daily biblical sermons


GOD REJOICES OVER A SINNER WHO REPENTS; AND DECLARES AND MAKES HIM RIGHTEOUS
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Thursday, 31st Week of the Year, November 07, 2019
Romans 14:7-12, Psalm 26, Luke 15:1-10


Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.’ 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 15:3-7).

 

 

The point of this parable is the great joy that God has over one sinner that repents. Jesus displayed great joy and eagerness to seek out sinners and bring them to repentance to reconcile them with God. This is why Jesus spent so much time with sinners, so much so that the Pharisees and scribes criticized him, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). The scribes and Pharisees meant this as a criticism, for they felt that a religious man and a teacher like Jesus should not associate with disreputable people. But Jesus has the opposite idea, seeing it as the whole purpose of his mission to seek out and save sinners by calling them to repentance and conversion.

 

 

This is the theme of many of Jesus’ sermons throughout Galilee, which St. Mark summarizes as saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Why was he preaching repentance and faith? It was to call sinners to repentance and conversion that they might be forgiven for their sins and receive new life through their faith in the gospel.

 

 

Today Jesus explains his mission by comparing himself to a shepherd with a hundred sheep who loses one of his sheep and so leaves the ninety-nine in the wilderness and goes off searching for the lost one. And when he finds it, he puts it on his shoulders rejoicing, and when he arrives home, “he calls together his friends and his neighbors saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost’” (Luke 15:6).

 

 

It is important that Jesus has revealed this to us, for it is important for us to know that when we return to God and repent of our sins, admitting them and promising to abandon them, God will have more joy over this that he does over ninety-nine righteous people who are in no need of repentance. Is important that we know this, because sinners often feel abandoned by God, guilty, and unable to feel good again in their souls, because they are lost in guilt and depression caused by their sins, and they do not know how to get relief from this great illness of their spirit.

 

 

But God shows us in today’s gospel reading that he himself sent his Son to search out and find all his lost sheep and bring them back to him. The emphasis in this parable is on God’s and Christ’s part in actively seeking us out to find and bring us back to him.

 

 

The parable of the prodigal son makes the point that the son himself repents, leaves his sinful life, and returns to his father, and his father welcomes him home with open arms and kills for him the fatted calf, brings in music and dancing, and has a great feast, rejoicing that his son has returned repentant to his home. The father welcomes him back, putting on him the best robe, a ring on his finger, and shoes on his feet. This is how God acts with any sinner who genuinely repents and returns to him, begging his forgiveness.

 

 

God fully restores us sinners to our friendship with him. If Jesus hadn’t taught us this, we might find this very difficult to believe, thinking that an all-just God will surely cast thunderbolts at us and judge and condemn us for our sins. So many sinners are afraid to return to God and repent for fear that they will be shamed, punished, and cast out. Fortunately for us, God has sent his Son to redeem us and to teach us in these parables just how graciously he longs to receive us back if only we repent and promise to abandon our sins.

 

 

This parable about the sheep tells us of the importance of our repentance and of God’s subsequent joy, saying, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).

 

 

It is very important today to stress the need for genuine repentance, for there is a new heresy in the Church today, the mercy heresy, which presents God’s mercy in an unbalanced and un-biblical way, falsely telling us that in some cases God does not call us to repent, because he knows that it would be too hard for us, in our difficult life situation, to abandon our grave sins and live according to his biblically revealed moral law. Therefore, they falsely say that God whispers into these people’s ear their own personal moral law, which tells them to break his biblically revealed moral law.

 

 

So, according to this heresy, when these people commit these deadly sins and live in a constant state of deadly sin, God does not count it as sinful in their case, since he is so merciful, but rather counts their sins as acts of virtue, since they are doing God’s will, because he is the one who is leading them to live a sinful life by whispering this into their conscience.

 

 

Therefore this new mercy heresy falsely tells us that when these people are accompanied in a process of discernment and think that they hear in their heart God telling them to break his biblically revealed moral law, this is what they should do, and by doing so they will be growing in grace, virtue, and holiness, because they are doing God’s will, for he is the one, they say, that is telling them to do this.

 

 

This heresy is the destruction of all Christian morality and a complete contradiction of the whole biblical message concerning moral living both in the Old and New Testaments. So we need to stress today, against this mercy heresy, that God has great joy over even one sinner who genuinely repents. God wants us to repent, to turn to him, and confess our sins so that he can forgive us and fully reconcile us to himself, as the father did to his prodigal son, when he returned home and repented. Indeed, “if we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

 

 

The all-just God can justly forgive us for our sins without violating his justice, which requires him to justly punish all sins, since our sins have already been justly and fully punished in our substitute, Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, who on the cross bore our sins and suffered in his own flesh the just punishment due for all the sins of the world.

 

 

God will regard Christ’s suffering on the cross as fulfilling our obligation to undergo suffering in punishment for our sins if only we will put our faith in Christ and genuinely repent of our sins. Then God will count Christ’s death on the cross as full payment that we owe God for our sins. God will credit our personal account with Christ’s suffering and death on the cross as paying our debt of suffering and death that we have with God because of our sins. God will see our death sentence for our sins as fully paid for us by our substitute, Jesus Christ, in his death on the cross. Therefore God will in all justice acquit us of our sins and of our punishment for them and will declare us ungodly sinners righteous, that is, he will justify us, when we put our faith in Christ.

 

 

What did we do to deserve this justification? We didn’t do anything. All we did was sin. The work that justified us (that earned our justification) was Christ’s atoning death on the cross to make full reparation for our sins. What, then, is our part in being justified or made right with God? Our part is simply to accept God’s declaration that we are now righteous. And we accept this by making an act of faith in Jesus Christ and in his atoning death, believing that his death pays our debt with God and that God therefore declares us righteous.

 

 

If God himself declares us righteous, then we are righteous indeed, not with a righteousness that comes from our good works, for we do not have such a righteousness, since as sinners we only have our sins to show God. Rather, our righteousness is the righteousness of God that depends on faith in Christ’s atoning, reparation-making death on the cross for our sins, for “Christ has died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

 

 

This is the kind of righteousness that we want; not a righteousness that comes from our good works that earn us righteousness, but a righteousness that comes from the free declaration of God that we are now righteous. So we say with St. Paul, I want to “be found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own, based on law [good works], but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9).

 

 

So we are like the lost sheep that has to be rescued by the good shepherd who is Christ. It is Christ who does the work that rescues and justifies us. It is Christ’s work on the cross that merits and earns our justification. We are the ones who are sinners who have not worked and have not been able to earn our own righteousness, “and to one who does not work but trusts [literally believes, pisteuonti] him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Romans 4:5).

 

 

That is us! Our faith in Christ is reckoned to us as righteousness, or we are considered and declared by God to be righteous by our faith, not by our works. “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). Indeed, “by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV).

 

 

Once justified, then, we must, of course, immediately enter into a process of sanctification, whereby we grow in holiness by our good works.

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