Trinity Sunday May 20, 1999

INI

God’s Search and Rescue Mission

Luke 15:1-10

Hymns

224, 27, 277, 244

Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake this parable unto them, saying, What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. Here ends our text.

In Christ Jesus, Who came to seek and to save that which is lost, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

Not long ago I watched a gripping television drama in which a nuclear submarine was accidentally disabled and sank in the middle of the pacific. What made the movie so suspenseful was that the crew of the sub were helpless on the bottom, with only a limited supply of air. So it was up to a special, underwater search and rescue team to get them out of there in time. In the end they did it, of course—using a high-tech submersible rescue vehicle.

As it happens, that kind of specialized search and rescue team actually exists, as part of the U.S. Navy. And certainly, their job is a vitally important one. But there’s an even more important job to be done in this world, and that’s rescuing lost sinners, not from temporal death, but from the death that lasts forever. That’s what the two parables in our text for today deal with, and that’s what we’ll look at when we consider the theme—

GOD’S SEARCH AND RESCUE MISSION

  1. Jesus looks hard for lost sinners.
  2. II. When one is brought back, it’s a celebration!

In our text, Jesus meets up with the Pharisees and the scribes. These spiritual leaders of Israel were, for the most part, pompous hypocrites. They wore big long beards and fancy clothes. They liked to strut around a lot, and show off how righteous they were. Whenever someone had committed a crime, or failed to live up to their standards of “righteousness,” the Pharisees wrote him off as far as religion was concerned. Thieves, prostitutes, lepers, tax-collectors, cripples; the Pharisees lumped all these people together under the simple name “sinners,” and ignored them as unworthy of their attention. Jesus, on the other hand, welcomed these people. Not surprisingly, society’s outcasts flocked to Jesus to listen to His words. It’s easy to guess how the Pharisees would react to this—And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. In case you weren’t aware, the Pharisees did a lot of grumbling. They were hypocrites, stubborn and stiff-necked, and Jesus once again resorts to His simple method of teaching in parables to try to get through to them. He tells two simple stories; one about a lost sheep, and the other about a lost coin.

Jesus tells these stories to illustrate this fact: that just because someone falls away form faith, and even sometimes falls into serious sin, that’s no reason to write that person off. In fact, Jesus shows that that person is even more important to God than those believers who never fall away.

About now you may be thinking to yourself, “Pharisees, parables—this is all two thousand years ago! What’s it got to do with us, today?” Plenty, if you think about it. I know quite a few people—and I’d guess you can think of some, too—who were once sheep in the fold of Christ, and have somehow become lost. For instance, children, who are brought up to know Jesus, are confirmed, and soon after seem to lose interest in God’s Word. Young people who go away to college Christians, and come back unbelievers. Fringe members of the congregation who come less and less-often to church, until finally they’re no longer heard from. These are today’s straying sheep—our own lost coins—and we’re making a big mistake if we pay any less attention to them than Jesus does. Because the fact is, Jesus looks hard for lost sinners.

Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd; the Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” Jesus was destined to give His life, on the cross, to save sinful mankind. It’s only natural, then, that He should be concerned about a straying sheep, one of His believers who has fallen. So He spoke this parable to them, saying: What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? …Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?

Anyone who’s ever lived on a farm knows what happens when the cows get out. You drop everything and get after them. And you don’t quit until every last one of them is rounded up and safely back inside the pasture. In the same way, every straying believer is precious to Jesus. He searches high and low for them. He’s never too busy to look for a Christian who’s become lost in sin and unbelief. Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus considered no one too low, too dirty, too sinful to hear His word of forgiveness. During His ministry, Jesus gladly welcomed “sinners;” the despised tax-collectors, the lepers, the outcasts, even the thief on the cross. Jesus was speaking through the prophet Ezekiel when He said, “Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down,” says the Lord GOD. “I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick.—Ezek 34:11-12, 15-16.

And the lost coin? It was a silver drachma, and quite valuable. Women of that day often wore them in a string of ten, as a way to show that they were married, so it’s understandable how upset someone could be if one of the ten were lost. Have you ever seen a woman who’s just lost her wedding ring? Usually she’ll turn the house upside-down trying to find it. In the same way, Jesus leaves no stone unturned in His efforts to recover a straying sinner. He sweeps the house clean, until He finds the one that was lost.

And what happens when the lost and straying sinner is found? There is a heavenly celebration!

Well, it’s hard to imagine a celebration in heaven, but according to the Bible it happens! For example, Scripture tells us there was joy in heaven at the birth of Jesus; there’s joy in heaven when the righteous triumph, or when one of God’s believers is gathered to his heavenly home. But especially, our text tells us that there’s a heavenly celebration when a straying sinner returns to Christ. When the man in the parable finds his lost sheep, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance. When the woman finds her lost coin, …she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. When God’s search and rescue mission is a success, and a lost sinner is brought back to Christ, it’s a celebration!

You can be part of the rescue team, and you can join in the celebration. But you can’t do anything for anyone else until you realize what Christ has done for you. When you know the misery of sin from which Christ has lifted you, then you can tell others of the glory of His forgiveness. It’s the help you have received from Jesus that enables you to help others. In Psalm 51 we hear king David pray, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.—Ps 51:12-13 NIV.

Today is Trinity Sunday. A few moments ago we confessed our common faith in the true Triune God, as we spoke the words of the Athanasian Creed. God has worked that saving faith in your heart through the power of the Holy Spirit. With that God-given trust in Him as your creator, redeemer and sanctifier, you are saved. There is nothing and no one who can keep you out of heaven! What are you going to do with that knowledge? Keep it to yourself? Sit on it, and do everything you can to conceal your Christian faith? God forbid. In fact, for a true Christian that’s not possible. Like the Jerusalem disciples, we are forced to say, We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. —Acts 4:20. For the followers of Christ, mission work is not optional.

But let us also be aware of our own lost sheep, our own misplaced coins. In an age when everyone is saying, “Mission work! Evangelize! Bring in new members!” let’s not forget our old members—those who were once with us, and somehow got lost. Let’s not forget the straying Christian, the confused young person, the “drift-away” on the fringe of the church membership list. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, doesn’t forget them, and neither should we. Think about that. The next time there’s something you can do to help bring a straying Christian back to the truth, remember these words of Jesus, This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.—Jn 15:12. AMEN.

—Pastor Paul Naumann

Sermon Preached June 7, 1998
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA


Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.