It’s big entertainment for millions and big money for a few. Interest in spirit beings is high. This fall’s TV lineup is littered with fantasy shows about super spiritual beings, including angels. They rescue people in a fix. They do battle with politically correct bad things. All in all they make believe about another dimension of life. In one segment of “Touched by an Angel” an angel is sent to help a troubled teenager. Unfortunately however, this angel has an attitude problem and ends up using drugs with the teenager at a party. Such is the fairy tale world of angels as seen on TV. It is largely counterfeit nonsense that is spiritually harmful and destructive of the Christian fait
TEXT: Luke 15:1-10
THERE IS JOY BEFORE THE ANGELS OF GOD OVER ONE SINNER WHO REPENTS!
Preached by Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord; “I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Dear hearers of the Word:

It’s big entertainment for millions and big money for a few. Interest in spirit beings is high. This fall’s TV lineup is littered with fantasy shows about super spiritual beings, including angels. They rescue people in a fix. They do battle with politically correct bad things. All in all they make believe about another dimension of life. In one segment of “Touched by an Angel” an angel is sent to help a troubled teenager. Unfortunately however, this angel has an attitude problem and ends up using drugs with the teenager at a party. Such is the fairy tale world of angels as seen on TV. It is largely counterfeit nonsense that is spiritually harmful and destructive of the Christian faith.

Hollywood’s perversion does not portray the real work of God’s real angels. There is such a realm of God’s creation invisible to you at present. You will see it soon, for life here is so very fleeting. In Christ, you will see His holy angels, not just for 50 or 70 or 90 years, but forever. Since we are pilgrims and strangers here, the Son of God desires that we know some of what occurs there. In our text He identifies one aspect of life in the heavenly realm. That is, He clearly states what fills the angels of heaven with joy. “I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

How many television shows depict the jubilation of the heavenly hosts over the baptism of a baby whose sins are washed away? In those waters of rebirth, Jesus hoists a sinner on His shoulders and begins carrying him or her to heaven. This makes all heaven reverberate with delight, just one sinner who is repenting. That means there is rejoicing in heaven today over each heart here that receives in faith God’s Word and Meal of forgiveness. Our text clearly equates repentance with being carried on the shoulders of Jesus.

His words highlight the fact that we are lost sinners who need repentance. Scripture does not mince words or whitewash this sad reality. The tax collectors, known for their cheating, and the prostitutes with their coarse immorality were labeled socially as sinners. The Pharisees, however, saw themselves as separated from such a label. They were grumbling and muttering about Jesus’ searching love for sinners like these. “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

Such an attitude is what Ezekiel expressed as the fat sheep pushing and thrusting at the weak with their horns. It was the exact opposite of the prophet’s witness to the messianic Son of David, I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep…declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. Jesus’ parables take issue with the self-righteous, spiritually strong perspective of the Pharisees.

“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?” This was contrary to the thinking of the Pharisees. They had a saying that went like this: “There is joy before God when those who provoke Him perish from the world” (Edersheim – Leon Morris – Gospel of Mark – 239). However that is not what God reveals. He said, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked but…that the wicked should turn and live.” (Ezek. 33:11). And here, “There is joy before he angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

What a sharp contrast between muttering over God’s mercy and rejoicing in God’s mercy! The Pharisee’s muttered in self-righteous complaint! Jesus rejoiced in God’s searching mercy for the lost. He did so by reaching out with parables of incredible depth and kindness.

We must understand that Jesus was not encouraging continuous, willful, unrepentant sin. The heart that says “I plan to continue on as a dishonest tax collector or continue in sexual immorality or continue in my own rebellion and idolatry” is not yet the lost sheep that is found here. Jesus was not condoning secure sinners in setting aside the will of God. When He called the tax collectors Levi (Mk 2) and Zacchaeus (Lk. 19) He called them away from cheating and dishonesty to a new life. It is clearly the one who recognizes his or her being lost that Jesus identifies here.

His words also highlight another important truth. This truth is that we cannot repent by our own strength. Man is so proud that he thinks he can actually repent and make God pleased with him. Man is so proud that he speaks of finding God as if we are capable of doing that. But God is not lost! Man is lost! Every single one of us lost sinners needs constantly to be carried on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd in repentance.

