Joy Over Repentance!

The 3rd Sunday after Trinity—20 June 2021

Luke 15:1-10

1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 

3 So he told them this parable:  4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 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.

8 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (ESV)

Introduction: The Rejoicing of Angels!

Holy Scripture mentions the rejoicing of angels three times. When God created the universe and laid the foundation of the earth,…the morning stars sang together and all the [angels] shouted for joy (Job 38:4,7). And then when Christ our Saviour was born in Bethlehem, a multitude of the heavenly host [praised] God…saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:13-14). And now our Lord Jesus reveals the third occasion for angelic rejoicing: I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

The angels who shouted for joy at the dawn of creation and who praised God on the night of our Saviour’s birth—are now rejoicing every time we repent. We sometimes view repentance as a burden, but here we see repentance’s true nature. How can repentance be a drudgery when the angels themselves joyfully exalt repentance up to the glorious heights of creation and our Lord’s nativity? In making repentance an occasion for joy, the angels show us that repentance is indeed a new creation and a new birth, for through penitential faith we are renewed in our life in Christ. As you repent daily of your sins, remember that the angels of God are rejoicing! The angels rejoice because God in His grace takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live  (Ezekiel 33:1).  

Our Lord’s mission: To seek, find, and restore lost sinners

God takes great pleasure in sinners turning from death and sin to life and salvation in Christ. And so our Lord Jesus tells us a parable about His mission to seek, find, and restore lost sinners. He shows us just how lost we are. The sheep and the coin are both lost. They cannot find themselves. The only hope for the sheep is to be found by the shepherd. The only hope for the coin is to be found by the woman.

And our only hope is to be found by our Saviour Jesus. Now the Father has sent the Son as Saviour of the world (1 John 4:14) and Jesus has indeed taken away the sins of the whole world. But sadly, not everyone will benefit from our Lord’s salvation, for some sinners refuse to be found by the Saviour, who has made it His mission to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).  

As an example of lost sinners who refuse to be found, consider the Pharisees and scribes. They want nothing to do with our Lord’s rescue mission. And they despise the tax collectors and other sinners with whom Jesus associates. They think that they themselves are already righteous and need no repentance. And thus they cut themselves off from the joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.

God’s gift of repentance in Jesus

Now as an example of lost sinners who are found by our Lord, consider you and me and all who confess Christ. It is not that we are better than the Pharisees. No, we were born just as lost in sin as they. But in the waters of Holy Baptism, God finds us! And in His grace God gives us a new heart, a heart that confesses its lostness and that trusts in the Lord’s salvation. This is not our doing, but God’s gift. Do not ever despise God’s gift of repentance, for to do so is to say to God: “God, I do not want to be found”.  And that is what repentance is—a heartfelt, God-given desire to be freed from sin and found by God. Repentance is that holy urge to join the psalmist in praying: Let my cry come before you, O LORD; deliver me according to your word. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant (Psalm 119:169, 170, 176). 

Some people think that repentance consists of promising God that you will change for the better. But in and of ourselves, we are frail sinners and we often repeat the same sins of weakness—anger, lust, coveting, and so forth. Therefore, if repentance depended on our promise to improve, then we would all be in trouble with God and none of us would be certain of our salvation. True repentance, though, is not a human promise but a divine gift. By God’s grace, you confess that you are a sinner and you trust God to forgive you for the sake of Christ. That’s repentance, repentance that relies completely upon Christ for the certainty of our salvation! 

Repentance is being found by Jesus, the One Who has endless joy in seeking, finding, and restoring lost sinners! Repentance is being rescued; it is being laid, helpless, over the shoulder of our loving Lord who ever seeks to turn us from our sins to Him! Repentance is being brought back—from sin, death, and Satan—into joy, light, life, and eternal gladness.

The God who seeks, finds, and celebrates with lost sinners

Today’s Gospel tells of the shepherd doing the hard work of seeking, finding, and restoring the one who needs rescuing, who is lost, who cannot get himself un-lost. The same storyline continues with the woman and her lost coin. What a picture of Jesus!  Down on His knees, for the joy of saving us lost ones; enduring such shame, such torture, such agonizing labour. Until He has us—His lost ones—back safe in His arms!

The shepherd and the woman in today’s Gospel make a wonderful picture of the repentance God works in us when He turns us from our sins toward faith in Christ. Repentance is when God does the finding. God seeks, God finds, God puts us on His shoulders, and carries us home. And then comes the party! Jesus the Finder calls His friends—the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven—and there is an eternal Feast! Such joy in heaven and on earth when Christ rescues even a single lost sinner! That is repentance, Jesus-style!

Jesus, the Friend of sinners!

The Pharisees and scribes muttered about Jesus and grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them”. Of course, that is why Jesus, God’s Son, became Man. Jesus truly is the Friend of sinners, who lived the perfect life that the Law requires of us and who took upon Himself all the world’s sins, all of God’s condemnation that we deserve, and He died in our place on the cross, bearing our sin and guilt, our condemnation and damnation. All this He did so that He could receive lost sinners into heaven and feast with them forever. What for the Pharisees was the greatest insult is for us the greatest promise—yes indeed, this man receives sinners and eats with them!

Jesus receives sinners—that is why He came. He came to seek and save that which was lost—to seek and find you and to bring you safely home. Here we see the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:18, 19), that He is ever seeking to restore lost sinners. 

There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents. The angels who shouted for joy at the dawn of creation and who praised God on the night of our Saviour’s birth—are rejoicing here today to see such a gathering of repentant sinners. And it is all because [Jesus] receives sinners and eats with them. Jesus—true God and true Man, died, rose, ascended, and is seated at the Father’s right hand—Jesus has found us in the waters of Holy Baptism, and He continues to seek, find, and restore us our whole life long.  He gives us the grace to daily confess that we have gone astray like lost sheep and to daily trust in His love and mercy, by which our sins are forgiven. This Jesus, Friend of Sinners, pardons our iniquity and passes over our transgressions because He delights in us in steadfast love and ever works to restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us in the one true faith unto life everlasting.

Today our Lord comes among us to receive sinners and to eat with us. He lays before us with great joy the Feast of His Holy Word and His Holy Supper. Lost sinners being found and then brought with great joy to a feast—that is the pattern of our life in Christ. Just as the shepherd calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost”, so today our Lord Jesus sets before us a feast—a foretaste of His eternal feast where He will dwell and eat with sinners forever. And today, as we are received into the holy presence of Jesus, He calls together all His holy angels to rejoice over our repentance, over our being found by Jesus, the Great Friend of Sinners. Amen.