an eight year old boy from Wisconsin went camping with his family at a state
park in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
The boy had gone away from the camp into the woods. When he went to return, he couldn’t find his
way back and became lost.
when the parents realized that he hadn’t returned, they looked for him. However, the normal efforts to bring back a
child playing in the woods produced no results.
One can easily imagine the growing anxiety in the parents as they began
to realize that their son was lost.
truly was lost. The parents contacted
authorities, but a day past and they were not able to find him. A large scale
search began as more than 150 law enforcement members took part. Eventually, after 48 hours being lost in the
woods, the search team located the boy.
Thankfully the boy was in good health and was joyfully reunited with his
We can all
empathize with the plight of the parents.
How frightening it would be to know that your son was lost. We can understand the intensity of the search
that this event prompted. A young boy
lost in the forest is the cause of great concern, and there is a desire to find
him as quickly as possible.
Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus tells a parable about a sheep that has become
lost and the search that takes place to find it. In this story, our Lord teaches us about how
valuable we are to God. Though we were
lost, he has exerted the greatest effort to seek us out and save us.
Our text takes place at mealtime and
involves Jesus and the Pharisees. We are
told, “Now the tax collectors and
sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the
scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats
By this point in Luke’s Gospel, we are not surprised to
hear this. The Pharisees have repeatedly
complained about how Jesus associated with those whom they considered to be
unacceptable. In particular they were
offended that Jesus ate with such people.
When Jesus called the tax collector Levi – also known as Matthew
– to follow him, he hosted a great feast for Jesus. A large number of tax collectors and others
were eating with our Lord. The Pharisees
and the scribes grumbled at his disciples saying, “Why do you eat and
drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Here again in our text, we hear the
exact same complaint. The
Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives
sinners and eats with them.”
Jesus ate with people the Pharisees considered to be
sinful, and this drove the Pharisees crazy.
They couldn’t understand it. The Pharisees were a group that had
developed in Palestine during the centuries that led up to Jesus’ time. They were largely a lay group, though they
did have individuals who had received specific training, and these were the scribes.
The Pharisees were very concerned with maintaining purity
among God’s people. They had taken
aspects of the Torah that applied only to priests, and had extended this to
include all people. They had developed a
body of teaching that interpreted how the Torah was to be lived. This they called the “tradition of the
elders.” This tradition was something that they considered to be equal with the
Because the Pharisees were living in the specific way
that they considered to be correct, they looked down on others who didn’t
follow these rules. The Pharisees
considered themselves to be superior to all who were not Pharisees. In
particular they looked down on tax collectors and those whom the Pharisees
Now no one likes to pay taxes, and those who are involved
in collecting taxes are usually not our favorite. When I say, “Internal Revenue Service,” your
first thoughts are probably negative.
This was true as well in first century Palestine. However, in addition, tax collectors had a
reputation for being crooked. They could
assess the value as being higher than it really was, and then keep the extra
money collected for themselves.
The term “sinners” is a little more ambiguous. This probably included people who really were
living in ways that broke God’s Law. But
it also included people who weren’t Pharisees, and thus weren’t doing all of
things that were part of the tradition of the elders.
The Pharisees were offended that Jesus was eating with
tax collectors and sinners. Meals were a
very important part of life in the ancient world. They demonstrated the people whom you
accepted. By eating with tax collectors
and sinners – by engaging in meal fellowship - Jesus showed that he accepted
them. This was entirely unacceptable to
the Pharisees and our Lord’s continuing practice irritated them to no end.
response, Jesus told a parable about a man who had a hundred sheep. When he realized that he had lost one, he
left the 99 and went to seek the lost sheep.
He searched until he found it.
Then, when it was found, he put it on his shoulders and carried it home. When he arrived there, he called together his
neighbors saying, “Rejoice with me,
for I have found my sheep that was lost.”
Our Lord concluded the parable by saying, “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.”
Our text today
contains bad news and good news. The bad
news is that we were lost. We were lost
in our sin. And it’s not just that we
were once lost. Instead, we continue to act in ways that can lead to being
lost. We find it easy to break the Third
Commandment by despising preaching and God’s Word. We let other activities take priority on Sunday
morning. We don’t spend time during the
week reading God’s Word. In general, we
expend far more time and effort on things that interest us than we do on God
and his Word.
Because we were
sinners trapped in sin, God sought us out.
He sent his Son into the world in the incarnation as Jesus was conceived
by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. Jesus declared that the words
of Isaiah chapter 53 were fulfilled in himself: “And he was numbered with the
transgressors.” In that same chapter
Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have
turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the
iniquity of us all.”
God laid the iniquity of us all on him as
Jesus died 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.”
And by his
resurrection he has given us life. On
the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead.
In Christ he has defeated death.
We have life with God now, and the resurrection of Jesus is the
assurance that God will raise up our bodies on the Last Day to be like Jesus’
own resurrected body.
this there is joy. In the parable the
man said at his home, “Rejoice with me,
for I have found my sheep that was lost.”
There is joy in the presence of God.
Jesus says, “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.” And there is also
joy among us, for we know that we have received the gift we could never earn or
merit on our own. It is purely God’s
grace that has brought this forgiveness and salvation to us.
welcomes sinners. But it is crucial that
we recognize what kind of sinners he welcomes.
When Jesus called Levi, and the Pharisees complained he said, “I have
not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” In the same way, Jesus says in our text that there
is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.
receives repentant sinners. He
does not simply accept people and affirm their choices in the way that world
expects. During this month we have been
immersed in this kind of view. It has
almost reached the point where I dread the month of June. The “Pride” theme
supporting homosexuality is shoved upon us constantly by the government, the
media and big business. The rainbow has been perverted from a sign of God’s
promise to a symbol of perversion and sin.
does not receive those who want to hold onto their sin. Instead, he calls sinners to repentance. He calls them to turn away from sin. He calls us to confess our own sin and
to turn away from it as we believe and trust in Christ for forgiveness.
Because we do
there is joy in heaven. In this
forgiveness made possible by the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, we learn
how valuable we are to God. And if we
are, then so are the people around us.
Every person you meet is someone for whom Jesus Christ died on the cross
and rose from the dead. You must treat
them with the love and respect because they are so valuable on God’s eyes.
We act in
ways that reflect the love and forgiveness that God has shown us. When others
mistreat you, forgive them because God has forgiven you. When they show anger towards you, bless and
help them. As Jesus states in this Gospel, “But I say to you who hear, Love your
enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse
you, pray for those who abuse you.”
In our Gospel lesson,
we see God’s desire to seek and to save the lost. We were lost, but by the
death and resurrection of Jesus God has given us forgiveness. In Christ there is forgiveness for all who
repent. This means that we must continue to repent. We confess our sin and turn away from it, as
we receive the forgiveness won for us by Christ. We live in the confidence that there is joy
in heaven when we do so.