While the sheep wandered, the shepherd searched. While the sheep floundered, the Shepherd found. When the sheep is found it is not given a beating, but rather the Shepherd rejoices. He does not lay it over His knees in punishment. Rather, He lays it on His shoulders in rescue. He carries it home with His strength, according to His will.

This is what the Pharisees grumbled at. They felt it was up to man to repent on his strength. It was a strange idea to them that God is a seeking God who takes the initiative. It was a foreign thought to them that God would carry the lost back by His power, not theirs.

God grant us faith to ignore all opinions of men that want to put God in the debt of our searching, our praying and our sincere efforts. God grant us also to ignore all of the contemporary clutter and confusion about angels and find comforting rest in what He reveals here. That is, it is Jesus who carries sinners on His shoulders in repentance. And, “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Fellow-Redeemed, don’t be too fat and too strong to see yourself as that one needing repentance. Dr. Martin Luther’s first of ninety five theses was, “When our Lord and master said, ‘repent’, He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” St. Paul, the great missionary, did not see himself as too fat and too strong to qualify. The saying is trustworthy and deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost, even as He went about His missionary work.

Do you see how important you are to God? We live in an age of statistical sainthood, of worshipping big numbers. Yet God puts the spotlight on just one, on one sinner who is repenting, on you. When life’s tasks seem unimportant, when life’s rewards seem non-existent, when life’s suffering seems overwhelming, it is easy to believe that your life is of little or no value, that there is no reason for joy and no ground of hope.

With your humble circumstances and daily struggles, what is your real worth? On a college campus with thousands of students bustling around, who are you? In your later years with the limits of ageing mounting up every year, what’s ahead? With recognition of how much you can’t control and of what you’ve left undone in this world of need and demands, what is your real worth?

Dear Christian, God grant you joy in His joy over you! God grant you hope that does not fade away! Take comfort and daily courage in your great importance to Him. Your worth comes from His undeserved, searching, merciful love for the lost. It is the same worth possessed by the person next to you. It is the same worth possessed by university students who may be lost among the intellectual clouds and thick spiritual darkness on a college campus. It is the same worth possessed by those who may have wandered away from the faith into disobedience and vain teaching.

The Good Shepherd foretold by Ezekiel came down as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. He came down to rescue his flock. To do so He endured a day of clouds and thick darkness like no other. Darkness fell over the whole land from the sixth to the ninth hour, the sun being obscured (Lk. 23:44, 45). Darkness fell over the whole land as God’s wrath for the sin of the whole land fell on Jesus. Darkness fell over the whole land as the man who receives sinners and eats with them was damned for sinners to feed them with the good pasture of His own body and blood. He who came to bind up the injured was injured with our bindings. He who came to bring us into our own land was cast out of His land. He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement that brought us peace was laid on Him. By His stripes we are healed.

Do you see why there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents? The shoulders of the searching Shepherd are the shoulders of Him who was nailed to the cross. His shoulders went limp in death on Calvary and were too weak to carry anyone. But His search for sinners took Him right through the valley of the shadow of death. From the thick darkness of the tomb He rose up with shoulders so strong they broke the entangling cords of death. From heaven He comes into your midst today with shoulders strong enough to bear you all the way to heaven.

God grant you calm confidence in His strength to carry you through this passing world. God thereby also grant you calm confidence in His strength to carry you from today to tomorrow. God additionally grant you concern for those yet separated from His care, for those who are lost in the clouds and thick darkness of this sinful world so full of artificial lights.

The chief concern of Christ’s church should be the finding of each one who is lost and the carrying of each one who is found. Like the woman who swept and searched her house to find the lost coin, so the bride of Christ searches to find lost souls. In relationships, in conversations, in first fruit giving, in receiving Christ’s gifts of forgiveness in weekly worship, the church bears witness to the searching, forgiving, love of God. I Tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

The angels are only reflecting God’s joy. They behold His face. They mirror that which delights the holy Trinity. And that delight is you, your repentance, your salvation, your receiving Christ’s forgiveness, your being carried on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd! O Lord my God, I called to You for help and you healed me! You have turned my wailing into dancing; I will give You thanks forever. Amen.

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