Luke 24:47: Preaching Repentance into the Forgiveness of Sins

Pr Rich HeinzBefore our Lord ascended into heaven, He gave His Apostles several enduring mandates, commanding them what to do until He returned.  We’re most familiar with the one in St. Matthew’s Gospel.

Having gathered His Apostles on the mountaintop, Jesus told them: “Disciple the Gentiles by baptizing them into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to keep all I have commanded you.”  Jesus then spoke words of comfort to them: “Remember, I am with you always until the end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20).

Jesus gave this mandate to the Eleven, His Apostles (Matthew 28:16).  They are to baptize and teach.  But this sends us into a panic, for what will happen when the Apostles die?  Will the Church die with them?  No!  For Jesus gives His answer: “Remember, I am with you always until the end of the age.”

So, who are the “you” to whom Jesus speaks?  They are to baptize and teach until Jesus returns.  Now it all makes sense.  Jesus gave His mandate to the first pastors in the Church, who happened to be Apostles.  So, Jesus will still baptize and teach His people through them.

What’s interesting is Jesus doesn’t command them to “go,” which is how all our translations translate His Apostolic Mandate.  In the original Greek of the New Testament, the word “go” is not an imperative verb, a command, but a participle, “going.”  The participle reveals that for such baptizing and teaching to take place, the Apostles need to leave the mountain.  The Gentiles aren’t on the mountain where Jesus gathered them, but below.  So, they go, even though Jesus didn’t command it.

But where are you in our Lord’s words?  You are receiving His gifts of baptism and teaching.  Jesus promises to be with His pastors as they do what He commands them to do: “Remember, I am with you always until the end of the age.”  This promise is a comfort for pastors—and for you!  For when our Lord’s pastors are baptizing and teaching as He gives them to do, Jesus is also with you.  In Lutheran language, we describe this as Jesus being with us in Word and Sacrament.

Jesus, however, doesn’t promise to be with His pastors when they are doing want they want, instead of what He gives them to do.  Even worse, when they aren’t doing what Jesus gives them to do, you don’t have our Lord’s promise to be with you.  How so?  They aren’t delivering Jesus to you, so you aren’t receiving Him.  Do you grasp the connection Jesus makes?  For when they are doing what Jesus gives them to do, Jesus comes to His people with life and salvation.

So, those words in St. Matthew’s Gospel aren’t the great evangelism passage of the Bible; at least, not like we often think.  Jesus didn’t speak His words to baptize and teach to everyone in His Church, but only to those whom He called to baptize and teach—His pastors, including the first pastors in the Church, His Apostles.

Now, I’m not against evangelism, but this isn’t one on those evangelistic passages, which commands you to get your butt to “go” and evangelize.  Other passages in Scripture cover that.  For you, this verse is not Law, ordering you to “go!” but a word of comfort—Jesus is with you in Word and Sacrament.

Now, we arrive at today’s Gospel reading.  Another mandate from our Lord leaves His lips to enter the ears of His Apostles.  “It stands written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance into the forgiveness of sins is to be preached in his name to all Gentiles, beginning at Jerusalem.”

Did you catch that Jesus doesn’t command His pastors, His Apostles, to preach?  He used the passive voice: “is to be preached.”  What’s going on?  Preaching is something that continues from the Old Covenant into the New.  Jesus doesn’t need to command it, for our Lord’s command in the Old Covenant still endures.

However, Jesus did command what was new in the New Covenant.  For instance, the Old-Covenant sacrifices pointed to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, so we no longer need them.  Jesus now delivers forgiveness through His blood, not through the blood of slaughtered animals.  And so our Lord used command language in His Supper, for His Holy Meal supersedes all those old sacrifices.

Jesus fulfills Old-Covenant circumcision with baptism (Colossians 2:11-13), and so He commands baptism to be part of being discipled into His Church.  Jesus also commands His Apostles to forgive and retain sins—but He never commanded preaching because it was something old continuing into the new.

What Jesus does do is to make sure His Apostles, His pastors, understand what they are to preach: “repentance into the forgiveness of sins.”  Jesus wants each sermon to be a call to repent, so you turn away from sin to our Lord forgiving you of your sin.  A pastor isn’t authorized to ignore Jesus in what He gives him to preach.  If he doesn’t preach repentance into the forgiveness of sins, he is unfaithful.  Why?  Jesus says so.

Do you want something else?  Repent!  You’re chasing after what Jesus doesn’t want to give you.  Are you bored with the constant call away from your sin toward Christ?  Repent!  Jesus wants you to turn your back on sin, ever anew, delighting in His forgiveness.  Do you find your ears itching and burning for something new and novel?  Repent!  Yearn for the life and salvation our Lord promises in His preached Word.

