Jesus receives sinners and eats with them. That’s the complaint of the Pharisees and scribes in Luke 15. The people they looked down upon were drawing near to Jesus to hear him, and Jesus was not only receiving them, but eating with them. The Pharisees and scribes were shocked that Jesus would do such a thing. Who is this guy?
Well, this guy is God in the flesh. And he does do such a thing as receiving sinners and eating with them. The Pharisees and scribes do not recognize him for who he is, but he is the Lord. He had been up in the holy heaven, surrounded by angels who continually sang his praises, in the company of his Father and the Holy Spirit. Isaiah saw this in Isaiah 6: the six-winged seraphim who shielded their eyes with two wings – so that they would not gaze upon the glory of the Lord – and shielded their feet with two wings – so as not to tread upon the Lord’s royal robes. And they all sang together, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
All this our Lord left behind in order to come to earth, to be born of a virgin, so that he could receive sinners – to receive us. He tells two parables in Luke 15 to get the point across about how God and all the heavenly angels feel when a sinner is received back into the Lord’s communion. If a shepherd had a flock of 100 sheep and one wandered off, he wouldn’t think twice about going out to find the lost sheep to carry it back home again on his shoulders, rejoicing all the way. If a woman had 10 silver coins and lost one, she would go search for it diligently until she found it, rejoicing when she does.
It is the same with our Lord when he brings a sinner back into communion with him. We are all sinners, and the Lord rejoices over every one of us who is brought back to God; and not only him, but all the angels rejoice as well to see a man or woman – who were formerly separated from God – brought back to God and reconciled to him.
This is the love of our God for us. The fact that he left the constant praise of angels to come to earth to bring us back into communion with him. To receive us and eat with us. To go up on the cross for us to atone for all our sins – our inherited sin we got from Adam and Eve, and our actual sins we’ve committed.
The Lord rejoices over us. He wasn’t too clean or holy to come to us. He wasn’t afraid of what people would say about him. He wasn’t worried about the grumbling of the Pharisees and scribes – people who thought they were self-righteous and holy. He wasn’t afraid of our sin. No, the holy Lord God came in person to save you. He came to bring you salvation.
And what is salvation, really?
If you think back to the beginning with Adam and Eve, their sin brought decay and death into this world. It also brought separation between them and God, them as people, and them and creation itself. So, their sin introduced these three separations: between humanity and God, among humanity itself, and between humanity and creation.
God could have left it like this. He could have left us in the chains of sin and eternal death. But, he didn’t. He promised the Savior, the Christ. And finally, in the fullness of time, the Christ came to save us.
Each of the Gospel writers has a different emphasis. Matthew emphasizes the fact that Jesus came in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. That is why he constantly points out that some action of Jesus or event is in fulfillment of the Old Testament. He was writing to Jews and wanted them to see that Jesus is the Christ who was promised by God.
Mark emphasizes the fact that Jesus is ushering in the restoration of his creation. That is why he uses the word “immediately” all the time; Jesus “immediately” did this, then “immediately” did that. Jesus is all action in Mark’s Gospel.
John emphasizes Jesus as the light of the world, the one who enlightens a darkened world. He also emphasizes Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, emphasizing therefore the fact that Jesus was crucified on the day of the preparation of the lambs for the Passover. Jesus is the true passover lamb whose blood causes eternal death to “pass-over” us.
Luke emphasizes the fact that Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Perhaps this is because Luke himself was a gentile, not a Jew. Perhaps he recognized in himself the sin which Jesus came to forgive and atone for. Perhaps he was one of those whom Jesus received and who the Pharisees and scribes grumbled against.
We are one of those as well. We are one of the company of sinners whom Jesus receives and eats with. Our sins have been atoned for and forgiven. Jesus has come to carry us back to God. And he communes with us now in the Church.
And then he sends us to bring more sinners to him; those who do not yet know him, those who are still lost, those who sense a brokeness in the world and in their own lives but don’t know the reason or the cure. We go to them as Christ’s people, in the same manner that he came to us. We receive and eat with them so that they too may know Christ who sent us and so that the heavenly host may rejoice when they are brought back to God through the Gospel.
For, Christ gives us his name in baptism. He gives us salvation through the Gospel. And he receives and eats with us at his altar as we partake in his Supper.
And finally at the end of the age, he will celebrate with us and all the Church at the great marriage feast of the Lamb, as everything is completed and we rise triumphantly to inherit the new heaven and new earth. The three-separations will then be completely healed as we live in perfect communion with God, with each other, and with the new creation. For our Lord receives us and eats with us. Amen.