15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:1-10)
“This man receives sinners and eats with them.” We can be thankful for that. The Pharisees meant it as a reproach. And though we may be thankful for it, we often forget it ourselves. We begin to wonder if it is true, or perhaps we think it is only true of some sinners. But Jesus answers them with a couple parables, showing that he has more joy in one sinner that repents than over 99 righteous who do not need repentance. Such joy does it bring him that he seeks out the lost sheep, he wanders through the desert, searching the crags in the hot sun, climbing the hill sides and exploring the washes. He does this until he finds the sheep he has lost, and then he rejoices. This is what he has done for each and everyone of us here, who has ever wandered from the fold, and found themselves in the perils of sin wondering if we could even return to the fold. This is what he has done for each and every one of us, even when we have been blind to our sin. He has called each and every one of us to himself, to repentance and brought us into the church to feed and water us.
He receives sinners and eats with them. We immediately begin to ask, yes but what kind of sinners. The answer is all kinds of sinners. He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth. He does not delight in the death of the wicked but would have them turn and repent. Repent, all hinges on repentance. There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous who need no repentance. Sinners need to repent. The thing is we go about it all wrong. We think about repentance in very dangerous ways. Our own repentance can often become a stumbling block to faith, our own and that of others. This is because we think of repentance as something we do, something we need to do before we can be saved, rather than thinking of it as salvation itself.
Too often we think of repentance in earthly terms. We think of it as giving up certain sins, or at least feeling sorry for them. This is where it becomes a hindrance. Now, I don’t mean to say we shouldn’t give up the sins we can give up, or feel bad about the sins we have committed. We should. But this isn’t repentance so much as it is a result of repentance, and when it is confused with repentance we become a stumbling block to ourselves and others.
It works like this, we sin. We commit adultery. We find ourselves sinning in ways that disgust us, and destroy our lives. We become drunkards. We indulge in porn. We find ourselves consumed with envy and covetousness. We become belligerent to our spouses. We anger and provoke our children and then take out our frustrations in life upon them. And perhaps we don’t even realize our sin for a while, or we excuse it. This is our reality. And it slowly starts destroying our lives. Sin does that, and sometimes not so slowly. Everything we tried so hard to build starts falling in on itself. Our homes become nests of nastiness. Sin invades, our relationships, the ones we hold dearest with our wives and husbands, our parents and our children, they all become compromised. Love is lost and replaced with resentment. And we slowly come to see the root of it all, or so we think, the root is often much deeper than we can comprehend. But we realize we can’t go on doing what we are doing and live the life we want to live. We can’t go on doing what we are doing and live a life of love at home. So we “repent.” We attend AA. Or we take a seminar, we go on a family retreat and try to rebuild our relationships. And all is well and good. We should do those things, but these things are not in and of themselves repentance. Not the sort of repentance that restores our relationship to Christ. In fact we get it in our head that we have pulled ourselves up by the boot straps and made ourselves worthy of Christ. That we have put on our thinking caps and found our way back to the fold and this is repentance. And then we start using that as the measure by which to judge others. We think they too need to make amends, before they can be our brothers and sisters at the altar, sharing the forgiveness of sins.
There are plenty who also stay away from church for precisely these reasons. They are not sure they have made the amends those in the church often think they should. It is horrible actually. It really is. They don’t believe they are as worthy as us Pharisees making demands, and often these demands are not even ours to make! Too often we reinterpret scripture and the laws of God as if they pertain to what a friend of mine calls a white middle class virtue ethic. Most of us were brought up with this sort of thinking. We were brought up with a set of morals by which we think we attain virtue. We classify some sins as being worse than others when the Bible often makes no such distinction, even more so makes opposite distinctions. But we make it as if God’s law coincides with what we find to be decent, and what we think a decent person ought to be able to do, and thus it does not bite. The law doesn’t bit us. We repented, we made ourselves better, and until the others clean up their act, they don’t get to come in. We don’t mean to say that, but we do.
This isn’t repentance though. Jesus describes repentance here. Repentance is him finding you. Repentance is him going out and looking for you and bringing you back to the fold. Repenance is his work. And he rejoices in the repentance because in it he has found you, a sinner a lost sheep. Repentance isn’t making yourself better, but you throwing away all your own attempts at righteousness and being carried on his shoulders to the gates of heaven. This is repentance. And this is what Jesus means to do through us his church, his body. We are his instrument used to bring his sheep to him, where he receives sinners, sinners like you and me, and eats with them feeding them the forgiveness of sins. Yes. He receives sinners. He receives you and I, and he will receive your family, your friends, your neighbors all who are lost, who recognize their sin, who realize their helplessness. Who even now are caught in the most vile of vile sins, the sin of unbelief. Jesus searches for them, even as he searched for you. And when they come to this house, and are baptized here, make a confession of faith here, are brought to the table here, There is much rejoicing in heaven, just as he rejoices in heaven when he sees you confess your sin, and receive absolution, just as he rejoices to eat with you a sinner forgiven by his blood.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.