"Behold I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats." Ezekiel 34:17.
The Lord speaks much of those lost sheep in the 34th chapter of Ezekiel, and gives that merciful promise that He Himself wants to take care of His sheep and also intends to judge between the sheep and the sheep,and between the rams and the he goats. What He speaks of the sheep and what He has intended to judge between the rams and the he goats is truly necessary to be understood rightly. It is remarkable that the ram and the he goat are always in opposition, for they have an entirely different nature. Since now people are compared in this place to animals, each one having a different nature, then we must know the nature of those animals to which people are compared, and take from that an example of how the sorrowless are portrayed in the form of the he goat and the Christians in the form of the rams. If we would now observe how the sorrowless hate and trouble the Christians, then we understand that the Lord judges them in that way, that the sorrowless must confess on their death bed, if not before, that they have opposed and mocked the truth against their consciences. For when the Lord's judgement becomes heavy upon them, then the sorrowless can see whom they have pierced. Woe! Woe! What a heavy judgement will come upon them already in this world, when the conscience begins to condemn them on the death bed, that they have despised and mocked the good counsel and exhortations of the Christians. Behold, what a difficult death comes to those who here have blasphemed the truth and opposed the effects of the Holy Spirit. If now a person died like an animal, that there would be nothing left of him after death, then he could think that no responsibility would come after death. Then the sorrowless could also say, as King Solomon imitates their speech in the Book of Wisdom 2:6: "Come on therefore, let us enjoy the good things that are present, and let us speedily use the creatures like as in youth. Let us fill ourselves with costly wines and ointments. Let none of us go without his part of our voluptuousness, let us leave tokens of our joyfulness in every place: for this is our portion." Thus speak those who have no hope of a better life. They want to greatly enjoy this life in the world, they want to drink or fill themselves with the best wine, they want to enjoy the entertainment of the flesh because they have no hope of a better life, and all the same when death comes, they are in distress, for there is a secret fear that it will not go well. They certainly know that judgement is before one, and they are not able to believe that the soul dies together with the body, but they must believe that the soul is immortal and that a severe responsibility is coming. There the sins will come before one like a cloud, but there is no grace nor hope that God hears their prayers. Such is the condition of the sorrowless when they must leave this world. Take heed, all people, of this death of the sorrowless which you have sometimes seen, and conclude from that what a pitiable end comes after this life of the sorrowless. For that judgement which the conscience proclaims to the dying one is a true judgement. It does not change in eternity. Let us place ourselves also around a Christian when he is saying farewell to the world, and let us observe him along side of the sorrowless: what a great difference is between them! One receives death with joy and rejoicing, the other goes to eternity against his will. One can thank Jesus for that great grace that he is saved from sins, death, and under the power of the devil; the other cannot thank, but fears and complains that God does not hear his prayers. Such you have heard with your ears, and have seen with your eyes. And now take heed of this short and precious time of grace and cease from that ungodly life from which no good end will result, and make repentance while there is yet time of grace, so that penitence would not come too late in eternity.
And since the Saviour, that great Shepherd of Israel, is still seeking the lost sheep, as He indicates in today's gospel, we pray to that great Shepherd of Israel that He would not become weary of seeking those wretches, who are so greatly lost and strayed so far that they no longer hear nor see where that small flock is, which the great Shepherd of Israel has gathered around His bloody cross, who stand there with sorrowful hearts. And if also those wretches, who have blasphemed that Crucified One, would today become pricked in the heart, would beat their breasts and would go home. Hear, You great Shepherd of Israel, the prayer of all the sorrowful, penitent, and down-pressed. Our Father, etc.
The Gospel: Luke 15:1-10.
In today's holy gospel the Saviour shows what a great love He has toward sinners, when He brings forth the parable of the Shepherd, who leaves the 99 in the wilderness and seeks that which was lost. And since the expounders of the Scriptures do not agree on that place of the Scriptures, what the 99 are who are left in the wilderness, neither can we surmise what they are. But it would be more beneficial for us if we would consider how the Shepherd seeks the lost sheep, if we could follow His footsteps there, which surely are heavy, as even a natural shepherd has great trouble to go into the wilderness and seek for a sheep which is lost.
