MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Tuesday, December 26, 2000
KJV Luke 15:1 Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. 3 And he spake this parable unto them, saying, 4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? 5 And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. 7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. 8 Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? 9 And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. 10 Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.
JOY IN FORGIVENESS
Luke 15 has 3 parables of forgiveness in a row, the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. This Gospel lesson, containing the first two parables, reminds us of how kind and gentle Jesus was during His public ministry, attracting people to Him with His message of forgiveness.
These two parables both emphasize the divine joy expressed when one individual lost person is found. The first example has a man finding a lost sheep. The second one illustrates a woman and a lost coin.
The parables use language we have heard many times, especially among the non-Lutheran Protestants. However, when we consider the message of the parables, the main theme is not what we normally hear from the Evangelicals. The founder of the Church Growth Movement, Donald McGavran, never tired of telling people that “God wants the lost to be found.” In other words, it is up to us. In addition, because his doctorate in education emphasized statistical analysis, McGavran thought that man could analyze the situation with statistics and create a church or mission that would grow.
But what do we read in the parables? The shepherd has 100 sheep and only 1 of them is lost. He represents God. He does not say, “I have 99% retention in my flock,” but searches for that one lost sheep. The economy of that area was based upon raising sheep, so every man could see himself in that position. What does the man do when he finds the sheep? He puts the sheep on his shoulders and rejoices, going home to his neighbors to have them rejoice with him.
KJV Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing
The shepherd does not tell the 99 sheep to find the lost sheep. He finds that solitary sheep. The shepherd does not ask anyone else to carry home the sheep. He puts the sheep on his shoulders and comes home rejoicing. So God and all the angels in heaven rejoice over the repentance and forgiveness of one lost soul.
We are so used to being loaded down with guilt about the lost that we often misunderstand the impact of this Gospel lesson: God will find the lost. He does not provide one way, or a dozen ways, but hundreds of ways to reach every soul. For instance, He established apostles, pastors, and teachers to preserve the Gospel and administer the sacraments.
Secondly, when people teach the Word, they do not bring the lost one home to repentance. God does. God bears the lost one home with the Word and Sacraments. The true Christian Church rejoices with God and His holy angels over every single lost sinner who is restored to the Kingdom.
What does this message do for us on the positive side? Every one of us has wandered away from God at times. Some have fallen into more obvious forms of sin, but the Law has broken their bones (Psalm 51) and brought about their contrition. Others have been seduced by the demonic spirits of rationalism (the mainline churches), irrationalism (charismatics), and Pietism (justification based upon works of holiness). The pure Word has condemned these falsehoods and brought about true repentance. We did a house to house survey once and found a former member who had been taken in by the charismatics. She returned to Lutheran doctrine and the true Gospel. It was an eye-opener for me, since she told how her family was held in bondage to the Law. Everything was a Law demand. The members were told to attend a family seminar. Everyone had to be there and pay for materials. The children were left alone in the basement of the church and became resentful over the hours of boredom. Everything was a demand and the Gospel message was lost.
That is why Jesus taught these parables at the time – and for our time as well. The hated tax collectors and open sinners drew near to Jesus. Why? The Law had always condemned their sin. They knew they were sinners. But they never heard before how they might be forgiven. They need healing and not more bone breaking.
The Law is diagnosis. It is the x-ray that tells us what is wrong with us. A good doctor may even break bones that are improperly healed or badly set. However, we would be appalled at a doctor who gave us x-rays day after day to heal us, or who wanted to break the badly set bone every day. Such are the Law mongers. They are very good at talking about our faults, but they only want to heal us with more demands of the Law. The more they make us sick with the Law, the more they bawl at us.
The scribes and Pharisees were miffed that Jesus spent time with tax collectors and open sinners. The scribes and Pharisees drove away these people with their outward displays of works-righteousness. In fact, they were condemning Jesus for being seen with these people. Jesus was sinning by being seen with sinners!
For that reason, there is a great message of joy in these two parables and also one of the severest condemnation. Jesus could teach the Law better than all the Pharisees, because He taught God’s Law and not their imaginary law of traditions. Jesus said about the lost sinner who is found:
Luke 15: 7 “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”
If I had taught these parables, I would have repeated that wonderful barb, more of a harpoon, after the second parable, but Jesus said it once and once was enough. God does not rejoice over those who have no need of repentance. The reason is plain. Those who are righteous in their own eyes do not seek forgiveness or have any need of forgiveness in their own imagination. Because they do not need forgiveness (in their delusions), they have no sense of gratitude toward God or joy in others being forgiven. For that reason, they compared their exalted state to the lowly state of lowly sinners.
The parables in this Gospel have a wonderful effect upon the contrite and those who are proud in the imagination of their hearts. The contrite sinner does not despair of God’s forgiveness but realizes that our merciful heavenly Father rejoices over one sinner who repents. That is a great inducement for listening to the Gospel and taking it to heart. The unrepentant are like dogs who will eat a foam pillow just because it looks like food and not know what they are consuming. True, the unrepentant hear the Gospel message, but they do not take it to heart. This is something God understands and we do not need to judge; it is beyond our ability to decide how someone hears the Gospel.
Two Chinese from Hong Kong told me they laughed at the religious lessons they were forced to hear at the Lutheran school, which they attended because it was a good school. Later, when they converted to Christianity, they realized that the Biblical lessons were planting the seed in their hearts. It did not seem to be anything at the moment, but later they valued those lessons. Parents should realize this too. They may think they are being ignored, but the Word sends out its roots in the hearts of children.
The second effect of these parables is to condemn the unrepentant. If someone has the sourpuss attitude of these scribes and Pharisees, then he knows the gentle humor of Jesus is aimed at him. God rejoices but the self-righteous person is angry. Thus the Law condemns the Law-monger. But that condemnation is not in vain. For one thing, there is plenty of Pharisee in all of us and we need to hear the rebuke. For another, the genuine Pharisee may become contrite and that is the purpose of the Law, to drive us to Jesus.
When we receive Holy Communion, we rejoice over the forgiveness of sin we receive. If we think we are without sin, we should skip Holy Communion. The sacrament of the altar is not a proclamation of our worthiness but a confess of our need to be forgiven by God.
KJV Psalm 68:3 But let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice.
KJV Isaiah 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.
Christ dresses us with His robes of righteousness. Just as the groom is dressed at his best for the wedding and the bride wears her unique bridal dress, so we are adorned with the perfection of the Son of God in His daily work of keeping us within the Kingdom.
What happens on the day a couple is married? The bride and groom are all happiness. The family is gathered together and many happy and loving exchanges take place. Thus one German blessing is, “May every day be like your wedding day.” In our treatment of others, we should feel like brides and grooms, adorned by God and brimming with His love, a love that cannot be contained and held captive, but overflows in generosity, love, forgiveness, gratitude, and patience. If we need anything from others, it is patience, and we should show as much patience toward others as God has shown toward us.
"Thus too, if our confidence is to begin, and we become strengthened and comforted, we must well learn the voice of our Shepherd, and let all other voices go, who only lead us astray, and chase and drive us hither and thither. We must hear and grasp only that article which presents Christ to us in the most friendly and comforting manner possible. So that we can say with all confidence: My Lord Jesus Christ is truly the only Shepherd, and I, alas, the lost sheep, which has strayed into the wilderness, and I am anxious and fearful, and would gladly be good, and have a gracious God and peace of conscience, but here I am told that He is as anxious for me as I am for Him."
Martin Luther, Sermons of Martin Luther, IV, p. 86. Luke 15:1-10.