Why Does The Church Often Rejoice When the World Grumbles?

Text: Luke 15:1-10

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

Grumbling and rejoicing, yes, grumbling and rejoicing! It is interesting how the same event can create different reactions in people. For example, the same event can create both grumblings in some people and joy in others – at the very same time. That is right; the same situation can cause some people to loathe and complain, while others will rejoice and cheer. Perhaps that popular phrase says it best: a glass filled halfway is half empty to some and half full to others.


But why the divide in our reading from the Gospel of Luke? Why did the Pharisees and Scribes grumble when the angels in heaven rejoiced? How could the angels have such joy in heaven and the religious leaders have so much animosity on earth when sinners listened and dined with Jesus? Well, it is quite simple; the way of God is idiotic to an unwise world. Or, we can say it this way: the way of the righteous is foolishness to the wicked.  


You see, wickedness loves darkness and cannot comprehend the light. And light is never absorbed into darkness but shines into the darkness. The point being, the Pharisees and Scribes grumbled over sinners repenting because they belonged to darkness. Their eyes were covered by darkness – they did not have eyes to see or ears to hear. 


Dear friends, it is so very important to understand that the world sees things only in one way, and that is through darkness. And the church, well, the church sees things in a completely different way. The church sees things through the light because the church has been given eyes to see and ears to hear from Christ. And so, we should expect that when the world cheers, the church will mourn. And when the church cheers? You’ve got it - the world will snarl and grumble with anger. That is the way it works. Darkness cannot comprehend the light, and the light will not celebrate the darkness.


Solomon talks about this too in the Book of Proverbs. Over and over in the book of Proverbs, Solomon contrasts the differences between the righteous and the wicked, as well as the wise and the foolish. As the righteous and the wicked are contrasted in the book of Proverbs, they seem to be from completely different planets. Take, for instance, this Proverb,


“When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”[1] 


And so, it makes a little more sense now why the Pharisees and Scribes struggled so much with Jesus eating and dining with sinners. They were looking at it all from the context of darkness. More specifically, the Pharisees and Scribes agreed that God would welcome repentant sinners; however, they did not believe in the idea that God was a seeking God – the kind of God that would take the initiative and pursue sinners. In fact, there was a Jewish saying that most likely dominated their thoughts when it came to sinners. The Jewish saying stated that, 


“There is joy before God when those who provoke [God] perish from the world.”[2]


That is to say, the angels in heaven dance a jig when the ungodly die.  


So, what’s the point, though? What does this mean for you and me?  


Dear friends, it is important to be very attentive to this great contrast between the world and the kingdom of God. When the world rejoices, you must be careful not to just go along with the flow but to stop and listen to what Christ has to say. And when the world stomps its feet, kicks dirt, grumbles, and rants? Well, do not be too quick to jump on the bandwagon of the world in a temper tantrum, but instead, stop and listen to what Christ has to say. More often than not, when the world grumbles, the angels rejoice. And when the Lord mourns, well… the world is celebrating. Indeed, it is important to not jump on the world's bandwagon or simply be a lemming of the world blindly following the cheers and grumbling of the masses while not listening to Christ. 

Secondly, it is important to understand that your old Adam still lives in darkness. Remember that you and I still have the old Adam hanging around our necks. Yes, the old Adam is defeated, but we still drag this old Adam around in this vale of tears until the last day when we are freed from this damn sinful nature. And so, when we listen to the voice of the old Adam, we may find ourselves on the opposite side of the fence – grumbling when the angels are rejoicing. It is really easy to do this because the old Adam is like an entitled and spoiled child that has flare-ups over the littlest things. The old Adam within us is very loud, likes attention, and is easily offended. When the old Adam sees the light, well… the old Adam recoils with horror, grumbles with a devilish sneer, and kicks dirt just like the world. The old Adam wants to sabotage the joyous singing of the angels because the old Adam does not love the light but loves darkness.  


Thirdly, it is important to understand that your old Adam will refuse to confess sin but will want to celebrate darkness just like the world. And so, when we listen to the voice of the old Adam, the old Adam will take that which is good – and call it evil. And that which is evil – the old Adam will call it good. And so, when bad things happen, know that your old Adam will do everything possible to not call evil what it is – evil. But instead, your old Adam and my old Adam will steal the glorious singing of the angels and slap that right on top of evil, trying to make evil into good. Now, I am not talking about the 8th Commandment, where we are called to put the best construction on things. No, I am talking about how the old Adam seeks to hide sin, bury scandals, and speak of the most horrible sins as if they are the most wonderful deeds the world has ever known. I am talking about how our old Adam has this tendency to cover the sly hisses of the devil with the glorious singing of angels.  


Dear friends, this is heavy stuff to think about because it is so true. And because it is true, you and I must repent of the times that we listen to the world and the times that we listen to the voice of the old Adam. Neither the world nor the old Adam are able to call out sin for what it is. The world and the old Adam cannot see the light for what it is. We must repent of making bad into good and good into bad. We must repent of our times of grumbling when the angels are singing. And, we must repent of celebrating when the Lord is sorrowful. We must repent of not listening to Jesus.


Now, it might be easy to think that when we admit to Christ that we all too often listen to the world and the old Adam that this admission would be a reason for the Lord’s disapproval and anger. You would think that our acknowledgment of not listening to Christ would result in the Lord saying, 


“It is about time; when are you going to learn, you foolish Christian?” 


But instead, when we repent of our sins, heaven thunders with joy. When we repent of our sins, the angels boom with praise. When we repent of our sins – when we acknowledge all the times we have unfaithfully listened to the world and our old Adam, well... your Lord Jesus does not have a face of anger or disgust but a face of joy and happiness because you are His son and daughter and have come home again. You have returned right back to where you are supposed to be – in His love and care, where you can hear all good things from Him. 


Unlike the world, your Jesus welcomes sinners and dines with them. He welcomes the sinner because it is sinners He seeks after. He wants you tucked into your baptisms, where you belong. And so, every time you repent, your Lord forgives you with joy and gladly tucks you into your baptism so that you may listen to Him and not listen to the world and the old Adam.  


And when you and I get squirrelly and try to kick the covers of our baptism off, the Lord will seek after you and me. He will pursue you like a shepherd seeking a lost sheep. He will search for you like a woman looking for a lost coin. He will run to you like a father running to an estranged son. He will always seek you, find you, and return you to your baptisms so that you might listen to Him. And as you repent daily and are returned to your baptisms to listen to Jesus, know this, the angels never tire of giving praise and shouting joy, for this is how it is of the Kingdom of Light. No grumbling. No anger and complaining but joy and praise over sinners who repent and listen to Jesus. 


In the name of Jesus. Amen.  


[1] Proverbs 21:15.

[2] An Edersheim Quote.


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