"Jesus Sinners Doth Receive"
As one hymn sings:
Thou cam-est to our hall of death,
O Christ, to breathe our poisoned air,
To drink for us the deep despair
That strangled our reluctant breath.
How beautiful the feet that trod
The road to bring good news from God!
How beautiful the feet that ran
To bring the great good news to man! (LSB 834:3)
Because of this—because our Lord Jesus receives sinners and eats with them, because He embraces them when they come and goes to them when they wander and stray—because of this, our Lord is scorned, despised, rejected, mocked, jeered and finally crucified. What kind of God—what kind of man—does not demand something, some better life or some assurance of payback, before helping or taking in an unsavory character? What kind of God—what kind of man—does not first insist that you shape up before He gives you a penny or comes to your aid? And what kind of God—what kind of man—does not first lecture you and try to fix you before He lifts a finger to shoulder your burden and pay your debt?
So our Lord is scorned and despised. Not by those who cry to Him in time of need, but by those who religiously try to defend God, by those who want others to see their religion, by those who want to impress Jesus by their tears and their hard work for the church. Those who say they’re on Jesus’ side and simply want to make Him into their own kind of Jesus. And they grumble when Jesus stands before you and proclaims His Gospel of peace. They complain when He opens His table to sinners. They murmur when He declares forgiveness even for those you don’t think deserve it.
So beware! You may think that the lost sheep and the lost coin are someone else—the people you pity, the person you refuse to acknowledge, the woman you don’t want to be bothered with, the man you don’t like much. But actually, as our Lord tells His parables, the lost are not just the sinners Jesus receives and eats with. The lost are also those who stray from Jesus by their grumbling, by their hatred for their brother or sister in Christ, by their refusal to love and forgive as they have been loved and forgiven, by their unwillingness to embrace “sinners” just as Jesus has embraced them.
Jesus tells the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin not simply to let the Pharisees have it, not simply to proclaim His own mission for sinners, not simply to remind His disciples and us of His purpose. He also tells the parable to draw and entice, to welcome and invite, to gather and sit down with and eat with YOU and ME.
Or do you think that you are one of those just persons who needs no repentance? Remember, it's the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven—those who now rest from their labors and await the resurrection on the Last Day—those are the just ones who need no repentance. They are the ninety-nine sheep that are left behind. They are the nine coins that are safely tucked away. They can no longer be lost, because Jesus has wiped away their tears forever.
No, we—each and every one of us—are the ones still who need repentance.
We are still as in a dungeon living,
Still oppressed with sorrow and misgiving;
Are but toils and troubles and heartbreakings.
So according to Jesus’ parable, you and I are the sheep that goes astray. We have turned, everyone of us, to his own way, doing as we please, trusting in ourselves and despising others—living as if we deserved God’s mercy and as if His grace had no effect. But Shepherd Jesus comes searching for us and finds us. And you and I are also the coin that the Holy Spirit seeks out. He lights the lamp of His Word and overturns everything to find us and gather us back at the table where our Lord receives and eats with sinners.
Do you see the grace of our Lord Jesus? Do you understand the constant searching of the Holy Spirit? Do you take to heart the all-embracing love of the Father?
Our God does not teach us sinners by scolding and screaming so that He can get us to live right. Instead, He teaches in order to shower us with His mercy, to give us His Righteousness and Love, to speak into our hearts and minds His grace that forgives us, and to supply us with His true and abundant Life.
Jesus does this by receiving sinners and eating with them. And so our loving Lord Jesus comes in our flesh. He willingly drinks from and swallows down and drains our cup of sin and death. He does whatever it takes to seek us out, to shoulder our burdens, to carry our griefs, to endure our sorrows. The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. So this Jesus is our Jesus. He comes in our flesh. He becomes our sin. He is tempted in every respect as we are. He gets what we deserve. And He is sacrificed to appease God for who we are and what we do.
That’s how our Lord Jesus is the tender and gentle shepherd. He carries us back to Himself. He demands nothing in return. He does not make us first prove our faith. He does not require us to do even the smallest part of the sacrifice. He only draws us to Himself. He gives us the confidence and courage to trust Him and what He gives. He encourages us to give thanks with all we are and with all we have.
He does all of this so that He might welcome and receive us back to Himself. He does all of this so that we might return to Him in true repentance—a repentance that does not seek any other self-gratification, a repentance that does not demand others to live as we think. Rather, as the sheep rescued by the shepherd and as the coin found by the woman, we get to live in true repentance, in true faith. That repentance and faith is completely satisfied with whatever our Lord gives. We get to live in true repentance and faith that feeds on and lives from Jesus’ boundless goodness and mercy. We get to live in true repentance and faith that lives for others just as our Lord has lived for us.
May God grant us this true repentance and faith—the repentance and faith which leads the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven to rejoice. You see,
We deserve but grief and shame,
Yet His words, rich grace revealing,
Pardon, peace and life proclaim;
Here our ills have perfect healing.
Firmly in these words believe:
Jesus sinners doth receive. (LSB 609:2)