Jesus Welcomes Sinners

A sermon preached on Luke 15:1-10 by Pastor Michael Johnson at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Sioux Falls, SD on October 6, 2019.
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Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” – Luke 15:1-10

Have you lost anything lately? Did you find it? Are you still looking for it? When certain things are lost, people will certainly go and look for them. That’s why we have lost and founds. It’s always interesting to see what kinds of things people lose. Our lost and found typically consists of sweat shirts, gloves, and maybe some shoes. Every once in a while we actually find something quite valuable. More than once, I’ve had a church lost and found with car keys in it for quite some time. And then there are other items in a lost and found that make you wonder why someone even would want to find it.

Are some things even worth saving? That question was on the mind of the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law when they saw Jesus hanging out with what they considered the worst kinds of sinners. They considered these people worthless sinners who didn’t deserve to be found. They decried Jesus saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The Pharisees and Teachers of the Law simply thought that some lives held more value and some weren’t worth saving. But here’s the thing. They failed to realize, they themselves were just as lost and needing to be found by Jesus as all the “sinners.”

The good news for them was that Jesus had come for them too. As Jesus once told a man named Zacchaeus: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). Today, we joyfully see this truth. What disgusted the Pharisees, gives you and me great joy. Jesus Welcomes Sinners 1. By Searching for the Lost 2. By Rejoicing Over the Found.

Jesus’ mission is seeking and saving the lost. Jesus made this point by sharing three parables or stories – we have two of those stories here. Jesus searches for the lost because each and every one of them is precious to him.

A woman has ten coins and she loses one. That’s 10% of her finances! Sure, she could recover from that, but it could be difficult and cause her hardships. So she turns the entire house upside down to find it. You can see her moving furniture around and lighting a lamp to see under her bed. Just in case it’s covered in dust, she sweeps the whole house. She frantically searches the whole house until she finds her lost coin.

I can relate to the woman in the story. If 10% of my belongings suddenly disappeared, I would be fighting to find them. What about 1%? Would I even notice? 20 bucks is a lot of money to me. But if I for some reason had a hundred 20’s in my pocket and dropped one, I doubt I’d notice.

Not so with God. Jesus tells a story about a shepherd with a hundred sheep and one wonders off and goes missing. It’s impressive the shepherd even notices the sheep is gone. It’s flat out crazy how he responds, “Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”

The shepherd is ready to drop everything to go looking for that lost lamb. Who in their right mind would do that and leave the other sheep? Jesus isn’t meaning for us to dwell on what happened to those other sheep. That’s not part of the point. His point is – that’s how important each and every sheep is to the shepherd. He deeply cares about each and every individual sheep. He stops at nothing to save his lost lamb. You can see him traveling over hills, across creeks and rivers, searching through bushes and thorns until he finds his lost little lamb.

Why? He cares about that lamb. What if you had four dogs you cared about. One day, Rusty gets loose and gets lost. Would you say “Oh well, we still have three good dogs left?” No, you’d run after him. You’d search the neighborhood. You’d put up signs. You’d call the pounds. You’d search feverishly for your beloved dog. That’s how Jesus searches for the lost. So completely does Jesus care about finding the lost that he would turn the entire world upside down to find one lost coin, one lost sheep, one lost soul.

And that’s what he has to do for you and me every day. Because, there is a path for my life God would have me follow in his Word. And time and time again, you and I stray from that path and get lost. Maybe I look at God’s Word and church as a chore and not a joy. Maybe I realize something is missing in my life. The only answer to that void is clinging closer to God. But instead I stray from God and look to other things to fill the void. Maybe you turn to alcohol as the answer to your problems or your source of fun and become drunk. Or maybe I think that physical release would take away my stress or let me forget my frustration at home and I stray into the inviting clutches of pornography. Or I go astray when I am tempted to look down on those he has found. As the prophet Isaiah once wrote: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). That is true of each and every one of us. We are sheep that love to stray. And we find new ways to get lost every day.

But look at those parables again. That woman who lost her coin? She swept her entire house – turned it upside down to find it. That shepherd stopped at nothing to find his lost lamb. Well guess what. Jesus took even more care in finding you. He took on a human body. He got down in the trenches and lived with the people. As our reading says – he met with the tax collectors and “sinners.” He ate with them. He sought out the lost wherever he went. Why? He sought them to take away their sins. Here’s the rest of the verse I read earlier. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity (or sin) of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

Jesus carried your sins – all of them on the cross. He carried them; he paid their penalty. For every time I put myself before others, God laid that sin on Jesus. Any time you ever abused alcohol, God laid that sin on Jesus. For any time I looked for physical pleasure outside of God’s design, Jesus took my guilt away. All of our sins – big or small Jesus carried their weight and paid for them.

And now he sends his “under-shepherds” throughout the world seeking out the lost. He sends Pastor Wilke to Brandon to seek the lost. He sends Pastors here to share the good news of Jesus. He sends teachers here to build strong faiths and minds. He sends parents who teach their children about Jesus. He sends you to share your hope with your friend in need.

Jesus welcomes sinners by searching out the lost. He also rejoices over the found. When the shepherd found his lost lamb in Jesus’ story – he didn’t yell at it. He didn’t even just lead it back. Jesus says “When he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.” He doesn’t stop there. He shares his joy with those around him. He calls his friends and neighbors together and says “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” Likewise, when the woman finds her coin, she calls her friends and neighbors and says “Rejoice with me.” They have a party of sorts. In fact, in the third “lost parable,” when the lost son is found, his dad throws a big party!

All three end with a party, because that’s Jesus’ whole point: “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Jesus rejoices over every single sinner who repents. They were lost and he found them. If you’ve ever lost your child, even for a brief moment, I don’t have to tell you about the panic that quickly takes hold of you. You also know of the incredible relief the moment you lay eyes on them. This summer, I was doing something in the yard while the boys played outside. I carried one thing into the garage and during the 10-20 seconds I was gone, Ben suddenly decided he wanted to go swimming at Laurel Oak and he knows where it is so he just got up and started walking! He was already turning the corner on 52nd Ave. by time I caught sight of him. That wasn’t a long time he was lost in reality. Yet, by time I got to him, I was crying and I swept him up in my arms. I needed to call Sara and tell her I found him even though she didn’t even know he was missing!

And that’s the kind of joy and excitement God himself has every time a sinner is found and repents. God rejoiced over you. He rejoices when you bring your children to church. He rejoices when your friend learns about Jesus from you.

All of heaven does. And maybe that’s the best way to end this morning: seeing the small glimpse of heaven in these parables. So often cartoons picture heaven as us sitting on a cloud, strumming a harp – boring! All three lost parables have the same outline and all three end with heaven. Something was lost. It got found. They threw a party. Lost, found, party. Lost, found, party. Lost, found, party. And honestly, that’s a time line of our lives. So never forget the ending. Because some day God will call you home. And when you get there, Jesus will have one thing to say to you. “You were lost. But I found you. Let’s party.” Amen