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God’s Word for You

Luke 15:3-7 A lost sheep

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, October 4, 2018

As we read this parable, it is absolutely essential that we not allow ourselves to become distracted by what it means that the ninety-nine were left “in the wilderness,” whether this is translated “desert,” “open country,” or some other way. The point is the lost sheep, and the lost sheep, to every reader, is you.

3 Jesus told them this parable. He said,  4 “If you have a hundred sheep and lose one, which one of you wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until he found it?  5 And when he finds it, he will joyfully put it on his shoulders 6 and when he gets home, he will call together his friends and neighbors and say to them, ‘Rejoice with me, I have found my lost sheep.’  7 In the same way, I tell you, there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.

A business owner might say, “One sheep out of a hundred isn’t a bad loss. It would be foolish to risk losing ninety-nine just to get back one.” That’s not the way God thinks about your soul. The Pharisees thought that they were part of the 99%, the ones who didn’t need to repent, to abandon their sinful lives, to repent and throw themselves down at God’s feet and plead for his mercy.

But who is righteous? Who could say that they’re part of the ninety-nine? It’s a mistake to take a smug stance and think, “Yes, God needs to go after this or that person, because I’m safely in the fold of the saved. That one person, though, really needs to turn his life around.” Anyone who says that has just gotten lost from the flock. And we’ve all been lost.

To be lost is a choice that leaves a person without any other choices. To be lost means that I can’t make myself found. I bleat like a lamb away from my mother, but it doesn’t help. Being lost means I’ve gotten myself into a dark, deadly place. The longer I’m here the more frightened I become. It doesn’t matter what hills and peaks surround me or where I am, because my sins have set me into what David called “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4).

Sin separates us from God. Sin is a choice that puts us into a place where more choices mean more sins. We can’t un-sin ourselves. We might try different things, but none of them work. None of them salve the wounds and the hurts.

Compare myself to another sinner?
    I’m still a sinner. (Luke 18:13)
Try to do better tomorrow?
    The Law says be perfect today, and yesterday, too. (Leviticus 19:2)
Try to balance my evil with good?
    The Law says don’t do any evil at all. (Romans 6:13)
Pretend that there’s no Law?
    It’s there anyway. “The Law of the Lord is perfect” (Psalm 19:7).

I thought one of these might lead out of the valley of the shadow of death, but they only get me deeper still. Now I’ve come at last to the gates of the shadow of death (Job 38:17). I can’t save myself.

Then comes Jesus. He strides with urgency over the hills and into all the ravines, poking into all the crevasses and caves, searching and searching, calling out my name. I’m sinful, though, and so ashamed. I run and hide myself even as I hear my Lord walking in the garden in the cool of the day because I don’t want him to see me and my shameful sins. I try to avoid everything to do with Jesus. I stop using his name. Maybe I’ll stop going to church so that I won’t hear his word. I tell myself that the people there are hypocrites or that I don’t like this or that about church, but I really just want to avoid the mirror of his law. I don’t want my sins exposed.

But the Shepherd doesn’t stop. He doesn’t let up. He doesn’t get tired of looking for me. He calls me with his word, and his word works. I feel the pain of my sin, and I know that it’s my sin that’s the problem, and he finds me, weeping, useless, helpless, and alone. He picks me up, not in anger but in love, and he puts me on his shoulders. I’m overwhelmed by his strength and gentleness, by his power and his awesome knowledge and care for the world, and I’m amazed that he would go looking for me. But he did, and here I am, back in the flock. He has carried me from the valley of the shadow of death back into the sunlight, back into the safety of his family, to the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints.

Jesus holds up a mirror. I’m afraid it’s the mirror of his Law and it will only show me my sins. “Look,” he says. I look but all I see is him. I look down at where my feet should be, and I only see his feet and the prints of the nails where the blood ran to atone for my sins, heartbeat by failing heartbeat, surging out of his body, until he died for me. I look at where my hands should be, and there I see the same thing—Jesus’ hands, not mine, and the nail holes where his suffering meant my righteousness, my holiness. There was where my sin was washed clean forever. I look up at where my face should be, and instead of me I see Jesus, the gashes from the crown of thorns and the tears that wept over my sins. I look at the whole image and I don’t see me at all, but Jesus in his robe, and he calls it my robe, the robe of his righteousness—now mine. This is what he shows our Father, and our Father welcomes me home,

There is rejoicing in heaven. Rejoicing over the one who was found. Rejoicing over me.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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