Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. In our Gospel Reading for today, we hear two of our Lord’s parables which illustrate our Lord’s delight in receiving sinners and offering them forgiveness. The scene is set up when some tax collectors and sinners draw near to Jesus to hear him. These people are the societal outcasts. They are the cheaters and those who have made bad life choices repeatedly—exactly the kind of people that a decent person would avoid at all costs. The Pharisees and scribes, who were nearby, also knew this. And since they didn’t care much for Jesus, they accused him of hanging with the wrong crowd:
“This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2b).
Our Lord could have taken this opportunity to say, “Actually, you’re right. I don’t want these people near me”, but he didn’t. Instead, our Lord takes the opportunity to emphasize his delight in receiving sinners. He does so by telling two parables, which are similar in nature and purpose. The first parable is a parable about a man who has 100 sheep. When one gets lost, he leaves the 99 in search of the one until he finds it and returns it home safe and sound. When he returns home with the sheep, he invites his friends and neighbors to join in his joy at recovering the lost sheep. The second parable is about a woman who has 10 silver coins. When one gets lost, she searches everywhere in the house until she finds it and returns it to its place safe and sound. When she has done this, she invites her friends and neighbors to join in her joy at recovering the lost coin. Our Lord tells us that the point of these two parables is to illustrate and emphasize his delight in receiving repentant sinners.
2. All of this is well and good, but it leaves an important question unanswered. What benefit does the repentant sinner receive by being received by the Lord? We saw in the parables that the Lord himself receives great joy when a repentant sinner returns to him to receive forgiveness. But what is the benefit for the one repenting? What does this forgiveness change in our lives? The Christian faith has always answered this question on the basis of the Scriptures in a twofold manner:
Forgiveness of sins changes our lives
1.) here in this life
2.) and in the life to come.
II. Forgiveness Changes this Life
3. First, how does forgiveness of sins change our lives here in this life? There are a number of ways I could go about answering this question. But in the end, it all comes back to one fundamental truth. Forgiveness of sins allows us to really live on this side of eternity. So many people in our world today don’t get to experience what it means to truly live because they are so focused on the things of this life. And this happens to all people regardless of personality, ethnicity, economic status, or any other factor. Without the forgiveness of sins, this life becomes rather meaningless. All that matters in life is focusing on the things of this life. And so, the father of a dirt-poor family in Africa gets up every morning so he can work himself ragged all day so that he can put enough food on the table to fill the hungry bellies of his family. There’s little thought given to anything else because all that matters is putting food on the table. Or maybe it’s the single mother trying to provide for her kids. She wants to give them the life she thinks they deserve, but to do so means that she works multiple jobs simply to pay the bills and provide her kids with access to activities and opportunities to better themselves. All that matters is providing for her kids. Or maybe it’s the middle-class family. There’s nothing overly spectacular about the family—just a couple of parents and a couple of kids trying to find their way in the world. The parents and kids alike find themselves in a race to keep with the more well-to-do families so that they’ll fit in and look like they belong in a class above their own. All that matters is fitting in with the right crowd. Or maybe it’s the wealthy single guy who works hard and plays hard. All of his time is devoted to earning money and spending that money on a life fit for a king. All that matters is a life filled with comfort and pleasure. But for as different as each of these situations are, they all suffer from the same problem: a lack of true purpose and meaning. Sure, the African father has a family to provide for. But what is there beyond that? What happens when he grows old and the kids grow up? Where is his purpose found then? The same questions could be asked of the single mother, the middle-class family, or the wealthy single guy. What is the point of all of this? When a person’s ability to work and contribute in a tangible way is taken away, they realize just how meaningless life is. The reality is, life is meaningless for so many people. Providing for your kids, going above and beyond for them, or seeking pleasure for yourself is nothing more than chasing wind in the end if there’s no deeper purpose behind it. In the end, we all die. And so, without faith—without forgiveness nothing in this life truly matters.