The first consideration: What sheep are they, who are called lost? The second consideration: Where are they found?
All sinners are called lost sheep, who have not yet become Christians, but especially those who have strayed away from the small flock of Christians and who have fallen from the state of grace and strayed into the World where they have no rest. The publicans and sinners, whom the great Shepherd seeks, were outright pagans and coarse sinners, who will sooner awaken than those meek Pharisees, who have not lived so ungodly as the publicans. It is noticeable in every place that the coarse sinners awaken when the Word of God is preached to them, for such people cannot even think that they will be saved if they die in that condition. They cannot escape under any shadow of meekness, thinking or believing that they reach the kingdom of heaven with such a life. The conscience says quite the right judgement, that they who drink, curse, fight, commit adultery, and steal are not acceptable to God as such. That they live so boldly although they hear the Word, comes from that, that they cannot give up the world. Honor is also great so that they cannot confess those shameful deeds and reconcile with their brother in strife, as the publican Zaccheus who awakened by the word of Jesus and promised to repay four-fold for what he had taken wrongly over the limit of the law. Zaccheus did not spare his honor or property, but he wanted to cleanse his conscience and repay all his wrongdoings. All sinners, take now an example of him and be not so merciless toward your own soul, that you would allow it to perish because of honor or because of a few dollars. For the Saviour praised Zaccheus as blessed, who made such a promise and also kept it. We cannot say that he became saved thereby, that he repayed all his wrongdoings, which he was able to do with money, but through the grace of the Saviour he became saved, for Jesus saw that he had a penitent heart and a true desire to become saved. But not many follow Zaccheus' example, for some feel that penitence is necessary, but they postpone this necessary matter to some future time, until the time it is too late. Do not postpone your penitence until death! For you have seen how it goes with them who postpone it. Zaccheus was one lost sheep whom Jesus, the good Shepherd, found in the wilderness of sin. And that sinful woman who wept at His feet in the house of Simon the Leper, was also one lost sheep whom He found in the wilderness of sin. But He found none of the Pharisees. Nicodemus was not a lost sheep, but he must have been one of those who need no repentance, although he was a secret disciple. So we see from all these examples, that the publicans and sinners awaken and become penitent when the Word of Jesus touches the heart. Such coarse sinners cannot be Under a shadow of meekness, or hope that they will reach the kingdom of heaven without penitence. But those meek Pharisees cannot become truly penitent and repentant, because they have lived so meekly that they do not have sin worth repenting of. They can say to the Saviour, "Are we blind? Certainly we know better than the publicans where the road goes to heaven." However these Pharisees were so blind that they did not know their sins at all, because of that terrible self-righteousness, which barred them from the kingdom of heaven. But what must we say of them, who have once been in the Christianity and then fallen away? They are, nevertheless, lost sheep of the house of Israel. The Shepherd surely seeks them with great sorrow, who have been of this sheepfold and have strayed away and gone on the wide way of destruction. These wretches are in a very unfortunate condition. We cannot say if the great Shepherd of Israel would ever find such lost sheep; however in the Saviour's time there were not such ones who would have formerly been Christians and then fallen away. But the Saviour has said that the last state of that person will be worse than the first. And truly they have become worse. When, namely, the devil's spirit has to go out of a person through the Word of the Saviour, then he travels in dry places, seeking rest but finding none, and then he says, "I will return into my house from whence I came out, and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself and they enter in and dwell there." Woe, how terrible he is! When he once has had to go out, then he takes revenge for the former happenings, then he takes back his misfortune then he torments that unfortunate person, whom he has in his clutches. Be terrified, you who have fallen away, and allow yet once more the voice of the Shepherd to enter into your ears, for you are lost sheep of the house of Israel, which the great Shepherd of Israel seeks with a sorrowful heart. He travels those heavy steps and seeks in every place, on Mt. Sinai, on the shore of the Red Sea, on the shore