Guest Writer Sabine Baring-Gould
“This Man receives sinners” (Luke 15:2).
In today’s Gospel our Lord represents Himself as a Good Shepherd seeking His lost sheep, going out into the wilderness after them, to bring them back into the fold.
The fold is that place where He keeps His flock shut behind the hurdles of the Ten Commandments. Every now and then a sheep leaps one of these hurdles, or pushes his way between them, and runs away into forbidden pastures. Then the Good Shepherd goes after the erring sheep, and brings it back. “And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost” (Luke 15:6).
Christ is not always to be regarded as the Savior receiving sinners. The time will come when He will be the Judge, rejecting them. He is a Shepherd now, bringing back the straying sheep, and replacing them in the fold; but one day He will do just the contrary, He will go to His fold, and pick out the incorrigibly bad sheep, and cast them out.
We will consider Him now as the Good Shepherd. What is His purpose in bringing back the straying sheep? That they may remain within bounds for the future. Christ has come to save sinners, that is to say, He brings them to repentance, and pardons their transgressions, in order that, for the future, they may walk in newness of life, and not commit the sins of which they were guilty before.
Thus, if He brings back one who has been a liar, it is to truth that he returns, and Christ expects him to speak the truth ever after.
If He brings back a drunkard, it is to temperance, and He expects him to be sober for the future.
If He brings back one who has sinned through impurity, it is to chastity and modesty. This is what Paul means when he says, “Put off concerning the former conversation [lifestyle], the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind …. Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor … Let him that stole steal no more … let no corrupt conversation proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying … Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (Ephesians 4:22-32).
We will consider Christ as the Judge. The time will come when He will separate the bad from the good, when He will go over His fold, and pick out all those diseased sheep that are good for nothing, and that taint and infect the others, and will cast them outside.
That is to say, the time will come, when Christ will no more call sinners to Him, and bring them to His Church, but will examine those who are in His Church; and unless they have mended their ways, unless they have become better for being there, He will throw them out, and have nothing further to do with them.
When Joshua was leading the people of God into the Promised Land, God said to Joshua, “Up! Sanctify the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves against tomorrow” (Joshua 7:13).
In what did this sanctification consist? “Joshua rose early in the morning, and brought Israel by their tribes; and the tribe of Judah was taken: and he brought the family of Judah; and took the family of the Zarhites: and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man; and Zabdi was taken: and he brought his household man by man; and Achan, the son of Carmi was taken” (7:16-18). Then Joshua learned how this man had sinned and incurred the anger of God; and he and all Israel carried him and his family outside the camp unto the Valley of Achor, “and all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones” (7:25). That was the sanctification of Israel,—the putting away the black sheep out of the flock.
When Jesus sat with His Twelve in the supper chamber, at the Last Supper, Judas rose and went out, and when he was gone forth, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him” (John 13:31). A little while before, while Judas was in the room, we are told, “Jesus … was troubled in spirit” (13:21). But the moment the evil one among the apostles was cast forth, the glorification of the Son of Man began.
So it is now, and so will it be hereafter.
Now, as long as there is evil in the Church, as long as there are sinners who will not amend, as long as there are tares growing up with the wheat,—so long “Jesus is troubled in spirit.” But when the Great Day comes, when our true Joshua will lead the people of God into the Promised Land, then He will sanctify His people by casting out from among them the Achans; then from the company of His Elect the Judases will be banished, and the Son of Man will be glorified indeed.
Therefore, my brethren, be careful to amend. You may have been strayed sheep who have been mercifully brought back to the fold, if so, amend your ways, and grow in holiness and in spiritual health; or in the Last Day you will be thrust forth as incurable, and the children of God will be sanctified, while you are buried in the Valley of Achor.
“Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. I will forewarn you whom to fear. Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell. Yea, I say to you, Fear Him” (Luke 12:4, 5).
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: North Lundy Island Light, Devon, England
*Adapted from Sabine Baring-Gould [1834-1924], The Village Pulpit, Volume II. Trinity to Advent / A Complete Course of 66 Short Sermons, or Full Sermon Outlines for Each Sunday, and Some Chief Holy Days of the Christian Year (London: Skeffington & Son, 1886), sermon 40. Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.