Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Third Sunday after Trinity

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.” Then Jesus told them this parable. “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 who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:1-10).

The parables recorded in chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel are the heart of his account. They are the parables about finding lost things. The momentum of the book builds from here to Jesus’ declaration in chapter 19: The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. Jesus is the shepherd who “repents” His lost sheep – He seeks them out and brings them back. Jesus is the woman who searches for and finds the lost coin. Jesus is the father of the lost son who brings him back from the dead and into the banquet. (Prange 1988) Jesus uses these three parables to identify Himself as God. He is the Good Shepherd. His sheep hear His voice and follow Him. He is the one, like the shepherd, the woman, and the father in the parable, who has come to seek and to save the lost. (Bailey 2014)

The parable of the lost sheep is a continuation of the good shepherd tradition, which goes back to Psalm 23, and appears throughout the writings of the prophets. (Bailey 2014) Physically, the shepherd is bringing back the sheep. Theologically, God is bringing back the sinner, causing him to repent. (Bailey 2014) As the shepherd searches, he calls the sheep. The sheep will recognize his shepherd’s unique voice and call. The sheep responds by calling back, by bleating; he also does not resist his master. The lost sheep accepts being found. (Bailey 2014) In this respect, the parable breaks down somewhat. We know from scripture that we have no capacity to aid in the search, as we are dead in our trespasses and sins. We are also, in our natural state, inclined toward evil and away from good. Until we are brought back, we have a bound will that always chooses, and delights in, evil.

Modern Bible translations often abstract the good shepherd imagery. The imagery of the shepherd was inspired by the Holy Spirit in the writers of the Bible because it is a real thing that people within the middle eastern culture were familiar with. Shepherds really do have to go after their lost sheep if they don’t want them to die; lost sheep hide themselves and bleat out of fear, rather than try and find their way back to the safety of the heard. If the shepherd doesn’t act quickly, time, exposure to the elements, or wild animals will kill the sheep. (Bailey 2014)

Repentance is not a work that man does. It is done to man by God. The Lord, Yahweh, my Good Shepherd, restores my soul.[1] He “repents me”, or turns me back, or converts my soul. (Bailey 2014)  The word used in Psalm 23:3 that the NIV translates “restores” is the Hebrew word “shuv”. It means to return, or to repent. Properly translated in this context it would read, “He brings me back,” or “He causes me to repent.” (Bailey 2014) Again, Jesus goes against the teaching of the ancient rabbis who taught that a righteous man shouldn’t associate with a sinner, even to bring him to repentance. The Pharisees, the shepherds of Israel, should be seeking out these lost sheep. Jesus tells them these three related parables to illustrate His point. He reiterates to them what He said while eating with Levi the tax collector: I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.[2] (Prange 1988)

Sheep are helpless and need constant attention; they are not capable of doing the things needed to take care of themselves. When they wander from the fold, they are unable to find their way back or to survive in the wilderness. They need the shepherd to come find and rescue them. We all like sheep, says Isaiah, have gone astray.[3] We require our Good Shepherd to rescue us, or we too will die, in the wilderness of sin, separated from God’s fold. The lost sheep is a small percentage of the flock, but still worth finding. How much more valuable to God are people? (Bailey 2014) We are so valuable that He sent His Son into the flesh to bear our sin, and be our savior, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.

Jesus’ summary statement that there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous person who do not need to repent may seem strange. It isn’t, however, that Jesus is saying there are people who don’t need to repent. The message of Christ and the apostles is, after all, “Repent, and believe the gospel.” This is a criticism of the self-righteous Pharisees who thought they were perfect and did not need to repent. (Prange 1988) Repentance is recognizing our sins and turning to God in faith, trusting in His mercy. It has two parts: contrition, or sorrow for your sins, and faith, or believing the message of the Gospel. That Gospel message is that our sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ, who died as the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, and who rose from the dead for our justification; in Him we have eternal life. (McCain 2005)

The present life of the Christian is one of constant repentance as we struggle daily against our sinful nature that delights in sin. Our good works, which show our repentance and faith, are not part of our repentance. We don’t do good things to show how much we are repenting. Rather, after we repent, we begin doing good things. (McCain 2005) The Roman Church’s teaching about repentance is what sparked the Reformation. Luther was angered by Rome’s practice of selling Indulgences – that a person could buy the forgiveness of sins with money. This practice was directly contrary to God’s Word, which says we are saved from sin and death by the grace of God through faith in Christ. (McCain 2005)

The forgiveness of sins comes through faith in Christ. Confessional Lutherans condemn those who say that we must do works of satisfaction to earn forgiveness, or cancel some punishment we deserve because of our sins. Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the once for all sacrifice for sin. (McCain 2005) Since faith is a gift from God, how do we receive it? Faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the message of Christ. God the Holy Spirit works through the word of God to create faith in men’s hearts. Faith is no mere intellectual decision; it is the undeserved present created in us by the Holy Spirit, who uses the tools of word and sacrament to do His work. This is how Christ, our Good Shepherd, seeks His lost sheep and brings them back.


