Lessons: Micah 7:18-20, 1 Peter 5:6-11, Luke 15:1-10
Hymns: LSB 608, 609, 505, 625, 540, 919
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In my 16 years of serving the Lord as a pastor, I must admit I hear some words that are, to me, rather disturbing. These words are often filled with confidence, but yet they reveal a great weakness. They are spoken by countless well-meaning Christians. Some are going in for surgery. Some have suffered a great loss. Some aren’t attending church very much. Some seem to be such strong Christians.
What are those words? “Pastor, don’t worry about me; I’ll be fine.”
What’s so bad about that? Why are they difficult for me to hear? Obviously, they’re well-intended. Those saying them want to believe they’re resilient and they’ve got everything in order. After all, they’re Christian, right? They’ve got to be strong. They don’t need anyone. They don’t need any help. And all that screaming inside? All that pain? We’ve got to repress it and show the world—especially our brothers and sisters in Christ—most of all our pastor—that we’re tough, strong, unwavering Christians! Right? Isn’t that how we’re supposed to be?
No. Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31). Jesus wants sinners to be shepherded. And when you are shepherded, then it’s actually ok to say, “Don’t worry about me; I’ll be fine” for you’re receiving God’s gifts.
But often people say those words when they figure that I’m too busy or their troubles are too small for me to get involved. But that’s why God sent pastors. He knows that you are sheep who need to be shepherded, for wandering off is too easy. He knows you need a shepherd to pray with you and for you. He knows you need to be fed God’s Word. He knows you need the Lord’s Supper.
Why do you need these? The Devil is always on the attack. In our Epistle, St. Peter does not teach us, saying, “Don’t worry; you’ll be fine.” (Granted, Jesus teaches us not to worry about food and clothing, and Jesus instructs us to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness.) Today’s Epistle says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Pet 5:8-9).
You see, the Devil wants to devour you. He wants you to be his next victim. Satan doesn’t want you to be comfortable. This world’s prince doesn’t want you rest peacefully in your Savior’s loving arms. The Devil wants you to become uncertain of the Gospel’s treasures you possess in Christ. Satan wants you wandering away from God.
There are many ways in which well-meaning Christians turn away. Some neglect their hearing of the Word and reception of the Lord’s Supper, figuring they’ll be fine. Others want to live in unrepentant sin—not turning away from their sin—but continuing in it, because they figure they’ll be fine. Others, knowing they’re saved by grace and not by their works, figure they don’t need to consider being active in love or righteous living. They figure they’ve got the saving part done and feel they can get on with their lives. Still others are so confident of their salvation, they no longer trust in Christ for their salvation, but they trust in themselves—their strengths and abilities.
That’s when the Devil—our adversary who walks about like a roaring lion—seeks to devour us. That’s when he has us where he wants us to be—vulnerable and ready to be consumed. He knows he can make a quick, clean kill.
Resist him, firm in the faith.
The way in which you can be firm in the faith is only through God’s Word and the Sacraments. You cannot resist the devil on your own. Remember, Satan even tried tempting Jesus! He worked overtime trying to get Jesus to slip up and sin (Matt 4:1-11). And if he worked so hard at Jesus, be certain that the Devil will also work hard on you, since you are God’s own child, redeemed by the blood of Christ.
But know that you’re not alone. Satan’s fiery darts—the Devil’s lies—temptation sent by this world’s prince—are experienced by all God’s children. Satan tries hard to make you think you are alone—that no one else is suffering the grief or hardship that you’re enduring. Satan works diligently to get you to think that no Christian is tempted as you are. Satan does this to make you think you have nowhere to go and there’s no one to help—not even from the pastor whom God sent.
But resist Satan and his lies. You have a place to go. You have help. You are never alone. God has seen fit that you have your church and church family. God has given you a pastor. You don’t need to put on a façade when you’re here saying, “Don’t worry; I’ll be fine.” For we cannot go it alone, or we will not survive. We cannot think that, left to our own devices, we are somehow more cunning than the Devil, and can outsmart him. That’s simply impossible.
