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Trinity 3 – Luke 15:1-10

by pastorjuhl ~ July 8th, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Sinners excel at the art of the backhanded compliment. A backhanded compliment is when you mean to insult someone, but the insult turns into a compliment. An example of a backhanded compliment is saying, “So and so is too smart for their own good.” What you mean to say is that someone is so intelligent that it is a hindrance for that person to be so smart. What some people might hear you say is that someone is intelligent and you admire the person for their intelligence.

The Pharisees and scribes are caught in a backhanded compliment in Luke chapter 15. They mean to insult Jesus because He receives sinners and eats with them. Jesus turns their insult into praise for those who are pious to believe that Jesus Christ receives sinners and eats with them. What angered the hearts of the Pharisees has forever delighted the hearts of God’s children. It has become the subject of a well-loved hymn, “Jesus Sinners Doth Receive”. If it were possible to summarize Christ’s heart, attitude, and position in spiritual matters, the backhanded compliment of the Pharisees and scribes is the perfect summary: JESUS RECEIVES SINNERS.

Those who insult Jesus are wrong about Him not being the Messiah, the Sent One from the heavenly Father. Jesus pitches His tent among us according to the flesh in order to redeem His Father’s children from sin and death. How could the Pharisees and scribes be so blind? They are experts in the Law of God, yet cannot, or will not, connect the dots in the Old Testament. They are unable to see Jesus as the fulfillment of all that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David told concerning the Savior of both Jew and Gentile. They are caught up in nitpicking. They focus on the external keeping of the Law that it is almost impossible for them to believe that merely keeping the external Law does not equal keeping the heart and soul of the Law. They cannot, or will not, love God and their neighbor.

What the Pharisees and scribes griped about then still happens today. Like our blessed Lord’s adversaries, you forget that Jesus receives sinners. When the worst of society comes to Divine Service to receive Christ’s gifts, perhaps you wonder whether they are truly worthy of the gifts. Their appearance is not just so. They say and do everything opposite of what a true Christian should say and do. They don’t have the right friends. They come from the wrong side of the tracks. They haven’t been members of our congregation as long as we have. Who do they think they are to come here?

Ask the same question of yourself. Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector that you’ll hear in a couple months. One is a boaster, the other is not. Both, however, are sinners. The difference that matters in the eyes of the Lord is believing whether or not you can do anything for your salvation. This is what drives Saint Peter’s words in the Epistle: Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

Humiliation is not something in which sinners excel. It takes an extra measure of courage to humble yourself under the mighty hand of God. Humiliation brings exaltation. Humiliation comes in the preaching of the Law, showing your sins and your lost condition. Those whom Jesus received and ate with heard this Word of humiliation. They came to Jesus as they were, not as He wanted them to be. They came to Jesus because they believed they could do nothing for themselves for their salvation. The Pharisees and scribes, and also you, when you say and do things that make yourself look as if you have no need for a Savior, are humiliated in their backhanded compliment of Christ.

Jesus hears their backhanded compliment and responds with three parables about a sheep, a coin, and a son being lost and found. The lost, or prodigal, son is one of Christ’s most beloved parables. What about the lost sheep and lost coin? There is much to love about these two word pictures too. A lost sheep could back its way into being found, but the chances of that happening are slim. A lost coin can do nothing to make itself found. It must sit there and wait for a discovery. A lost son comes to himself while living with swine and thinks he can make himself right with his father by profusely apologizing and begging his dad to treat him as a hired servant.

The common thread running through all the parables is the discovery of something lost and what happens when what once was lost is now found. The man finding the lost sheep lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!” The same thing happens when the woman in the parable finds her lost coin. The same thing happens when the father greets his lost son returning home. The lost son has his lines down pat. Dad won’t hear any of it. It’s time for a party. What was once dead is now alive. What was once lost is now found.

The three “lost and found” parables in Luke chapter 15 are the perfect defense of the backhanded compliment this Man receives sinners and eats with them. Of course He does! This Man is Jesus Christ, Friend of Sinners! What else is He supposed to do? He does not come according to the flesh in order to point us back to the Law of Moses. He doesn’t tell parables about making sure to wash your hands before eating or wash your cups and plates after supper. Jesus doesn’t wag His finger at lepers and sick people. Jesus doesn’t use Lazarus as an object lesson in what happens when you don’t follow the letter of the Law. Jesus receives sinners. Jesus eats with sinners. Jesus heals sinners. Jesus raises dead sinners. Jesus makes many people alive through His death and resurrection on behalf of sinners.

Jesus receives sinners. He finds sinners who are lost. He picks them up on His shoulders and carries them home. He says rejoice with Me, for I have found my [sinner] who was lost! He brings them to the feast of forgiveness and life, the Divine Service, the great foretaste of the eternal heavenly Feast. He feeds them with His Word. He washes them clean in baptismal water. He absolves their sins. He gives them His Body to eat and His Blood to drink under bread and wine in His Supper. He brings these words from the prophet Micah to their hearts and minds: Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, which You have sworn to our fathers from days of old.

Jesus sinners doth receive; Also I have been forgiven; And when I this earth must leave, I shall find an open heaven. Dying, still to Him I cleave: Jesus sinners doth receive (LSB 609:7). Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

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