Trinity 3| Luke 15| Pastor James Preus| July 3, 2022
Luke chapter 15 is one of the most beloved chapters in the entire Bible. These three parables communicate God’s immense grace and desire to save sinners. Even the one sentence the Pharisees and scribes speak in this chapter is pure Gospel, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Of course, the scribes and Pharisees do not mean this as Gospel, that is, as good news. They complain that Jesus would welcome sinners and have fellowship with them. And it is to this complaint, to this hatred of the Gospel, that Jesus tells these three parables. These three parables tell the same story of the lost, the found, and the rejoicing.
The sheep, coin, and son are all lost. They are the sinners, you and me, whom Jesus welcomes. The lost sheep and coin demonstrate how helpless we sinners are. The sheep has no defense against predators. It can only hunker down and wait for the shepherd to find him. The coin is even worse off. It can’t even bleat.
The lost son teaches us how wicked we are. No one blames a sheep or a coin for getting lost. It’s not the coin’s fault if it falls through the hole in a pocket. A sheep is just a dumb animal. But the son is lost by his own most grievous fault. He demands his inheritance from his father, essentially admitting that his father cannot die soon enough for him. He then runs off to a distant land, showing further that he hates his father and his household and does not desire to follow in his teaching. When we find the young man hungry and impoverished, feeding pigs for some Gentile, longing to eat the slop thrown to the pigs, we can’t say we’re surprised. He’s gotten exactly what he deserves.
And so, we learn that we aren’t simply going through some senseless ritual when we confess to God that we are poor, miserable sinners, who have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed, who deserve both temporal and eternal punishment. We are as guilty as this foolish young son for running away from God, spurning his teaching, and following our own sinful desires. And we are as helpless as a lost sheep, even a coin. We cannot help ourselves. We need God to save us.
The shepherd, the woman, and the father are the ones who find the lost. The Shepherd is Jesus, who seeks and saves the lost (Luke 19:10). His attention is focused on the one who is lost. He has come for this purpose and this purpose alone, to save the sinner (1 Timothy 1:15). The woman is the Church. The Church cares for that which Christ, her Bridegroom, has given her. She searches out the lost sinners as a woman searches for a lost coin. As a woman sweeps and puts her house in order, so the Church preaches the pure word of God, refuting errors, battling demons, proclaiming the truth, and preaching the Law, so that sinners see their error. And as the woman lights the lamp, so the Church shines the light of the Gospel of Christ into every dark corner, knowing that no one can be found without the loving kindness of Jesus, who died to forgive all sinners.
Finally, we have the father. He teaches us of our heavenly Father. He desires the salvation of those who have wandered away. Some might see this third parable differently in that while the sheep and coin were helpless and must be found, the son comes back home of his own accord. But that is not the case. The son remains lost until his father runs to him, embraces him, and clothes him in the garments of a son. The boy indeed was sorry for his foolish behavior. And he indeed walked home. Yet, he desired to make himself a hired servant. He did not have confidence that his father would accept him back as his son. Rather, he desired to earn his keep on his father’s estate. The son recognized that he was a sinner, but he remained an adherent to works-righteousness. He still trusted in himself to find his way instead of in his father’s generosity.
Yet, when he did make the trek home, his father saw him from a distance and ran to him. The son began his humiliating speech he had rehearsed on the way, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”, but before he can add, “Make me as one of your hired servants,” his father interrupts him by ordering his servant to put the best robe on his son, and a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet, and to slaughter the fattened calf, so that they may celebrate over this fellowship meal. True repentance is not merely sorrow for your sins, but sorrow over your sins and faith in the forgiveness of sins. But, before the father did these things, the son did not have faith in the forgiveness of sins. He still wanted to earn his way, to become a hired hand, to pay his father back. Yet, when his father fell upon his neck kissing him, he learned the gospel truth. His father forgave him. This is what brought the true repentance, including faith in God’s mercy.
Jesus tells us that there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. The word repent means to change one’s mind. This is an interesting word to use for those which are lost, who did nothing to be found, like the sheep and the coin. But that is how repentance works. Anyone can have sorrow over sin. Even the unbeliever can recognize the evil he does. But only God can reveal his mercy to us through the Gospel. Only the Gospel that God forgives our sins freely for Christ’s sake can change your mind from despair to faith.
