He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
This is Luke’s version of Jesus’ so called ‘Great Commission’ to his disciples. We are more familiar with Matthew’s version of it at the end of his gospel, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations . . .” (Matt. 28:18ff). Or in John’s gospel where Jesus is recorded as saying, “As the Father has sent me I am sending you” (John 20:31). And in the book of Acts we read Jesus telling his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
What is all this about? The Lord Jesus Christ is the Son of God. We know this empirically because he has risen from the dead never to die again. It is an event in human history of such staggering importance that for all affected by it there are bound to be enormous implications. In our text Jesus is speaking to his disciples and “he told them” (v.46) once again the core truths of Christianity, the heart and soul of our message to the world. He gave them no opportunity of working out the message for themselves, John’s interpretation, and Matthew’s understanding, and Peter’s. There was nothing like that. “He told them” the message, and “he told them” the repercussions for every one who believed it. Where does our Lord begin?
HE TEACHES US THAT THE SCRIPTURES ARE TRUE.
“This is what is written” (v.46) is how he began once again. Think of it! What repetition of this truth. That is how he began when he spoke to Cleopas on the road to Emmaus. “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (v.25). And again, “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (v.27). And even again, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (vv. 44&45). And now in our text before us today Jesus affirms, “This is what is written” (v.46). Scarcely a more beautiful book has ever been written than the gospel of Luke. It is not hard-lined; it is not a book of stories; it is not a rule book; it isn’t difficult to read and yet in this book from beginning to end there is Jesus’ insistence on its entire truthfulness.
Before us stands our Teacher, the Son of God, now risen from the dead. Here he doesn’t have to claim Jewish orthodox belief in the infallibility of the whole Bible simply to gain some personal credibility for his teaching and for criticizing Pharisees and priests. None of them is here in this room, only 20 of his disciples. But though all of them believed the Bible he still returned to the theme of the truth of Scripture and bound that truth to their consciences, and he appeals to their thinking in order to assure them that what Scripture said really did happen. His attitude to Scripture was one of total trust.
The Lord Christ has created all things; he had accomplished salvation and he had risen from the dead. He is the author of our salvation. He is the Son of God to whom we come for salvation. He is the Lord of our lives, and so Lordship means that we believe him and all that he said and taught. We accept his words as being true, for he could not lie. Our attitude toward what is written should be the same attitude as that of the Lord Jesus. If it is anything less than that, we have a defective Christology. We have reduced Jesus Christ to something less than God when we adopt views that are contrary to his teaching.
In the high priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17, he intercedes with the Father for his own disciples. His petition is. “Sanctify them in the truth” (v.17). That is, Jesus wants them to become like him, transformed by truth, and he adds these words, “Your word is truth.” What words can he be speaking of if not the very words of the Scriptures, i.e., of the Old Testament? Christ gives no hint of a half inspired Scripture, partly true and partly false, with ourselves making our minds up what bits are true and what bits are erroneous. He never spoke a word suggesting limited inspiration. Rather Christ identified the Scripture of the Old Testament as being the Word of God, and it is truth.
How often does Jesus turn different encounters to this theme – “You’ve got to trust what the Bible says.” When tempted by Satan he responds three times, “It is written.” He tells the devil that man cannot live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. In one rather casual incident, we are told that a woman in a crowd “raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked'” (Lk. 11:28). Jesus immediately used those words to make an important point. He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (vs. 28). There would be no point in urging people to hear the Bible, if the Word they heard wasn’t true.
Christ’s attitude toward the Old Testament was one of total trust; “This is what is written” down in a book, he said. Nowhere, in no particular, and on no subject did he treat Scripture skeptically. Never did he distinguish truths of faith and morality from truthfulness in matters of history and narrative. The Lord Jesus Christ is infallible, we agree, but he has given us an inerrant Bible. So we approach the Scripture always and everywhere as our Lord did.
