Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 19)
September 12, 2010
Text: Luke 15:1-10

The holy angels sang when God created the heavens and the earth (Job 38:7). They sang to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:13-14). When the heavenly choirs of angels lift their voices in songs of great rejoicing, great things are taking place. So it is profound when Jesus tells us “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10; ESV). Indeed, more than this, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (v. 7). The angels sing when a sinner repents, because the new creation wrought by the blood and death of Christ and manifest in His resurrection, bursts in upon the sinner, putting him to death, and raising him to new life in Christ. Here the word “repentance” is used in the broad sense meaning the entire conversion of a person from unbelief to faith in Christ. But it is not just that first conversion, the conversion from utter unbelief to faith in Christ that takes place when a sinner is first brought into the life of God by the Spirit working through the Word and Baptism. This repentance is also the conversion that must happen everyday in the life of the Christian, a continual returning to your Baptism where God drowns the old sinful flesh in you so that the new man in Christ daily emerges and arises to live before God in righteousness and purity, which is to say, to live before God in faith. Martin Luther writes in the first of his 95 Theses, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent’ [Matt. 4:17], he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”[1] The entire life of believers is to be a return to Baptism. The entire life of believers is to be that of death to sin and new life in Christ. And when this happens, the angels sing, and God delights in His sons and daughters, those redeemed by the blood of Christ, those who address Him as “Our Father.”

To repent is to return to God. But notice how this happens. This is not something that happens on the sinner’s own initiative. It is not a decision of the sinner to turn from sin and come to Jesus. The song, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” gets it all wrong. It is the Lord Himself who takes the initiative. He finds the sinner. He decides to rescue the sinner. The action is all God’s on behalf of the sinner. And Jesus illustrates this for us this morning by means of two parables.

The stupid sheep leaves the shepherd and the ninety-nine other sheep and goes off on his own where there are wolves and robbers and poisonous weeds, and no protection from the shepherd. It would serve that rebellious sheep right to be left out there on his own to die. Once he’s out on his own, he’s helpless. He cannot help himself. He cannot find his way home to the shepherd. When a sheep realizes the danger he’s in, he’ll lay down and curl up and refuse to move. He’ll be a sitting duck when the predator comes along. But what happens in the parable? The shepherd, moved with great love for his one lost sheep, leaves the ninety-nine and goes out into the wilderness to find the lost one. The shepherd faces the same perils that threaten his sheep. He willingly puts himself in danger and suffers great pains to find his stupid, rebellious sheep. And when he finds the huddled mass out in the wilderness, too scared to move, even at the call of the good shepherd, he picks up that sheep and bears him on his shoulders all the way back home to the sheep pen. And then he throws a party. The whole neighborhood is invited. “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost” (v. 6). The shepherd rejoices when the lost one is returned. So God, and the whole heavenly host, rejoice when one sinner repents. But again, notice how it happens. The sheep did not decide to return home. The shepherd decided to find the sheep. The shepherd returned the sheep. When the sheep was faithless, the shepherd was faithful. The shepherd’s faithfulness leads to great rejoicing.

The second parable further illustrates the helplessness of the lost one. There was a woman who had ten silver coins, drachmas, each worth about a day’s wages. This was probably the woman’s life savings, possibly even her dowry. One day she loses one of the coins. What can the coin do to find its way back to the woman? Nothing, of course! It’s a coin! It can only lie there and remain lost and become filthy with dust and tarnish. But the woman seeks the lost coin. She lights a lamp and sweeps the whole house until she finds it. And when she finds it, she throws a party. The whole neighborhood is invited. “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost” (v. 9). So God, and the whole heavenly host, rejoice when one sinner repents.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and you, beloved, are the one lost sheep. Jesus leaves the 99 to find you. You do not decide to come to Him out of the wilderness. He decides to rescue you from the wilderness. He decides to rescue you from the predators who can rip you to shreds, from sin and certain death, from the devil and from hell and from your own corrupt sinful flesh that got you into this mess in the first place. He makes His decision for you, and He comes at great cost to Himself to rescue you. He faces all the dangers you face, willingly. He submits Himself to those dangers. As the shepherd in the parable lifts the burden of the sheep upon his shoulders, so Christ our Good Shepherd lifts your burden upon His shoulders, bears the burden of your sin and your death, the burden of the holy cross upon His shoulders. He bears it all the way to Calvary where He suffers and dies as the atonement for your sin. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (v. 6). He bears the consequences of our lost-ness. He suffers for our wandering off in sin. And then He rises from the dead, picks us up, and bears us home and throws a great party, a party at which we, along with the holy angels and the whole host of heaven, rejoice and eat this morning.

The Church is the woman with the ten silver coins, and you, beloved, are the lost coin. The Church, the Bride of Christ, lights the lamp of the Gospel, the message she is charged to proclaim, sweeps diligently through the mess of this fallen world, and finds the lost coin. For the coin is precious to the Church and precious to the Lord. You are precious to the Church and precious to the Lord. The Church picks you up and throws a great party at which the Lord Jesus Himself is present with His body and blood. There is great rejoicing as the Church feasts in celebration, with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven. “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (v. 10).

Notice, though, that there is no rejoicing over the 99 righteous persons who need no repentance. That is because there really are no 99 righteous persons. There is rejoicing over the tax collectors and sinners because they know they are sinful, lost, and they have been found and restored by their Savior. The 99, the Pharisees, are lost, too. But they glory in their self-righteousness. Jesus tells the parable out of love, not only for the tax collectors and sinners, but for the Pharisees, too. They think they need no repentance. They do not believe they are lost. They do not desire the Shepherd to come and find them. They refuse His help. They do not want a Savior. This is not cause for rejoicing. It is cause for grieving. And it is cause for preaching. Jesus preaches, and the ministers He has called preach, and the Church confesses the faith, so that the Pharisees come to know their sinful condition, their lost-ness, and so be found by the Lord. Preaching is the proclamation of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. We preach the very Word of Christ, that the Pharisees and all people might come to number themselves among the tax collectors and sinners and draw near to hear Jesus. We preach the very Word of Christ, that you may know that you are a sinner, but that you have a Savior from your sin, a Good Shepherd who rescues you. His Name is Jesus Christ. He receives sinners and eats with them. He receives you and throws you a feast.

And when the Lord leads you by His Word and Spirit to the knowledge of your sin, when He opens your lips to confess your sins and your lost-ness, when He pronounces over you the forgiveness of sins, the angels sing. When a little baby, or a fully-grown adult, is baptized, there is rejoicing in heaven. When poor sinners come again to the Supper of the Lord’s body and blood to receive from Him forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, they join the festivities of angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven. God Himself rejoices, for His lost children are home. Jesus has brought them back. It was not your decision. It is all by grace. The Christian life of repentance is a daily returning to your Baptism. There the Lord claimed you for Himself. There He wrote His Name upon you. So He claims you for Himself each day as you live in your Baptism. And He now throws a feast for you in celebration. Dear Christians, rejoice this day, for you are no longer lost. In Christ, you are found. Praise be to God! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] “Ninety-five Theses,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 31, Harold J. Grimm and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds. (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1957) p. 25.

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