The Lost are Found

Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Luke 15:1-10

Dear sheep in Jesus’ fold: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The scribes and Pharisees had a problem with Jesus. They complained that Jesus received sinners and ate with them. Jesus hung out with sinners whose sin was known by everyone: tax collectors who everyone knew were thieves, prostitutes who made their livelihood through fornication, drunks who spent all their families’ resources on booze, scam artists who conned widows, and other lowlife liars, thugs, and troublemakers. If you’re known by the company that you keep, what does this say about Jesus?

Such sinners destroy the fabric of society with their indecency, immodesty, and immorality. Their peddling of vice spreads and influences the entire community. The scribes and Pharisees thought that certainly such sinners did not deserve to have their sins forgiven.

Here, at least, they were right. Such sinners do not deserve to have their sins forgiven. No sinner deserves to have his sins forgiven. We have no merit or worthiness in us that we should receive anything from God, least of all His forgiveness.

Misunderstanding this is why we sometimes have difficulty in forgiving others. We have a hard time forgiving because we think that whoever has hurt us does not deserve forgiveness, and until they do, we will not forgive. But no sinner deserves forgiveness – our forgiveness or God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness can never be deserved.

Jesus told parables in answer to the grumbling of the scribes and Pharisees – the parable of the shepherd who seeks the lost sheep and the parable of the woman who seeks the lost coin.

A lost sheep is helpless against predators and is unable to find its way back to the fold. The lost sheep may not even realize that it is lost. Thus the shepherd goes to find the lost sheep. The lost sheep cannot find the shepherd.

The lost sheep does not deserve to be found, having again wandered from the shepherd and the rest of the fold. However, the shepherd values the sheep, so he goes in search of the lost sheep. Likewise Jesus values sinners and seeks them so that they might be brought into His fold.

A lost coin also cannot find its way back to its owner. Jesus uses an inanimate object here to show just how helpless a lost sinner is to go to Jesus. A sinner cannot turn himself away from his sins and go to Jesus any more than a coin can find and go to its owner. The coin has value to the owner, so the owner diligently searches until the coin is found.

As the shepherd has joy over finding his lost sheep and as the woman has joy over finding her lost coin, so there is joy in heaven over a lost sinner who is found. Or, in Jesus’ words, “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

This is where Jesus makes it clear that His association with sinners is not simply to turn a blind eye to their sin. Jesus didn’t sit around with sinners because He was fine with their sins. Jesus doesn’t tell sinners to remain in their sin, rather He says, “Repent!”

Repentance, however, doesn’t come about because a sinner decides that he’s going to be better. Remember, sinners are the lost sheep and the lost coin that cannot find their way back to the shepherd and the owner. The shepherd needs to go find the lost sheep, bind up its injuries, lay it on his shoulders, and carry it back to the fold. The owner of the coin needs to go find the lost coin, shining a light and sweeping the floor until the coin is found and washed. Likewise, repentance is not our work. Repentance is the work of God in our hearts.

Repentance comes about through the Word of God. First the Law reveals sin by saying: you shall not steal, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder. The Law reveals sin by saying, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (I Cor. 6:9-10)

But the Law alone is not the answer. The Law only tells us what to do, but it does not give us the ability to carry it out. The Law shows us our sin but does not take our sins away.

The Gospel takes sin away. The Gospel forgives the sinner his sin that he does not deserve to have forgiven. The Gospel tells us that Jesus took what we deserve so that we get what He deserves. Yes, the Gospel tells the thief, the prostitute, the drunk, the scam artist, the liar, the thug, the troublemaker: your sins are forgiven, and all the company of heaven rejoices over the sinner who repents.

Sinners do not deserve forgiveness, but because of Jesus’ death for all sin, for all sinners, God forgives everyone who believes in Him. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, seeks out lost sheep in order to save them. Jesus does this because He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He took on our flesh so that He could die in our place. He was the sacrificial lamb led to slaughter without complaint. He is our Passover Lamb who was sacrificed so that we can eat His body and drink His blood and the Angel of Death passes over our door instead of coming in with judgment. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who seeks out lost sheep and rescues them from where they have wandered.

When we sinners fall into sin again because of our great weakness, will Jesus forsake us? Will Jesus stop forgiving His children because we have again fallen into sin? Jesus will not stop forgiving us. Jesus will not leave His sheep out to wander and remain lost. We have value to Jesus, so He will come and find us.

Jesus will continue to forgive us and turn our hearts away from sin. His forgiveness gives us the desire to do what is right so that we fight against sin. His forgiveness strengthens us so that with the help of the Holy Spirit we resist sinful temptations. His forgiveness keeps us in His flock and strengthens us not to wander away from Him.

Jesus knows our weaknesses and how prone we are to wander. That’s why every Sunday He absolves our sin. That’s why ever Sunday He offers His body and blood for the forgiveness of sin. That’s why He comes after us when we are lost until He finds us, and rejoices with all the company of heaven in our repentance. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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