Sunday, September 15, 2013

Only For Sinners (Sermon preached September 15, for Friendship Sunday, Proper 19-C)

Only For Sinners—Luke 15:1-10
Date: Proper 19-C (17th Sunday after Pentecost)—September 8, 2013 (Friendship Sunday)

Luke 15:1-10  1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them."  3 So he told them this parable:  4 "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'  7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.  8 "Or what woman, having ten silver coins,1 if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?  9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.'  10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of (our) heart(s) be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, (our) rock and (our) redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
In the name of T Jesus.
            Tax collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus; and even more, these tax collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus in order to hear him.  These poor, miserable, sinners, had ears that were opened, and they were desiring to hear the Words which Jesus would have to speak to them.  Like Peter, in the Gospel of John, who says, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life,” These sinners and tax collectors had come to Jesus in order to hear the Words of Jesus, and in the Words of Jesus, they would be given, and promised, and blessed to receive eternal life.  The Pharisees and scribes, on the other hand; they were grumbling.  They were appalled that Jesus would receive such sinners, and that he would choose to eat with them too.  And so they grumbled, and their ears remained closed, and they rejected the work, and the word of the one who had come only for sinners.
            Poor, helpless sinners who have ears to hear; and self-righteous fools, who would rather not listen: these are the people to whom Jesus speaks the parables in Luke 15.  Ears that are open and eager to hear, and ears that will do everything in their power to remain closed: these are two completely different audiences to whom Jesus is speaking, and yet, to these completely different audiences Jesus speaks the very same words—the parables in Luke 15.
To those tax collectors and sinners Jesus speaks the Parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.  And to those self-righteous grumblers known as the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus speaks the Parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.  And while Jesus speaks the very same Words to both of his audiences, Jesus does not intend for His Words to do the same thing for those drastically different groups.  Not in the least!  No, what Jesus intends his Words to do for open and eager ears, despite their sin, is quite different from what Jesus intends his Words to do for those self-righteous grumbles who are denying their sin.  So what does Jesus intend for His Words to do for those self-righteous grumblers?
Well, to say it plainly, he wants His Words—the parables of the lost sheep and coin—to convict them of their sin.  There they are, self-righteous, and thinking that they aren’t at all like those sinners.  And yet, Jesus has come only for sinners.  If they continue to think, and to believe that they are without sin, then they will only be deceiving themselves, and the truth of their spiritual poverty will continue to avoid them.
Jesus knows that their hearts are hard. He knows that they are grumbling because they think too highly of themselves.  Jesus has come to save sinners, and these Pharisees and scribes are so self-righteous that they aren’t willing to include themselves in that category; which means that their ears will remain closed to the proclamation of Jesus’ life-saving message of forgiveness, life, and salvation for poor miserable sinners.  What they need is to be convicted; to be shown the sin that lingers within, so that they might be brought to contrition and repentance.  Jesus desires that his Words would bring them to freely confess that they have not kept God’s perfect Law; that they have no righteousness of their own; that they daily fall short of the glory of God; that they are sinners too.  For apart from this confession, their grumbling will never end, and they will always see Jesus as someone else’s savior.  I mean, if you aren’t a sinner, why would you need a savior?
So Jesus speaks of a sheep that has gone astray.  And in His speaking of such a sheep, He is speaking of them.  He’s speaking of those Pharisees and scribes who, in denying their sin and their need for a savior, they have left the flock of the faithful.
And Jesus speaks of a coin that is lost in darkness.  And in His speaking of such a coin, He is speaking of those who are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.  He’s speaking of those self-righteous grumblers who, although they were supposed to know God, they were not honoring him, or giving thanks to him, but had become futile in their thinking, and foolish in the hearts which were darkened to the light of Jesus.
Do you know what happens to a sheep that finds itself alone, and apart from the flock?  It doesn’t call out and make noise so that it can be found, for it knows that it might be found by a predator.  No, a sheep that finds itself alone, will just lie there, helpless, and will refuse to move.
And do you know what happens to a single silver coin that is lost at night in a home with no light?  It does not sparkle, hoping to catch your eye.  It just lies there, dark, and unable to be found.  You see, sheep that have gone astray can’t help themselves any more than a single coin in a dark home can find itself.  Both are completely helpless.  If the shepherd does not come, and if the light is not on, both will remain lost forever.
