Text: Luke 15:1-10
Date: Pentecost XVII (Proper 19) + 9/15/13
“Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” This is the shout of joy by people who recognize the true King and have joyful expectations of the gifts He brings. Today we are hearing the heart of St. Luke’s Gospel: three parables linked together by the repeated theme of joy. “Rejoice with me” says the shepherd. “There will be more joy in heaven” says Jesus. “Rejoice with me” says the woman. “There is joy before the angels of God,” says Jesus. And then in the parable of the prodigal Son, the father says, “let us eat and make merry, because this my son was dead and has come to life, he was lost and has been found” (Lk 15:23-24; Lent 4C). Let us not miss the note of joy in the Word of God before us today, the joy He has over you.
The joy Jesus is talking about is the result of lost sinners being found by God and restored to His fellowship through repentance and faith.
Now there were two groups of people to whom Jesus told these parables, the tax collectors and sinners on the one hand and the Pharisees and scribes on the other. In which group are you? The tax collectors and sinners were those considered to be unclean and despised. The Pharisees and scribes, otherwise leaders in “the church,” nevertheless grumbled among themselves as they were putting together evidence against Jesus. The tax collectors and sinners “were all drawing near” to Jesus, meaning they were being attracted by His words and His openly inviting attitude toward them. These parables are spoken to both groups at the same time. But they may have different meanings and implications depending on which group you’re in and your attitude toward Jesus.
The first parable has sheep and shepherds, the second a woman and coins. Which are you? The shepherd? The lost sheep? The ninety-nine “righteous”? The woman or the coin? Let’s see.
We, with the tax collectors and sinners, that is, all sinners, are like the lost sheep. I’m told that a sheep which is lost often just gives up, curls up somewhere and is incapable of movement! Though part of God’s spectacular creation, we all “like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—to his own way” (Is 53:6). Like a lost sheep we are incapable of movement, that is, we confess that we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition. By our own reason or strength we cannot believe in God or even come to Him. But God is the Shepherd. Though we do not go looking for Him, it turns out that He looks for us and chooses us to be His own. When did you first discover that God was looking for you and calling you to follow Him? As He said through the prophet Ezekiel, “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out…and I will rescue them” (Ezek 34:11-12). Ourselves incapable of movement because of the totally debilitating effect of our sin He comes and lifts us up on His shoulders. He carries us to the fellowship of His redeemed. He does this because He also has taken our sin upon His own shoulders and bore sin’s curse for us on the cross. “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Is 53:5).
The glad and even surprising news is that He comes not only to save tax collectors and sinners, “the blind, the lame, the oppressed” (Luke 4:18), even persecutors such as the Apostle Paul was before his conversion (1 Tim 1:13-14), but also the scribes and Pharisees if they will only be drawn to Him in true repentance. It is with some gently stinging irony that Jesus reached out to His critics implying they may be among the “ninety-nine righteous persons who (think falsely that they) need no repentance.” In their criticism of Jesus’ table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners they are missing the “joy in heaven” over even one sinner who repents. But there are hundreds of repenting sinners, even thousands and tens of thousands and millions and shall be conjecture billions times the joy in heaven.
Come, let us join our cheerful songs
With angels round the throne;
Ten thousand thousand are their tongues,
But all their joys are one. (LSB 812:1)
“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?” Are you the woman or the lost coin? Often the Church is pictured in the New Testament in female terms, the Bride of Christ, the baptismal font the womb where we are reborn into the family of God. Christ still seeks lost sinners through His Church.
Like the lost sheep in the first parable you could be the lost coin found by God whose angels rejoice over you. But here is hidden a joyful surprise. For the coin here is not the usual Roman denarius but the only place in the New Testament the Greek drachma is mentioned! Could it be that if the woman represents the Church then this unique coin represents Christ?
In the Old Testament the people of Israel were required to be counted and to bring a half-shekel coin as “atonement money…that it may bring the people of Israel to remembrance before the Lord, so as to make atonement for your lives” (Ex 30:16). Jesus Christ is the atonement for our lives by the offering of His precious body and blood on the cross. Like the woman, it is through the Church that people are led to find, to discover the offering of Christ “for us men and for our salvation” and the joy of repentance and faith in Him to be restored to the fellowship of the family of God.
If that were not clear enough the parable of the prodigal son, the faithful father and the jealous older brother perfectly summarizes God’s universal love and joy over every sinner who repents. That includes you. God lovingly invites you again today: Repent and believe the Gospel. (Mark 1:15).
Joy, O joy, beyond all gladness,
Christ has done away with sadness!
Hence, all sorrow and repining,
For the Sun of Grace is shining! (LSB 897)