Beloved. Today’s epistle contains a warning for the Christian: Have sound judgment. Be alert. Your adversary, the Devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Here we are warned against having a false sense of security. The simple fact of the matter is that once we are our Lord’s dear Christian, we are the enemy of the devil; he marks us as those especially to be targeted with his attacks in his attempt to destroy our faith in Christ, to drag us back into his kingdom of sin, death and damnation, to devour us spiritually now and for all eternity. We never dare think that once we are Christians, everything will be easy for us spiritually or that no spiritual trials will come upon us. And we also must never take our faith for granted. We must instead, treasure it and regard it as the true treasure that it is by always feeding it with copious amounts of word and sacrament. Through them the Holy Spirit is at work strengthening and keeping us steadfast in that faith. And on top of it all, we must never think that we can keep ourselves in the faith or think that “I am a good Christian, strong in the faith. I know what I believe and no one or nothing can take that away from me.” That sounds all well and good and even pious to some ears but that is really spiritual arrogance because the one who says that is implying that he/she can place self in spiritual risk/ danger and not worry about losing the faith or at least weakening faith. But when someone says, “I am a good Christian, strong in the faith. I know what I believe and no one or nothing can take that away from me,” the implication that follows is what? “Therefore I can sin—even just once—and it won’t hurt me.”
But let us hear again St. Peter in today’s epistle: Have sound judgment. Be alert. Your adversary, the Devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. And who was St. Peter? He was the very one who when Jesus warned him, “Simon, Simon! Indeed Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail…said in response to Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” [Lk. 22.31, 33] And of course we know that St. Peter ended up denying Jesus three times. These words were written by one who knew very well that the Devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour for he himself fell victim to him. St. Peter’s spiritual pride and pride in self gave way to humility. And just as Jesus forgave and restored the penitent St. Peter to his apostleship, so too do we have that same forgiveness from our Lord and so too does He in grace restore us penitent sinners as His dear Christians and heirs of heaven. The most glorious thing is not that St. Peter repented and was restored, but what is most glorious and amazing is that Jesus sought out St. Peter in order to rescue him from the devil’s clutches, in order to restore him. And what is most glorious for us, personally, is that when we sin, Jesus seeks us out in order to bring us back to Him. And that’s exactly the point of today’s Gospel! In it, Jesus shows His love for us, the sinner; in it, Jesus shows us the lengths He goes to bring us back to Him, to rescue us from the devil’s clutches, from sin, death and damnation.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives two illustrations of this. Which one of you, if you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that was lost until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home… Or what woman who has ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, would not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?
Jesus tells these parables to defend the fact that sinners—repentant sinners—were coming to Him and He was welcoming them. Jesus’ enemies, the religious leaders of the Jews, were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So Jesus tells three parables—the two in our text and the parable of the prodigal son—that defend what He is doing. The shepherd searching for the one lost sheep is a beautiful image of how Jesus longs for the salvation of the sinner and how He seeks us out. And at the same time, by using that image of the Good Shepherd, Jesus is pointing out that He is the Good Shepherd. And Who is the Good Shepherd? It is the true God! In other words, not only does Jesus defend His welcoming of the repentant sinner, but He is saying very clearly that He is the true God. What do we have in the psalm ? –The Lord—the true God—is my Shepherd. We have the prophet [Is. 40.11-12]: Behold, the Lord God shall come with a strong hand….He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm and carry them in His bosom and gently lead those who are with young.
And what does this mean? –Jesus, the true God, is the Good Shepherd who welcomes and receives the repentant sinner. What a glorious comfort this is to us sinners—no One less than the very God receives us. And not only does He receive us repentant sinners, but it is He who searches for us and seeks us out. He doesn’t wait for us to act, the lost to decide to become unlost. Just think about it, dear Christian, dear fellow sinner—the very God Himself, the Good Shepherd, seeks us out to bring us back to Him. That is nothing but His pure grace and mercy toward us. We deserve nothing but His wrath and eternal punishment, but in grace and mercy He longs to save us and draw us to Him to give us every heavenly and spiritual blessing. This is what the world—especially the self-righteous, those who think they earn heaven by their works—cannot understand: they were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So much does the holy and true God desire to save us that He actually did all the work to save us. Which one of you, if you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that was lost until he finds it? Jesus the Good Shepherd actually entered the wilderness of this world; He actually became one of us; He endured all the hurts and pains of this world—the worst it could offer up; He endured every temptation to sin—temptations far greater and more intense than we could ever imagine. Through it all, He never once sinned, obeying for us/ in our place God’s holy law. And then in grace upon grace, the Shepherd gave up His life for the sheep as the perfect once for all sacrifice for our sin as He took our sins upon Himself and went to the cross there to suffer and die for our sins and reconcile us sinners to God Himself.
