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Trinity 3, 2010: “Seeking and Saving the Lost”

by Rev. Dr. Benjamin T. G. Mayes ~ July 7th, 2010

Third Sunday after Trinity
June 20, 2010 A+D
Rev. Dr. Benjamin T. G. Mayes
Zion Lutheran Church, Carpenter, Ill.
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worden, Ill.

+Jesu juva!+

Luke 15:1–10
Seeking and Saving the Lost

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Dearly Beloved:

Getting presents on your birthday is usually great, but sometimes you get presents you didn’t really want in the first place. Do you know what’s even better? When you find some of your best things after they’ve been missing for a while. I love books, and while I was in seminary, I had to pack up nearly all of my books and put them in storage for a year. Finally the day arrived. It was time to get the books back out of storage and open up the boxes. It was like my birthday, but better, since they were all books that I knew and loved, but hadn’t seen in a year. In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks about the great joy of finding lost sinners. In today’s sermon there are three words you should remember. They are: “offense,” “lost,” and “repentance.”

The first word to remember is “offense.” The Pharisees are always finding something to criticize in our Lord Jesus. The Gospel says, “the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, This man receives sinners and eats with them.” The Pharisees were some of the religious leaders. Among the Jewish leaders, they were actually the best. They believed the entire Bible (Old Testament, that is). They weren’t like the unbelieving Saducees, who didn’t believe in angels, or even in the resurrection of the dead. So these Pharisees were relatively good guys. They were Bible-believing Jews. They were the conservatives, not the liberals. But, they were taking offense at what Jesus was doing. How dare Jesus receive these tax collectors and sinners! In their minds, by associating with them, Jesus was condoning their sin. He was talking to them, even eating with them. In the minds of these Pharisees, that could only mean that Jesus was approving of their sins.

Now what can we learn from this? The Pharisees grumble and take offense at the holy works of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ. What can we learn? This is where we can learn about the doctrine of “offense.” These Pharisees were offended by Jesus. They were offended by what Jesus was doing—receiving sinners and eating with them. What does “offense” mean? What does it mean to be offended? Nowadays, it means nothing other than, “I don’t like what you’re doing.” It’s all personal, it’s all subjective, it’s all opinion. But that is totally different than what the Bible is talking about. That is a Pharisaical way of being offended. It means nothing more than “I don’t like what you’re doing.” But the Bible has a different way of speaking. When our Lord Jesus speaks of “giving offense,” he means “causing someone to sin by our words or example.” For example, in another part of the Gospel (Matt. 18:6) Jesus says, “whoever offends one of these little ones who believe in Me, it would be better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” That doesn’t mean, “whoever causes a little child to be upset and not to like what you’re doing”! We offend our children in that way all the time, and we have to. We have to tell them “no,” sometimes. It’s for their own good, even if they’re offended and they don’t like it. What Jesus means is, “Whoever causes a little one to sin.” This is why Christian preachers like myself and your pastor preach the Law, even if people don’t like it. We are not the ones causing offense, because we are not leading you into sin. Just the opposite. When we tell you to stop sinning and to repent, God is leading you out of sin. So learn the difference between giving offense and taking offense. Giving offense is when someone causes others to sin by his words or example, even if the whole world approves of it and likes it. But taking offense is when someone doesn’t like what I say or do, even if what I’m preaching is the pure Word of God. The Pharisees are taking offense, but Jesus is not giving any offense.

So many times, people take offense at the sermon when the preacher has done nothing but to preach God’s Word. And on the other hand, so many times preachers are afraid to preach against certain sins for fear that people will leave the congregation. Luther once said, “If you want to know which dog has been struck, it is the one who cries out. Therefore, you are accusing yourself, if you grumble, and are defaming yourself. As Cicero says, when vices are rebuked in general terms, whoever becomes angry at it shows himself to be guilty. Whoever cannot bear it when unbelief is rebuked along with the fruits of unbelief, he is most certainly the dog who has been struck.” It reminds me of a time years ago when I was talking with a Roman Catholic woman. I was really trying to be respectful and kind as I spoke. I mentioned that there is not a single place in the entire Bible that says the pope is infallible. My oh my! did she take offense, even though what I said was the Gospel truth. I was saying it out of concern and care for her, but she took offense. So friends, let us all learn from this not to be like those Pharisees. Let us not grumble against Jesus and His Word. He knows what He’s doing. He knows what is best for our eternal health and happiness. He corrects all of us—pastors and people—by means of His holy Law. Let us humbly receive His Word, take it to heart, and say, “Amen, Lord. What you say is true and right, even if the whole world takes offense at it.” Remember that word: “offense.”