But there, in Luke 15, the shepherd had come.  In fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy, Jesus had come, searching for His sheep, and seeking them out.  Like a shepherd that seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so in speaking the words of Luke 15 to those Pharisees and Scribes Jesus was seeking the lost, so that the lost would be found.  It is the lost that the Father sent Jesus to seek, and to rescue and to bring out of their darkness.  And so, to these lost sheep of Israel, Jesus speaks these parables so that they would be brought to repentance, and the angels in heaven could rejoice.
That’s what Jesus intends for His Law to do for all who cling to sin.  He intends to put the perfect Law of God before you, with its high demands, so that you might see your sin, and flee from it.  He does this for self-righteous sinners who deny their sin completely, but He does this also for Christians. He does this for Christians who carry around this body of flesh, with its sinful desires. He does this for Christians who cling to their sins of pride, or selfishness, or envy, or lust or something else.  He does this for Christians who are tempted to hang on to their sin, rather than crucifying it in repentance and faith.  And so Jesus gives the Law to all: Christians and non-Christians alike.  To those who are comfortable in their sin, He gives the Law so that they might grow uncomfortable, and learn to confess it.  But to those who know their sin, the Law is given so that sin will not become comfortable once again.
You see, Jesus desires all to be saved.  His desire is that all would cling to him in repentance and faith.  And since the Law brings knowledge of sin, Jesus gives the Law, so that we might always hear Him, as that other audience would hear Him.  He gives the Law, so that we would see our need for a savior!
So what about that other audience?  What about those tax collectors and sinners?  What was Jesus’ intention in speaking these parables to them?  If Jesus wanted to bring one group to contrition and repentance; if Jesus’ words were supposed to bring the self-righteous to see their sin, and confess it, what were His words supposed to do for those who already knew their sin, and were terrified by it?
Well, if His words were meant to convict the one audience, His words were meant to console the other.  You see, while that first group would have a problem seeing itself as lost, and would need to be brought to repentance, those tax collectors and sinners would see their sin and fear that they would be lost because of it.  All around, and wherever they looked, everyone knew that they were sinners—and they knew it themselves.  But when Jesus would speak, they were drawn to him, and they would come to him, because Jesus spoke of a kingdom that was for sinners, rather than a kingdom that would exclude them.  And so, they desired to be hearers of His Word—sinners though they were.  And to these poor miserable sinners, Jesus tells the very same parables, but He tells them with a different intended affect.  Where Jesus had previously needed to convict, and to give contrition, so that there might be confession, to terrified sinners, Jesus desires to console, so that there might be comfort.  After all, it was for sinners that He came.
Jesus intends to console them, and to comfort them, and to give them knowledge of a Shepherd that is seeking them.  He wants them to know that they have been found by a shepherd who has left the flock to search for them.  He wants them to know that the light is on, for the light has come, and the darkness of their sin will not prevail.
That is how it is for sinners who have been separated from the flock, and whose sin has darkened their lives.  Jesus has come.  The Father has sent him.  He has laid down His life for the sheep.  He is the Good Shepherd that seeks to find the lost.  He is the Good Shepherd that searches, and seeks, and speaks His Word of promise to all who are afraid that their sin will separate them from the love of God.  And so, to an audience that is desperate that is afraid of being lost, and is desperate to hear Good News, he speaks of a shepherd so that they would know they have been found in Him.
And he speaks of darkness being turned to light, for Jesus has come, and in Him the darkness of sin has been turned to the light of life.  He is the light of the world.  To sinners whose lives have been lived in darkness and are afraid that is where they’ll remain, the Word that Jesus speaks is a lamp to their feet, and a light for their path.  What was lost in darkness, is found in the light as Jesus consoles and comforts those who are desperate to know that they will not be excluded forever.
Tax Collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus; and they were coming to Jesus in order to hear Him.  These poor miserable sinners had ears that were opened, and they desired to hear the words which Jesus would speak to them.  They had come to Jesus to hear the Words of Jesus, and in the Words of Jesus, they would be comforted and consoled, as they heard of a Shepherd who seeks who saves the lost.  For while the Pharisees and scribes might have grumbled at the fact, it is really good news, that Jesus came into the world only for sinners.  Because that means Jesus came to save you.
It is Friendship Sunday.  We are glad you are here.  And whether Jesus’ words today have convicted you, consoled you, or both, we are thankful, that today we can say without a doubt, that Jesus is a friend of sinners.  In the name of T Jesus.

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