This last Sunday we observed, from the Sacred Writings, some marvelous truths about Jesus, his victory, and some of its implications for us. Namely, that he came in flesh and blood, has broken the power of the devil, and has set free all those who previously lived in fear of the evil one and his weapon of death (Heb. 2:14-15). Further, that Jesus has disarmed spiritual rulers and authorities, and has shamed them publicly by his victory on the cross (Col. 2:15). Further still (!), that God, through us, will crush Satan under our feet, that he has given us authority to proclaim the gospel, push back and tread upon demonic forces, dispel darkness, and heal in his name (Luke 9:1-2, 6; 10:19).
Sounds pretty glorious for the follower of Jesus!
Maybe you were with us at Calvary this last Sunday. If so, I hope the power of those truths is still reverberating in your soul. But...maybe...now that we sit here mid-week, you've also started to ask some questions about how that works out. Because by now you've committed at least a few sins. Which means, in those moments, you went against the values of the Kingdom of God. You were in league with the world, the flesh, and the devil. You did the opposite of what you were called and empowered to do.
You fell short, and you are feeling the sting of that failure. A couple of things.
This coming Sunday, as I said at the end of the sermon this last week, we'll talk a bit more about what it looks like to live in the light of those truths (above). What we do. How we do it. Whom we cling to. How we fight, and how the promise of the future changes the reality of our present.
Until then, I'd like to provide a little encouragement for you by reflecting on an incident from the life of Jesus. If you're familiar with the Sacred Writings at all, you know of the parables found in Luke 15. A parable of lost sheep. A parable of a woman and her lost coin. A parable about a prodigal father toward a lost and wayward son.
The context of those parables is extremely important. Jesus is at dinner, in the home of one of the rulers of the Pharisees. They are watching him carefully, engaging him for the purpose of trapping him. Crowds gather. Tax collectors and sinners draw near. As they do, the self-righteous Pharisees and scribes grumble - yes, actually grumble in the presence of those same tax collectors and sinners - saying, "This man receives sinners, and eats with them." (Luke 15:2) Well, tut tut.
It is at this moment in the story where Jesus tells these three familiar parables. And what is fascinating about them is a trait they all share.
Now, I know what you are thinking. "Yes! They all talk about something that was lost being found." Well, that is true. And it is comforting. But there is something else they all share in common that may be even more encouraging.
Luke 15:7 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.
Luke 15:10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Luke 15:18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate....32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
Here it is, quite simply: When sinners repent, heaven celebrates.
Listen, your sin is awful and despicable.
You should not have committed it.
In a very real sense, it means you've moved against the very kingdom you are supposed to be spreading.
But,...listen now...what Jesus wanted those tax collectors and sinners to know, the ones sitting there with him, listening to the clucking of the tongues of self-righteous religious people and all of their looking-down-their-nose condemnation, is that God doesn't act that way toward us.
He wanted them - and wants us - to know that when sinners sin, and turn from that sin toward God (repentance), we are received with great joy, and the Father and all of heaven celebrates over our repentance.
Do you see?