4. But for us Christians, this is not the story of our lives. The forgiveness of sins that our Lord gives to us allows us to really live on this side of eternity. And so, for that same poor African guy, his same life has all sorts of meaning when the forgiveness of sins is added to the picture. He doesn’t just work all day to put food on the table, he gets to model for his family what it means to be the self-sacrificing head. And in his self-sacrificing example, his family sees a picture of Jesus, the one with whom the man and his family will live for all eternity. And when he grows old and can’t contribute anymore, his life still has meaning because his example both in the past and the present still points his family to Jesus and the hope of a better life in the world to come. Much of the same can be said of the single mother. Her life has meaning not because of what she can provide for her kids, but because of the forgiveness of sins that she leads them to. Humanly speaking, her kids might not have a present, living father, but she teaches them about their heavenly Father whose forgiveness is the foundation of meaning-filled, hopeful life on this side of eternity. Similarly, the middle-class family doesn’t need to feel like they have to fit in with the right crowd to find meaning. Their meaning is found in being who the Lord created them to be—whether at work, in the home, at school, or anywhere else. The Lord has placed them in their unique situations in life to bless others and witness to them how a life built on the forgiveness of sins is a life with an eternal hope. And for the wealthy man, a meaningful life isn’t found in the pursuit of comfort and pleasure, it’s found in the selfless pursuit of blessing others. And so, through profound generosity, this wealthy man lives a meaningful life grounded in the forgiveness of sins by demonstrating how a life filled with selflessness is much greater than a life filled with selfishness. In short, the forgiveness of sins that our Lord gives us grants us a life of freedom. We’re no longer bound by the cares and pursuits of this world. We are freed by our loving, forgiving father to reflect his forgiveness and love to the world around us. And in doing this, we truly live and we find true meaning in life.
III. Forgiveness Changes the Life to Come
5. But forgiveness of sins doesn’t only change our lives in the here and now. Forgiveness of sins also changes our eternal destiny. For as great and wonderful as the benefits in this life are, they pale in comparison to the benefits that the forgiveness of sins gives us for eternity. For the vast majority of people in this world, they think that this life is all that there is. And so, when something goes wrong, when something jeopardizes the future hope that a person has, all hope has been lost. When an opportunity for promotion is lost, when a child experiences a significant setback, when a loved one dies unexpectedly, the hope of the future has been crushed. That opportunity for promotion may never come around again. The child’s setback may ruin the one life that they had. The loved one who has died will never be around for the significant moments in life. And so, for the vast majority of people in this world, life is filled with fear and uncertainty. Any moment could be the one in which future hope is crushed. And so, people live in fear, they take extra precautions, they live lives filled with anxiety and panic over things that they cannot control because there is nothing more to life than what happens between now and death. My friends, a life lived in this kind of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety is to be most pitied.
6. But for us Christians—for those of us who have experienced in an ongoing way the forgiveness of sins—eternal life in paradise is ours. Because Jesus Christ has died the death that we deserve, because his atoning sacrifice has restored us to the Father, we have hope of a life beyond this one. Sure, when an opportunity for a promotion is lost it’s disappointing, but it’s not the end of the world because we have eternal life in paradise to look forward to. Sure, the setback that a child might experience is heartbreaking, but when that child knows Jesus and has experienced the forgiveness of sins, there is an eternal life of limitless potential to look forward to. Yes, it is devastating when a loved one dies. But because that loved one has experienced the forgiveness of sins, death in this life is not a “good-bye”, it’s merely a “see you later.” We mourn that our loved one can’t be with us through all the significant moments of this life, but an eternity with them in paradise is far greater than the small sacrifice we have to make now. My friends, when the forgiveness of sins has taken hold of you, it literally changes everything. This life has purpose and meaning. But more than that, when the forgiveness of sins takes hold of us, eternal life in paradise is guaranteed.
7. My friends, this is why the angels in heaven rejoice when a sinner repents. That person has been brought from meaninglessness to meaningfulness. They have been brought from eternal death to eternal life. This is why our Lord Jesus searches endlessly so that he might find the lost coin. This is why he seeks out the lost sheep so that he might restore him to the flock. Life is at stake—life in this world and the next. And so, we too rejoice greatly when a sinner is brought to repentance. We rejoice whenever the family of faith is expanded because there is literally nothing greater in life than when a person is brought into the life-changing reality of the forgiveness of sins. Thanks be to God that he has brought us into this reality and that he continues to seek out the lost in this world so that they might have a chance to experience his life-changing forgiveness as well.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Such a wonderful reminder. Jesus searches for me. Even me.