It is a trustworthy saying, that Christ Jesus has come down from heaven to seek and to save the lost, that He might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who believe in Him, by grace, unto eternal life. He has come, and He still comes, to call not the righteous but sinners — to repentance, to faith, and to Life with God the Father in Him. That is why He is here today.
He has come to save you. To save you from your sins, to save you from death and the grave, to save you from the devil who hates you, and to save you from the hell and damnation you deserve by your sins. He has come, and He still comes, to save you by His perfect life on your behalf, by His innocent suffering and death in your stead, and by and with His holy and precious Blood, shed for your redemption on the Cross and poured out for you to drink here at His Altar.
He comes to save you by the preaching of the Gospel, which begins and continues throughout this life with His forgiving of all your sins, that you should have Life in and with Him forevermore.
Draw near to Him, and listen to the preaching of His Word and promise. Draw near to hear and receive this Gospel, this forgiveness of all your sins, because your life really does depend on it.
Do not approach Him with any presumption of any righteousness or worthiness in you. There is no righteousness of yours that avails before God in heaven. There is no righteousness in you by which you can approach your Lord and Savior. In you there is only sin and death, until Christ calls you and gathers you to Himself in love. Draw near to Him in humility, therefore. But do draw near to Him — in the confidence of His grace — that He may exalt you in mercy, in due season, by His Cross and in His Resurrection and Ascension, as a member of His Body, the Church.
And as you draw near to Him in such faith, do not despise any of your neighbors whom the Lord Jesus likewise calls and draws near to Himself with His Word of mercy. Rejoice, rather, in the recovery of the lost — even as you yourself are rescued by the grace of this Good Shepherd.
Do not simply “tolerate” your fellow sinners, whom Christ Jesus has called and receives unto Himself. Rather, rejoice with all of heaven, rejoice with the Lord God Almighty and with all the holy angels, in these fellow sinners of yours who are likewise called and brought to the great Good Shepherd of the flock, who restores them in His mercy, even as He restores you in His mercy.
He loves them, truly and sincerely, according to His divine grace and compassion. He loves those very people whom you find so hard to tolerate, no less than He loves you. He loves all of His lambs and sheep, wherever they may be, whatever they are up to. He continues to love and care for them when they wander away, and so it is that He goes out to find them. He loves them, and He seeks them out to save them at the cost of His own life, because they are precious to Him.
As a sheep of the Good Shepherd, yourself, you also are to love your neighbors in the world, even the least, the last, and the lost. You are to love them as the Lord Jesus loves them, to seek them out and call them back when they wander away, and to rejoice over them with glad thanksgiving when they are brought home to be here with you in the household and family of God.
Love your neighbor as Christ Jesus loves your neighbor. And to think and speak of it concretely and practically, love your neighbor as you love your own dear family, and desire life for each and all of them. For your Lord would have them be your family, the children of one God and Father.
Trust and believe that the Lord God Almighty loves your neighbors. That is more than enough reason for you to love them. Take it to heart that He loves them, one and all, with His divine love, your family and your friends, your foes, and every last one of your neighbors, both near and far.
He loves your enemies; not because of their enmity and sins against you, but solely for the sake of His divine grace and mercy toward all the sons and daughters of Adam, created in His Image for Life with Him. He loves your enemies, even though you often fail to love them. He loves your enemies — even as He loves you and forgives you all of your sins by His grace, by His Gospel.
He also loves your children. He really does. He loves and cares for them, even when they wander astray and get themselves lost and in trouble. Indeed, He loves your children more and better than even you do. More faithfully, more consistently, more profoundly, more deeply, more purely and unselfishly. He loves them with His own Self, which is more than you could ever ask or imagine.
He has this love for them. And He has this love for you, as well. Not because you are trying so hard and doing so well, but in spite of the fact that you are falling short of all that you should be and do. He loves you because you are His own, created to live by His grace through faith in His Word, to receive His good gifts with thanksgiving, and to abide with Him in body and soul forever.
Repent of your despair and desperation (as though there were no hope, as though the Lord were not your Savior). Repent of your anger and accusations against Him (as though He did not care).
Repent, too, of your favoritism and your divided heart, by which you love some of your neighbors and despise others, and by which you resent some of those whom the Lord calls near to Himself.
And repent of your prideful self-righteousness, by which you presume to know better than God.
Trust Him, and not yourself. Fear, love, and trust in the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and do not rely on your own understanding. Honor and rely upon His Word. For heaven and earth will pass away, but His Word will not; it stands fast and remains forever. It alone is true, even when everyone else is lying, and even when your own heart, mind, and spirit are lying to you.
Trust and rely upon the Word of Christ, your Lord. He is your Good Shepherd, and He loves you.
It is for the sake of His own divine and holy love that He is always seeking you out and calling you back to Himself. It is thus for the sake of His Love that He preaches His Law to you, in order to expose your sins and call you on them. And it is for the sake of His love that He calls you to repentance and faith in His forgiveness of all your sins. All for the sake of His grace and mercy.
He has such solicitous love for all of His lambs and sheep, for each and every one of them, even though there is not one of them who is righteous. No, not even one.
He is the Savior of sinners. And so He seeks them out, and He calls them and receives them to Himself. It is in fact true that this Man eats with sinners. Indeed, He feeds them with Himself, with His own Body and Blood. Not only does He welcome them into Table fellowship with Him, but He enters into a divine and holy fellowship with them. For He has become like them, and He has borne their sins in His Body to the Cross, that He should redeem them in body and soul, and that all the sons and daughters of Adam should become the sons and daughters of God in Him.
You see, not only has He given His Body and Life for you and all He sheep, to atone for all your sins; but He has also taken it up again, that He would raise you with Himself through forgiveness. That is how He deigns to deal with you: through forgiveness. Not according to any righteousness of your own, but according to His own righteousness of mercy.
That is how He saves you from sin, death, the devil, and hell. He forgives you all your sins. He does not count your sins against you, He does not hold them against you, but He saves you from your sins. He sets you free from their bondage and from their deadly consequences by His grace.
And as He has died for you and risen from the dead, and as He lives and reigns to all eternity, He is not far away from any one of you. For He is the Good Shepherd. He truly is the Shepherd of His sheep, and so it is that He actively shepherds them. He is their own Pastor. He is your Pastor.
He guides you and guards you by His Word. And He is thereby always leading you back to those clear and quiet waters of your Baptism — where He put His Name on you and made you His own, and whereby He continues to serve and sustain you as His own through His forgiveness of sins.
He eats with you. Yes, He feeds you here at His own Table in His own House, with His own holy Body and His holy, precious Blood, because He loves you. He forgives your sins, and He gives you His divine, eternal Life. He rejoices over you in His divine and holy Love, forever and ever!
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.