Pentecost 17C 2013 (Lk 15,1–10)

Immanuel Lutheran Church—Bossier City, LA

“Do You See What Jesus Sees?”


Repentance.  What does it look like?  When you hear the word “repentance”, something comes to mind.  The words “repentance”, “repenting”, or the strong “repent!” evoke something in us.  Now, when we think of someone repenting of there sins, what comes to mind?  A person who quote “comes to” repentance, evokes an image, or at least maybe some steps to his or her getting there. Repentance.  Is what we think repentance is different or the same from what Jesus thinks it is?  Yes, repentance.  We think we know what that’s all about.  But if we look at our Gospel lesson, it might be something different than we suppose.

(1. What does repentance look like?)

The first step in finding out what repentance looks like is finding out how “repent” is used in our Gospel lesson.  The text from Luke says it twice: “over one sinner who repents.”  In the Scriptures there are two ways in which “repentance”, “repenting”, or “repent” are used.  Which is it in our text?  Well, lets consider this for a moment.

The first way is all encompassing.  What I mean by that is this: it’s repentance in toto, what happens completely to a person.  Jesus says in Luke 13, “Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”  Unless you repent, that is, unless you become converted to faith you will likewise perish.  What Jesus means is this: You don’t have faith not only might this befall you, but even worse will befall you—eternity in hell.

The second way is different than that first.  It’s a more narrow way.  When it is paired with faith, it’s taken to mean simply remorse over sin.  Jesus said, “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)  Paul said, “I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:20–21)

So, there’s a narrow and a broad way to understand repentance in Holy Scripture.  One speaks of a sinners entire conversion, and the other refers to remorse over sin when it is paired with faith.  So which is it in our Gospel lesson?  It would the broad way.  Listen to what Jesus says today: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents” (7).  There can only be joy in heaven if there’s not only remorse over sin, but also faith in the promises of Christ.

How does this work itself out?  What of such repentance?  What sort of ways of viewing this sort of repentance do we hear rolling and rumbling around us?  There’s so many different ways of understanding repentance.  We see it all around us.

What views of repentance are there?  Well, there’s the “Do your best, and God will do the rest.”  If you just try your hardest to turn your heart, to turn your ways, to turn your mind toward, God will rewards such effort.  “Do what’s in your own power.”  I mean, we’re only human.  You have to put forth effort.  God helps those who help themselves, after all.  

The second view is similar to the first.  You’ve got to put forth a good effort.  You’ve got to get going in the right direction first.  You’ve got to get your act together first.  An act of good faith so to speak.  You have to show your serious about it first.  You’ve gotta mean it.  You don’t want to delude yourself into thinking you’ve repented when you haven’t.  There’s no cheap grace here.

There’s another example of repentance floating around.  You’ve gotta make a choice.  Give your heart to Jesus.  Make Him Lord of your life, Lord of your soul.  “Choose this day whom you shall serve”—even though Joshua asks that of believers.  There’s the sinners prayer.  Make your choice, your stand.  Submit yourself to the Lord.  You’ve gotta open your heart to Jesus’ knocking—even though, again, that’s in reference to those who are already believers.

(2. What does repentance look like to Jesus?)

Now, those views are held by some, but maybe just parts of all of them, or other ones.  Or maybe people have views that lean in a certain direction.  The question remains: what’s repentance look like to Jesus?

“And all the tax collectors and the sinners were drawing near to Him to hear Him, and both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”  The sinners, the tax collectors, those people were coming to Jesus.  The report of His Word had gotten out and they wanted to hear it.  His message that He had come for sinners, that He was forgiving sinners was out.  Yeah, those people were there, and the self-righteous Pharisees and Scribes would have none of it.  “He’s here!” they’d say.  “Just because they come here to this man they think they’ve actually done something.  Look at this man receiving them.  It’s terrible.  Doesn’t he know what they’ve done.  What they do?  Who they are?”

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

“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?  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.‘  Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Repentance in Jesus’ mind is something more radical than that of the Pharisees and Scribes, something more radical than all the views of repentance floating around out there.  Jesus is the shepherd, the woman who search to find that which is lost.  There’s no giving your heart to Jesus here, no setting yourself in the right direction.  In fact, with all boldness and confidence I can say, “I’ve never given my heart to Jesus.”  That’s not how these parables of Jesus lay it out for us.  Jesus lays it out in a completely different way.

What does the sheep do to be found?  It just keeps wandering and wandering, getting more and more lost.  It won’t find it’s way back even if it wanted to.  The shepherd has to go and find it before something worse befalls it than just being lost—a wolf’s jaws.  In the same way Jesus comes and finds the sheep to rescue it from the jaws of the devil who prowls around looking for someone to devour.

Think of the lost sheep, now think of the coin.  What does the sheep do to be found?  Not much.  What about the coin?  Even less.  The coin does nothing whatsover.  Just so the sinner does nothing to be found by Jesus.  Jesus searches high and low.  Jesus spares nothing to find it.  Will do anything to find it.

This is repentance in Jesus eyes.  His finding sinners.  He comes.  Sets aside the glory of His deity, is born of the Virgin Mary, suffers under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, and rose again the third day for sinners.  Coming to Jesus is really Jesus coming to and for sinners, for those people, for you and me.  He is kind to sinners showing by His two parables that He seeks out sinners to proclaim His absolution to them, to pronounce their sins forgiven.  To say, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Sinners whom Christ has found with His Word of “your sins are forgiven” draw near to Him, cling to Him to hear Him, to hear that Word again and again.  “All the tax collectors and the sinners”, all those people, you and me “are drawing near to Him to hear Him.”  What a message to encourage one another with, to tell other “those people” about.  How else did Jesus find more and more sinners, how else did more and more sinners hear, “I forgive your sins” from Jesus.  Here you are to hear Him again, “Your sins are forgiven”, to eat with Him again.  Repentance.  What does it look like?  Indeed what joy it is that



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