Jesus doesn’t command preaching since God earlier gave such a command in His Old Covenant.  You won’t, however, find the Old-Testament verse Jesus quoted.  Jesus compiled and condensed the truth of the Old-Testament Scriptures, of God commanding His prophets to preach.  “It stands written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance into the forgiveness of sins is to be preached in his name to all Gentiles, beginning at Jerusalem.”

Jesus tells His Apostles to heed to the words of Scripture.  Such an approach continues, even to the Day of our Lord’s return.  “It stands written.”  So, what did Jesus reveal about the written Word?  He told the Pharisees, “You examine the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them—they testify of me” (John 5:39).

A pastor is to study the Scriptures, find Christ in them, and from them preach repentance into the forgiveness of sins.  He is to see the Word, Jesus, within the written Word.  Feelings are fleeting and fickle.  Emotions arrive and grow, and they leave and wither away.  Not so with the Word of the Lord; it endures forever (Isaiah 40:8).  Our thoughts and feelings are unsure, ever wavering with the wind.  We need a something solid, something unchanging: The written Word of God!

So, what is written?  Jesus will suffer and rise again.  The disciples witnessed those events with their eyes.  They were looking at Jesus when He spoke those words; yet, Jesus didn’t tell them to have faith in His resurrection because they could see Him.  He said they should believe because “it stands written.”

The Apostle Paul would later write in 1 Corinthians: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).  Later, in the same epistle, he wrote: “What I received I passed on to you as of first importance: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, he was buried, and he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  Paul insisted his preaching of Christ was “according to the Scriptures.”

So, as your pastor, I am to preach Jesus, the focal point of the Scriptures.  I am to preach repentance into the forgiveness of sins—and this preaching is to be according to the Scriptures.  What you may want, what I may want to say, even what you think the Bible teaches, doesn’t matter.  What’s important is proclaiming what Scripture does teach!

Our Lord tells His first pastors to baptize and teach, to preach, to forgive sins (and retain them if needed), and to administer the Lord’s Supper.  Jesus comforts you with His Word because He promises to be with you, through His pastors as they do the tasks He gives them to do.  Why is that comforting?  Here’s why: Jesus is with you, through them, in Word and Sacrament.  Jesus’ promise means that you get what Jesus wants you to receive: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

After giving His tasks to His pastors, which they are to do until the Day of His return, Jesus ascends to heaven.  He is, as Scripture says, at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33).  Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth.  He is also God.  So, He can be with the Father AND in the Lord’s Supper—at the same time!

Jesus’ ascension means this: He is no longer limited to one physical location, which was the case before He ascended.  To receive Jesus, you don’t need to track Him down, wondering where He is.  You can be where Jesus promises to be, giving Himself for you.  He’s where the pastor preaches repentance into the forgiveness of sins and where he delivers Jesus’ body and blood for your life and salvation.

Our Lord’s ascension does not mean heaven now entraps Jesus, unable to leave.  No, an ascended Lord tells us He is now where “the Gospel is preached in its purity, and the Sacraments are correctly administered” (AC VII 1).  Jesus isn’t some abstract God in heaven, but as real as the Supper in which He chooses to come to you.

Jesus said to His first pastors, His Apostles, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven” (John 20:23).  Your sins ARE forgiven.  Believe it because it is true.  That is what our Lord’s ascension means.  Amen.


  1. Tamara Jack says

    Thank you so much for this. Coming from a squishy evangelical background, I always though the “go” in Matthew was in imperative that I must drop all and go! Go to everyone. And then I started reading about vocation. Wow! Did that make a difference in my life. I first read about it from Gene Veith’s book: “God at Work.” I’m not at all against evangelism. In fact, if you asked 100 Lutherans with me about evangelism, I’d be the one to stand (well, roll in my wheelchair 😉 ) up and say, “SEND ME!” I just have that passion the Lord gave me to tell others about Him. But, I now know not to feel guilt if I don’t tell every person I meet about the Lord. Oh, what slavery I was in about that back then. I’m glad now to know, as a Lutheran for 3 1/2 years that God comes to us. That truly my good works are as filthy rags. That I can’t be “the great evangelist” I thought I was supposed to be. And I look at pastors much differently now. On the same playing field with a different calling rather than the pastor “way up here” and me “way down there.” No! You all are sinners, too. And that’s not taught outside the Lutheran church enough. It’s also so comforting to “remember” my Baptism. Knowing God came to me and actually did something. Making me a new creation, created in Christ Jesus. Not so I can say, “oooh, look at me,” but, “oh man, look at me, what a mess, so let’s look at Christ and His perfection instead.” Thank you for taking the time to always give us His good word! Tamara