Notice also that Jesus does not say, “Over one sinner who repented”, but “Over one sinner who repents.” This repenting is a continued action, because we continue to struggle with our sins. It is not as if the sinner becomes a Christian and never sins again. No, rather, we must live a life of constant repenting, turning from our sins and asking God for forgiveness. And as often as we repent, God gladly forgives.
Here we also see the value in our Baptism. Scripture says that as many as are baptized have put on Christ (Galatians 3). So, as often as we repent, we return to our Baptism by clothing ourselves in Christ again. When you turn to God for forgiveness, you must recognize God as that loving father, who runs to his son, embraces him, and clothes him in the finest clothes. You must proclaim with Isaiah the prophet, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” (Isaiah 61:10)
God is more eager to forgive you than you are to repent. And the garment he robes you with is none other than Christ Jesus himself, the perfect robe of righteousness. This is the garment Christ put on you in your Baptism. And this is the garment he dresses you with every time he proclaims his forgiveness to you and you believe it.
The shepherd invites his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him when he found his lost sheep. The woman calls her friends and neighbors to rejoice with her when she found her lost coin. The father goes out to invite his older son in to celebrate the return of his lost brother. How wonderful it is that the angels rejoice at the repentance of a sinner. Of course, the angels rejoice. It is their sole desire to do God’s bidding and rejoice in his work (Psalm 103:20). But the father is concerned with his one son, who refuses to come in. Like the Pharisees, who grumble that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them, so this older son stands outside the banquet and grumbles against his father’s grace and forgiveness. So, we learn that these three parables are not only about recognizing that we are lost in our sins until we are found by Christ’s forgiveness. This parable teaches us that we must also rejoice in the salvation of other sinners.
The Christian Church in America has rejoiced this past week, because Roe v. Wade was overturned, a wicked 1973 Supreme Court decision, which threw out every law in the United States, which protected unborn children from murder and barred every state from outlawing the murder of unborn children. Of course, we still have much more work to do before children are protected in every state in the Union. And as was expected, many upset at the prospect of abortion being made illegal are shrieking and profaning God. Of course, abortion is a tool of the sexual revolution, which sought to free people from the bonds of God’s Law concerning chastity, so that they could pursue sexual promiscuity and every abomination before the Lord. And that is very much where we find our nation today.
Yet, what do these parables teach us to do? We should pray for the lost. We should desire for them to be found, to repent and be embraced by the Gospel. And when anyone returns to the Lord, we should welcome them and celebrate in their salvation, just as we do our own. There is no sin that you have committed or could commit that would make you unwelcome to return to Christ Jesus for forgiveness. There is no sin that you have committed or could commit that would make you unwelcome in church, to receive the forgiveness of sins. And so, there is no sin your neighbor can commit, which should cause you to try to bar him from the forgiveness Christ won for him. You cannot stand in the way of the Father, who runs to embrace his lost son.
The older brother stood outside. That is what Jesus was teaching the Pharisees. As they grumbled that Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them, they were standing outside the fellowship of God’s own Son. As the father invited his older son in to celebrate the return of his brother, so Jesus invited the Scribes and Pharisees to come in and celebrate the return of these tax collectors and sinners. Yet, Jesus doesn’t tell us whether the older son comes in, just as Luke does not tell us whether these Pharisees repented. That’s left for you to ponder. Will they come in? Will you come in? Will you welcome those whom God has welcomed for Christ’s sake? If you believe that God saves you by grace for the sake of Jesus Christ and not because of your own works, you will come in. But, if you think that God should accept you because of your own works, you will begrudge the sinner and exclude yourself from Christ’s fellowship.
When we gather as a church on Sunday morning, we are not just individual sinners returning to our merciful God. We are celebrating with the angels and saints in heaven and with one another that God has found and returned to his home so many sinners. We not only rejoice that Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them, we welcome them and eat with them too, for we too were lost, but now are found. This is why at the feast of Christ’s body and blood, we join with lost sinners, who are now found and with angels, and arch-angels, and with all the company of heaven, and laud and magnify God’s glorious name for having saved us. Amen.