Bailey, Kenneth E. The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 2014.

McCain, Paul T., et. al., eds. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. A reader's edition of the Book of Concord. 1st. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005.

Prange, Victor H. The People's Bible Commentary: Luke. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1988.

[1] See Psalm 23:1-3
[2] See Luke 5:27-32
[3] See Isaiah 53:6

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Great Banquet

Second Sunday after Trinity

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet’” (Luke 14:23-24).

In ancient times, it was common practice to send an invitation to a banquet such as the one described in the parable Jesus tells, followed by a summons when the time for the gathering arrived (Concordia Publishing House 2009). It would certainly be considered rude to receive the first invitation, and to reject the second call (Kretzmann 1921). The servant in the parable is delivering the second call, or summons.

In the parable of the Great Banquet, God invites His people, the Jews, to the banquet and they refuse the invitation. The people who receive the invitation in the parable are preoccupied with their sin. They persevere in sins without repentance, and they reject the gracious invitation (McCain 2005). The excuses given by the invited guests for why they were rejecting the invitation all involve worldly concerns. They are concerned with their immediate circumstances and happiness. They are fixated on finding happiness, fulfillment, or salvation in their businesses, their property, and their familial relationships. They should instead be looking forward to the joys of the banquet to which they had been invited (Kretzmann 1921). The fact that the excuses of the invited guests are all temporal in nature implies that Israel, as a group, was focused on earthly things. They were looking for a political fulfillment of God’s promise to raise up David’s fallen tent.[1] They expected the Messiah to build an earthly kingdom, and to redeem Israel in a political way by making them a great nation as they were under King David (Kretzmann 1921).

God, the master in this parable, sent the invitation to His great banquet to His chosen guests through Moses and the prophets. John the Baptist came as the herald announcing that the time had come. The kingdom of God, which is the preaching of Christ, was at hand. All the invited guests should come to the banquet (Kretzmann 1921). But Israel, as a whole, rejected the invitation. Jesus turns from the Jews, though He longed to gather them as a hen gathers her chicks, because they refused to be so gathered.[2] He invites the spiritually blind, poor, and lame: tax collectors and sinners, and gentiles. They will fill his house.

No one can come to the banquet without an invitation. God, however, has invited all people through His word. He who remains outside of the banquet only has himself to blame (Prange 1988). God would indeed be a liar and a hypocrite if His invitation were extended to all people through His word, but secretly in His heart He knew there were some people He would damn anyway, no matter what. God condemns this type of wickedness.[3] Man is, however, responsible for his own damnation by resisting and rejecting the Holy Spirit as He works through God’s word (McCain 2005). Since man cannot desire what is spiritually good because of his corrupt nature, man must be compelled by the preaching of the Law to know his helplessness. When this work of showing man his sin, and his need for a Savior is done, he is given the good news of the Gospel: that at just the right time, while we were still sinners and enemies of God, Christ died as the atonement for our sins, and the sins of the whole world; and that Jesus rose from the dead for our justification. God drives and gathers His elect together in this way (Kretzmann 1921). Those people who despise God’s call through the preaching of the Law and Gospel are barred from God’s house, and the wedding feast of the Lamb, by their own fault (Kretzmann 1921).

The parable of the Great Banquet shows that multitudes of people will enter the kingdom of heaven, though Jesus doesn’t give a specific number (Prange 1988). This filling of the house for the great banquet should call to mind the vision of John recorded in Revelation 7: John heard the number of the Elect – 144,000. But when he looked, he saw many more people than that specific number. He saw a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language before the throne and in front of the Lamb.[4] God does not desire the death of the wicked, but that he would turn from his evil ways and live.[5] The guests who refuse the invitation to the banquet are the Jews. Those brought into the banquet in their stead are the gentiles. The point is, God prepares the banquet, makes the invitation, brings in the guests, and even provides the proper clothing to His guests.[6] No one can force his way into the banquet; he can only refuse to come. And Jesus warns Jew and gentile alike that God’s judgment will fall on all those who show contempt for His word. ###


Concordia Publishing House. The Lutheran Study Bible. Edited by Edward A Engelbrecht, et al. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009.

Kretzmann, Paul E. Popular Commentary of the Bible: New Testament. Vol. 1. 2 vols. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921.

McCain, Paul T., et. al., ed. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions. A reader's edition of the Book of Concord. 1st. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005.

Pieper, Francis. Christian Dogmatics. Vol. 1. ebook. St. Louis, 1950.

Prange, Victor H. The People's Bible Commentary: Luke. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1988.

