“More Joy Over One Sinner”. Trinity 3 Sermon. June 16 2013
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Luke 15:1-10
June 16, 2013
“More joy over one sinner”
Look at this guy. He’s soft on sin. He’s not showing proper honor for God’s holy law. That’s what the pious people were saying, the really strict zealots and the experts who could quote chapter and verse from the Bible.
The law God gave to Israel was from a holy God. You weren’t free to pick and choose which parts you’d follow.
And the law wasn’t about forgiveness. It did provide for atonement for sin. But there were sins that the law would not forgive. For instance if you slept with your neighbor’s wife, or you lay with a man as one lies with a woman, or if you practiced witchcraft or communicated with the dead, or led other Israelites to worship an idol. There was no forgiveness provided by the law for these things—just death.
And if you had leprosy or some other contagious skin disease, you were cut off. You could not live with the community of Israel, because God is holy, and what is unclean can’t be in His presence. “But I didn’t choose to have leprosy!” we’d protest today. That didn’t matter. You were still unclean. When you got rid of your leprosy, a sacrifice could be offered and you’d be accepted again. But until then you were out.
God is holy. What is unclean can’t be in His presence.
Now the grumbling is that Jesus is having fellowship with those who are unclean. They are either sinners for which the law provides no sacrifice which will make them clean again, or else they are sinners who have not yet separated themselves enough from their sin.
Most of us are quick to write off the Pharisees and scribes here as just being self-righteous. But first you should understand where they’re right.
Sin needs to be punished in this world. By nature the only thing that keeps people from doing evil is that they don’t want to pay the price for it.
One hundred or so years ago people seldom got divorced. Why? Was it because they loved God and loved their spouses so much? No. It was because the law made it very hard to get a divorce. It was because if you got a divorce people would view you with suspicion. It was because generally speaking if you were the guilty party in a divorce not permitted by God’s word (you divorced your spouse for a reason besides adultery, or abandonment, or your life being endangered by the spouse), you would come under church discipline. You would be suspended from going to communion, or even excommunicated, where the church would exercise the binding key of the law in accordance with John 20: If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.
And what happened when divorce became socially acceptable, and when the law changed to permit no-fault divorce? Now half of marriages end in divorce. And God says in the book of Malachi that He hates divorce.
So, the threat of punishment in earthly things is necessary and good, because without it people let themselves go.
So why was Jesus eating with people who had sinned publicly and grievously?
Jesus is not playing down God’s holiness. God is indeed holy. Nothing impure can ever enter His presence.
And yet God and His court, the holy angels and the saints, have a different set of priorities than the devil and his court, the demons and the unbelieving.
The devil rejoices in destruction and death. The true God rejoices when what is dead is raised to life again, when the damned are forgiven, when the lost are found.
That is heaven’s highest joy. There is more rejoicing in heaven when one sinner becomes repentant than over the children of God who don’t go astray.
God is love, says the Scripture. Love, God’s love, has this character: when it sees someone in need, even if it’s their own fault, it spares no pains to help that person. Love puts all of itself into the service of the one who is in need.
This is not how you are by nature, is it? If someone you have treated well turns their back on you, curses you, and then goes off and gets in trouble, what’s your first inclination? To say, “I’m going to give up my comfort, my happiness, my wealth, and my good name, to go help that person? I’m going to sacrifice what I have to bring them back and restore them to what they were before?”
No, that’s not what comes naturally to you. Even if you say, “I’m supposed to love my enemies,” your heart is not eager and joyful and zealous to go seek the lost sheep.
But for heaven, that’s how it is. There is nothing more important than that. Everything else gets interrupted so that there can be rejoicing over the lost sheep that is found.
That’s because God looks at those who belong to Him as treasured possessions. A woman sweeps the house to find her one coin because it is valuable. A shepherd who loses a sheep leaves the 99 and goes after the one, because if it is his sheep, he not only cares about it, but it is his livelihood.
If you drop a one hundred dollar bill, you grieve over it. You say, “How could I be so stupid and irresponsible as to lose a hundred dollars!” And if you find it, you’re overcome with relief and joy.
That is how God looks at His baptized children who go astray. That’s how it is for Him when someone wanders away from Christ and gets lost and becomes prey to the devil and eternal death.
Now when someone falls into open, unrepentant sin, they are giving public testimony that they have wandered away from Christ. If they are living in adultery or fornication, if they despise preaching and God’s Word, these are all open sins.
Now how does God the Father deal with those who are in those sins? He spares no pains and goes with anxiety and love to find the lost sheep.
And that is how His law commands us to love our neighbor. When we see our brothers and sisters in the church fall away, we must hate their sin and not excuse it, but we are commanded to love them as we love ourselves, and do for them as we would want done for us, which is to go seek them and reclaim them.
If we see a city or a nation or our family members abandoning Christ and His church, we should hate their sins, and not excuse them. But our hearts should burn with compassion for them so that we cannot rest, cannot stop praying, and lovingly seeking their salvation, until they are back home feasting in the Father’s house on His saving Gospel.
But our hearts are not eager to do this. Sometimes we know we should and we want to, but we are slow because we are afraid and we care more about being good people than about the lost sheep.
Other times, we just have no desire to do it. “They just hate God. It’s their problem.” Or, “Ah, God understands. It doesn’t matter.”
Secretly our flesh rejoices in the falls and the sins of others because it makes us look better.
But all of that which is in our hearts is transgression of God’s holy law. It is uncleanness that cannot enter His presence.
Our lack of love—our hatred, to put it a different way—makes us unclean. The lack of love in our hearts is not cause for us to be thrown out of the visible church on earth, just like it was not enough for the Pharisees to be cut off. That lovelessness is in the hearts of true Christians as well as hypocrites.
But it is enough that it cannot stand in God’s presence. It must be forgiven, and cleansed, and taken away.
And this is too much. You can quit committing adultery or stealing (although it may be hard). But no one can eradicate lovelessness from their hearts.
The repentant sinner over whom heaven rejoices is not the person who cleans up his act, but the one who believes in Jesus Christ.
Who believes God receives and forgives and cleanses Him apart from the law.
That is what it is to go from being lost to being found. Not moral improvement, but a new creation.
Thus Jesus comes and proclaims to us crushed by the law: “Your sins are forgiven.”
He has fellowship with us, not by tolerating our sins, but by taking away our sins apart from the law, by grace alone.
Atoning for them with His blood on the cross, and bestowing the forgiveness of sins in His word and sacrament.
If you are a lost sinner with no hope of cleaning yourself up, rejoice!
If you are a Pharisee who wants to trust your own righteousness, rejoice!
Jesus receives you at His table, and the Father rejoices over you.
Then He teaches us to rejoice in what gives Him joy—not finding money or getting things for ourselves, but rejoicing in the sheep being reclaimed.
This is what gives our savior and the holy angels joy, and this is the joy he is working in us. It is true and lasting joy.
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
- Jesus’ Rib. Baccalaureate Sermon 2013 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)