17 Pentecost Proper C19
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 15:1-10 Sermon
September 15, 2013
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 373 "By Grace I'm Saved"
TLH 324 "Jesus Sinners Doth Receive"
TLH 37 "Lord, 'Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee"
WOV 723 "The Spirit Sends Us Forth To Serve"
HOW ARE WE SAVED?
TEXT (vs. 3-5; 8-9 ): “3 So [Jesus] 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. 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.’”
How are we saved? Over the years, this has been a question that has been asked of me by a variety of individuals. Some ask the question to get me into an argument, while others ask the question looking for a legitimate answer because they don't really know.
There's a little illustration that I have used to help understand what God has told us in the Bible. You may have heard me use this, because it's a favorite.
Picture a man stranded out in the middle of the ocean. He needs to be rescued. This directly corresponds to a sinner who needs to be saved. That's the original point of comparison So let's consider several different scenarios connected with this.
In the first instance, the stranded man answers: "I was stranded out in the middle of the ocean and in danger of drowning; but God pointed the way to me, and I safely swam to shore."
In the second instance, the stranded man answers: "I was stranded out in the middle of the ocean and was beginning to drown; but God threw me a life preserver. I grabbed on to it, and he pulled me safely to shore."
So now, after hearing these two situations, which one is the correct one? Which one do you think accurately conveys what the Bible teaches with regard to how a person is saved?
I've actually heard people rather tenaciously contend for both of these positions; but as most of you might have guessed, neither one of them is correct. So what is the correct answer to this situation?
In the third instance, the stranded man answers: "I was lost in the middle of the ocean, and I had drowned. I was completely dead. But God found me, and pulled me out of the water. He took me safely to shore, and gave me life."
' You can see the difference, can't you? In the first two instances, the stranded man had some active part of the rescue. In the first scenario, he actually swam to shore under his own power; God was just guiding the way. And in the second scenario, even though God threw him the life preserver and pulled him to shore, the man still had to find the life preserver, grab a hold of it, and hang on.
But in the third instance, the man was completely passive. God had to do all the saving, because the man was dead, and not just in danger or in the process of dying. He was a goner; and he would have remained that way if God had not saved him.
As we look at our Gospel lesson for today, this is what Jesus is illustrating with the two examples he gives. Both of them are very simple, but they teach a very profound truth.
Jesus was attracting quite a crowd of people, many of whom were those that society despised, especially the Jews. No good self-respecting Jew would ever be caught hob-knobbing with tax collectors, prostitutes, Gentiles, and other "sinners," as our text says. As these people were drawing near to Jesus, the Pharisees stood apart from them and criticized Jesus for not only associating with them, but for eating food with them, which was especially detestable. Verse 2 of our Gospel lesson states their displeasure: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” This was certainly not in line with the Messiah the Jews had envisioned.
If we jump ahead a bit from our Gospel Lesson, to Luke chapter 19, the first nine verses tell us the story about a man by the name of Zacchaeus. He was a tax collector as well as being rather vertically challenged. Jesus finds him up in a sycamore tree; he had climbed up there for a better vantage point. Jesus was also criticized not just for talking to him, but because he was going to his house to eat a meal.
In verse 7, we hear virtually the same complaint from the Pharisees: “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” But Jesus responds with a very short and direct answer, which is a great summary of Jesus' ministry on earth. In verse 10 he says, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." In one short sentence, Jesus summarized the two stories he told in today's Gospel lesson. The parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin are both excellent examples of Jesus seeking and saving the lost.
So in getting back to the original question I asked, how are we saved? Or if you prefer to think of it in the first person declension, how am I saved? How can we be sure that we'll be in heaven for eternity?
I like to start with a couple of the more clear passages in Scripture. In writing to the Romans, the Apostle Paul says in chapter 3, verses 23-24: "23 ...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." That explains the situation very well. We are all sinners, from the very oldest to the very youngest. Nobody is excluded here. And a person on their own cannot cure themselves of the sin that has made their souls terminally ill.
But Jesus has provided the cure, and he's the only one who can save us and give us life. Jesus redeemed us, or bought us back from the devil because he paid the price. This is the mechanics of the entire situation. Our sinfulness is traded for Christ's righteousness.
Now writing to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul explains how this happens in our lives. Looking at chapter 2, we first look at verse 1: "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins..." Remember my illustration about the man lost at sea? A drowned man is dead and cannot save himself. We are dead in our trespasses and sins, and we cannot save ourselves either. That's the cold, hard reality of it all.
But remember, Paul is writing to Christians here. So staying in Ephesians chapter 2, we continue on with verses 8-9, which are two verses I quote frequently: "8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast."