What are the alternatives to Jesus’ view of Scripture? If he taught biblical inerrancy, either he did so because he knew inerrancy to be true, or he knew that his audience and culture believed Scripture to be true and he was simply catering to their prejudices. He certainly didn’t do that to the beliefs of the all-powerful Pharisees. Or, Jesus had limited knowledge and he believed and taught some things that actually weren’t true, but he didn’t know it. Of course that raises many questions. For example, if Jesus knew that the Bible was erroneous, and yet taught that it was, he was guilty of deception, and so he was a sinner rather than a sinless being. If he were simply a man of his times believing what everyone else believed and for that reason accepting the inerrancy of the Bible, then he was in no sense the omniscient Son of God. That leads to a strange Christology. The other alternative is the only one that holds water. Christ taught that Scripture is infallible because he knew it to be utterly without error. He was convinced of it. His Father had supervised its entire composition. This is the only view that fits the life of the risen Jesus who said, “This is what is written.” He is teaching his disciples to trust the Bible as he did
HE TEACHES US THAT THE CHRIST MUST SUFFER.
“The Christ will suffer” (v.46). Remember the cup that God gave to Jesus, and our Lord’s longing that he might have another one to drink, but his willingness to drink that cup of suffering. “Nevertheless not my will but thine be done.” What was that cup? There are two passages in Scripture in particular that refer to it – one from the Psalms and the other from the Prophets: “For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is fully mixed, and he pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down” (Psa. 75:8). And, these words “For thus says the LORD God of Israel to me: ‘Take this wine cup of fury from my hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send you, to drink it. And they will drink and stagger and go mad because of the sword that I will send among them” (Jer. 25:15&16).
The heathen sacrificed their own children, and their places of worship were virtual fertility cults and brothels, and God showed his indignation towards the nations. He would lift the cup of the wine of his righteous anger to their mouths and force them to drink it down to the dregs. That was the fate that awaited them, and it is absolutely terrifying scenario, yet this would have been the fate of us all, except that the mercy of God sought for the salvation of millions of people, and the wisdom of God devised a plan of redemption even before the foundation of the world. The Son of God would become a man and he would walk upon the earth in perfect obedience to the law of God. He would be like us in all things, tempted in all ways like us, but without sin. He would live a perfectly righteous life for the glory of God and for the benefit of his people. Then at the appointed time, he would suffer; he would be crucified by the hands of wicked men, and on that cross he would bear his people’s guilt and suffer the wrath of God against them. The true son of Adam, who was also the true Son of God, would take the bitter cup of wrath from the very hand of God and willingly drink it down to the dregs. He would drink and drink and drink and drink it all until every drop was gone, and the justice of God was fully satisfied. The divine wrath that should have been ours would be exhausted by the sufferings of the Son, and by him, it would be extinguished.
Let me use this illustration, of an immense dam that’s filled to the brim and is straining against the increasing weight behind it. All at once, a crack appears and another, and jets of water spray out here and there, and suddenly the protective wall breaks away and a massive deluge is unleashed and races towards a town further down the valley. There seems no hope for the people as a tsunami of water fifty feet high roars towards it, but then the ground suddenly opens up before the wave, wider and wider and the sudden canyon swallows up what would have carried the town away.
I am saying that the judgment of God was hurtling toward every man. Escape couldn’t be found on the highest hill or in the deepest abyss. The fleetest of foot couldn’t outrun it; the strongest swimmer couldn’t endure its torrents. The dam was breached and nothing could repair its ruin. And so it was with us, when all human hope was exhausted, at the appointed time, the Son of God interposed himself between divine justice and his people. He opened his mouth and drank down the wrath that we ourselves had kindled and the punishment we deserved. When he died, not one drop of the former deluge remained. He drank it all on our behalf!
Let me use another picture; imagine two giant millstones, one turning on top of the other. Imagine that a single grain of corn is placed between the two. As the higher stone is lowered onto the foundational stone, the husk of the seed is crushed beyond recognition. Then its inward parts pour out and they are ground into dust. There is no hope of retrieval or reconstruction. All of the original corn is lost beyond repair. Then, I am saying, that in a similar way, the Son of God was made sin for us, and it pleased the Lord to crush his only Son and put him to grief unspeakable, and Jesus willingly submitted to such suffering that God might be glorified and his people might be redeemed.
There was no other means of putting away the guilt and shame of our sin, and appease the wrath of God against us. Unless that divine grain of wheat had fallen to the ground and died, it would have abided alone. Think of Christ without a people; a Christ without a bride. The pleasure of God in Golgotha was not found in its suffering, but in all that the suffering of Christ accomplished.