Not only did Jesus do that for us all, but He now also seeks us out, personally and individually, to bring us sinners back into His holy kingdom, the sheepfold of His Church, in which there is forgiveness of sin and eternal life. Most of us, Jesus sought out and found in the waters of Holy Baptism. Others, He sought and found through the word later on in life. And when we go astray/ when we wander away from our Lord by a life of great outward sin or by deep horrid thoughts or unbelief Jesus the Good Shepherd then seeks us out. Which one of you, if you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them, would not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that was lost until he finds it? What a wonderful Shepherd! In the midst of a whole flock of 100 sheep, he notices one missing and goes out to find it. That’s how special each one is. That’s how valuable each soul is to Him! That’s how much He loves each one of us. Divine love seeks the lost—all His attention is on that one sheep; all His attention is on each one of us. When we sin and fall from Him, Jesus does not abandon us in the wilderness of this world; He does not abandon us to our foolishness but seeks us out, calling us to repentance and faith. That’s what we see at the beginning of our text: All the tax collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus to hear him. These were openly, notorious sinners but they were drawing near to Him. Why? Because Jesus was telling them that they were okay just as they were and could continue in a life of sin? Hardly! They knew they were sinners. How? –By the holy Law of God that they had heard and that they knew instinctively. That’s how Jesus calls us sinners to Himself. If there is a certain sin that keeps accusing you, if you know what you are doing is sin and yet continue on and are feeling all sorts of guilt—that’s Jesus calling to you, lost in the wilderness. He calls to us with the voice of His holy law. Let us never turn away from it. Listen to that voice of Law accusing and condemning, but don’t stop there! Instead, be like these tax collectors and sinners and keep coming to Jesus. They felt and confessed their sin; they longed to be rid of it and so they came to Jesus—to Jesus who was seeking them out and offering them grace and forgiveness of sin. They were coming to Jesus—the words of salvation were attracting them; Jesus draws the sinner to Himself. May that always be said of us—when we feel our conscience, when we feel our guilt and sin, let us recognize that that is the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, seeking us out; may we then run to Him and His word of forgiveness and life. There we find rest for our souls.
Should we fear that because of the great number of our sin or how greatly we have sinned, that Jesus will turn away from us or reject us? Never! All the tax collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus to hear him. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” What does this sound like–sinners coming to Jesus and Jesus welcoming and eating with them? It’s a description of church, of the Divine Service. We are the sinners who keep coming to Jesus to hear His word of eternal life—He is drawing us. Jesus then welcomes us, giving us the forgiveness of sin in the absolution. He gives us rest and comfort with the forgiveness of sin announced and proclaimed in the word and liturgy. And, Jesus does not merely eat with us, but He gives us Himself to eat in the Blessed Sacrament as He gives us with the bread and wine His very body and blood that was offered up and poured out for our forgiveness. This is our Lord’s great love of us sinners and it is His great joy when we hear and receive in faith the words of eternal life, the holy absolution, and the forgiveness and blessings He gives us in the sacrament. At the end of the parable He tells us of His joy in the repentant sinner and of the joy of all of heaven: And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls together his friends and his neighbors, telling them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep!’ I tell you, in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent” and at the end of the parable of the lost coin: In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Jesus seeks us out and as we repent of our sin, the vaults of heaven rejoice. No one sin is too great; your Good Shepherd joyfully puts you on His shoulder and carries you home as a welcome guest of heaven.
When Jesus seeks us out, finds us, and brings us into His Church giving us the forgiveness of sin and every heavenly and spiritual blessing, how much joy we have! Let us ponder again and anew what exactly Jesus has done for us and will continue to do for us when we stray—He will seek us out. May we love and treasure Him and praise Him always for His grace, love and diligence in seeking us out. Let us not treat Jesus saving us and rescuing as our “get out of jail free card” that allows us to live any way we want but let our faith in and love of Him and His saving work lead us into a life of love and good works; let us hear Jesus’ words: [Jn 8. 11] Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more. As we have received the Lord’s love and mercy, let us be merciful to the erring and seek to bring them back to the fold—Jesus working and calling them through us. May our joy be like that of the angels in heaven—rejoicing over the salvation of the sinner, ours and our neighbor. INJ Amen