Consider all the havoc the Devil inflicts. He breaks up families. He tempts people with shameful vices, and spins temptation to look enticing. He lures people to become lost sheep who wander away.
That’s why we should not pass up offers from our pastor to visit and pray, claiming, “I’ll be fine.” That’s why we should not miss the Diving Service, assuming, “I’ll be fine.” That’s why we should not pass on the Lord’s Supper, thinking, “I’ll be fine.”
We’re not fine. We live in a broken, shattered world, corrupt with sin, temptation, and the devil. We need Jesus. We need our Savior. We need the love and protection only He can provide.
It’s ok for us to admit that we are truly a needy people. It’s ok to ask for help. Left to our own devices, we would be lost sheep who would be quickly devoured by the Devil.
When we assume that we’re fine without the Church and the gifts provided by the Church, we quickly become lost sheep.
And so, our Good Shepherd steps in. He lifts us up. He restores us. He showers us with His love. He shepherds us to green pastures. He leads us beside the still waters. He grants participation in the Church.
There’s another way sheep often figure they’re fine, but they need help. It has to do with the call to repentance. When we think about Jesus restoring lost sheep, we probably think about Jesus going out and bringing in someone who is more than ready to be in Jesus’ arms. We wish it could be easy. We see someone caught up in a sin. We tell that person he’s sinning. He repents. He is forgiven. There’s joy in heaven and on earth because he repented and received the Gospel. But that isn’t the norm. You see, by nature, we do not want to be God’s children. We don’t want to be shepherded by Him. We don’t think we need Him. We dismiss Him, saying, “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”
What Jesus does for the lost sheep is that He calls it to repentance. The trouble is, people don’t like to repent. People often don’t think they even need to repent. They figure that if they haven’t murdered, robbed a business, or cheated on their spouse, then they’re without sin.
Calling sinners to repentance is difficult because of how people often resist repentance. They may fight back. They may even attack you. Often the person will deny his sin, insist that we shouldn’t worry because he’s fine, and tell us who are concerned about his eternal salvation to go away. It’s messy. It’s hard. And it can seem thankless.
If a sheep is eating some fresh, green grass, unaware that it is surrounded by wolves about to be killed, and the shepherd suddenly arrives, wards off the wolves just long enough to grab the sheep and get it out of there, do you think that sheep will be happy? No, it will be mad because it was enjoying its green grass, completely unaware of the danger it was in.
When Christians call sinners to repentance, those sinners feel they were safe and fine without repentance. They don’t want to be disrupted. They don’t see the danger. They will often resist repentance. They don’t see how lost they’ve become. They’ll claim, “Don’t worry; I’ll be fine.” What they need to see is that the Devil is seeking to devour them. The Good Shepherd has come to call them to repentance so that they can be restored.
And look at the joy that comes when just one sinner repents! There is no joy in Heaven when people resist God’s call to repentance. But when a sinner repents, Jesus declares, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:7) and “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).
And as God’s forgiven people who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, we, too, are filled with joy when our brothers and sisters in Christ repent. We receive them with wide open arms. We do not count their past sins and past lives against them. We are grateful that they have been restored.
We cannot be like the self-righteous Pharisees who were angry at Jesus for talking to and eating with the sinners and tax collectors. Instead, we are filled with joy when sinners turn from their sinful ways, receive the forgiveness Christ Jesus earned on the cross, and are restored by the Gospel.
Such a privilege it is to rest in God’s loving care! Such a joy it is to know that Jesus has taken our sin away by shedding His Blood on our behalf! Such joy there is in repentance! Such joy it is to acknowledge that we, who were once lost, and are now found. Such joy it is know that we now have belonging. We belong to our Church. We belong to our Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for us on the cross.
And when we belong to our family in Christ—when we are members of the Body of Christ—the saying is then true: I am at peace. I have no need to worry. I am fine. For I am in Christ. He will protect me and shield me. He is with me. He guides me to Heaven. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen