“Rejoicing in Repentance”
Luke 15:1-10 (6/21/15)
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Luke 15:10: [Jesus said] “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… How in the world can the words “rejoicing” and “repent” appear in the same sentence? To some it may seem as if these two terms are mutually exclusive, with “rejoicing” on one side of the spectrum and “repent” on the other. Well, since our Lord Jesus has put the words “rejoicing” and “repent” in the same sentence, there must be something to this; and obviously, there is. For as Jesus says, “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
This section of Luke’s Gospel represents only a portion of chapter 15. If you read the whole chapter, you will see that the thread – the constant theme – running through chapter 15 is “the lost being found,” the most familiar description being the parable of the prodigal son later on in this chapter.
Our immediate section begins with Jesus once again at the center of attention. The Pharisees seem always to be where Jesus is, but just enough off to the side where they can watch Him and complain about Him for selfish reasons. This time their objection was that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” How horrible! And of course, the thinking behind the complaint was that if Jesus was such a holy man as He claimed to be, why would He risk making Himself unholy or “ceremonially unclean” by being in the presence of “unclean” people?
Therefore, as Jesus always does, He addresses the very heart of the matter. In this case, Jesus gives an explanation as to why He is with these “sinners” and what the outcome is intended to be. And He does so by telling two parables that end the same way.
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.”
The second parable is similar. “Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.”
Notice, as I said, that both parables end virtually the same way: “There is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents.” So the “lost sheep” and the “lost coin” are another way of saying lost people! And that helps us to understand our Lord’s response to the objection, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
The first parable deals with a lost sheep who has wandered away from the fold; it has become disconnected from the flock and has gone its own way. Therefore, the lost sheep refers also to one who has become disconnected from the flock of God in the church. Just as any self-respecting livestock owner would search high and low for one stray animal, so also the church is concerned when one or more sheep wander away from the Divine Service, therefore cutting themselves off from God’s Word and Sacraments.
The second parable deals with a lost coin which has been misplaced or lost; but we also note that it was lost within the confines of the house. It is still there, but not with the rest of the coins. Therefore the lost coin refers also to one who may be in and among the flock of God but may not even realize it is lost.
And the “bottom line,” if you will, for both parables is that when the lost is found, there is rejoicing. Both parables end with the phrase “rejoicing over one sinner who repents.”
Repentance: that is what brings rejoicing in heaven. You want to make God and the whole heavenly host happy? Repent. Repentance is a change of mind brought about by the truth of God’s Word as it is applied to our lives. Repentance is a new way of thinking about oneself, a way that reflects how God thinks about us and about our sin. Repentance is simply but profoundly acknowledging that God is right – that we are sinners, damned and condemned by God; that we are liars, and as such we deserve God’s eternal wrath and displeasure. A lost sheep, therefore, is one who does not believe it is a sinner in need of repentance and forgiveness.
Sheep wander off when they lose sight of their shepherd; and they lose sight of their shepherd when they begin to think that sin is no big deal. Church-goers wander off when they allow themselves to have their eyes drawn away from the law of God and the Gospel of God and, in essence, go searching after their own gods. These are the sheep who have either known what faith and salvation is and now have something better to do, or they may never have known what faith and salvation is in the first place.
What about the “lost coins”? Are you one who is here week after week and may be wondering how or why your life doesn’t seem to be going very well? Can’t seem to find your way back among the other coins?
Sin causes mankind to wander off. Sin causes mankind to be “alone” even within a crowd. Sometimes our own stubbornness insists that “we are right” when we know or have heard time and time again that God thinks differently about what we do.
Dear friends, your sins will always come between you and God, and they will cause you to wander away from Him. And when in your own sinfulness you seek to justify yourself and say, in effect, “I know what I’m doing, I can handle this all by myself, I’m not all that far from the fold,” you deceive yourself and the truth is not in you, and the Lord’s anger burns against you. When your contentment with breaking the First Commandment and making your own gods has you believing that your future really is in your own hands and that you answer only to yourselves, you deceive yourself and the truth is not in you.
“There is rejoicing over one sinner who repents.” Repentance is needed every day of our lives. And when we understand again that God is not happy with our behavior, our attitudes, our work habits, our language, our treatment of marriage, our treatment of our children, our neglect of His Word, our treatment of others in the church, and the countless other ways we play God, we are reduced to nothing other than speaking of ourselves as God does.
All people are sinners, it is true. We are beggars, it is true. We have sinned, it is true. We do not deserve God’s mercy; we deserve only His hot anger and full wrath.
But God has had mercy upon us sinners, and He has dealt with us according to His unfailing love; He has blotted out our iniquities. For the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, God has had mercy upon us. Therefore let us repent and agree with God – that we are wrong and He alone is right – and let us receive the Lord’s mercy
And through the mouth of the Lord’s servant, your pastor, speaking from Christ Himself, speaking for Christ and by His command, the sinner hears, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This, of course, happens in the general confession and absolution we have spoken and heard today. But it also happens when an individual comes to the pastor, confesses his or her sins privately, and receives the individual absolution for Christ’s sake.
Christ’s forgiveness also comes to you in your Baptism, where God has placed His own Trinitarian name upon you, washed away your sins, and saved you. Christ’s forgiveness also comes to you right here in His Sacrament of the Altar where He places His own body and blood into your sinful body, thereby delivering to you once again the forgiveness He bought and paid for on the cross. In these things we truly rejoice!
Rejoicing! Repentance! Yes, they DO belong in the same sentence! For it is the very work of God to bring a person to repentance and to cry out for the absolution, the proclaimed and delivered forgiveness of sins. It is repentance, that wonderful work of God, which unlocks the door to heaven and sets the prisoner free. It is repentance, that marvelous work of God, which brings the absolution, the pronouncement of sins forgiven by Christ’s work of suffering, death, and resurrection.
And it is repentance, that astounding work of God, which releases true rejoicing in heaven. For the lost sheep has been found by God; the lost coin has been discovered by God. The sinful life has been exposed by God; the sinner has acknowledged his sin before God. And the chains of death and hell are broken!
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.