The text is the Holy Gospel, the Parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin.
A problem with parables is that our sinful flesh loves to interpret them in a law-oriented way. The flesh reads a parable and says, “What does this parable tell me I need to do?” The parables are used to lay guilt trips on those other people who are not doing enough. All the while, the flesh pats itself on the back for a job well done because it thinks it has been obedient.
The parable of the lost sheep has been abused to lay guilt trips on people by telling them that they need to go out and find more lost sheep. If you are not, then you do not have a heart for the lost.
This is not the purpose of these two parables, or of the parable of the prodigal son that follows our text. The real purpose is to show how wrong the pharisees and scribes were to grumble and complain that He was receiving sinners and eating with them. In heaven, says Jesus, there is much rejoicing over every sinner who repents.
He does not say, There is much rejoicing over every believer who goes out and finds lost sheep. To be sure, bringing lost sinners to repentance is not a bad thing. That is simply not the point of the parable. Christ gives neither instruction nor command to find lost sheep.
Nor is Jesus here trying to kindle a fiery desire in people to win lost sinners. The Pharisees were already very diligent at trying to win over converts. Jesus described them as traveling land and sea to win just one person. The problem is, they were not winning their converts to true repentance, but to their own self-righteous religion.
Meanwhile, the tax collectors and sinners were eagerly drawing near Jesus to hear Him. They were not there to hear Him chat with them. No, He was doing what He always did: He taught the Word. The Word, both Law and Gospel, was driving their hearts to repentance. So these tax collectors and sinners were the lost sheep and lost coin in the parables. It was them that Jesus was receiving.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, rejected the Word, as they had rejected the Baptism of John. They thought that they needed no repentance. Of course, there is no man, woman, or child who does not need repentance, and the pharisees should have known that from Scripture. But they refused to listen to Christ, and refused to repent.
Still, our Lord graciously taught any pharisees who would listen, as He sowed the Word generously. He was seeking even the pharisees and scribes, because they were lost sheep as well.
Who else are lost sheep? They are anyone who needs to repent, that is, all who need to be found by the Shepherd. But everyone needs to repent, even if they already believe. We must keep repenting our whole life long. As soon as we decide that we do not need repentance, we become pharisees who reject the Word.
Lost sheep include any people who do not have faith. This can be someone who once had faith but fell away. It can be someone who has not yet heard the Gospel. It can be a little infant at the beginning of life, or an old man at the end of it.
Christ desires that all repent, that is, that they have sorrow for sin as well as faith in Him for salvation. But no one can repent except by the gift of God. Lost sheep and coins cannot find themselves, just as dead sinners cannot conjure faith from their will. It takes the powerful Word of Christ to bring the lost to repentance.
So the one who finds the lost is Jesus, every single time. You may happen to be the one through whom He works this miracle, but He is the one who receives sinners. You and I do not have that power. The Word on our lips has the power because it is the Word of Christ who seeks the lost.
Yet we should remember that we are lost sheep. Our sinful nature is no less lost than it ever was. Although Christ found you, you are still a wandering sheep. Although He has cleansed you from every sin, yet your crooked heart still tries to stray. We also must repent. Once we have begun repenting, we do not cease until there is no sin left to repent of, which can only happen at the Resurrection of all flesh.
So remember this: Christ Jesus seeks the lost. He receives sinners, which is the same as seeking the lost. For He has accepted you on the basis of His own righteousness and suffering and death.
He went looking for you on a hill full of darkness and bitter death. He searched through a thorny land, and even allowed thorns to pierce Him. He climbed down into the dark valley of the shadow of death to carry you out into the light again. He crushed the head of the awful wolf that was going to devour you. He lifted you onto His shoulders, and not only you, but also the heavy weight of your sins. He took the burden of your guilt on the cross and paid for it with His Blood.
Then He swept you clean from all your sins by washing you with water that was holy and pure. He lit the lamp of His Word to shed His light upon you. For He also sent His Spirit to give life to your dead soul by His spoken Word. So He has found you and has claimed you again as His own.
This is Christ, the Great Finder of the Lost, who receives sinners and eats with them. He is not ashamed to share His fellowship with you. You are not too sinful for Him, since He has covered your sins with His Blood. He is with you at every earthly meal, and also desires to share the heavenly meal at this Altar. No one deserves this meal. Yet He offers it to wretched sinners.
He will also share His eternal banquet in the New Heaven and New Earth. He will meet you there and speak to you face to face, in all His glory. But there you will no longer be a sinner, since you will be cleansed once and for all by the Spirit of God. There God the Father will also reveal His face to you. For it was not only the angels who rejoiced over your repentance, but even the eternal God of the universe overflowed with joy over you, the lost sinner He has found through His Son.
All glory to this Triune God. Amen.
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