PENTECOST 17, C – September 15, 2013

SCRIPTURES – Ps. 30; Ezekiel 34:11-24; 1 Tim. 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10 

“I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15) 

Jesus lived in a society with deep divisions. Jew looked down upon Gentile; women were considered lesser than men; people with leprosy were shunned as being under God’s judgment; and, the religious teachers of the people, the Pharisees and Scribes, considered themselves favored by God over those who were less observant of the requirements of their religion.

Our society is much more egalitarian. Still, judgmentalism and division also reach within our hearts. What do you think of someone who is covered with tattoos and piercings? With a person who is applying for an Obamaphone? With people you see in church on Christmas Eve but not at any other time?

Jesus teaches us this day who it is that God looks upon with favor, who it is that brings Him joy. It is not those who consider themselves to be good, but those who know they are not. “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents,” Jesus declares.

Take these words of your Lord to heart. If you want God to be filled with joy and be happy with you, and if you want to be filled with His joy yourself, then the thing you should you do above everything else is repent. Confess your sins and look to Jesus and His death on the cross for you for your forgiveness! Listen to Him and receive His forgiveness! At this all of heaven rejoices.

What does it mean to repent? Well, it certainly means confessing your sins. But, confessing is more than simply admitting to them. The Pharisees and Scribes in Jesus day would admit that they were sinners, but they considered their sons to be small, less significant than the sins of others. Make your sins large and horribly bad and ugly! Magnify your sins! This is true repentance.

I don’t mean that you should lie and say that you have done things you haven’t done. God isn’t pleased with dishonesty. What I mean is that you should realize and admit to how bad your sins are – which is not something we like to do. No, we like to lessen and excuse our sins: 

  • By comparing them with the sins of others: “At least I haven’t done that.” We then make ourselves into judges. 
  • Or, by saying they’re no big deal because they didn’t really cause any harm. 
  • Or, by excusing them and blaming others for them. ”I wouldn’t have done it if he hadn’t said that about me first!”

We give all sorts of excuses for our sins. Sometimes the excuses are valid. Even so, excuses do not take away your sin and guilt before God. Nor do they magnify what God has done for you.

The greater your sins are, the greater is your Savior. This is so important; for, if our sins are not great, then Jesus’ sacrifice for us sounds rather foolish. Who would leave 99 sheep behind to search for one which had foolishly wandered off and gotten lost? And then, he would have to pick up that heavy animal and carry it all the way back to the others. What a lot of work for one foolish sheep! Who would decide to celebrate the finding of a lost coin by throwing a party that cost more than the value of the coin that had been lost? That’s really foolish!

This is what Jesus did for you, for me, and for all people. God becoming a man and dying on a cross sounds foolish – until you realize the truth about your sins. Look at Jesus on the cross to see the truth about your sins. Here is where God magnified our sins. He didn’t just die to pay the price for murders and rapes and hate-filled rants and other such “serious” sins. He died also because of our little lies and our envy of others and our neglect of our work. Every single one of your and my sins caused Christ’s death. Every one of them is great! But, He died willingly and gladly, for the joy set before Him of taking away our guilt and punishment, making us God’s beautiful children, and taking us to heaven. Gladly Jesus gave Himself for you. Magnify your sins, and so see the greatness of His love! “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ,” says the apostle Paul (Rom. 8). As you magnify your sins you will magnify His love, and the love of God the Father who gave His Son to die for you. At this all of heaven rejoices!

But, what if you’ve changed? What if you’ve become a better person? Great! Don’t, however let that keep you from magnifying your sins.

The apostle Paul was a man who changed. Once he had hated the followers of Jesus, so much so that he had some arrested and imprisoned and had others killed. “Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent,” he confessed. Then, Jesus appeared to him and changed him into a faithful follower and one of the greatest apostles and missionaries who ever lived. We heard him praise God for this in today’s reading from 1 Timothy 1. But, he went on to say, “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.” Notice: “I am (present tense) the foremost [of sinners].” Although Paul had changed he still magnified his sins and considered himself to be the worst of sinners. He knew that it wasn’t just the great sins of his past that led to Jesus’ death but also his present sins. Confessing this kept his eyes on the mercy of God in Christ, and kept him thankful to God for His mercy. Magnifying his sins kept him magnifying His Savior and looking to Him for His forgiveness.

Magnifying his sins also led Paul to look upon others with mercy. As you magnify your sins by seeing that even the seemingly smallest of sins caused the greatest of sacrifices, you will also see that you are not above or better than others. Magnifying your sins will magnify and increase your service to others.

Here is where the Pharisees and scribes needed to learn and change. They were offended that Jesus, a teacher of Israel, would receive open and obvious sinners and even eat with them. They avoided such people, lest they be tainted by their sins. By avoiding them and looking down upon them, they failed to see that God is above all merciful and forgiving. They failed to see and receive His mercy in Jesus.

May God keep us from doing this! He will, as you magnify your sins and see yourself as just as sinful – or, even more sinful – than others. You are just as guilty before God as the worst of this world’s sinners, for it was also your sins that put Jesus on the cross! But, you have the same wonderful Savior, the same love of God to save you from your sins. Repent of your sins, then. Magnify them, and then rejoice and be glad in Jesus your Savior! The joy of God Himself and His holy angels will fill you and bless you and guide you and lead you in praise of Him and loving service to others; all to the honor and glory of “the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, forever and ever. Amen.”