The Puritan writer John Flavel wrote a famous dialogue between the Father and the Son regarding us sinners and the great price that would be required to obtain our redemption. Flavel wrote: “Here you may suppose the Father to say, when driving his bargain with Christ for you, ‘My Son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and now they lie open to my justice! Justice demands satisfaction for them, or it will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them: what shall be done for them?”
And Christ responds; “O my Father, such is my love to them, and pity for them, that rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Surety; bring me all your bills, that I may see what they owe you; Lord, bring them all to me, that there may be no after-reckonings with them; at my hand you may require the payment. I will rather choose to suffer the wrath they deserve than they should suffer it: upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.”
Father: “But, my Son, if you undertake for them, you must reckon to pay the last mite, expect no abatements; if I spare them, I will not spare you.”
Son: “I am content, Father, let it be so; charge it all upon me, I am able to discharge it: and though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures, yet I am content to undertake it!” That is what Flavel wrote.
People sometimes think and even preach that the Father simply spectated from heaven, witnessing the suffering that was heaped upon his Son by the hands of men, and he counted the affliction of Christ as payment for our sins. This is heresy of the worst kind. Christ satisfied divine justice not merely by enduring the affliction of men but by enduring the wrath of God. It takes more than crosses, nails, crowns of thorns, and a spear to pay for sin. The believer is saved, not simply because of what men did to Christ on the cross, but because of what God did to him: it pleased the Lord to crush him under the full force of his wrath against us and thus he propitiated God’s holy rectitude. Those were the sufferings that he endured.
HE TEACHES US THAT CHRIST MUST RISE ON THE THIRD DAY.
Jesus told them many times that it would happen and in the Old Testament gave them signs indicating that it would happen. We see it in Enoch walking with God and then being suddenly taken to God; again in the resurrection of two dead boys by Elijah and Elisha; in Job saying the he knew his Redeemer lived and in that latter day he would stand on the earth and that though worms destroyed his body yet in his flesh he would see God; David said in the Psalms that God would not allow his precious holy one to experience putrefaction and rot in the grave. It was a predicted resurrection.
There was the tomb empty on the third day when no one wanted his body, neither friends nor enemies. The Holy Spirit raised him. There were the ten appearances chronicled in the gospels, but I sometimes think how many others did Jesus visit that are not mentioned in the New Testament. Luke mentions only two; Paul mentions six. There must have been more; that’s a reasoned conjecture. For example, Jesus must have visited his mother Mary, as we know that he visited his brother James, but there is no record of it or of other visits to individuals like Martha and Mary and Lazarus, and Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea, or the woman of Samaria. How many could say, “We heard his voice and our eyes saw him and we handled him; we held his dear hand in our own!” Many men happily embraced a hideous agonizing death for their conviction that they had seen Jesus of Nazareth alive. These men and women were transformed by their 40 days of encounters with Christ. Their cowardice and fear all went. Plain fishermen became mighty preachers. Saul of Tarsus in particular was converted by the testimony of the risen Christ. What do you think made Jesus’ most implacable and fiercest enemy in all of primitive Christianity, change into a man who laid down his life in proclaiming the gospel of the resurrection? Then there are the uncountable multitudes throughout history who have become Christians not because of a political cause or a righteous ethic but because they have know Christ and the power of his resurrection. It is estimated that there could be maybe 50 million martyrs in that company. It was inconceivable that he did not rise on the third day.
HE TEACHES US THAT ALL MEN NEED TO REPENT OF THEIR SIN.
“Repentance . . . will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (v.47). The demand to repent is absolutely basic to Jesus’ message and so to his people’s witness. Let me make underline that point. Here are some thoughts to help make the meaning of this term ‘repentance’ more plain. This is what Jesus preached at the very beginning of his ministry: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt.4:17). The Spirit came upon him at his baptism and from that time he called on all who heard him to turn from their sins to follow him. He told them that this was the purpose of his mission, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). He warned those who refused to repent, “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matt 12:41). And again, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). The saving grace of repentance is the Siamese twin of faith, of coming to Jesus Christ, of believing upon him. Both must be active in true salvation, repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. We had the good news this week that the picture of Charles Darwin is probably going to be removed from the Ten Pound note to be replaced by a picture of Jane Austin. May it be so! So on every real ten pound note the Queen will appear on one side of the note and that great novelist on the other side. So I am saying that to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour these two graces must be always be shown, a trust in Jesus Christ and a turning away from sin in repentance. Sometime the one is emphasized, sometimes the other, and sometimes both of them.
