Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity based on Luke 15:1-10
Dear lost sheep who have been found: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
What a scandal, the Pharisees and scribes thought. Jesus received sinners and ate with them. These people’s sins were known to everyone. They were known thieves, traitors, and prostitutes. They were those who had made bad decision after bad decision, and found themselves living a life against the Word of God and as pariahs and outcasts of their community.
Jesus received them and ate with them. Onlookers thought this meant that Jesus approved of their sin. This was not the case. Jesus received them and ate with them to call them to repentance. This is why Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. As the shepherd searched for His lost sheep and the woman searched for her lost coin, so Jesus searches for lost sinners.
A lost sheep cannot find its way back to the shepherd any more than a lost coin can find its way back to its owner. The shepherd and the owner need to seek out that which was lost. So Jesus seeks out sinners who are lost in error’s way, who cannot find their way to Him.
A sinner cannot find his way to Jesus. A sinner who is lost is blind and cannot see the truth. He is dead in his trespasses and sins and cannot choose life over death. Sinners need Jesus to give them sight so that they can see and life so that they can live. Jesus does this through the forgiveness of sins.
Without Jesus giving forgiveness, a sinner is ignorant of God, despises Him, lacks fear and confidence in God, hates the judgment of God, flees this judging God, is angry with Him, despairs of His grace, and places confidence in the things of this life (cf. Ap II.8).
Only through the forgiveness of sins do we learn that God loves us, and we then in return love Him. Only through the forgiveness of sins do we trust in God, love His righteous will, cling to His grace, and place our confidence in Him alone.
Our trouble with understanding forgiveness often stems from thinking that forgiveness must be earned. We therefore struggle to forgive those who have sinned against us, because we feel they don’t deserve our forgiveness. The thing is, we are right. No one deserves our forgiveness. Forgiveness cannot be deserved. Forgiveness is always undeserved.
So also we do not deserve forgiveness – not from our neighbour that we have sinned against, and not from God. Sinners don’t deserve forgiveness. Sinners deserve punishment.
Consider a cold-blooded murderer in court, found guilty by the judge. The murderer deserves to be executed. In this day and age, especially in Canada, we’ve bought into feminist notions about rehabilitating criminals and releasing them back into society only to reoffend, but that’s another story. The murderer deserves execution. That would be justice. If the judge were to say, “I forgive you. You are free to go.” That would be injustice. Even the laws of our nation, as weak and criminal-favouring as they are, do not allow such forgiveness. Neither does God’s Law allow forgiveness.
God’s Law accuses us. It finds us guilty. It says we deserve punishment. There is no forgiveness from the Law.
Forgiveness comes from the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus stepping into the courtroom where we stand tried, convicted, and found guilty, and taking our punishment for us. It is not merely a statement from the Judge saying, “I forgive you. You are free to go.” For there to be justice, the punishment still had to be carried out.
Jesus willingly took the punishment for me and for you. The punishment that we deserve for our sins was put on Jesus. His brutal suffering and death was for our sin, so that we stand before the Judgment Seat as not guilty, acquitted of all charges against us; as forgiven saints of God.
This is why Jesus received sinners and ate with them. He received them not to approve of their sin, but to give them forgiveness – free, unmerited, undeserved forgiveness.
Another error we sometimes think is that God loves us less when we sin. While it is true that our sins sever us from God, God seeks to breech that gap by forgiving us. He loves us so much when we sin, that if He needs to discipline us like a loving father to turn us away from sin, He will do it. He loves us even in our weaknesses and sins, continually turning us in repentance to Him for the forgiveness of sin.
Jesus seeks His lost sheep. He seeks His lost treasure. He seeks us sinners when we have strayed.
Christ does not eat with sinners today, but He feeds sinners today. He receives sinners and gives to us His body and blood.
Some might call it a scandal – sinners gathered to eat and drink the holy body and blood of God in the flesh. We don’t deserve it. He gives it to us by grace. He gives us free, unmerited, undeserved forgiveness in His body and blood, and heaven rejoices. There is more joy before the angels of God in heaven over us sinners repenting, than over the whole world who thinks they don’t need repentance. There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
Jesus sinners doth receive;
Oh, may all this saying ponder
Who in sins delusions live
And from God and heaven wander!
Here is hope for all who grieve:
Jesus sinners doth receive! (LSB 609 st. 1) Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.