Trinity 3 Sermon, 2017
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
The parables of Luke chapter fifteen are some of the most memorable. The one-hundred lost sheep, the ten lost coins, and the two lost sons. The first two parables are part of today’s Gospel lesson, but Jesus tells these three parables for the same, very specific, reason:
“The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them’” (Lk. 15:1-2).
“So…” and it’s as if Jesus says, “So…in direct response to your grumbling about the Son of God receiving sinners…” “So, he told them this parable” (Lk. 15:2-3).
The Pharisees and scribes didn’t think much of tax collectors. Fifteen times in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) “tax collectors” is used to designate a group of sinners.
The tax collectors of Jesus’ day made their living by adding a commission on top of the taxes collected.
Surprise, surprise, some tax collectors enriched themselves by purposefully collecting too much, and, surprise surprise, everyone hated tax collectors.
They were, in the eyes of most, sinners.
We know from our frequent and faithful reading of the Bible and the Small Catechism, that we are all sinners.
And, we know from our conscience, our inner monologue, that there are worse sinners than us.
That’s what we say, anyway. That’s what we’ve convinced ourselves of.
We think it all the time, “I’m glad I’m not that guy. I’m glad my family’s not like that family. I’m sure glad I don’t have to sit next to them at church.”
There are two questions that we should consider in light of the grumbling of the Pharisees and scribes.
Who are the sinners you hate most?
And do you invite them to supper? Do you “receive sinners and eat with them?”
Of course, we can make list after list of people we don’t like, who’ve wronged us, who’ve earned our ire.
But how do you treat them?
The point is, whether we want to admit it or not, we’re offended, just like the Pharisees, at the hyper-abundant grace of God.
We know the sins other people commit, especially the sins committed against us.
But the list we make of our own sins is often superficial.
Did you know, one of the most often asked questions during a job interview is “What are some of your faults?”
And, did you know, one of the most damning answers, one of the most common answers, is: “I’m too much of a perfectionist”?
We can recall, with what we think is near perfect clarity, the sins committed against us.
We hold grudges old enough to vote, but when asked to list our own sins, the worst we’ve got is, “I try too hard to be too good.”
Consider the Commandments.
You may not have actually murdered someone, but have you refused help to someone you didn’t like? Are you stubborn? Are you ever an angry person?
You may not actually steal your neighbor’s possessions, but have you ever gotten anything in a dishonest way?
And stealing is not just taking. Do you also help your neighbor improve and protect his property and income?
Or do you tell lies? Do you betray or slander your neighbor or hurt his reputation? Do you defend him? Do you speak well of him? Do you explain everything in the kindest way? Do you assume you know the truth? Or do you just begin by saying, “Maybe I’m wrong, but…”
“Maybe I’m wrong, but…” is often what gossipers say when they think you’re wrong and they’re right and they want to set the record straight.
If God acted like a Pharisee or a scribe or you, there would be no Church and no salvation.
But Jesus tells these parables, because He wants to fill your heart with the Gospel: Unlike the Pharisees, and so often unlike us, Jesus receives sinners and eats with them.
For the sake of clear understanding, perhaps we should say it this way: Jesus receives only sinners.
Tax collectors and sinners drew near to Jesus, because Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (cf. Lk. 19:10), to save His people from their sins (cf. Mt. 1:21).
We sang this Gospel truth earlier: “[Father] Your Son has suffered for me, Given Himself to rescue me, Died to save me and restore me, Reconciled and set me free. Jesus’ cross alone [does] vanquish These dark fears and [soothes our] anguish” (LSB, 608.3).
Jesus receives sinners and eats with them so He can care for them. He searches, finds, feeds, and saves them.
To do so means His own bitter suffering and death.
To save us means stupendous combat between our Christ and the serpent, between our God and the devil.
But this is the love of God: He lives, He fights, and He dies for sinners.
And that was God’s plan all along.
The only-begotten-son-of-God’s death, our Lord and Christ’s death, was prepared before the foundation of the world (cf. Rev. 13:8, KJV).
From the snares of hell, He delivers sinners.
From the wolves of the devil, He delivers us.
That’s the first parable Jesus tells: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he’s lost one of them, doesn’t leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that’s lost, until he finds it?” (Lk. 15:4).
A good shepherd doesn’t act that way. A good shepherd would never leave the ninety-nine sheep for the one.
But Jesus’ parable has nothing to do with how a good shepherd acts, how we act. Rather, in His parables, Jesus shows us how God acts, how the Good Shepherd acts.
Christ our Lord is the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine in search of the one. Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Lk. 5:31-32).
This is our comfort: Jesus receives only sinners.
Christ searches for the sinful, tax-collecting sheep out of concern for what’s true when a “lost” sheep dies.
When a “found” sheep dies, it departs and is with the Lord. Thanks be to God! That’s why Jesus would leave the ninety-nine in the open country.
He searches for the sinful, angry, tax-collecting, grudge-holding, wandering sheep, because He knows that hell and everlasting torment waits for every sheep who refuses to repent and amend their lives.
Jesus tells this parable because He wants to fill our hearts with the Gospel: God seeks out and receives undeserving sinners and freely forgives all their sins for Christ’s sake.
Christ our Lord, the Good Shepherd, carried the full burden of all sin when He stretched His arms upon the cross and died.
He carried this burden, and we fought and fight against Him as a sheep fights against the shepherd who carries it.
Which is why Jesus also says: “And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 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.’ …There [is] more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk. 15:5-7).
You must hear and agree that you’re a sheep that strays from the Lord.
We call that sin.
You must know that you’re a poor, miserable, helpless, and undeserving sinner.
But you make that confession, not to conclude that you’re worthless or of no importance to God. Not that.
You confess your sins so you can confidently conclude that you’re precious to God in spite of them.
God loves you.
Knowing the very worst there is to know about you, God loves you still. He seeks you out.
God shows you your sins only so you know more and more how great His love and mercy is.
You were once dead in your trespasses and sins, and, seeking you to save you, God has taken a dead thing and made it alive.
He has changed you from the inside out.
And since He knows that you’re weak and sinful, even as a Christian, He doesn’t leave you on your own. He daily forgives you all your sins for Jesus’ sake.
That’s the second parable Jesus teaches, the parable of the coins.
The silver coins are valuable even when lost, because they were made in the image and likeness of God.
That’s how God sees you.
Lost money, to the world, is useless. Only found money is useful to the world.
But you are valuable to God even when you’re a sinner.
He always desires your salvation.
He works to accomplish it.
God created all things. He sustains all things.
He knit you together in your mother’s womb (cf. Psalm 139:13).
He cared about you then, and He cares about you now.
The work of the Church, then, is to preach and teach the Law and Gospel so that all God’s coins trust and know and believe and confess our own weakness and, in the midst of that, God’s own strength.
You cannot bear the burden of sin, but it’s not your burden to bear!
Rejoice, instead, with the angels in heaven!
God forgives sinners.
Jesus receives sinners and eats with them.
Jesus receives only sinners.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!