Third Sunday after Trinity
Last week, you heard me paraphrase the synodical president, Rev. Matthew Harrison. “Jesus lives in the hearts of sinners, so you better be one.” The idea, as I used it, was that Jesus came to save sinners, something that St. Paul once wrote (cf. 1 Timothy 1:15), so if you’re looking for salvation or hoping to be saved, then you had best be a sinner. The Good News is that Jesus has come for you, dear sinner. But there are those who have no need for Jesus. If you say you have no sin, you only deceive yourselves (cf. 1 John 1:8); in this state of self-deception, you would believe that Jesus is unnecessary.
Shortly after last week’s text is today’s Gospel. Jesus is still teaching at tables. This time, He’s eating with tax collectors and sinners, the people for whom He came to earth. The Pharisees and scribes grumbled, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.”
These tax collectors and sinners drew near to Jesus in order to hear Him. These tax collectors and sinners knew their place before God—they were sinners incapable of bringing themselves out from under the weight and bondage of their sin. But, here is Jesus who has taken the mantle from John the Baptist and continued the message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (cf. Matthew 4:17) Of repentance, our churches teach, “[R]epentance consists properly of these two parts: One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors.” (ACXII)
These tax collectors and sinners believed that Jesus had come for them, stricken with terrors over their sins, to hear Him preach to them the forgiveness of their sins for His own sake. Only then will their consciences be comforted, and, having been received into God’s grace for the sake of Christ, they will have a place at the heavenly banquet.
But the Pharisees and scribes grumble. “How could one who claims to be holy—who claims to be the Son of God, who claims to be God—associate with those who are unclean? He should be dining with us!”
So, Jesus tells parables to instruct them. The Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son are St. Luke’s 15th chapter. For today, we heard just the first two. A shepherd has 100 sheep. One wanders off, as sheep are prone to do, so he leaves the 99 in search of the lost sheep, finds it, and returns it to the fold. The shepherd then rejoices with his neighbors over it. It’s amazing that the 99 do not also wander off, but they’re not the point of the parable—the lost sheep and the shepherd are. Also, a woman had 10 coins, but loses one. She tears her house apart looking for the one. She finds it, and rejoices with her neighbors over it. Once again, the other 9 coins are neglected, only mentioned once because they’re not the point of the parable—the lost coin and the woman are.
Don’t just take my word for it. Jesus said, “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. Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Now, it’s usually pretty obvious that Jesus is telling these parables against the Pharisees, as He had the parable last week, and the parable of Dives and Lazarus the week before. They are the 99 who have no need for repentance (or so they think). They are the 9 who do not need to be sought (or so they think). They are the righteous—or more appropriately, the self-righteous—who have no need for repentance. The one sheep and the one coin are the sinful for whom Jesus (as exemplified by the shepherd and woman in the parables) had come to earth. Jesus is the one who looks for the lost sheep and lost coin.
Again, don’t take my word for it. Jesus said, “I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” (cf. Matthew 15:24) “Jesus lives in the hearts of sinners, so you better be one.” “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32)
Dear hearers, as I have done before, I will compare you to the Pharisees. I must. The desire is to compare oneself with the lost sheep or the lost coin. These, after all, represent the sinner who has repented over whom the angels in heaven rejoice. That which was lost has been found, that which was as good as dead is alive! You are here in the presence of God and His angels, one who has been redeemed by Christ the crucified. Why wouldn’t you be a lost sheep or lost coin?
But, the natural inclination is to compare oneself to the 99 sheep or the 9 coins. After all, you’re here all the time. You make divine service every week. You give of your time and talents in service to the church. You study the Bible and the Confessions every day. If anyone is lost, it certainly isn’t you. Look at all that you are doing!
Okay, so maybe you’re not here all that often. You read your Bible occasionally. You know your Small Catechism pretty well. But, you spend a lot of time in prayer. You know Jesus and He knows you. If anyone is lost, it certainly isn’t you. You may not be as good as the next person, but you’re doing alright.
You’re pretty good with God, you like to think. Either you’re doing enough to keep it that way or you’ve done enough to make it that way. You’re not lost or sick at all. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” I guess, since you’re doing alright, you don’t need to repent, do you?
Well, the mantle that Jesus assumed from John is a message proclaimed to you, too. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The sad truth is that all need to hear this message.
- “Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, For in Your sight no one living is righteous.” (Psalm 143:2)
- “For there is not a just man on earth who does good And does not sin.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
- “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)
- “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one...’” (Romans 3:10)
- “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)
“All have sinned,” St. Paul wrote, “and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) All have sinned, whether you are of the 99 or the 1 lost sheep. All must repent.
So, what’s keeping you? The answer is you. Whether you care to admit it or not, there are times when you think that you have no need to repent—times when you think that you have nothing for which to repent. Jesus compared the Pharisees to 99 sheep and 9 coins, who may not physically be lost, but are most certainly lost and sick in the delusion of their own self-righteousness. If you think yourself of the 99 sheep or 9 coins, then you are just as lost and condemned as the Pharisees.
Thank God that repentance is a gift that He gives. And it is a gift that He gives you. Daily, by contrition and repentance, you are converted again, and all of this by God’s grace. The Reformers wrote, “Of Repentance they teach that for those who have fallen after Baptism there is remission of sins whenever they are converted and that the Church ought to impart absolution to those thus returning to repentance.” (ACXII) Every sin is a fall, even after Baptism. Repentance is the gift God gives by which He restores you. Absolution is the means by which that restoration is proclaimed and given to you. For, without repentance, one would still be fallen in sin, and there would be no forgiveness, absolution, restoration.
But, take heart dear hearers. Your works avail you nothing. You are here, though, by the grace of God to confess a faith in Jesus that trusts solely in and relies completely on Him for your salvation. By grace, you have been brought to a knowledge of your sin and confessed the same. By grace, you have been turned, once again, to see your Savior, there on the cross, where your sins have been taken from you and died with Him. By grace, you have been pointed once more to the font where with the water and the Word the promise was applied to you, that you are God’s son and heir of eternal life—there you were found, though once you were lost, and the angels rejoiced over you. By grace, you have been turned around from your sin to see that, in Jesus Christ, you are forgiven for all of your sins—and the angels rejoice again!