[1] Amos 9:11; Acts 15:14-19
[2] Matthew 23:37
[3] Psalm 5:9; 12:2-4
[4] Revelation 7:4, 9
[5] Ezekiel 18:30-32; 33:19; 2 Peter 3:9
[6] Matthew 22:1-14

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Rich Man and Lazarus

First Sunday after Trinity

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.’” (Luke 16:25)

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:31)

Scripture tells us that Jesus did not say anything to the people without using parables.[1] But what is a parable, and what is it’s purpose? After Jesus’ resurrection, the Apostles’ preaching would be clear and direct. Now Jesus must teach by using stories to match the level of understanding of His hearers, so as not to disrupt the plan of salvation which was reaching its end.[2] If He were to say bluntly that He was the Son of God in human flesh, the promised son of David, the people would start a revolt and try to make Him king, as they would try to do at other times during His ministry.[3] In this parable, Jesus teaches about wealth and faith in a way that compels those who hear to carefully consider what He says.

A parable is a short, fictitious story intended to teach a spiritual truth.[4] When teaching through parables, Jesus uses pictures with which his hearers are familiar to explain these truths. He doesn’t do this to hold back truth from them, but rather to press them to search for truth in the scriptures, which He says testify about Him.[5] No one, not even the Apostles, can understand divine revelation unless it is given them to understand by God. This is because we are all conceived and born in sin,[6] and by the nature we inherited from Adam, children of God’s wrath.[7] In spiritual things particularly, our sinful minds are hostile to God; they cannot and will not submit to God’s law.[8] We are spiritually blind and dead. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to us through His word to open our ears and our eyes; He makes we, who were dead in our sins, alive in Him. Jesus connects us to His death, and to His resurrection in our baptism.[9] In our baptism He also clothes us in His righteousness.[10] He gives to us the gifts of the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation that He won by His death on the cross.[11]

The first truth of this parable is that God intends for us to use our earthly wealth wisely, and not to make money our god. All through His ministry, Jesus seems to paint a hopeless picture for rich people. He isn’t saying that it is impossible for the rich to get into heaven. In fact, Jesus tells the disciples that, without the working of God, it is impossible for anyone, rich or poor, to enter the kingdom of heaven![12] He wants us all to know, rich and poor alike, that the wealth which gives us earthly comfort and security cannot buy us eternal comfort and security. Jesus wants us to use our wealth to help our neighbors, thus storing up for ourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy.[13] The rich man in the parable has made an idol of his wealth. He trusted in it to save him, and he was sorely disappointed.

The second truth Jesus teaches through this parable is that God’s word creates faith and saves. The rich man wants Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to warn his brothers to change their ways, so they don’t end up like him. Abraham says no. He says that they have God’s word: If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. Jesus is teaching that miracles are not enough to convince people to believe in Him. It is God’s Holy Spirit, working through God’s word, that creates repentance and faith in men. St. Paul spells this out when he writes: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes,[14]” and “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.[15]” Jesus would later raise a dead man named Lazarus to life in front of His enemies, but it wouldn’t make them believe in Him. In the face of that miracle they would still refuse to believe that Jesus was the promised Savior, and plot to kill Him.[16]

Jesus wants His hearers to carefully consider what He is saying to them, and not to harden our hearts and resist the working of the Holy Spirit. In this parable He teaches that we are to use our earthly wealth wisely, as a tool to help our neighbor. Our money cannot save us from hell and separation from God. Money will be of no use to us when we die. But, we have something far more precious than money or things. Because Jesus’ work is now complete, we can stop using parables and speak clearly, just as the Apostles did after they received the Spirit from Jesus.[17] In Christ we have forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. He purchased and won those things for us on the cross. He bought them, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and by His innocent suffering and death. He gives those gifts to us through faith in Him, which comes through His word. ###


Concordia Publishing House. 2009. The Lutheran Study Bible. Edited by Edward A Engelbrecht, Paul E Deterding, Roland Cap Ehlke, Jerald C Joersz, Mark W Love, Steven P Mueller, Scott R Murray, et al. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Prange, Victor H. 1988. The People's Bible Commentary: Luke. Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House.

Wicke, Harold E. 1992. People's Bible Commentary: Mark. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

[1] Mark 4:34
[2] Wicke, Mark, 68.
[3] John 6:15
[4] Wicke, Mark, 61; Webster, Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 697.
[5] Luke 4:21; John 5:29
[6] Psalm 51:5
[7] Ephesians 2:3
[8] Romans 8:7
[9] Romans 6:3-5
[10] Galatians 3:27
[11] Acts 2:38-41; 1 Peter 3:18-21
[12] Matthew 19:16-30
[13] Matthew 6:19-21
[14] Romans 1:16
[15] Romans 10:17
[16] Englebrecht, et. al., Lutheran Study Bible, 1751
[17] Wicke, Mark, 68