The second word is “lost.” It’s obvious that the Pharisees did not understand why Jesus was receiving sinners and eating with them. They may have thought that He was accepting their sins, but in reality Jesus was seeking their salvation. They were lost, and He was seeking them. So Jesus told them two parables, one about a lost sheep and another about a lost coin. He said: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” And later Jesus says: “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?” Unrepentant sinners are lost. That word for “lost” in the Greek New Testament doesn’t only mean, “I’m confused, I lost my map, and I can’t find my way back home.” It also means “destroyed, or ruined.” Think about this lost sheep. A lost sheep in the wilderness will soon be eaten by a wolf or a coyote. Then he’ll be destroyed and ruined. In the same way, a lost silver coin in the basement will eventually tarnish, decay, and be ruined. When the Bible says “lost,” it really means “lost and about to be destroyed.” So the opposite of “lost” is not just “found,” but also “saved.” That’s why Jesus said, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Dearly beloved friends, you have come to church today and are hearing the words of Jesus, your shepherd, the one who died for you, the one who seeks and saves you. You are in the right place. This is your home. This is where Jesus brings you after He finds you, so that He can heal and save you. But be careful! Take this seriously! Don’t stay away from the preaching and sacraments of Jesus. Come regularly, every Sunday, to hear the voice of your shepherd. And show some concern for your friends and family members. Do you know some people who are spiritually lost, and are about to be destroyed? Dearly beloved friends, find some way to talk with them about the most important things in life, that is, talk with them about belonging to God, what sin is, hearing God’s Word, being found by Him. The only way they will be found is if they hear the Word of God. And if they won’t come here to the Church to hear it, then you will have to bring it to them. No one else will do it. Remember this word: “lost.”

The final word is “repentance.” This text says a lot about repentance. Jesus says, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” And later He says, “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Unrepentant sinners are the lost. Jesus is the one seeking them, and He seeks them by calling out to them with His Word. And when sinners repent of their sins and believe in Christ, they have been found. That’s what this entire Gospel reading is about. Jesus tells these stories about finding a lost sheep and finding a lost coin, and He ends them by talking about “one sinner who repents.” That is to say (and this is very important), Jesus only finds and saves repentant sinners. Repentance is necessary.

Now what does “repentance” mean? Does it mean, “Saying you’re sorry” after you have offended someone or done him wrong? Yes. Does it mean really being sorry in your heart, so that you sincerely intend to stop doing him wrong? Yes. But in the Bible, there’s more to it than just being sorry. The Augsburg Confession, our most important statement of faith after the creeds, says it like this (AC, Latin, XII 3–6): “Now, repentance properly consists of these two parts: One part is contrition, or terrors that have stricken the conscience by means of recognized sin. The other part is faith, which is conceived of the Gospel, or the Absolution; and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven; and comforts the conscience; and frees it from terrors. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits of repentance.” When we say “repentance,” in modern English, we only think about the first part—being truly sorry for our sins. Our modern English word “repentance” doesn’t include faith, but it really should. Repentance also means that God speaks to you softly, consoles you when your conscience is accusing you, puts peace in the heart. He does this because of His Son, Jesus Christ, who died for you on the cross to create peace for you with God. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, repentance for you is not just being sorry, it is also receiving God’s mercy through faith. This, too, is part of repentance.

Maybe that’s why we need to think of sin a little differently. Think of it like this. Sin is like spitting at your dad and running away from home. Then, repentance is a total change of mind—changing from disrespect to dismay at what you’ve done, but also coming home and letting dad embrace you, love you, rejoice over you, care for you. We often think of the first part (contrition, terrors), but we forget the second part (faith, consolation, restoration). That’s why we need these parables that Jesus tells, to give us the second part of what repentance is: faith in Christ, who died for your sins.

Dearly beloved, stop running away from God. Stop hiding from Jesus. Hear what I’m preaching to you. Don’t let this go in one ear and out the other. Come to Jesus by listening to His Word and applying it. Jesus is a good shepherd who seeks you, and He is like a woman seeking her lost coin. God is the sort of Father who loves it when His wayward, prodigal children change their minds and come back to Him. He is actively calling you, inviting you back. And so here in the church we celebrate the holy Sacrament of the Altar and rejoice with the angels over one sinner who repents. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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