Vol. X — No. 22 June 1, 1969
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.
In Christ Jesus, who continues to seek the lost, Fellow Redeemed:
It is an astounding thing to see the lengths to which the God of our salvation will go to find lost souls and rescue them from sin and death. Mot that it is strange or unusual, for Jesus argues in our text that any sensible and sensitive man will do the same thing for a person or creature in trouble: “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness (that is, in the pasture where they are grazing), and go after that which is lost until he find it?”
Yet it did shock and offend the Pharisees and scribes to see the way Jesus was showing an interest in those whom the respectable in Israel had written off with contempt and scorn. That they were upset did give Jesus an opportunity to explain why He sought these lost souls so earnestly.
Jesus had done so much of this seeking and saving the lost that it had become a very common thing for the publicans and sinners to “draw near unto Him.” He was being successful in winning lost souls. He had earned the reputation of being helpful to people with problems, people who knew that they had broken with the established life of respectability that was expected in Israel, the Chosen People of God. These publicans were not even respectable people: it was commonly and openly known that they cheated people and extracted taxes above what the Romans called for, and put the balance in their own pockets. They were not allowed in the temple, their offerings were rejected, and socially they were outcasts. Their business practices branded them as bad. They were linked with public harlots and other riff-raff as despised by all respectable people in the eyes of those who controlled public opinion. Yet those people were listening to Jesus—Mary Magdalene, whose name = fallen woman, be came a believer; a woman of the city spent her costly perfumes in anointing Jesus’ feet in the house of a Pharisee; a murderer was to confess his faith on the cross; and Matthew, the hated tax-collector, became a disciple and an apostle. Jesus was getting places with them because He troubled Himself to talk to them.
But the Pharisees and scribes didn’t like it! They murmured; they grumbled. They concluded that in secret Jesus must have been like them, because He received them with kindly welcome, and He even ate with them—and is there better proof that you are “in” with friends than when they invite you to their tables?
Jesus defended His dealings with these lost and despised souls with the two parables before us. He asked if there were a man among them who would not leave the ninety-nine of his hundred sheep that were safe in the customary place of pasture, if one of them had gone astray and was in danger of losing its life among the wolves. Mot a man of them could deny that the lost one should be sought. It is the same with a lost person today. Who creates all the excitement to day in a neighborhood—the children safe at home among their parents and in their beds, or the one that has been lost? The neighbors turn out, even those who are not even acquaintances turn out; the police, and deputies of all kinds; sometimes the air force and the F.B.I., to search for someone that some demon of a abductor has snatched from the safety of the circle of his home. If the devil has someone in the grip of sin or unbelief, should not God move heaven and earth to save him from his sin?
What moves a community to turn out with dogs and flashlights to find the little girl lost in the woods? It Is the misery of the poor little thing that inspired the searchers! It is the misery of the lost sheep that moves the shepherd from his tent to risk his life among the wolves to save the one that is lost. It is the misery of lost sinners that moves Jesus to have compassion on them. And it is His holiness that is attached to His compassionate love that saves them from their sinful ways—not the scorning righteousness of those living “proper” lives, but who have nothing but contempt for someone “gone wrong.” That is the difference between God and the Pharisee.
And you will note that the Pharisees are among the ninety and nine that are seemingly safe in the society of God’s Chosen People. God has done all that can be done for the ninety-nine! Yes, He has! He has given them the promises. They have the ceremonies and the sacrifices, the law and the temple worship, that in one way or another point to salvation in Christ. They have Moses and the prophets. They have the Word of God which alone can save men from their sins. God even defends Himself in this that He has left nothing undone for the people that He loves:
Israel, His Church, is God’s well-beloved, of whom He sings in Isaiah; “My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hills and he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein; and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men or Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt, me and my vineyard. WHAT COULD HAVE BEEM DONE MORE TO MY VINEYARD, THAT I HAVE NOT DONE IN IT? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold, oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.” Isaiah 5:1-7. Ye where God had to destroy (Isaiah 24), there Me spread the feast of salvation (Isaiah 25:6-9).
Oh, the pains God has taken to establish His vineyard—and it brought forth bitter and wild fruit of no use to God or man. He established Israel, and it nailed His Son to the cross. It couldn’t even under stand that it was a nation of sinners whom Jesus came to save. Yet Jesus took pains, and He found a few—mostly publicans and sinners. The Great Supper will be held.
He has done all he can for the ninety and nine. All of us who are in the circles of, and under the influence of His means of grace, are free to feed and find water in the pleasant pastures of His congregation. The cours6 of the Lord’s House are for us to enjoy. In them we can have all that is to be had: life and salvation, forgiveness of sin, comfort in affliction, and safety against the enemy. In these environments God would lead us to walk in His ways, to become stablished, strengthened, and settled.
