Vol. XI — No. 25 June 21, 1970
Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.
In Christ Jesus, who left us the charge to preach a changeless message that is fit to meet the needs of every generation, Fellow Redeemed:
Our text takes us back to Easter Sunday evening. The two disciples, who that afternoon had traveled to Emmaus and had been joined by that stranger who expounded the Old Testament Scriptures concerning the Christ, had returned and were just relating their experiences—telling the others that this stranger turned out to be the risen Lord Himself. As they were yet speaking, the Lord Jesus stood in their midst and greeted them with the greeting that conveyed to thein the blessing of His life, death, and resurrection: “Peace be unto you!” Our text records a part of His words that evening. The Lord reviewed the instruction He had given the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, opening their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures and realize that the entire Old Testament Scriptures proclaimed the necessity of the promised Christ’s suffering and rising again the third day. And now that that had been done, whereof they were witnesses, there remained a task left for the disciples. They were to go forth and continue to be the witnesses of these things. What was to be their message? “That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” In those few words the Lord Jesus gives the message of His Church down through the ages until time shall be no more.
If you pause for a moment and consider, you will realize that that had been the message of the Church also during the entire Did Testament period. Think back to the first preachment of God to our parents in the Garden of Eden after they had transgressed the commandment of God. The sermon began with a series of questions: First, “Where art thou? Then when Adam explained that they were hiding because they were afraid, for they were naked, there followed two more questions: Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” That was the first part of the Lord’s sermon! What was it but a call to repentance ? That was just the message that Adam and Eve needed, for their heart and mind had been completely changed by their transgression. Then followed the second part of the Lord’s sermon in the form of a promise of One to come from the woman’s seed who would undo the damage done by crushing the head of the serpent. What was that but an announcement, the first announcement of the unchanging mercy of God that graciously forgives the sin of man. That message filled the greatest need that Adam and Eve had, the need for divine forgiveness. So then, the content of the first sermon preached to mankind was REPENTANCE UNTO REMISSION OF SINS. That was the message for the old Testament people—the very same message that the risen Lord commissioned His disciples to proclaim to all peoples of the New Testament ages.
We can see then that the message of the Church never changes. The reason why the message of the Church never changes, or rather never is to change, is a simple one—the world, mankind, never changes. Men of every age have the same needs—the call to repentance and the announcement of divine forgiveness of their sins.
The message of the Church is a changeless message! But in our day when the churches are experiencing decay and deterioration, many Christians are noticing that the message of the church is changing. We are told that the old message of the church is “irrelevant” for modern man. We are assured that “the church has a message for every age.” The implication of that assurance is that the church has a different message for every age. The thought is that you just can’t expect the church to tell the modern twentieth century man the same thing it told his forefathers back in the horse and buggy days. The church must adjust its message to the age in which it is living. Those are the “good words and fair speeches used to explain away the deterioration in the churches today. Now it is true that “the Church has a message for every age,” but it’s always the SAME MESSAGE, for man never changes, and so his needs remain always the same.
During the days of the controversy some ten years ago in the North and some five years ago among you in the South the argument was frequently put forth that the church had to adjust its teaching with “the American way.” The thought behind that argument was that the church had one message for the “old timers” who came over from the Old Country back in the horse and buggy days, but that now in our modern America the church must have a new and different message. Times have changed, and the churches must change with the times. They must adjust to modern needs. That’s the kind of talk you and we heard. One can still hear it if one discusses religion with people today. What is this line of argument but “good words and fair speeches” that deceive the hearts of the simple. The message of the Church is never to change, for mankind never changes. This thought we want to impress upon our minds and hearts this day, especially the content of this changeless message. We consider therefore—
We note first of all that—
First, let us be sure that we understand the word “repentance.” Jesus told His disciples in our text that “repentance…should be preached in His name among all nations.” St. Matthew sums up the message of John the Baptist in this way, “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The word “repentance!’ is one of the key words of Scripture, for it is the first part of the changeless message of the Church for the unchanging world. The word “repentance” simply means a “change of mind.” When the cry goes forth, “repent,” it is a call for men to change their minds and hearts. That cry is a part of the unchanging message of the Church, for man in every age, also modern man, needs to be changed. We are not what man once was when he left the hand of his Creator. God created man in His own image. Man was holy, sinless. No evil thought entered his mind. No evil impulse or lust shot through his body as an electric shock. No evil word over against his God or against his fellowman passed over his lips. There was nothing that our first parents did that was out of line with the divine will. That is the way it once was with man.
