[Read Luke 15:1-10]
Heaven Rejoices When You Repent
You’re in a car going the wrong direction down a dark road. Home is behind you, but the car is barreling straight ahead. There are two ways to turn around and start heading the right direction again. One is to grip the steering wheel tightly and turn it with all your might. The other way is to keep your hands to yourself and go back to the passenger seat where you belong – your driver knows how to get you home.
In your Christian faith, brothers and sisters, you are in the passenger seat – or perhaps the back seat – or maybe the trunk – but you’re not in the driver seat; and God never commands you to put your hands on the steering wheel of your faith. God captains that ship. God steers that vessel.
But what about with repentance? Whose hands are on the wheel when it comes to repentance? You must get this right or it’s a shipwreck.
Jesus came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” “Repent” can be a very heavy word – too heavy. But Christ, today, in our Gospel lesson, speaks of “repent” as a joyous word – “there is JOY before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
“Repent” means to turn – to turn around. All sin – sins of thought, word, or deed – all sin begins in the heart and mind. “Repent” – the Greek word is metanoew (meta-no-eo) – “repent” means to “turn your mind” – to “turn around” in your thinking. “Repent” – turn around in your thinking about sin and about a Savior. That is biblical repentance.
So, when the bible says, “repent”, who is doing the turning? Whose hands grab the steering wheel? The two parables spoken to us by our Lord Jesus today are parables about repentance, and they may cause us to think a little bit differently about who turns the wheel in that turning of our mind. The two parables we heard today are what we often call “The Parable of the Lost Sheep” and the “The Parable of the Lost Coin”.
The first parable, however, is not a parable about a sheep. It is a parable about a man – a shepherd – who has a sheep, a sheep that wanders astray. This man, this shepherd, wanders through the woods, seeks out this sheep which is walking away, and he picks this sheep up, puts it on his shoulders, and turns around and walks it back the right way – he walks it back home. The man then rejoices that his sheep which was lost has now been found. He rejoices that his sheep has been re-turned toward home.
The second parable is not a parable about a lost coin. It is a parable about a woman who has lost a coin. In this parable, the woman has lost one coin. So, she lights a lamb for light and grabs her broom and sweeps the whole house until she finds this one coin in the crack or corner into which it has rolled. She seeks and she finds. Upon finding the coin she rejoices with her friends.
Both the woman and the shepherd rejoice and gather their friends to rejoice with them when they have found and re-turned what was lost. What strayed is found, turned, and carried back. What was lost is found and returned to its place. Jesus says that, likewise, heaven rejoices when one sinner repents.
Brothers and sisters, in repentance, who does the turning? Who turns what? Ask yourself: In the parable, who does the turning? Who does the re-turning? The man, the shepherd, in the parable isn’t you – the shepherd is Jesus. You are the strayed sinner, the sheep walking the wrong direction. How does the sheep, the sinner, turn around in the parable – how does the sheep repent, how does it turn around back to the right way? The sheep turns around when it is turned around. The sheep turns around when the shepherd finds it, puts it on his shoulders, and turns for home.
So, it is with a person astray in sin. “Repent”, “turn around”, biblically, is a matter of being turned around by the Savior. All the saving is the Savior’s work – including repentance. And when the Savior turns the sinner around back toward home, heaven rejoices.
You are not the woman in the parable of the lost coin. The woman is being compared to what the Savior, our Lord, the man Jesus does for lost sinners. You are the lost coin – you roll away into dark places; by your sin, you fall into dirty cracks in the floor of the house and roll into dusty corners.
The Savior comes sweeping for you. He finds you. He returns you to his money bag. The coin turns around when it is found and returned by its owner. The sinner repents, turns around his thinking, when he (or she) is picked up and returned by the Savior.
In your everyday way of speaking – in a human way of speaking – “repent” means something that you do. “Repent” – “turn yourself around”. What an impossible burden for a broken sinner! We must look to the Word of God to see what the Word of God means when it says, “Repent”. These two parables of Jesus show us that, Biblically, “repent”, “turn around”, is all about the Savior who turns you.
In fact, Jeremiah 31:18 says, “turn Thou me, and I shall be turned; for Thou art the Lord my God.” Turn Thou me, O Lord, and I shall be turned.
You’ve wandered into sinful activity. You’ve failed to truly love your neighbor. You’ve failed to bless those who curse you. You’ve returned evil for evil instead of responding to evil with good. You’ve failed to be a Christian. You’ve looked at parts of God’s Word and said, “I don’t think I can believe this.” You’ve sinned in thought. You’ve sinned in word and deed. Pray, “Turn me, O Lord, and I will be turned. For You are my Lord and God.” “Turn me Lord, and I will be turned around.”
“Repent” is so often a heavy, harsh word. But “repent” in the Bible means that God is a God who drives His car around town looking for His strayed son or His strayed daughter. When He sees you on the sidewalk or in the ally, He opens the car door, helps you in, puts His hands back on the wheel, and turns the car back toward home. Day after day after day, your loving Father and loving Shepherd and Savior, Jesus, do this for you. And heaven rejoices each day as sinners are again and again turned toward home.
This is Christian repentance. Remember this brothers and sisters, especially in this patriotic season, as you claim to believe in a Christian America. I too want a Christian America – but a Christian America means making Americans into Christians.
Making a Christian America doesn’t mean singing “God Bless America” in church. That’s just a good thing to do – to pray for our nation in song. But making a Christian America means taking the church’s song out to others. Making a Christian America means bringing our great songs, “Jesus Sinners Doth Receive” and “Chief of Sinners Though I Be” out to others.
Many people have heard the word “Repent”. Not many people, even those who are called Christians, know about the truly gracious Savior who has loved them and died for them even before they ever knew to repent.
So, remember, a Christian America doesn’t mean talking about a Christian America. A Christian America means you Christian Americans talking about this Jesus and all He has done for straying sheep and fallen sinners. A Christian America means you speaking the Christian Gospel to others. Jesus has died for you, and you can show others that He loves them and has died for them.
Jesus has loved you and has been gracious to you and has forgiven each of you your sins by His shed blood alone. I give thanks to God that He so often eats with sinners, like He will eat with me and you today in this Lord’s Supper. Because even here in this preaching and in this meal He is taking ahold of the steering wheel and driving us guilty people back toward home without any merit or worthiness on our part. For “turning our minds” and for our salvation, we give thanks to our Savior and Shepherd alone, Jesus Christ. Amen.