Beloved, in just a few minutes, we will sing with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. They will gather with us around the altar. Heaven will come to earth in this place and all of us will pray together before the lamb.
The angels, ten thousand times ten thousand, will shout, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
And the Lamb, slain by Roman centurions on the wood of the cross for you, will rejoice. He will not rejoice over your worship. He will not rejoice because you have put on your Sunday best, given of your wealth in the offering plate, and come to church like a good Lutheran should.
No. He will rejoice over the one sinner that repents. And so Saint Luke writes for us the words of Jesus. “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
You know, I always got this text wrong. I read it and it seemed pretty clear. A sinner repents. The angels rejoice. And I suspect that the angels probably do rejoice. But listen carefully, dear Christian, to the words of Jesus. It’s not the joy of the angels He’s talking about.
In the first parable, a lamb is lost. And the Shepherd goes out from the ninety-nine and seeks out the one. And when He finds the lost one, he carries it on His shoulders back to the fold. He says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”
And what does Jesus say regarding these words of the Good Shepherd? “Just so, 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.”
And so it is. The Good Shepherd rejoices in heaven. The Shepherd who is a sheep. On Him has been laid the iniquity of us all, and so He rejoices. He joys over you, the sinner, with singing. He joys over the one who repents.
And then we have a lost coin. The woman diligently seeks after it until she finds it. And finding it she says, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Again Jesus says that there is joy in heaven. Joy before the angels.
And who is rejoicing? The one who did the seeking, of course! And so the Church rejoices over every sinner who repents. You, the Holy Church, gathered with all the saints in heaven, will rejoice here in the presence of the angels over the coin that has been found.
Or will you? Luke writes, “Now the tax collectors and the sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinner and eats with them.”
When one of the beloved sheep for whom the Shepherd died strays from the flock, what happens?” Do you leave the nine coins and do everything to seek after the one? Do you sing with joy when the one who is lost is found? Do tears of joy fall from your eyes when you see the coin kneel at the altar to receive once more the life that comes in Christ’s body and blood?
I suspect that you may be like me. I suspect that you might not miss them too much. Sure you’d like to see them here, but it’s a bit of a bother to seek them out. Sure, you know the Gospel is for them, but they’ve rejected it. It’s their choice after all. You didn’t tell them to leave. And now that they’ve gone, well…maybe they should stay away. You don’t want to eat with tax collectors and sinners.
Saint Paul’s loves to sing, “Alleluia” when one of our beloved ones is begotten of the Father by the waters of Holy Baptism. The organ blasts. Our voices rise. The building quakes at the sound of it. Great rejoicing! Joy beyond imagining. This is a good thing!
But what of the tax collector? What of the sinner, the lost coin who has been sought out by the Church and brought back to the fold. What of the one who kneels for the first time in years and with trembling lip and tongue tastes the medicine of immortality. Does an “Alleluia” arise in your heart? Perhaps not.
Indeed we are more often the Pharisee than the woman who rejoices over the coin which had been lost. We are not one of the ninety-nine who need no repentance. Our thankless hearts are blackened with our pride. We live in the dust of death. Turn aside from your sin. Repent. Receive the forgiveness that the Lamb has won for you on the cross.
There is indeed joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. And so Christ rejoices over you, dear Christian. You, beloved of God who have confessed your sin to Him today. You, saint of God, who have received absolution from the mouth of Pr. Weedon.
Rejoice in the forgiveness Christ has won for you, and rejoice in the forgiveness He has won for the person sitting next to you, and next to them, and next to them.
Rejoice to eat with tax collectors and sinners! Rejoice to receive what Christ has won for you. Say with the apostle who persecuted the church of God, “Jesus came to save sinners of whom I am the worst.” Say with the murderer of Uriah the Hittite, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Jesus rejoices over you. One sinner who repents. He gives you His body to eat. He gives you His blood to drink. He joins you to the Life that destroyed death.
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain for you.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.