Text: Luke 15:1-10
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
Last weekend I replaced the screen in our back door at home. It’s a sliding door that opens up out onto our patio and for a long time it’s had a big hole in it right about at Rachel’s height when she is crawling. We went to Rona and bought a new screen and everything else I thought I would need. When we got home I got to work on it right away, but as I took the old screen off I quickly realized that a knife would probably be really helpful. I was going to need one to trim the new screen anyway, so I went to my tool box to get my knife. But it wasn’t there. I checked again, still not there. I went downstairs where we keep the tools, not there either. I went upstairs because maybe someone used it up there and didn’t put it back, no luck. I went out to my very mess garage and took a look there but, as far as I could tell, it wasn’t there either.
By this point I was getting pretty frustrated. I just wanted to replace this screen and it should not have been this much trouble. Leah was working on supper as I was stomping through the house in frustration looking for the knife and she reminded me that we used it at the church when we were getting ready for VBS. Maybe it was still there?
Sure enough, when I checked at the church there was a bag in my office filled with things from VBS that I had completely forgotten about. At the bottom of that bag under everything else was the knife. Now that knife is probably only worth $10, but in that moment it was priceless. When I got home with the knife I felt kind of like the shepherd that Jesus describes in our Gospel reading this morning who has found the one sheep that was missing. It was only a silly knife, but I wanted to say “Rejoice with me, for I have found the knife that I had lost!”
There is a certain joy that comes with finding something that has been lost. If you have ever lost anything and found it you know what that is like. Jesus talks about this joy in our reading today. Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners and the Pharisees and scribes don’t like it very much. They grumble about this and complain to Jesus that He spends time with sinners like this. So Jesus responds with a parable about a shepherd who seeks after a lost sheep.
The shepherd had a flock of 100 sheep, but one of them was missing. This poor little, lonely sheep had wandered away from the others and was lost somewhere. So the shepherd left the 99 other sheep behind in the field and went looking for that one sheep that was lost. When he found the lost sheep he picked it up, put it on his shoulders, and carried it home rejoicing the whole way. When he arrived at home he called out to his friends and neighbours, “Rejoice with me, I found my sheep that was lost!”
This kind of joy comes from finding something of value, something that is important to us. Shepherds value their sheep, they care about them. Leah, Hannah, and I lived for a year on a sheep ranch in northern BC. The shepherd who ran the ranch was a grumpy old guy who didn’t like me very much, but I always knew that he and his wife cared about their sheep. They could look at the whole flock and remember which year each of them were born, who the mother was, and anything else that had happened in their life. A shepherd can’t be a shepherd unless they have sheep, every single sheep has value. Finding a lost one is a time for joy.
This joy is how Jesus describes the response in heaven when any sinner repents. “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance,” Jesus says. Heaven rejoices and all the angels in heaven rejoice as sinners are brought into contact with Jesus, as sinners are forgiven by the words of Jesus, as sinners are transformed into saints by the blood of Jesus. Heaven rejoices when sinners are brought to Jesus because this is the very thing that Jesus came into this world to do.
In our epistle reading today Paul says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Jesus came into this world to seek and save the lost; to seek and save sinners, from sin, death, and the devil. That is why Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners. He has come to save these people, to save sinners.
Jesus came into this world to seek and save sinners because they are valuable to Him. Jesus eats with sinners because He values them. He hangs around with tax collectors and other societal rejects because He values them. Heaven rejoices over sinners because sinners are valuable to Jesus. It’s not that their sins do not matter or are inconsequential. Not at all. All sins are deadly. Sin is always rebellion against God and leads to eternal destruction apart from God, but Jesus came into this world to save sinners. To save them from the death that is the result of their sin. Jesus values sinners so much that He will give up His own life on the cross and bleed and die for sinners and heaven rejoices at this work.
You are one of those sinners that Jesus values and came to seek and save. Our hearts are in a constant struggle between being faithful to Jesus and full and outright rebellion against God. Our thoughts are full of things that a Christian ought not to think. Our actions don’t always seem very Christian. Sometimes words come out of our mouths that don’t sound like something you would want Jesus to hear you say. These are all symptoms of the sinful condition we were born with. We are sinners, we sin in thought, word, and deed every day. We are sinners by nature. And nothing about sinners like us would seem particularly valuable. But Christ Jesus came in human flesh to seek and save you.
Today we eat at Jesus table. Just like He did back then, Jesus still invites sinners to eat with Him. Today Jesus invites us to come to His table and He will eat with sinners like us, better yet, He will feed sinners like us with His own body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus eats with sinners, He eats with you.
And Heaven rejoices over you. Heaven rejoices that your Shepherd, Jesus, has found you and brought you home. Your presence here at the table really is a reason to rejoice. What was lost has been found.
It is amazing to think this way, to think that we are of such value to our Saviour. But Jesus is also warning us here not to think of ourselves more highly than others. There is a danger that we become like the Pharisees in our Gospel reading and start to think that we are better than other people. When we read “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” that means everyone. Christ Jesus came into this world to save each and every fallen human being who is under the same curse of sin that we are under.
That means that as we encounter people every day in our lives we encounter people for whom Jesus died. The rude person we bump into on the street, the drug addict who hassles us for change, the self-centred people who take advantage of us, all of them, and everyone else, are sinners for whom Christ died. We rejoice in what Christ has done for us and we should also rejoice over what Christ has done for every other person. They are valuable to Jesus too. Heaven rejoices over them too.
The Pharisees begrudged Jesus for taking time for sinners and tax collectors. They could not see the value in people like that. We might feel the same about people sometimes, but these are people for whom Jesus died. Heaven rejoices over people like that, over sinners, not over “righteous” people who need no repentance.
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” this saying is trustworthy and deserving of acceptance. We are those sinners and there are a lot of other sinners out there too. All of us are so valuable to Jesus that He came into this world to save us from sin and death. There is joy in heaven over the salvation that Jesus has accomplished for all us sinners. Let us join in that joy and join in the celebration because what was lost has been found through the cross of Christ. Amen.