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.

Safe in Jesus’ Hand

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter based on John 10:22-30

Dear sheep who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sheep lying down in green pastures beside still waters. No predators around; no worries or fears; no needs as there’s lots to eat and drink. The sheep harmoniously and leisurely eat and sleep. The shepherd carries a baby lamb and the big sheep make room for the little ones by the quiet waters. This is an image of peace and tranquillity from Psalm 23 and what we normally picture in our minds when we think about Jesus the Good Shepherd and us as His sheep.

It certainly is the perfect image of how things should be, but unfortunately, it is an image far from our current reality. While Jesus certainly does lead us to green pastures and still waters, we don’t always want to follow Him. We think we know where the better pastures are. Instead of eating the nutritious food He provides in His Word and Supper, we’d rather eat the junk food of emotionalism and enthusiasm. Emotionalism is following our feelings – doing what we want, what we feel to be best. It is following our hearts instead of God’s Word. Enthusiasm, on the other hand, is seeking God apart from His Word and sacraments. Enthusiasm is believing that God speaks to us apart from the Bible. Because we are sinful, we are often tempted to follow our feelings and senses of spirituality rather than hearing the Good Shepherd’s voice because we don’t like everything He says. We don’t care to be fed and nourished by the Good Shepherd except maybe the bare minimum.

And we don’t get along with the other sheep. We speak evil of them behind their backs. We look down on those who are hurt or injured by their sin and we drive them away from the Good Shepherd. We turn our backs to those who are wandering away instead of helping them and encouraging them to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice and follow Him. We turn a blind eye to those sheep who are about to be consumed by wolves because we don’t want the discomfort of confronting them.

This is why we need a Good Shepherd. A shepherd that continues to nourish and feed us even when we don’t think it’s all that important. A shepherd that forgives our failures. A shepherd that goes after the wandering sheep to bring them back to the fold.

There are sheep that do not hear the Good Shepherd’s voice or follow Him. Jesus says that those sheep do not believe because they are not part of His flock. But Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” We know the voice of the Good Shepherd. We hear His voice in His Word and nowhere else. We know His voice when it calls us to turn from sin and follow Him. We know His voice when He says He knows us.

It might be a bit hard to believe that Jesus knows each one of us. After all, there are billions of people in the world. Can Jesus really know me very well personally? God’s Word tells us yes, He can and He does. He knows everything about us. He knows when we sit down and when we rise up. He knows our thoughts (Ps. 139:2). He knows how many hairs we have on our heads (Matt. 10:30). That’s not even an important detail and it changes every few minutes, yet Jesus knows it, because He knows us, and we belong to Him.

Jesus knowing us, knowing our very thoughts, can seem distressing. That means He knows all of our ugly, shameful, disgusting sins. He knows how sinful our thoughts are, even those thoughts we manage to hide from others. But our sinful thoughts are not a surprise to Jesus. Jesus knew our thoughts even before He came to die for us. In fact, our ugly, shameful, disgusting sins are the reason that Jesus came to earth. Jesus came to live a perfect life without any sins – not even one sinful thought. Jesus came to fulfil the Law of God that we cannot fulfil. Jesus died on the cross for all of our sins of thought, word, and deed without ever even having a single begrudging thought towards us.

Yes, Jesus knows each one of us, and despite our sins He calls us His sheep. And He says of His sheep, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus gives you eternal life. You will never perish; you will live forever. No one will snatch you out of His hand.

This last point is crucial to understand. If it was up to us to hear the voice of Jesus, we would never listen. If it was up to us to follow Jesus, we would all be lost. If it was up to us to stay in Jesus’ hand, we wouldn’t remain there at all. But it is not we who hold onto Jesus, it is Jesus who holds onto us. Because He holds onto us, He says no one can snatch us out of His hand. No one and nothing can.

This means that sin cannot snatch us out of Jesus’ hand. This world cannot snatch us out of Jesus’ hand. The devil is powerless to snatch us from Jesus no matter how much he raves and storms. We confess with Saint Paul, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39) No one and nothing can snatch you from Jesus’ hand.

You belong to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. That is why you hear His voice and follow Him. That is why Jesus has again called you here today to hear His voice. He once again teaches you through His Word. He will once again feed you and nourish you with His true body and blood to forgive you all of your sins and strengthen you to continue hearing His voice and following Him.

Jesus has brought you into His flock, that is why you hear His voice and follow Him. Jesus knows you. He continues to strengthen you through His Word and Holy Supper to crush your desire to follow your feelings and to turn you away from seeking Him anywhere except in His Word and sacraments where He has promised to be found. Jesus has snatched you from your sins and futile ways and He will not let go of you.

No one will snatch you out of Jesus’ hand. The world and the devil cannot make Jesus let go of you. Your ugly, shameful, disgusting sins cannot make Jesus let go of you. Not even the nails driven through His hands could make Him let go of you. You are Jesus’ sheep, so He promises you that no one will snatch you out of His hand, and He gives you eternal life, and you will never perish. Amen.

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