Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 27:12 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus has come to seek and save the lost—to find the lost. Of course, there’s more than one way to be lost. You can be lost because you are in a situation or a location with which you are unfamiliar, and you do not know your out. You don’t know how to get to a familiar location, or to where you were going. You’re lost, and you need to be rescued. But you can also be lost if you’re not in the place you’re supposed to be. You may be comfortable and familiar where you are, but you are supposed to be somewhere else. You don’t even know that you’re lost, which is probably the worse position to be in, because then you are going to resist any attempt to find and save you.
You can be lost like the tax collectors and sinners, who are drawing near to hear Jesus, because He receives and eats with sinners. They are reminded all the time, both by themselves and others, that they are sinners in need of saving, lost ones in need of being found. Tax collectors were despised not just because they collected taxes, which no one really likes, but also because they had the authority to collect any amount over and above the tax. That’s how they got paid; that’s how at least some of them got rich: by collecting much more than they had to return. But more than that, they had that authority from Rome, which was occupying and oppressing Judea. Tax collectors were Jews collaborating with the Romans, doubly hated. And elsewhere in the Gospels, we’ve seen how sinners are treated, to be stoned to death or beaten or excluded.
But you can also be lost like the Pharisees and scribes, who grumble against Jesus precisely because He welcomes and eats with sinners. This has been going on since at least chapter 5 of Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus was invited to supper and there were tax collectors there. Pharisees and scribes are in the right place. They’re comfortable and familiar with the word and law of God. But the fact that they reject the words of Jesus shows that they are not in the right place. They do not know that they are lost and blind.
Jesus has come to find and save both of these; one group seems to know it; one group does not. Jesus says that the healthy do not need a doctor, but the sick. You may have routine check-ups, but unless you feel that something is not right, you don’t feel a necessity to visit the doctor. When you’re sick, you know you need to be healed. But if you don’t think you’re sick, you don’t think you need to be healed. That’s the way it is with some kinds of mental illness. It’s not I who am sick, it’s everyone around me. And those people find it easy to fit everything into the narratives they have constructed in their minds. Even contradictory information finds its way into the story they tell themselves. How difficult to help those who do not think they need help! Sin, in this sense, is a sort of mental illness: we tell ourselves that we do not need help, or healing, or rescue, or finding. We actually revel in our lostness, thinking we are found. We revel in our sin, thinking we are righteous.
Jesus has come to call sinners to repentance, not the righteous. That is, those who know they are sinners know they need to be saved and healed. Those who are sinners but think themselves righteous will not receive the salvation and healing. But to both of them—to the tax collectors and sinners, and to the Pharisees and scribes—Jesus tells these three parables. There are actually three, although we only have two of them here. The third parable we often call the “prodigal son,” but it should be probably be called the “lost son,” because that’s what is going on in all of these parables: something or someone is lost, and Someone is finding.
In the first parable, it’s a sheep. A shepherd has 100 sheep, and one is lost. Then it is a coin. A woman has ten coins, and one is lost. Then it is a son. A father has two sons, and one is lost. In the first, the shepherd leaves 99 sheep in the safety of the wilderness, and goes and looks for one sheep. He finds it and puts it on His shoulders and returns rejoicing. He calls His friends and neighbors and says, Rejoice with Me! I have found My sheep that was lost! In the second, the woman sweeps and cleans her entire house in order to find one coin. She finds it and calls her friends and neighbors, and says, Rejoice with me! I have found my coin that was lost!
In the third, the younger son has asked for his share of his father’s inheritance, which means he is essentially asking for the father to be dead, because that’s when the will is in force. And in the first of a series of questionable decisions, the father gives the son the inheritance. And the son goes off and wastes it all. He is sitting in a pig pen, wanting to eat what the pigs are eating, and he says to himself, I am perishing here in hunger. But the word for “perishing” is the same word as getting lost. I am lost here! He knows he is lost and he draws near to his father’s house again. He is going to tell his father that he’s sinned against heaven and against the father—against God and against people—and he is no longer worthy to be called a son of his father. He’s going to say, make me like one of your hired servants. At least then I would have food and shelter.
But the father is looking, searching, seeking. And when the son is coming up the road, all he gets out of his mouth is that he has sinned and he is not worthy to be called his son. The father has run to him; he embraces him, kisses him, and tells the servants to bring the robe, bring the sandals, bring the ring. Kill the fatted calf, because we’re going to have a party. My son was lost, but now he’s found. Lost sheep, lost coin, lost son, all found. An invitation to rejoice, and a party to celebrate. But in the third parable, there is something else. We know the younger son has been lost, but the father seeks and finds the older son, too. He has been outside, and the father invites him to come in to the party also. But he refuses; he is angry at his father, grumbling against him. Why would you receive this son, this sinner? Why would you have a party and eat and drink with him? Because he was lost, and is now found. He was dead and is now alive. Are you coming in to the party or are you just going to stay outside and pout?
It is easy to get lost. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love. We can get lost in our sins, in our greed, in our lust, in our pursuit of ourselves and our own selfish desires over anything and everything else. Or we can get lost in our own self-righteousness and self-justification, thinking we are in the right place and putting ourselves over those whom we do not think are good enough or right enough. We forget that every single one of us has been, and has to be, found by Jesus, or else we would have been lost forever. Like sheep that wander, coins that fall down and get lost, sons that waste the gifts of the father, we are all in need of repentance, which means that we are all in need of being found. In all three parables, the lost one is found, and there is a party, and there is rejoicing. And that means, Jesus says, that there is more joy among the angels in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 self-righteous who do not see any need for repentance, at least not like those lost ones. Thank God we’re not like those sinners!
Repentance is being found: it is being found by God’s word when we are lost in our sin, and the fear that comes when we realize what we’ve done and how far we’ve drifted. How far we’ve drifted from the righteousness of Christ, how far we’ve drifted from the God who loves us, how far we’ve drifted from His word and from prayer. How far down our own path we’ve gone, away from Jesus. But that’s only half of it. The other half is being found by God’s word of welcome, reception, and rejoicing. We have drawn near this morning to hear Jesus, because He receives and eats with sinners. He found you, washed you, cleansed you, gathered you to Himself. He put you on His outstretched arms, pinned to the cross by nails, and He brings you home in resurrection joy.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love. But now and always, Jesus sinners doth receive. He found you: I forgive you, My dear child. Of course, you’re not worthy to be called My child! That’s the whole point. I’ve come to call sinners like you! And the servants of God will wrap you up in the forgiveness of Jesus, sealing you with the Holy Spirit of God, marking you with the cross. Here, look, the sacrifice has been offered; the Lamb who was slain is alive forever. Come and eat! Come and drink! It is for you. Sinners, Pharisees, scribes: all you lost ones, come in to your Father’s house. The feast has begun.
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, 9/10/22