Luke 24:44-53: Preaching Repentance into the Forgiveness of Sins

preaching2 (610x352)It’s easy to think of Jesus ascending into heaven as His goodbye to His people. But that isn’t so. Jesus’ ascension wasn’t a goodbye, even though we who live in this world see Him no more. Ascension wasn’t an ending, or even a time to be sad.

But neither was Christ’s ascension a convenient way for us to explain why He isn’t walking around today like He was 2,000 years ago. Ascension isn’t the end of the story; it’s the beginning of another—or should I say, the continued unfolding of what Jesus is doing to save us.

Jesus ascending into heaven is part of how God chose to save us, not some minor event. In His incarnation, Jesus took on human bone, flesh, and blood to save us. In His ascension, Jesus assumed His reign in eternity as our Lord and King, which is also part of how He saves us. Salvation is in the thick of it all!

Because Jesus is both God and man—now in eternity, ruling with all authority—He is now reigning in both heaven AND earth. Jesus is now everywhere, at the same time, with both His divine and His human natures. And yes, this is also for your salvation.

But how is Jesus ruling from eternity, here on earth, for your salvation? Do you see Him walking around? I don’t. So, His ascension has changed how He comes to be with His people. Jesus’ going to heaven shows us that He is no longer walking this earth preaching and teaching. Instead, that preaching and teaching will now take place in, and through, His Church. That’s one reason Scripture tells us that “the Church of the living God [is] the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

But how do we know that such preaching is to take place in Christ’s Church? Well, let’s explore what Jesus said, and to whom, before He ascended. What does St. Luke tell us in His Gospel? He quoted Jesus saying, “everything [in the Old Testament] must be fulfilled” for our salvation.

Isn’t it odd that Jesus used the passive voice to describe what He was doing? Jesus, not someone else, fulfilled the Old-Testament prophecies about Him. And yet, Jesus used the passive voice: “Everything must be fulfilled,” not “I am fulfilling everything.”

Although Jesus was doing the doing, He wants us to focus on what He was doing. He was pointing His disciples, now Apostles, on what had to be done to save us: “The Messiah would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.” Without the prophesied Messiah, Jesus, suffering, dying, and rising from death, we would have no salvation.

God’s plan of salvation zeros in on a suffering Messiah. That’s what it took to earn your salvation—and nothing less would do. You couldn’t suffer for your sins, not in a way that would save you! If you could die 1,000 deaths, you still couldn’t make yourself right with God, let alone anyone else. But Jesus could save you, and that’s what He did!

But it wasn’t only Jesus’ death that saves us; it’s also His resurrection: No resurrection, no salvation. Jesus teaches that His salvation for us is greater than just one event. And so, on the third day, the day we call Easter, Jesus rose from the dead. That’s the core of our salvation—the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. That’s how our salvation took place. But Jesus still has more to say.

He started out saying, “The Messiah would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,” wanting us to focus on what is being done, not that He is doing it. But that’s hard for us to grasp. After all, Jesus’ suffering, dying, and rising to save us is everything. If He didn’t do that, then we would have no salvation! Only what Jesus did could save us. But, this day, Jesus wants to teach us something new.

And so Jesus describes all that He did to save us in the passive voice. And we find out why Jesus did that in the second half of His sentence. So, let’s hear how Jesus finishes His sentence. “The Messiah would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance into the forgiveness of sins is to be preached in His name.”

Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection is how He earned your salvation. But there’s more to it. Somehow, the salvation that He earned for you still has to be delivered to you. It’s not just Jesus suffering, dying, and rising; it’s also how God brings that salvation to you, here and now. If Jesus’ salvation doesn’t get delivered to you, then His salvation for you does you no good. That’s the point Jesus is making: His suffering, dying, and rising do you no good unless it gets delivered to you.

So, how does that happen? How does Jesus’ salvation for you get delivered to you? “Repentance into the forgiveness of sins is to be preached in His name.” That’s how. Who’s doing the preaching? That’s obvious. Jesus was speaking to His Apostles, the first pastors in His New-Covenant Church, not to anyone else. They are to do the preaching, for they are on the receiving end of what Jesus says.

And what were the Apostles, and pastors still to this day, to preach? Jesus says, “Repentance into the forgiveness of sins.” Pastors are to proclaim the Law, so you may hear it and repent. You messed up. You’re not good enough. Turn from the death inside your bones, for it is doing you no good. That’s preaching repentance.

But Jesus says that this repentance is to be preached for a particular reason: the “forgiveness of sins.” Just knowing that you aren’t good enough isn’t good enough. That’s only half the story. And it’s the other half that brings you from death into life through that forgiveness of sins.

Jesus shows us that those two foundation stones—Law and Gospel, repentance and the forgiveness of sins—are the two doctrines that God the Holy Spirit will use to take someone from death into life. And that’s what Jesus tells His pastors to preach until He returns. After all, He gave those words to His Apostles before He ascended. And those are the only words that Jesus gave on what pastors are to preach.

But remember that Jesus spoke all that in the passive voice. Why? Although Jesus charged His Apostles (and, in turn, all pastors) to preach “repentance into forgiveness,” the focus is on what is to be preached, not on who is doing the preaching.

But why does that even matter? Here’s why. Although the pastor is the one who is preaching, he can’t cause someone to repent and receive Jesus’ cross-won forgiveness. The pastor just delivers the goods. He can’t create the saving faith that God uses to bring someone from death into life. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus ascended 40 days after Easter, but ten days before Pentecost. Before He ascended, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit from the Father. So, Ascension isn’t just Jesus going into heaven. It isn’t just Jesus telling His pastors what they’re supposed to preach. Ascension also points us to what the Holy Spirit will do through the faithful preaching of pastors in the Church. That’s why Jesus told His Apostles, not only what they were to preach, but also that He would send the Holy Spirit!

When Jesus ascended, He was preparing His Church for a new reality. Jesus will no longer only be in one place at one time, like He was when He walked this earth. He will now be at every place at once.

What does that mean? It means this: No longer will the saving Word of Jesus only come from the mouth of Jesus. Jesus, through the Spirit He will send, will now be with His Apostles, and the pastors who follow in the apostolic ministry, wherever and whenever they preach “repentance into the forgiveness of sins.”

The pastor is God’s UPS man to deliver the goods. The book of Romans tells us: “How then can people call on [Jesus] in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). The preacher is that delivery man of God, all so people can believe in Jesus. And like the UPS man who delivers a parcel to your door, it’s the parcel that gets your attention, not the one who delivers it.

The Spirit works through the “preaching of repentance into forgiveness,” bringing people to faith in Christ and keeping them in that faith. But don’t focus on who is preaching. That’s why Jesus used the passive voice. Instead, focus on what Jesus gives you through that preached Word. Jesus gives you the salvation that He earned for you in His suffering, death, and resurrection as your ascended Lord and King through the Holy Spirit working through that preached Word.

When Jesus ascended, He was no longer only at one place at one time. He ascended, so on the day of Pentecost, He would reveal His here-and-everywhere presence for, and in, His Church. Jesus does this through the Holy Spirit. And because of that, He can come to you here—and all over the world, at the same time—whenever and wherever “repentance into the forgiveness of sins is preached in His name.”

Your ascended Lord has left nothing to chance. Jesus has arranged everything in His Church to deliver to you the salvation that He earned for you in His death and resurrection. Jesus has not gone away and forgotten you. No, He has ascended to be with all His people, all around the world, no matter when or where. That includes you!

And one way that Jesus is still with you is through the preached Word, whenever and wherever “repentance into the forgiveness of sins is preached in His name.” Because of Jesus, your sins are forgiven. Amen.