To be sure, being one of the Christians will not save you, but doing what God’s children do will save you: confessing your sins, rejoicing in the good news of His Gospel, clinging to Christ as your only hope. And that is what we mean by being Christians: doing what Christians do, repenting as Christians repent, fearing what Christians fear, trusting what Christians trust. It would be equally true to say that a child’s sitting at his parent’s table will not make an adult of him. It won’t! But eating and drinking the food that is served on that table will make men and women of children as they grow up and work and play and do all the other things that people do.
Now, the scribes and Pharisees were in the theocracy of God, members of Israel, God’s chosen people—so Jesus left them sitting at the table, even if they wouldn’t eat, and He went out to search out and save the sick souls that were lost. He found them, and they believed! They gathered around Him and heard Him gladly! You and I were the lost of the Gentiles; now we are sitting at the table. God has done all that can be done for us. But He is busy seeking and saving the lost sheep that has gone astray and knows and feels the misery of being lost. And it is their misery that prompts Him to seek them and find them. This is how sinners come into the Kingdom!
Read Psalm 70 this week, say once a day, and you will be impressed to see what God has done to save at least some. All the details are there, telling what God has done for His flock, the ninety-nine that are in His pasture, under the guidance of His grace to help and save them. You mothers, who have struggled with a child to get him to eat, only to have him spurt the food out all over both you and over himself, will see that God has had a much worse time getting these sinners to come to His festival of salvation—that banquet that we heard about a week ago.
But like the woman in Jesus’ second parable, the woman who lost a coin, valuable to her as a whole day’s wages, and who lighted a candle and took a broom and swept all the corners of her house till she found it; so Jesus seeks to save the publicans and the sinners, the whole lot of them, because they are valuable to Him, He is their Creator, and He has lost them; He created them in His image, and they lost His image when they wandered into sin. And He wants them back.
That is why there is such rejoicing among the very angels of heaven over just one sinner that repents—over just one sinner who really comes home, more than over the whole flock for whom He has already done all that can be done. Yes, God takes pains to seek to save souls!
But did you hear that one word that Jesus repeated in His two parables? “Joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.” “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” The sinner that repenteth! Repentance is the word for the pains that the sinner undergoes in coming to salvation. The realization that left to him self he is lost and condemned. A thing the Pharisees and scribes did not realize.
What did Jesus mean in referring to the ninety-nine just persons that “need no repentance"? He referred to those who are within the visible fold of Israel; today we would say, within the visible church, within what we call Christendom. They have no special need, perhaps, to change their lives—they do the right things, they live respectably, they perform the functions expected of them: they appear in God’s house, they are kind enough, they do some works of charity. But they may need a change of heart; they may need to become more sensitive to sin; perhaps they need to learn to pray daily to God for forgiveness, and they may need more active evidence of faith; perhaps they need to suffer a little for their faith and for their Christian ideas; perhaps they could learn to breathe a little more of the Spirit of Christ and of the more devoted Christians.
You see, respectable, happy, successful people—as Jesus said of them, “they need no repentance.” When things seam to go well, it is so easy to forget that we need the grace and salvation of God. But when the consequence of sin are splattered all over people’s lives and persons and homes—then it is easier to repent, and in blushing shame for sin ask God to forgive.
We who are in God’s pasture of the ninety-nine actually have to work at this, and bring forth the fruits that show repentance. In fact, we learn so well to know God’s way with us that we expect Him to do things to us to help keep us penitent and hungry for His grace. One Christian woman actually prayed that God would always keep her at least so poor that she would remember to ask Him for daily bread. Sensitive believers know that they will become satisfied Pharisees if God does not enter their lives with troubles and problems to help them repent toward God for forgiveness. When Israel was safe in the fold as God’s protected ninety and nine, their hearts hardened and they were so impenitent that they even talked back nastily to God—as you will see if you read Psalm 78.
So we have to work at being penitent sinners. And it is hard on our selfish ego to pray the evening prayer, not just say its “I pray Thee that Thou wouldest forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong.” To repent, you know, means that our old Adam has to be drowned and die daily, yes, has to be crucified, as St. Paul puts its and it hurts to be crucified. But it is a hurt that God heals with the balm of His forgiveness. But every repentance that there is, causes joy in the presence of the angels of God, for it means that a sinner is heading home.
Nor is the rejoicing limited to the angels of God. Can you think of anything that ever made your heart lighter than when you said to someone, “I was wrongs I beg your pardons please forgive me”? Then you know why Jesus was so happy to find some people in Israel that He could lead away from their sinful ways; and you also know why “then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.” “Jesus sinners doth receive.” Amen.
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.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.