So one central theme in Jesus’ public ministry was, “Repent!” He declared this command from heaven indiscriminately to all who listened. Here he is saying to the people that as he had suffered for their sins (and the proof of that was that God has raised him from the dead) then a consequence was that they turn from selfishness and unbelief and they entrusted their lives to following him. Repentance is a call for radical inward change toward God and man. It is this inner change that gives rise to new God-centered, Christ-exalting behaviour.
There are two things showing us that repentance is an internal change of mind and heart rather than mere sorrow for sin or mere improvement of behavior. First, the meaning of the Greek word behind the English “repent” points in this direction. It has two parts: the second part refers to the mind and its thoughts and perceptions and dispositions and purposes, while the first part is a prefix that regularly means movement or change. So the basic meaning of ‘repent’ is to experience a radical change of the mind’s judgments and values.
The other factor that points to this meaning of repent is the way Luke 3:8 describes the relationship between repentance and new behavior. Jesus looks at his disciples and says to them, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” You say you are following Jesus. You say you have repented of your sins, well, let us see a change of heart and life. Then Jesus gives some examples of these fruit: “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11). This means that repenting is what happens within us that must lead to the outward fruit of new behavior. Repentance is not the new deeds, but it is the inward change that bears the fruit of new deeds. Jesus is demanding that we experience this inward change.
Why is that so? His answer is that we are sinners. “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). What was Jesus’ view of sin? In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus describes the son’s sin like this: “He squandered his property in reckless living . . . [and] devoured [it] with prostitutes” (Luke 15:13, 30). But when the prodigal repents he says, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” Therefore, throwing your life away on reckless living and prostitutes is not just humanly hurtful; it is an offense against heaven – that is, against God. That’s the essential nature of sin. It’s an assault on God and so we repent.
We see this again in the way Jesus taught his disciples to pray. He said that they should pray, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). In other words, sins that God forgives are compared to the ones people commit against us, and Jesus calls all of them ‘debts.’ Therefore, Jesus’ view of sin was that it dishonored God and put us in debt. We have to restore the divine honour that we’ve defamed by our God-belittling attitudes. The debt we owe God has been paid by Jesus himself. “The Son of man came . . . to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). But for us to enjoy that gift he says we must repent.
Repenting means experiencing a change of mind that now sees God as true and beautiful and worthy of all our praise and all our obedience. This change of mind also embraces Jesus in the same way. We know this because Jesus said, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God.” Seeing God with a new mind includes seeing Jesus with a new mind. Then your life is one of daily repentance, for example, saying sincerely at the end of the day, “Sorry Lord for the things I know I’ve done poorly today. So very sorry.” Our lives are all ones of happy repentance, so that a Puritan said that the one thing he would miss in heaven would be repenting of his sins.
HE TEACHES THAT ALL MEN NEED TO KNOW THAT THEIR SINS CAN BE FORGIVEN.
A man called Jack Winslow wrote a book fifty years ago on the importance of confessing our sins and in that book he quoted the head of a large psychiatric hospital who’d said to him, “I could dismiss half my patients tomorrow if they could be assured of forgiveness.” I have little experience of that, but there must be some truth in it, of people horribly burdened by the guilt of what they’ve done and self-destructive. I do know the reality of forgiveness that God offers to all whose trust is in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness for all our past sins; forgiveness for all our present sins; forgiveness for all our future sins is the blessed reality of all those who believe into our Saviour.