of the River Jordan, calling with a loud voice. But an answer is not heard from many, for some are so strengthless that they are not able to answer, and those wretches know that the enemy has ravaged them, torn and wounded them so that there is not much voice left with which to answer. They have no strength to come to Jesus, there is no strength to crawl to the foot of the cross, there is no strength to even look much in that direction. Why do you so greatly fear your Shepherd, you lost sheep? Why do you flee to the enemy, you unfortunate soul? Come back from the road to destruction and behold how He sweats blood because of you. He dies of sorrow because of you, for He does not wish that anyone would become unfortunate. But the enemy prevents you from coming, and you yourself are agreeable to that. But do not allow the enemy to rule your mortal members. Tear yourself loose from the crowd of the world and set yourself at the cross and behold what Jesus suffers because of you. Behold how the heart of the heavenly Parent bleeds because of the ungodly children! Have you not troubled Him enough and torn His wounds? Turn back, turn back before it is too late. We must preach to such prisoners of unbelief, who have no peace in the world, nor have they peace in God, that they would believe that God would receive them if they would come and begin to seek, search, pray, and knock upon the door of heaven, so that the porter would hear, then certainly He will open. But these words do not belong to grace thieves, nor to the builders of self-righteousness, but to those they belong who have no peace in the world nor in God.
The second consideration: Secondly, let us observe where the great Shepherd of Israel finds His lost sheep. Some are totally blind in sorrowlessness; those he sure finds in the world. Some publicans sit in the customs house, as for example Matthew and Zaccheus, some harlot as the woman who came to weep upon His feet, some palsied one who is carried to Jesus, some woman of Canaan who cries after Jesus. But in such a multitude there are not many who truly need help from Him. For although many come to Jesus to gawk, there are not however many who cry out in distress, "Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy upon me," hardly one in a thousand, who is truly needy. Nevertheless, they surely pray when death begins to squeeze their hearts, but some sorrow-less at this time say, "It is too late for one who postpones it to that moment." Oh, if the merciful Saviour would yet have mercy upon those who cry out on their death bed but several in that condition, namely the dying and those struggling with death, have said, "God does not hear my prayer." And what could be the reason that the sorrowless, who have postponed their penitence until that time when death begins to show its teeth, are not heard? What could be the reason for that, that God does not hear their prayers' I think the reason is that they are not able to pray any more, or to knock so hard that the porter would hear. He who has served the devil his whole lifetime, the enemy has gained such great power over him that this unfortunate soul is not able to cry out with such a loud voice, that it is heard in heaven. It is terrible to think of this matter, and even more terrible to see that there have to be so many even in this congregation who have heard with their ears and seen with their eyes the sorrowless on their deathbeds, and nevertheless have not taken heed of their warnings, of those who have died, how impossible it is to become saved on the death bed, since they have thought nothing about it before. If you do not believe the Christians, then believe those who preach repentance on their deathbeds, and behold their end! The greatest scoffers, the greatest opposers, and the greatest enemies of the Christianity have had to ask forgiveness from the Christians, and not one mortal at this time in this congregation has found another road to heaven than what the Christians have found. Even those mortals who condemn themselves to hell must testify that this Christianity is right. And the testimony of this dying one is the best testimony, and whoever does not believe it is so hardened that it is impossible to believe that such a one can awaken even on the deathbed. Those few souls, who are striving in their most precious faith until death, are those sheep that are found, who lie in the sheepshed and chew that food which that great Shepherd of Israel has given them. They will soon get to move away from this cold weather to the beautiful shore of eternity, where the wolves and animals are no longer tearing and ravaging the lambs of Jesus. There the Shepherd brings them to the best pastures and the water of life flows every day from that rock, which is Christ. There the lambs of Jesus leap like deer and rejoice on Mt. Zion, and sing the new hymn. Amen. Hallelujah!