3rd Sunday after Trinity + Luke 15:1-10 + June 12, 2016
Sermon on the Holy Gospel
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1) Today’s text presents us with two parables of Jesus that teach us our lost condition before God and the great love Christ demonstrates in His ministry to sinners. As Jesus was teaching, “all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him.” At the sight of the messiah being surrounded by such awful social degenerates, the Pharisees and scribes complain, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” They think that Jesus’ choice in tablemates reflected poorly on His messianic claim. The Pharisees and scribes were noble men who strove to be righteous according to the Law of Moses. They strove to be blameless before God and to please God through external works of the Law. They had striven so mightily to attain righteousness before God that they lost sight of the fact that they were sinners in the same was these public, manifest “tax collectors and sinners.” By assuming that they could contribute something to their salvation, to any extent, they had to believe they were not on the same playing field as the “tax collectors and sinners.” The idea of repentance and faith repulsed them because they imagined they had sin under control in their lives. Jesus describes them in the first parable as ninety-nine “just person who need no repentance.” It wasn’t that they don’t have a need for repentance. Everyone needs repentance for all are sinners. These men do not THINK they have a need for repentance. They want to offer all sorts of works to the Lord on their behalf. In doing so, they reject repentance for themselves because they think they’re above all that “sin” talk.
2) Jesus loves sinners and wants all men to be saved, even these Pharisees and scribes, so He speaks the two parables which are set before us. Christ compares Himself to a shepherd who leaves behind ninety-nine sheep who are just fine in order to search for one sheep that is lost. The shepherd must do so because sheep, once lost, are unable to find their way back to the fold. They have no internal GPS by which they can find their way back to the shepherd. Jesus is simply reiterating what the Old Testament says about mankind. Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way” (53:6). There are none who have not strayed. There are many who imagine they have not strayed though. The Psalmist writes, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; Seek Your servant, For I do not forget Your commandments” (Psalm 119:176). In spite of running after God’s commandments, the psalmist is still strays like a sheep whom the Lord must seek out and return to the fold. The image of a straying sheep is perfect for humanity. There is not one who loves God above all things, since men love themselves more than their Creator. There is not one who trusts God above all things in this life. Man’s heart fashions new idols in which to trust faster than rabbits make more rabbits. Not only do we go astray like sheep, but like sheep we have a life-threatening enemy. “Your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). All men are lost sheep, getting themselves lost even further by their own attempts at self-justification, all the while being pursued by the devil, who wishes to fleece and flay the sheep.
3) Christ seeks lost sheep by assuming human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He became man for us and our salvation. He enters the wilderness of this world to seek out sinners. He goes “after the one which is lost until he finds it.” When He does find 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 this sheep which was lost!” When Christ finds one who is lost and rescues it, He places them upon His shoulders and carries them back to the sheepfold. He gathers sheep onto His shoulders by giving them repentance. Since men are lost and have gone astray by sinning, being sinful by nature, Christ gives them contrite hearts to lament their sins, confess them, and desire to be rid of their sin. Then Christ hoists them onto His shoulders by preaching the gospel to men and announcing the forgiveness of sins to them, absolving them and setting them free from the guilt of their sins. This is evident by Jesus’ words, “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.” Christ gives lost lambs repentance to acknowledge their sin and confess it so that He might forgive their sins and restore them to the His holy pasture.
