Good News For Sinners. Funeral Sermon
In Memoriam + Raymond Swank
Tezak Funeral Home
June 16, 2015
“Good News for Sinners”
Chris, Kathy, Phillip, Kimberly, Raymond, and Edith,
Raymond’s family and friends,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Gospel reading we just heard contains extremely joyful news if you are a sinner. It tells us that Jesus goes looking for sinners the way a shepherd goes looking for his lost sheep, the way a widow goes looking for money that she’s lost. Jesus seeks out sinners, and when He finds them He carries them back home, and God and all the angles rejoice. That’s why Jesus wasn’t ashamed to be seen eating and drinking and commiserating with people who had been rejected by the Scribes and Pharisees, who were important religious people in those days. They grumbled about Jesus: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” They mean that Jesus didn’t shun and reject sinners. He let them come to Him.
This is good news for sinners. It means that if you are one Jesus will not cast you out but receive you. And to be received by Jesus means to receive eternal life and be saved from the punishment of sin, which is eternal damnation.
Unfortunately in our day and age sinners seem to have become extinct. We no longer can find them. People in our time think that all people are basically good. They may make bad decisions, but basically they’re good. So we don’t worry too much about hell or being judged by God, because God knows [we’re told] that everyone is basically doing the best they can.
But that isn’t what the Bible says. It says that all human beings are sinners. It says that even if a person lives a respectable life in the world, even a religious life, he is a sinner before God, because he doesn’t love God with all his heart or his neighbor as himself. People are born this way, with a heart inclined to disobey God’s commandments, in fact, with hearts that are unable to keep God’s commandments. That makes us sinners. And the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6). God told the first man and woman on earth that if they disobeyed His commandment they would surely die. And so human beings have lived and died since the first man and woman sinned. They lived breaking God’s commandments, trying to avoid facing the fact that after they died they would be judged by God not only for their actions, but also for evil words and thoughts and desires. Human beings by nature are truly in a hopeless situation. They are condemned to eternal death and torment in hell for their sins.
But in the Gospel for today we have good news for sinners. The Gospel tells us that all the really obvious, blatant sinners were coming near to Jesus, who is God in human flesh. And Jesus was not driving them away, even though they had broken God’s commandments. He was receiving them, eating with them, dwelling with them, even though they had sinned and were still sinners. Jesus was so friendly and kind with these obvious sinners that the people who were considered upstanding religious leaders were disgusted. They grumbled, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” And they were right. Jesus didn’t cast away the sinners but received them as righteous people.
He not only received the sinners when they came, but He was seeking them out before they drew near to Him. That’s why Jesus was in the world, to seek out and save lost sinners who were condemned to hell. A bible passage says, “This is a trustworthy saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1). In the Old Testament reading today we heard a prophecy of what Jesus’ work on earth would be: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…” (Is. 61:1) That’s why Jesus came into the world—to bring good news and comfort to those who are brokenhearted because of sin and suffering and death. To free them from the prison of sin, death, and hell.
Today you are brokenhearted. You may be relieved that Raymond’s struggles on earth are over, but you still are brokenhearted because you have had to lose one you love. Jesus came into the world to comfort people who are broken by sin and death. He came to set them free from that prison. He came to seek out and save sinners. How does He do that? By preaching the forgiveness of sins.
The reason we die and face judgment from God is because we are sinners. But God, in His mercy, did not want us to live and die in the prison of sin. So He came into the world as one of us, a human being. He lived perfectly according to the law of God, without sin. Then He suffered and died, bearing our sins before God, so that sin and its punishment might be taken away from us.
That is how Jesus bore the lost sheep on His shoulders. He took all the guilt of lost sinners on Himself and bore the punishment, the wrath of God, on the cross. And now He calls out into the world with the voice of the Gospel and goes searching for the lost sheep, the ones who have wandered from God and eternal life. He says, “Come to Me.”
And what do you have to do to come to Jesus? Nothing. That is to say, you have to be a sinner. If you are a sinner, if you acknowledge yourself to be one, then Jesus’ voice is calling you with the good news that your sins are forgiven. There is nothing you have to do or can do to earn the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Jesus has already earned it for you. You simply receive it from Him as a gift. He testifies that the forgiveness of sins belongs to you in the Gospel. He says, “Your sins are forgiven because I died for you. It is all done.” In Baptism, He pledges that the forgiveness of sins is yours. And in Church He gives His body and blood under the bread and wine to assure us that our sins are forgiven and we have eternal life.
So being a Christian and being righteous before God is not a work or a series of good deeds that we have to perform. God does it. He convicts us of our sins by preaching to us His law and the judgment to come. Then He consoles and comforts sinners, He gathers them to Himself, by preaching the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ death for us. And He continues to do this. That’s why Christians go to church. It isn’t supposed to be because you earn points with God by going to church. But in the services of God’s house Jesus preaches good news to the poor. In the services of God’s house He gathers sinners to Himself and proclaims to them the forgiveness of their sins. It is that preaching of Jesus that sustains our faith that we are righteous before God in the ongoing struggle we have with sin as long as we are alive. Without Jesus’ word we are left alone in our sins like a lost sheep or a lost coin that cannot find its way back.
Today as you say goodbye to the man who was your husband, father, grandfather, friend, you are not alone. Jesus is with you. He is not with you with false promises and hopes like the world gives—the false hope that there are no sinners and God will give everyone eternal life as long as they are a somewhat decent person. Jesus is with you with the hope and promise that God gives. His promise is that God is seeking His lost sheep and that He and the angels rejoice in heaven whenever one sinner repents. His promise is that He carries lost sinners on His shoulders like a shepherd who finds his lost sheep. He gives the true hope and promise to all who are troubled by sin and death that He has died and made atonement for all your sins and rescued you from the power of hell.
Though this is a day of grief, may God grant that there be rejoicing in heaven today over sinners who repent and believe the good news of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. On this day when we mourn over the power of death, may the stronger power of eternal life manifest itself as lost sheep find rest on the shoulders of Jesus Christ. May God comfort you in your grief with the good news that He has sought you out and rescued you in the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Soli Deo Gloria