Then came the GREAT CHANGE IN MAN, caused by the fall into sin. Man’s mind, his heart, was changed. Now the human heart is truly a cesspool of iniquity. Jeremiah complained that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”. (17:9) Our Lord Jesus designated the inside of man as the source of all his trouble, as the evil fountain from which spring the evil lusts that man turns into evil deeds. We have been changed, and so WE NEED TO BE CHANGED. We are conceived and born in iniquity and sin, inclined only towards that which is evil, totally corrupt, completely unable to do that which is good and acceptable in the sight of God, drawn as by a magnet to that which is evil, without fear and love of God, under His wrath, and except delivered by some higher power doomed to eternal damnation. This condition is true of the modern man as i Ċ was true of man in the horse and buggy days, and as it was true of man before the flood, for all men are born after the image of their own parents. Man is changed from what he was when he left the hand of the Creator, and so man’s greatest need today is the same need man has had down through the ages —THE NEED TO BE CHANGED. That is why the changeless message of the Church is THE CALL TO REPENTANCE.
We speak of our modern technological age. We speak of the changing times. What has changed? There have been great changes in ways and means of communication and transportation. No one denies that. There have been tremendous changes in the way things are done, human labor being replaced by machines. As a result the common laborer today enjoys a standard of living that would have made the ancient kinds green with envy. But in all this one thing remains unchanged—MAN. He’s still the sinner, bound and fettered in the chains of sin, helpless, changed from what he once was and so in need of A CHANGE! Years ago a man may have been jealous of his neighbor’s fine team of horses; today he may be jealous of his neighbor’s new car. Years ago a laborer may have stolen from his employer by slowing down with the mechanical work of his hands; today a laborer may steal from his employer by taking too long a coffee break. The ancient man may have carved a god out of wood; the modern man carves a god with his mind according to his own likes or dislikes—both are guilty of idolatry. The ancient, as well as the modern man, imagined he could string along with the world and still be a Christian. Both are wrong. Pride came before the fall of the ancient man, as it does of the modern man today. The ancient man thought he could please his “god” or “gods” by his own doings; the modern man entertains the same false hope. Both destroy themselves with their own efforts. Man remains unchanged; the world remains unchanged. That is why the modern man also needs the changeless message of the call to repentance.
That cry goes to you again this morning: Repent ye! You need that call to repentance; I need it. Have we loved our God with all our heart, with all our strength, with all our mind? Have we been completely free from evil lust? Have our motives always been pure? Has our faith rested one hundred percent on our Lord? Have we been without care for the future, trusting our Creator completely? Isn’t it sufficient to ask but the questions? Our consciences convict us, for if we say we have no sin, we deceive only ourselves, and make ourselves liars. The confession this day is also necessary for us, for we too need to be changed!
But what is to bring about the change within us so that we once more become what our first parents were when they left the hand of the Creator? It is the second part of the message, the unchanging message that will and only can accomplish that work in us, the announcement of divine forgiveness, for—
God first announced divine forgiveness when man first needed it—after the fall into sin. That announcement came in the form of a promise. Then down through the ages that promise was repeated. Gradually more details as to how this divine forgiveness was to be won for mankind were added. Then finally the promised One came. But by that time the thoughts and dreams of an outward kingdom of God had so filled the hearts and minds of men that even the disciples of the Lord, despite His repeated instruction, could not understand how divine forgiveness was to be won for mankind. That accounts for the fear and sorrow on the first Good Friday and the first Easter. That is why we find that Jesus had to open their understanding of the Scriptures. He had to show them that He had done what the prophets had prophesied He would do—suffer and die a cursed death to pay the penalty for all sin and guilt and then rise again in demonstration of the success of His mission. His resurrection would be the proof that the judge of all flesh had proclaimed mankind forgiven for Christ’s sake. That was now to be proclaimed as the heart of the changeless message for this unchanging world.
It is exactly this message which alone can change man. Nothing else will. You can keep on telling man God’s law, His demands, and reinforce them with God’s threats of punishment here in time and hereafter in eternity, but that wouldn’t change man. It will have one of two effects upon man. Either it will cause man to hate God more and more, to curse Him because He has made impossible demands upon man which He backs up with threats of temporal and eternal punishment, or it will cause man to despair because He cannot fulfill God’s law and so has nothing left to look forward to but misery here and eternal torment hereafter. God’s law can’t change man. But the message of the unchanging love of God in Christ which brings forgiveness can change man. And it does. It takes the load of guilt off the shoulders, convincing man that he is a son of God and heir of salvation. It gives the incentive and power to live according to the will of God. It brings the conviction that our God can be turned to for help and strength and comfort in every time of need whether of body or soul. That is what man needs, the unchanged announcement of forgiveness, which alone can change the heart of man.
That message is not to be something that we hear once and tuck away in our memories, saying from time to time, “Oh, yes, that I know. I’ve heard that before. I know all about it.” No, that message is to become a part of us. Even as we live by the breath of air which we breathe, so we live spiritually and before God by the having of divine forgiveness. When a person no longer breathes, he dies—smothers. When a person no longer has divine forgiveness, he also dies spiritually.
This message of forgiveness has been preached to you again this day. May it produce fruit within you! May a portion of that fruit be the inner conviction that the message of the church today is to be the same unchanging message of ages past, for that is what the unchanging world needs. THE MESSAGE OF REPENTANCE UNTO THE REMISSION OF SINS. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.