing it and showing it for what it is so that that lost sheep might acknowledge it, confess it to God, and be absolved of it is no easy task. It takes patience. It takes humility. It takes love. But it is a wonderful work! It is a Christian work. Christ bore our sin. That removed it from us as far as the east is from the west. To bear one another’s sins is to imitate Christ.
Luther wrote a sermon on this text in which he said:
A truly Christian work is it that we descend and get mixed up in the mire of the sinner as deeply as he sticks there himself, taking his sin upon ourselves and floundering out of it with him, not acting otherwise than if his sin were our own. We should rebuke and deal with him in earnest; yet we are not to despise but sincerely to love him. (Lenker, Vol. IV, page 61)
Be a friend. Bear a burden. God speaks through Daniel these words:
Those who are wise shall shine
Like the brightness of the firmament,
And those who turn many to righteousness
Like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:3)
The very worst sin is not the sins of the drug dealers, prostitutes, thieves, con-artists, and assorted thugs. The very worst sin is the sin of despising the lost sheep as if his life isn’t worth saving. This is to insult Christ who shed his blood for every single sinner in the world.
Yes, but am I not to despise myself? Am I not to mourn my sin? Shouldn’t I be sorry, so very sorry that I have offended against my God? Yes, you must be sorry for your sins, but your sorrow doesn’t take away your sins. Don’t look at how sorry you are. Look past yourself to him who bears your sins on his back, suffers, and dies for you. Listen to his voice. Every Sunday you confess that you are a poor miserable sinner that deserves God’s punishment. Every Sunday Jesus tells you he forgives you. These words are your life. They are more valuable than the approval of the whole world. When Jesus tells you he forgives you all your sins and you believe him, all of heaven rejoices. That’s because you are so very precious to God and heaven is where you belong.