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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think there are two kinds of people, and those who don’t. But there really are two kinds of people in the Gospel of Luke. They’re described in the first two verses of Luke 15. All the tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and scribes were grumbling. Grumbling that Jesus received and welcomed such people, and even ate with them. Two kinds of people, two different reactions to Jesus. And Jesus makes the distinction even more stark in chapter 18, when He tells another story, about a Pharisee and a tax collector who go into the temple to pray. The Pharisee is bold to come before God: I thank you, God, that I am not like other men. Not like those sinners over there, or these sinners over here, or even like this tax collector. Instead, I do this, and I do that. Aren’t I great and pleasing to you, God? And the tax collector stands over in the shadows and refuses to lift his eyes to heaven, and beats his breast, saying, Have mercy on me, a sinner. Two kinds of people, two different reactions.
So which kind of person do you want to be? Obviously, no one wants to be labeled a “Pharisee.” But if you have the choice between being righteous and being a sinner, who’s going to choose sinner? But we see what happens when humans stop being sinners. The Pharisees and the scribes have removed themselves from the category of “sinner.” Sinners are over there, them, other people. But when they stop being sinners, they start grumbling at the Jesus who receives and eats with sinners. Because Jesus is very clear on which kind of people He came to receive and welcome. He says, I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners into repentance. The healthy don’t need a doctor, don’t need medicine, don’t need live-saving interventions. But the sick do. The dying do. Those who need healing in both body and soul need a physician of body and soul. To the extent you stop being a sinner, just to that extent do you stop needing Jesus. You might still be a part of a religion, or a spiritual person, or even part of a Christian congregation. But if you stop being a sinner, you immediately start grumbling about the Jesus who keeps on chasing and seeking and gathering and eating with sinners.
The sort of Jesus who is like a shepherd who has lost one sheep out of 100. Or the sort of Jesus who is like a woman who has lost one coin out of ten. Or the sort of Jesus who is like a father who has lost one son out of two. In these three stories, we see a third response. Sinners draw near to hear Jesus, and Pharisees grumble at Jesus. But in these stories we see God’s response to sinners. We would be unlikely to leave 99 perfectly good sheep in danger in the desert, just to seek one lost sheep, which is probably dead already. But He goes seeking, searching, looking, until He finds the one lost sheep, puts it on His shoulders, and returns rejoicing, calling His friends and neighbors to rejoice with Him over His found sheep.
We might look a little while for a lost coin, and then give up, figuring we still have nine perfectly good coins. But He sweeps the entire house, lighting a lamp to look in all the dark corners, until He finds the single lost coin, calling friends and neighbors to rejoice with Him over His found coin. A party for a found coin? Seems a little excessive. And then there’s the third parable, the lost son. We would want to see a little evidence of reforming in the younger son before we gave him the keys to the cash drawer. But Jesus says, enough of that; bring the robe, and the sandals, and the ring, and sacrifice the fattened calf, and let’s have a party and celebrate, because My son was dead but is alive; he was lost, but he’s found.
Which kind of person will you be? The sinner who is found, who has a party thrown in celebration? Or the self-righteous who grumbles and stands outside with arms crossed, like the well-behaved, older son? Jesus came only for sinners, and not some glorified, feel-good, story-of-redemption sinners, either. He came for the sort of sinners who didn’t know they were lost, and, frankly, didn’t care, like wandering sheep or senseless coins or wasteful sons. He came, the Son of Man, among sinful men, and they didn’t welcome Him either. They crucified Him. The sheep have teeth and claws. They devour each other, and they put their Shepherd on the cross like a sacrificial lamb. Jesus came to seek and find wolves in sheep’s clothing. He wasn’t surprised by it. It was the whole point. And, in the greatest irony, the sheep’s killing of their Shepherd became their salvation party. The sinners are so sick, they can’t be cured. They have to be killed and raised from the dead. Thus does Jesus call them into repentance. A killing and a raising, all at the same time, every single day, until the sinner dies, and there’s nothing left but Jesus’ righteousness. Jesus will dwell only in sinners because then He will be their only righteousness. All He has is ours.
That’s why we never stop confessing that we are poor, miserable sinners. Because, if it’s true, then that means that Jesus is still for us, still seeking us, still finding us. And that means that the grumbling can stop and the party can go on. Not much rejoicing among the angels over the faux-righteous who have no need to repent. But how much rejoicing over every single, solitary sinner whom Jesus brings into repentance! How much rejoicing, this very day, because Jesus has brought each and every one of us to this place, kneeling before the Father.
But the Father doesn’t waste time making us grovel in the dirt at His feet. He lifts us up, and with a word of mercy brings us into the celebration. The party started when Jesus was raised, and it will go on into eternity, getting louder and better every time Jesus gathers another sinner to Himself. It’s only when we forget that we are sinners that we start to grumble. So, as someone said, cheer up Church! You’re worse off than you think! Your sin, which you inherited from Adam, and all the sins you have committed since, is very great. My sin is far greater than even I know. Our sin is very great, but we have an even greater Savior. Rejoice with Him, with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven! Sinners still draw near to hear Him, and He still calls them into repentance, and the party goes on.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 9/13/19