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Heaven Rejoices When the Lost are Found

Luke 15:1-10

Pastor James F. Wright

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
St John Lutheran Church  
Champaign, IL

Sun, Sep 30, 2001 

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.' In the same way there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" Luke 15:1-10.

Today the Lord Jesus reminds us how precious all people are to the heavenly Father. He says there is great joy in heaven when a he finds one of his lost people.

Since September 11 rescue workers have been painstakingly picking through the rubble of the World Trade Center looking for survivors. They came from all over the country, even from places nearby like Sidney. Every day that passed there were less and less chances of anyone alive. Still they looked, day after day, firemen risking their lives just for the chance that there might be someone still left alive. They gave so much because the lives of these people were so precious, strangers as they were.

Our Lord wants us to know that he is like a shepherd who looking for lost sheep. He wanders throughout this world looking for those he might save. While few survivors were found in the rubble of the New York tragedy, Jesus saves people he finds in places you'd never expect. He was criticized in his day for being friends with sinners and tax collectors, outcasts of society.

No one walking down the street would pass by one of them and say, "Oh boy, Is this my lucky day! I saw a tax collector today! These people were lost to God, and they knew no one wanted to find them.

Jesus loved them. He wanted to be with them. They entertained Jesus in their homes and he had supper with them often. He found that they made the best disciples because they knew how much they needed him. They knew they would be spending an eternity in hell, as people constantly would remind them.

Today people don't generally realize on their own that they are lost. Without hearing the word of God, we don't know any better. We live life within the boundaries of birth and death. We work, we play, we eat and drink, trying to find some enjoyment in all of this before life ends. We don't feel lost because we can see millions of others living the same way.

When the teaching of Jesus comes to us we are awakened to another way to see life differently. He teaches us to see ourselves properly. He takes us to the mirror of his Word and we see our image reflected there. It is not a pretty sight. He shows us the false gods we have served and how we have lived selfishly. He shows us how short-sighted our vision is. We don't think of living forever, only about living for today .

When we come to see how lost we really are, he shows us something else. He tells us how he found us and leads us to the place we belong. He demonstrates his love for us by taking up the cross for us. He takes away our sin. Then, from that moment on, we begin to see life differently. Life doesn't have that road block at the end that we can't pass through. We begin to consider the possibility of living forever. We look at everyday things differently now. Things that happen aren't so scary anymore.

The awakening that takes place within the Christian reminds me of the change of mind we now have in this country after September 11. The freedoms we used to take for granted are now more precious, the freedom to travel, to invest, to sit in a stadium watching a game and feel safe. Now we do the same things, but we think differently about them.

In a similar way when we hear the Gospel of Jesus, it causes us to think differently about life. Our values begin to change. Things that used to make us feel important and point out our status aren't so important. Taking their place are the things that God values, honor, holiness, goodness, compassion, love for others. It's a beautiful transition that goes on in the heart of every believer. Our hearts are changed forever.

Every soul is valuable. Evil men rejoice today because they have removed what they would deem evil people from the world. They sent terrorists to kill our citizens. But our Heavenly Father notices sinners, goes in after them, and even carries them back to the flock on his own shoulders. God is concerned about every one of the nearly seven billion people living on this planet. He wants all to repent and come back to him. That is why he would leave the ninety-nine sheep in safe pastures and go out after the one sheep that was lost. One percent may be an acceptable loss for us, but not for Jesus.

When someone comes into the kingdom of God, carried by Jesus in the forgiveness of sins, there is much rejoicing in heaven. The angels literally cry out in joy for God's plans have been realized again. What a celebration that must be! A soul that was crushed under the weight of sin has been hauled out of the rubble and revived, never to die again. What was lost is found. What was worthless has now become priceless. What was scorned is now praised.

As God's redeemed people we have so much reason to rejoice. When we see a new face at church, we should be drawn to get to know that person. Today we welcome new teachers, but also anyone who is here with us. They bring great joy to the heavenly Father. They should bring great joy to us also. When someone we know makes a serious mistake in living their life, really messing things up by being stiff-necked and stubborn, and then realizes their sin and comes back to God, we can choose either gloat over it, or welcome them back with open arms. Welcoming them means we are seeing things God's way and we have an accurate picture of who we really are ourselves. We rejoice that God's precious person has been brought back from the dead.

In New York City they used cranes to look for people in the rubble. It didn't matter whether they were the president of a company, a tourist, or the lowest rank of security guard. Every life was precious to find.

It is the same in God's flock.

Here Jesus uses His own Words and the gifts of Baptism and the Lord's Supper to save us. He calls us together around His Word and to make us alive. He sends us forth into the world looking for His lost sheep. Like rescue workers, we look here and there trying to find people who want to live. When we do, we bring them to Jesus, the Great Physician of the soul for healing. We bring them here to His Word and there to holy Baptism. By the power of his sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection from the dead the Holy Spirit makes them live again. He rejoices over the repentant sinner that he has led back to his flock.

This is why the preaching of God's word is so important to us. Together with Baptism and the Supper, this is where God is working in our world rescuing people one soul at a time. The most important part of living is being a part of God's saving work. That's why we are a church and a family of God.

Seeing this great tragedy and the millions of people who have come together offering their help is a reminder of the love of God for his people, pouring out his only Son as an offering for the salvation of the world. Amen.



Copyright 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.



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