4) In the second parable, Jesus compares Himself to a housewife who loses one silver coin and turns the entire house upside down to find it. She lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and searches carefully for the lost coin because the coin, like a lamb, has great worth. The coin is a precious treasure to the woman, and though it is lost and perhaps tarnished, it still bears the image of the one who struck it. It still has great worth to the woman. The image of sinners as lost coins complements the image of a lost sheep. Whereas a straying sheep will only stray further, a coin, once lost, has no ability to make itself be found. It simply lies where it is, gathering dust and becoming more tarnished with the passing of time. Thus Christ seeks out sinners as lost coins, for each sinner is a precious treasure to Him. Jesus compares sinners to coins because coins are struck with the image of a ruler. As coins are struck with images on them, so all mankind was struck originally in the image of God, which is the righteousness and holiness that God imparted to Adam and Eve. By sinning, Adam lost the image of God for himself and for all humanity, so that all are now born according to the image of our father Adam. We no longer possess our original righteousness with which we were created. Instead, we are silver coins tarnished by sin, unrecognizable as creatures who once bore God’s image. Where humanity was created righteous and pure, we are tarnished by our unrighteousness and defiled by our impure thoughts and deeds. Yet humanity is still a precious treasure to the creator, so He seeks us out so that He might restore in us the image of God. He cleanses the tarnish of sin by washing sinners in Holy Baptism, the washing of regeneration and renewal, and gives us Christ’s righteousness so that all who believe and are baptized bear the image of their creator by faith.
5) Both of these pictures, lost sheep, lost coins, teach us that we have no ability to save ourselves from our sinfulness, that there is no merit or worthiness in us by which God can accept us. The lost sheep can only go further astray into sin. The lost coin has no ability whatsoever to help the woman find it. Both sheep and coin are entirely passive, unable to work any work which might help the Lord in His search. With these examples, Jesus dashes human reason and imagination upon the rocks of divine truth. People cannot save themselves through their good works, whether they are trying to live by the Law of Moses or their own self-made good works of entering monasteries, going on mission trips, or giving to the poor in order to placate God. By this parable Jesus also casts to the ground those who claim that a decision for Jesus is necessary for salvation, or that one must give their heart to Him. The Good Shepherd is far more loving than to find the sheep and demand that the sheep come the rest of the way. The Good Shepherd scoops the sheep upon His shoulders. The woman in the parable does not find the coin and then ask whether or not it chooses to be found. Jesus casts away all sorts of foolish, man-made teachings by these parables to show us just how unable we are to save ourselves through any law or good work, whether divine or man-made.
6) Jesus does not teach us about our great and complete weakness for its own sake. He teaches us the depth of our sin and depravity, our inability to save ourselves, so that we might rejoice in the greatness and depth of His love and work on our behalf. Jesus is not a stingy God who approaches sinners saying, “I have done my part, now you must do yours.” Christ seeks lost sheep, for He is the Good Shepherd. Christ seeks lost coins, for though tarnished with sin, they were meant to bear God’s image. Christ seeks men out through the preaching of the Law and the Gospel. Through the law He works repentance. Through the gospel he works faith. All of this is to be received as pure gift and sheer grace. He shows us the depth of our condition so that we praise Christ all the more for His great compassion to sinners.
7) And when we repent, Christ, along with the holy angels, rejoice. The Pharisees and scribes wanted God and the holy angels to rejoice in their righteousness, that they were not manifest and public sinners. The Pharisees and scribes, like all humanity, want their own works, even a “decision for Jesus” or giving to the poor or being “good people” to merit something before God. But the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand rejoice instead that they bring God no work, for they have none. I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. Our salvation is by grace alone and we are kept in the true faith in grace alone as well, for He sanctifies and keeps us in the truth faith through the same means by which He originally saved us. That is why He still preaches law to us, to work repentance in us, as well as His gospel, which absolves us and removes the sins the law condemns.
8) Rejoice in the great love your savior shows you by seeking you in your sin. He does not want you to remain lost in sin, so He sends the Holy Ghost to show your sin so that you can confess it and be rid of it. Rejoice in the great compassion of Jesus, that He seeks you out in His gospel and sacrament to forgive your sins and give you the faith which alone justifies. Rejoice that in spite of our many and great sins, Christ does not abandon us to them, but continually seeks us as His lambs and treasures as His coins. Rejoice that we have a Lord who receives sinners who repent and believe His gospel for the forgiveness of all of their sins. Amen.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.