A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, West Melbourne, FL on September 19, 2010 by Pastor Dale Raether A Christian’s Two Happiest DaysLuke 15:1-10For most young ladies, what are the two happiest days of their life?  When their prince charming proposes and when they actually get married.  Or, maybe it’s when they get married and when they have a baby.  For many young men, what are their two happiest days?  The day they buy their boat and the day they sell it.  You have to own a boat to understand that one.  But seriously the love a husband and a wife have for each other is the greatest earthly blessing God gives.  However, on top of this joy, Christians in this life may have an even higher joy.  God’s Word this morning increases our awareness of these joys so that we may celebrate them, just like Jesus and Anastasia are inviting you to celebrate with them after this service.  So, then, what does Jesus say are a Christians two happiest days?  The first one is when He finds us.  The second is when Jesus find others.    Our text reads, “Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."  The Pharisees in our text were looking for happiness in all the wrong the places.  At the time the Romans were ruling.  Their whole system of government was based on violence and corruption.  Also, Roman culture pushed immorality, which made things very difficult for believers.  And so, the happy day the Pharisees were longing for was a change in government.  However, in order for this to happen, they believed there would first have to be a different happy day, which would be when most people become as righteous as they were.  You see, they thought that once they were in the majority, God would come down and make Israel a heaven on earth, and then one way or the other get rid of all the icky people in the world.  Anyway do you understand now why the Pharisees went through the roof when Jesus ate with the tax collectors and sinners?  He was associating with people who associated with the Romans, and if more and more followed Him, fewer and fewer would follow them, which in their minds meant everything would keep getting worse. In our text Jesus corrects their thinking with two short parables.  We read, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?  And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.'  I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”  If you had a hundred sheep in those days, that was a lot, and you wouldn’t really be that much poorer if you lost one.  That’s like today if you have $100,000 in your savings and somehow you lose a $1000, hey, $99,000 still isn’t bad!  In the same way, there are a lot of people in this world, yet each person is precious to Jesus.   Getting back to the parable, don’t ask why the shepherd would abandon the 99.  He probably had helpers.   But it was the one missing that gave him the most concern, and when he found it, gave him the most joy.  As a pastor I get that.  I have joy over the “99” who are here every week.  But I have even greater joy when someone, who’s been gone for a long time, comes back.  And it’s not that I don’t care as much about the 99.  If one of them stops coming, I would be deeply concerned about that one too, and when he or she is found, there’s rejoicing in heaven! Here’s why.  In the story of God testing Abraham, Abraham was to sacrifice his son, Isaac.  Abraham was ready to follow through on it, because he loved God enough to obey Him, and he trusted God would immediately raise Isaac from the dead, so Isaac would still be the ancestor of the Savior.  Anyway, at the last split second, God stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, and provided a substitute sacrifice.  As a result Abraham could better understand God’s heart, and how much it hurt Him to sacrifice His Son to pay for our sins.  Yet that’s how much He loved Abraham and that’s how much He loves you and me, and that’s why there’s rejoicing in heaven over each soul, who repents.   Unfortunately a lot of people, including Christians, don’t always appreciate God’s love.  Part of the problem is they don’t understand what repentance is.  For them repenting is what they do after they figure things out and straighten up their lives.  For example visualize a bar graph to illustrate a person’s repentance.  What percentage of repentance is Jesus seeking the person, and what percentage is the person seeking Jesus?  Is it 50/50?  80/20?  Or maybe even 90/10?  By as much as we claim credit for our repentance, we are straying from Jesus and can have no more joy in our salvation than the Pharisees did.  That’s because if we say it’s partly up to us, we can never know if our part was ample enough or sincere enough.  Another thing that could happen is we might start comparing our repentance with others and conclude we’re better than those icky people.  Or we might decide we’re no better than those icky people, so we might as well do icky things too.   But now repentance is not a work of man.  