Luke 24:45-47 – 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
What is the gospel? How do we proclaim it? What is the Great Commission? How do we obey it?
Here at the end of Luke’s telling of the gospel, we see Jesus present the Lukan version of the Great Commission. It does not contain everything that we see in Matthew, but it still shows us something important.
Boiling this passage down, Jesus, in commissioning his disciples, tells them that they should understand his death and resurrection and they should proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That is all Luke was led by the Spirit of God to include in his expression of the Great Commission. And I think we should learn from it.
The first part is easy. We know that anybody who gets the gospel must grasp the death and resurrection of Jesus. After all, there is no gospel without the Son of God dying to pay the price for the sins of others. There is no gospel if Jesus stays in his grave. We must see that the price was fully paid and that all who are saved by Jesus will live with him eternally just as he lives after death in a glorious, resurrection body.
But how about that other part? When you think about the gospel, when you share it, would you describe your gospel presentation as the proclamation of repentance for the forgiveness of sins? Is that the message of your church? Or have other things snuck in there?
What is present in this gospel? Those who repent are saved. What is repentance? To repent is to change how you think, how you feel, and what you do. To repent in a gospel context is to stop thinking you are OK on your own. It is to stop trusting in yourself and your own goodness. It is to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and your only hope of salvation through is life, death, and resurrection. It is to genuinely sorrow over your sin and to understand that you have earned the judgment of God. It is to throw yourself on the mercy of Jesus, asking for salvation based solely on Jesus and his finished work. And it is a salvation that, once you receive it, leads to a new life of repentance where you continue to turn from sin and continue to trust in and obey the Lord.
What is not in this message? Look at the text. It’s not anything gimmicky. It’s not a sappy, emotion-only appeal. There is nothing here that should lead a church to try to bribe someone into the gospel with giveaways, false promises of prosperity, or capitulation to modern political whims. There is no message that says that you can have salvation while continuing to be and believe all that you were and thought before salvation. There is a demand for faith that will change your very life even as that demand tells you that you are saved by Jesus and not by your change.
I would never want us to proclaim a loveless message of a harsh Jesus. Nor would I suggest that there is not beauty in the promise of grace. But I do believe that many a church has mistaken the call to make disciples for a call to make converts by any means necessary. I believe that many seek to draw people to pray a prayer without actually calling them to repentance. I believe that many people are fooled into thinking they have checked the box to gain a free pass to heaven without ever being called to change a single thing about who they are. And that kind of presentation is not a call to repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Is the message about God’s love? O yes! God is wonderfully, gloriously loving toward his people. All of us have sinned. All of us deserve judgment. God has provided one and only one way of salvation. None of us can work to earn it. The way of salvation is Jesus, his perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection. The way of salvation is by God’s grace through faith alone, trusting Jesus alone. And God’s way of salvation can be summarized by this call, “Repent!” All who wish to be saved let go of everything to take hold of Jesus. All who wish to be saved stop thinking they can define morality in their own way, and they surrender to the lordship of Jesus. All who wish to be saved turn from sin to follow Jesus. All who wish to be saved trust only in Jesus. And when they are saved, all who are saved are saved, not by their actions, but by the person and the finished work of Jesus.