You've probably heard it before, I know I have, where somebody who has come to faith in Jesus Christ takes some sort of credit themselves for their conversion. You'll hear phrases like, "I found Jesus, I accepted him into my heart, I made a decision for Jesus, I am a Christian because I made the choice to be one, etc." The common denominator for all this is the word "I." See what I have done! See the decision I made all by myself! Jesus died for me and God loves me, but I made the decision to let him into my heart!
But if we look at what Paul wrote, salvation is purely an act of grace, or undeserved love on God's part. Salvation is the result of the gift of faith, also something God has given as a free gift. Humanity has no part of this and no person ever brought it about on their own. And those who do boast about how they decided to follow Jesus according to their own free will are, as Paul says, boasting. And that is wrong.
This is one of the main truths that our two parables in our Gospel lesson teach us today. A lost soul is compared with a lost sheep and a lost coin. The lost sheep didn't come to the shepherd on its own, but the shepherd had to go and search for it and bring it back again. And with the old woman who lost her money, that coin didn't jump up off the floor and say to the woman, "here I am!" No, she had to literally turn her whole house upside down to find it.
The other truth these parables teach is that once the lost have been found, then there is cause for much rejoicing. In each case the rejoicing is so joyful that the neighbors and friends are invited in to share in the happy occasion.
Yeah, I know it seems like a lot of hoopla over something as insignificant as a lost coin or lost sheep. But that's the point here. As insignificant as we might feel sometimes, Jesus still seeks us out. The Holy Spirit still works in us and brings us to faith. And when that happens, all of heaven rejoices! This is what Jesus tells us in verse 10 as he caps off these two parables: "Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents." That's quite a picture, wouldn't you say? Considering all of the people who have ever lived or will ever live upon this earth, and considering how many people have been Christians, or are Christians, or will be Christians, there has to be a lot of joy in heaven all of the time.
There's an old story I've heard, and I'm not sure how true it is. But it is about this young boy who walked into the pastor's office in a rather large church one day. He walked up to the pastor and said, "Sir, I want to join your church."
So the pastor asked the boy, "Son, are you saved?"
The boy replied, "Oh yes sir, I know I'm saved. I did my part and God did his part."
Of course this concerned the pastor, so he asked the boy, "What do you mean by you doing your part and God doing his part?"
The boy answered, "Well, my part was the sinning, and God's part was the saving. I was running away from him as fast as I could go; and then he found me and saved me."
You see, there isn't a sinner who can make a decision on behalf of a holy God. Sin makes us enemies of God, and turns us away from him. But God the Holy Spirit works the gift of faith in our hearts, that same gift that Paul talks about in Ephesians. That's the gift of God that brings us to faith in Jesus Christ and saves us.
In our Epistle lesson for today from 1 Timothy chapter 1, Paul recounts his sinful life in some general, but very striking terms. But Paul shares that faith with Timothy, and explains what God did in his life. He writes in verses 14-15: "...the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." Paul not only recognizes his sinfulness, but he calls himself the foremost sinner, or the chief of sinners, or the worst sinner of all.
The saving grace of God saved Paul through faith in Christ Jesus, in exactly the same way he saves each and every sinner, even the likes of you and me. We are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ our Saviour, regardless of the sin or how much we have sinned. We know we are saved, and we can be confident of that fact.
I have often compared Christianity with other religions in the world. Regardless of whether it is Muslim, or Hindu, or Buddhist, or a native or nature religion, or any heathen religion, they all have one thing in common. All non-Christian religions are religions of works, or religions of the law. Mankind has figured that in order to please whatever god they have contrived, they have to do the right thing according to that religion. And when they do the right thing, then they hope that they're good enough to merit whatever reward they reckon might be waiting for them. Certainly every heathen religion has their own individual quirks and twists, but it can all be boiled down to doing good works in order to try to please their god. In Proverbs chapter 14, verse 12 God tells us: "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death." This is so important that it is even repeated in chapter 14. A religion of good works can only lead to death.
God tells us that we are not saved by whatever good works we do, so that shouldn't even factor in when it comes to being saved. The Prophet Isaiah even reminds us in chapter 64, verse 6: "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." Christians do good works out of love, and out of a thankful heart, but not as a way to try to earn heaven and God's favor.
Today we can be thankful that God has given us his Holy Spirit, because as Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, verse 3: "...no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit." God has saved us not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus has done on our behalf. That's where we focus our attention.
Whenever we think about what we have to do to be saved, think about that man lost at sea. He was drowned and completely dead. But God came and pulled him out of the abyss, and gave him life. He couldn't do anything for himself, God had to do it all.
Just as the lost sheep was found and the lost coin was found, God chose us for salvation and sought us out. He has given us the gift of faith. So we can rejoice because our lost souls have been found by God, and we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.