“Jesus Sinners Doth Receive”

(Luke 15:1-7 – Pentecost 17 – October 6, 2019)

Luke 15:1-7 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He spoke this parable to them, saying: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which 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 neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”

Dear Redeemed by the grace of God in Jesus Christ:

In today’s hymn we sang the words:

Jesus sinners doth receive; O may all this saying ponder
Who in sin’s delusions live And from God and heaven wander.
Here is hope for all who grieve – Jesus sinners doth receive.

Are you a sinner? I don’t just mean one who can say he or she is a sinner, but one who knows it is painfully true. Would you classify yourself among those who drew near to Jesus in our text – having nothing to bring but your life record of sin and failures, clinging to nothing but His forgiveness and salvation?

Have you come to Jesus today alongside those tax collectors – the kind of people who were despised as greedy and dishonest and not to be trusted? Do you know that you have been too focused on personal gain, greedy for what you wanted in life, so that you have treated others as objects to be used instead of human souls to be loved? Do you know that you have not always been honest in your dealings, receiving pay you did not do such a good job for, cheating others out of what should have been theirs? Do you ever think, “If people really knew me, the things I have thought or done, they would not trust me the same nor even like me anymore”?

Oh, there were notorious sinners of every stripe, coming to Jesus. Have you come today alongside those who have dirtied themselves by sexual immorality? Do you know that you have behaved indecently, and entertained secret desires you would be ashamed to declare in public? Have you come to Jesus today alongside the lawbreakers and the outcasts? Do you know that you have broken God’s holy law in so many ways, and that you deserve to be cast out of His Kingdom into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth?

Here they came to Jesus, broken and despairing sinners. Have you come alongside those who are weary and burdened by guilt and fears? Do your failures find you restless by day and night? Do you look in the mirror and hate the sinner? Sometimes, when all you can see is the mess you have made of things, do you ever begin to sink into the dark abyss of hopelessness?

It was such miserably lost sinners and outcasts who drew near to Jesus. Why did they come? It says they wanted “to hear Him.” They did not come to see a show of miracles. They did not come to hear a man of smooth speech, who could preach with such style as to give you goose bumps. These broken and despairing sinners came to hear Jesus’ message of healing and hope. They came to hear God’s forgiveness and love, freely given to the worst of sinners. They came to hear the Good News: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). And alongside them, you and I have come to Jesus today singing in our heart:

We deserve but grief and shame, Yet His words, rich grace revealing,
Pardon, peace, and life proclaim; Here their ills have perfect healing
Who with humble hearts believe – Jesus sinners doth receive.

This is the good news our Savior brings us, in the parable of the lost sheep that is found: “Jesus Sinners Doth Receive.”

The first thing we notice is that Jesus spoke this parable to the Pharisees and scribes. These teachers of the Law did not come to Jesus as lost, broken, and despairing sinners, desperately in need of a Savior. They came as the proudly self-righteous, believing their own good life before God made them deserving of His Kingdom. When they saw the kind of people Jesus was welcoming, they complained: “This Man receives sinners and eats with them.” They were offended to see that Jesus identified Himself with the scum of the earth, even befriending them.

So Jesus spoke this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?” Every one of those Pharisees and scribes, in their daily business, would act as Jesus describes. If it meant a personal loss, they would go after their sheep.

Even if an owner might be able to afford the loss of one sheep, and just be content to have the other ninety-nine still safe and sound, this is not the mentality of the Good Shepherd. He loves each and every sheep. He cannot bear to see a single soul, straying from His side in its own sinful path. The Good Shepherd sees the great danger, as that lost sheep wanders in the deceptive wilderness of the lion, Satan; walking along the precipice of impenitence and unbelief, about to fall into the dark abyss. So Jesus came to seek and to save the lost sheep.

Sheep that from the fold did stray No true shepherd e’er forsaketh;
Weary souls that lost their way Christ, the Shepherd, gently taketh
In His arms that they may live – Jesus sinners doth receive.

Consider the value of each and every soul to the Good Shepherd. Jesus asked in Matthew 16:26: “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Each and every soul is worth more than the whole world. There is nothing we can give in exchange for our soul. Even if we offer our whole life as a sacrifice to God, Isaiah 53:6 tells us what that life amounts to as it says: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way.” What would that sin-corrupted sacrifice merit? No, the value of each and every human soul is measured by much higher standards than all the treasures of this world, and the most valuable offering we could ever bring to God. The value of your soul and mine is measured by the sacrifice Jesus made for us. He said: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

And who are the sheep for whom He gave His life? Are they the ones who have found themselves? Are they the ones who have brought themselves into God’s fold by having done so well in life, as the Pharisees and scribes imagined? No it is the hopelessly lost sheep, the helplessly dying sheep, for whom Jesus gave His life. There is no other kind of sheep in the world. “For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22-24).

Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, came down from His heavenly throne and became man for this purpose: to seek and to save us lost, broken, and condemned sinners. He came to rescue us from the jaws of that evil predator, the devil. He came to rescue us from falling into that dark abyss of hell. To save our guilty souls, the Good Shepherd laid down His own innocent life. He took all the filth and stains that covered our wool, all the foolish and shameful sins that covered our whole life. On the cross, He bore them all away from us as far as the east is from the west, completely out of God’s sight forever. In their place, the Good Shepherd covers us with His own perfect life of holiness in the sight of His Father. Therefore even we, the worst of sinners, are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus! Therefore:

Come, ye sinners, one and all, Come, accept His invitation.
Come, obey His gracious call; Come and take His free salvation!
Firmly in these words believe – Jesus sinners doth receive.

This is why Jesus received sinners and ate with them. This is why He identified Himself with the scum of the earth, even befriending them. He wanted to rescue their souls by His gracious call; He wanted to bring them His free gift of salvation.

This does not mean He befriended their sin. The holy Lord of heaven hates sin, but He loves the sinner. The Good Shepherd is not content to leave a lost sheep in its old path, wandering in the wilderness of unrepented sin. What a tragedy it is when false shepherds preach with smooth speech what itching ears like to hear, telling those who embrace their sinful lifestyle that they are fine in their way. How could the Good Shepherd ever do that? A lost soul is not found until it has been rescued from its sinful path by repentance and faith in Christ’s forgiveness.

How did Jesus treat Zacchaeus, that chief tax collector? Did He leave him in his greedy and dishonest way? Did He accept his sinful lifestyle or give any appearance of condoning it? No! He went to the home of Zacchaeus to speak to him. The Good Shepherd called the lost sheep, and His sheep heard His voice. Zacchaeus repented and believed in Jesus’ forgiveness. We hear the fruit of his repentance and faith as he turned from his former sinful way of life, vowing to give back anything he had taken falsely, and even to give of his goods to help those in need. And Jesus said: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:9-10).

Again, think of how Jesus sought and found the woman at the well, who was living with a man outside of marriage (John 4); or how He sought and found the woman caught in adultery, who was about to be stoned to death. Did He accept their sinful way of life or give any appearance of condoning it? No! He said: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Jesus called the lost sheep, and His sheep heard His voice. They were like that sinful woman who came to Jesus as He sat eating in the house of a Pharisee. Everyone knew she had lived a sinful life, maybe even as a prostitute. Why would Jesus receive her? Yet she knelt at Jesus’ feet, washing them with her tears of repentance. Jesus explained her behavior: she loved so much because she had been forgiven so much. Jesus looked at this lost sheep whom He had found, and He assured her: “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you. Go in peace” (Luke 7:36-50).

We join that line of broken sinners coming to Jesus, clinging to His forgiveness, singing:

I, a sinner, come to Thee With a penitent confession.
Savior, mercy show to me; Grant for all my sins remission.
Let these words my soul relieve – Jesus sinners doth receive.

By His amazing grace, the Good Shepherd sought and found us too. He pictures our rescue in the parable: “And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.”

In our lost and helpless condition as sinners, we did not come to the Good Shepherd; He came to us. He lifted us up in His arms, speaking His Word of forgiveness and healing to our soul. He baptized us, washing away all the filth of our sins and presenting us to Himself as sheep with pure white wool. He poured out the Holy Spirit into our heart, working repentance and faith in us, and giving us new life. The Good Shepherd has brought us home, and He cares for us as the sheep of His hand. Day by day, He carries us on His shoulders, as we rest on Him completely for our forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.

Are you a sinner? Do you come to Jesus today among the worst of sinners, drawing near to hear His gracious voice? There is Good News for you and me! Jesus sinners doth receive! As our Good Shepherd holds us close to His heart, all the angels of heaven rejoice with Him as He says: “I have found my sheep which was lost!” And He who laid down His life for us and took it up again, will continue to bear us safely in His arms, and bring us all the way home to heaven.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.