[Luke 15:1-10] 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.”
Repentance: Jesus Finds and (Re)Turns You
Martin Luther once noted four stages of temptation in men’s lives, corresponding to age. He said, “Young fellows are tempted by girls. Men who are thirty years old are tempted by gold. When they are forty years old, they are tempted by honor and glory. Then those who are sixty years old say to themselves, ‘What a pious man I’ve become!’”
I heard it said by an older pastor this way instead: “Every age of a person’s life has its own sin. The sin of the elderly is that they don’t believe they’re sinners anymore.”
Scripture says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us… If we say we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and His Word is not in us.” [1 John 1:8,10].
It is a matter of eternal life and death to know our sinful condition and our need for repentance. “Your adversary, the devil”, our Epistle reading says, “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” [1 Peter 5:8]. At any age, the devil’s strongest attack against you is to get you to stop feeling your need for Jesus the Savior.
The hardest nut to crack is the sin of no longer believing oneself to be a sinner. How can I repent when I no longer feel the need to repent? Yet, Jesus said to us all, “Repent and believe the Gospel” [Mark 1:15]. And Scripture also says, “The Lord is… not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” [2 Peter 3:9]
Our Lord’s parables in today’s Gospel are about repentance. “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.” “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” [Luke 15:7,10]
What can a man or woman do to rid themselves of their numbness toward sin? How can I become repentant again when I’m no longer feeling the need for repentance?
Perhaps we need to be reminded something about the nature of sin. Sin is not just what we’ve done wrong, but sin is also the good that we’ve been leaving undone. We call this ‘sins of commission’ and ‘sins of omission’. Sin of commission is wrong I’ve done. Sin of omission is good I fail to do.
A sin of commission is doing ill toward my neighbor. Sin of omission is the good I should be doing for my neighbor in need but am not doing. God sees the little I give. The sin of omission is all that I’ve held back. God sees all that you do not give or do; and He does judge.
A sin of commission is when you speak ill of your husband or wife. The sin of omission is all the good words or encouragement that you did not speak. A sin of commission is a dad who abuses his children. The sin of omission is a dad who doesn’t make time for his children.
To be a criminal in society – a thief, a robber – is a sin of commission. The time you ought to give, the benefit you ought to be to others, is your crime of omission. You are robbing others of yourself and of the benefit you could be to them.
If we were to come here and break the windows, spray paint the brick, and vandalize God’s house, that would be a sin of commission. When God’s children are neglecting His house of worship and aren’t taking care of it fully, this is a sin of omission. All that you’ve left undone.
And worse is if God’s children are not being active to take daily and weekly care of each other, each as brothers and sisters of each other here. Not calling. Not sending cards. Not visiting each other when sick or troubled in some way. All that you leave undone for each other.
How can I learn to repent? Well, there is much daily to repent of. Learn God’s commandments. Give attention, especially, to the 10 Commandments as they are explained in your Small Catechism. Examine yourself in them daily. You will see just how much good there is for us to be doing. Individually and as a group, we have plenty of room for repentance and for an increase in doing good.
Aside from this age-old problem of not recognizing the enormity of our own sins, another hindrance to our repentance is false teaching which makes repentance into a human work, my work, which I must accomplish for my salvation.
But, in truth, the repentance we need is not a human work at all. It is a gift we ask for from our Savior. Repentance is not my end of the deal that I must fulfill first before God can forgive me. Repentance is not my success at fully vanquishing a sin from my life before I can be right with God. Conversely though, repentance is not my mere acknowledgment that my sins are wrong, with no intent to mend them. Big or small, repentance is not a human work.
Instead, brothers and sisters, repentance is presented in our Lord’s parables today as the saving work of our Savior. Our Lord’s two parables in the Gospel today teach us the unexpected truth that the true repentance I need is God’s work: His turning of me. A Shepherd turning and returning His lost sheep to the fold. And the work of a woman, perhaps His Church, finding and returning her one lost coin.
Read the parables. Is repentance – the turning and returning of the sinner to the fold – the work of the sheep or of the shepherd? The sheep wandered. The sheep got himself lost. “All we like sheep have gone astray.” The Shepherd heads out for just that one sheep. The Shepherd finds him. The Shepherd puts him or her on His shoulders. The Shepherd turns toward home. The sheep is turned and returned to the flock on the shoulders of the Shepherd.
And then Jesus says, “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.” In repentance, God is turning and returning you.
The woman sweeps and looks for and finds the lost coin. You are searched for, found, and returned as a treasured coin. “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Repentance means to turn. Yet, though I turn, it is the Lord who is turning me. It is His work. Scripture speaks this way elsewhere. The prophet Jeremiah says to the Lord, “turn Thou me, and I shall be turned; for Thou art the Lord my God” [Jeremiah 31:18]. Repentance trusts and relies upon me? Or upon the Savior? “Turn me, Lord, and I will be turned.”
It is a present, constant, everyday reality that your sinful nature, your old Adam, seeks to wander and does. Yet it is a present, constant, everyday reality that Jesus is your Shepherd finding and returning you.
The Shepherd who finds you daily, hourly and repents you back home each time is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep. “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” [John 10:11]. “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” [Isaiah 53:6].
Can I repent? Know your sin. Confess it. Seek God’s aid in doing better. Call upon the name of your Good Shepherd. The Shepherd who laid down His life for yours has pardoned you in full by His blood. He is risen for you and you are restored in His resurrection. Call upon Him for the gift of repentance. He will turn you. He will return you. He will raise you. And He promises that He will not let any of His own slip out of His hand forever. Amen.