Forgiveness is offered to every one who will come to Christ. It is available to all such today. It is possible because of what Jesus Christ the Son of God did when he bore our guilt and condemnation on the cross, when he endured in our place the penalty and judgment that our bad actions deserve. God accepts and declares to be righteous all those who call upon Christ to save them and cleanse them, and whose hopes are in the God of love alone to do this. Forgiveness comes from what God has done in and through Christ. He has promised to give rest to those who come to him and eternal life to those who trust in him. Can’t we believe what he has said? Or better, can’t we believe in this honest and kind and loving man, this eternal and unchangeable Lord, true to his covenant, faithful to his word. “God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man that He should repent: has he said, and shall he not do it? Or has he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Num.23:19). Think of something you’ve done that offended your mother, but she has long forgiven you. You mention it again regretfully to her. “Oh, that’s all right,” she has said. “That’s long gone. I’ve forgotten about it. Don’t you think about it. I never think about it. It’s all forgiven.” Is she sincere in saying that? Of course she is, your loving mother. It is all pardoned and put out of her mind. So it is with our loving Lord. The devil may remind us of our past, but our Lord never does. All our past sins are forgiven sins.
There is forgiveness for the worst things we’ve done, and for the vilest things, and the accumulation of all our guilt. Forgiveness is promised by the words and works of Jesus in the Scriptures, and that divine mercy is apprehended by faith. One of the most urgent needs amongst Christians today is a recovery of the simple biblical truth that the Christian life is a life of trusting what God says in his word; “Jesus loves me; this I know for the Bible tells me so.” Faith feeds on the promises of God and by them it grows healthy and strong. There is no need of the words of fallible men to replace it, or emphasize it, or even supplement the infallible Word of God. The smartest or holiest man, however experienced and perspicacious he might be, can’t read our inner thoughts and motives. Only God knows our hearts, and John makes this omniscience of God one of the means by which we may pacify our heart whenever it condemns us. God is greater than our hearts. He knows all things. Some claim it is easier to believe words spoken by a visible man dressed up as a religious man, but I don’t think so. We are forgetting that the gospel of forgiveness does not come in word only but in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and with much assurance. If you think you’d be more confident of the pardon of God if you’d actually heard Jesus say to you personally, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are all forgiven,” then let me share with you that Jesus speaks such words of comfort and assurance to my soul every time I come to him as a repentant, believing sinner, whether in the public preaching of his Word or in my private Bible reading, or at the Lord’s Supper. The great heroes of faith in the Old Testament, to whom the word of God came, who embraced that word and staked their whole lives upon it, were fully persuaded, that what the living gracious God had promised he was able also to perform. It is God’s will that we should become mature in Christ, and trust Christ, and cast ourselves on him and not continually resorting to religious men, preachers and priests and counselors, depending on their words, but fighting the good fight of faith, being zealous in doing good works, not neglecting the assembling of ourselves together, hearing and receiving God’s holy Word, laying fast hold on his promises, and refusing to let them go until through faith and patience we inherit them (Heb. 6: 12).This is the biblical way of assurance, that every soul that is wounded by sin may learn the way how to cure itself not depending on men. We are not to turn our congregations into great counseling clinics. We are to tell men and women in all the nations of the earth what Jesus commissioned us to preach, the forgiveness of sins that he has achieved by his royal death.
HE TEACHES US THAT WE ARE WITNESSSES OF THESE THINGS.
“You are witnesses of these things” (v.48). He spoke to one man Peter and he commissioned him to feed his sheep, but here the risen Jesus spoke to all twenty or so people in the room, men and women and told then that this was their vocation to be witnesses, to bear witness to the truthfulness of Scripture, to bear witness to the cross, to bear witness to the resurrection, to bear witness to the need of repentance, and bear witness to the forgiveness of sins. They weren’t all called to be pastor preachers, or to be evangelists, or to be missionaries, but every Christian is called to be witnesses, always to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us the reason for our hope. We are not called to be brash, or be indiscrete, or be discourteous, but be refreshing and spontaneous and natural because the life of heaven is in our hearts.
We cannot keep our faith hidden. The Philippian church was to shine like stars in the night sky. It is impossible for men to extinguish the shining stars. If the devil commanded the stars not to shine, shine on they would! Those Christians were commanded to ‘hold forth’ the word of life, in other words, like being in a Fellowship lunch and the food is all there before us and we are invited to come and partake. It is held forth to us to take it. It is not enough that we are orthodox in what we believe, or moral in our lives, we also have this vocation from the risen Christ to be his witnesses to these great realities all the days of our lives.
30th June 2013 GEOFF THOMAS