Repentance is a work of God, and this parable pictures that beautifully.  Look at the lamb on the shepherd’s arms.  Did the shepherd rescue that naughty little lamb, because he promised to be “g-o-o-o-d”?  Or did the shepherd rescue that lamb, because He loved him?  St. Paul put it this way today’s epistle, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience.”   Okay, if our repentance is 100% a work of God, how does He work repentance in a person?  Well, the Sunday School story this morning was Jesus’ baptism.  Jesus Himself was sinless.  But He was baptized in order to fulfill all righteousness, for through the water of Baptism, He joined Himself to us.   As a result through our baptism we were washed clean and the scum of our sins stuck to Him.  Also, through baptism God poured His Spirit into our hearts, so that just as Jesus rose from the dead, we too may rise from our sinning to live a new life.  That’s not to say we can be sinless in this life.  Yet by the power of Word and sacrament, we are to fight temptation every day.  And should we fall, Jesus picks us up again and continues to work in us repentance, faith, and the fruits of faith. So, are any of you still thinking that repentance is partly what you do?  Then listen to what the Spirit says, “It is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”  Or here’s what John the Baptist said about baptism.  “I baptize you with water for repentance.”  Having repentance is the purpose and the result of being baptized.  However, there is one little problem with all of this.  Many of us can’t remember our baptism, because we were too little.  However, our inability to remember doesn’t change the fact of what God said to us when we were baptized, “Fear not, I have called you be name; you are mine – Isaiah 43:2.”   But now, if we can’t remember the joy of first being brought to faith, how can we reclaim that joy?  Hear the Word!  Hear what He says about His anger at our sins, which we heard in today’s Old Testament reading.  But then hear God’s promises and hold God to them, as Moses did!  And so, just like Jesus and Anastasia and husbands and wives keep renewing their wedding joy be spending time together, prioritize worship.  Prioritize home Bible reading.  This is how GOD restores in us the joy of His salvation, with the result that we may also have joy in our work and joy in our daily bread and even joy in His ruling of our lives.   Now when we have such joy, we will want others to have it too; and this brings us to our second happiest day.  We read in our text, “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?  And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.'  In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."  Who’s rejoicing in the presence of the angels?  Jesus is, the saints are, we do.  But here’s how Jesus increases our joy.  He lets us play a role in finding others.  He commands His believers to preach the Gospel.  However we can’t do this alone, and so He urges us to pray for the Holy Spirit and keep studying His Word, that we may rightly share it.  Still, it’s not we, who work repentance in another’s heart.  We’re just clay jars carrying the precious Word into the world.  Or we’re like farmers spreading the seed of the Word, or like those who water and nurture it; but it’s God who gives the Harvest.     We need to remember that it’s not us, who gives the Harvest, because there will be frustrations, and at times there will be opposition, just like Jesus faced from the Pharisees.  Nevertheless, if we really believe Jesus is the Way, if we really believe God worked repentance in us through His Word and Sacrament, and if we really believe time is winding down, we have to keep seeking the lost, nor can we give up or leave any stone unturned.  This is not to say that the shepherd in our parable didn’t sit down to rest at times.  But his purpose in resting was so that He could keep on searching for that lost sheep.  So also for us, we work, we rest, we play and there’s a certain amount of joy in all of it.  Yet these earthly joys are not the end all.  The end all is being together in heaven.     And, now, how blest I am that I have a wife who shares this purpose and this joy with me.  And Jesus and Anastasia how blest you are that God has brought you together so that you can help and support each other in your faith, which is your first greatest joy.  But God also brought you together to help and support each other in your second greatest joy – leading others to Him!  We talked about this in your pre-marriage classes.  However, I don’t want to restrict this to just husbands and wives.  This is for all the family of God – He’s given us each other to help and support each other in our two greatest joys together.  Such goodness of God needs to be celebrated, which is what we do in each worship service, Fellowship Hour or even work day.  We’re proclaiming that Jesus welcomes sinners!  Thank God He does!  Amen.      

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