"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." (Luke 24:47,48)
They had seen the things recorded in this book, and in the Gospels, and they were true witnesses, for they were with Him in His temptations, in His afflictions, in His rejection by the Jews, and in His death; before they all forsook Him and fled; and they had seen Him after His resurrection. I know the mind of man is so inquisitive that it would ask: How could it be that a person who was crucified, should appear in this way two or three days after his death? Now, you know we are not called upon to understand all the will and Word of God, but it is "He that believeth shall be saved," and though we believe these things, yet, if we are asked how they are brought about, we must confess our ignorance of them. We believe them because they are recorded in the Word of God, and find comfort and peace in doing so. The evidence that a man's faith is right is the Gospel peace it brings to the heart. The Christian is often tried about his faith, whether it be of God, or if it be only from himself. What are its effects? What does faith in Christ in your heart produce? Peace of God, comfort and satisfaction? Then that tree of faith is known by its fruits.
Our Lord had walked with two of His disciples to Emmanus; had conversed with them, and lovingly reproved them for their unbelief; yet He did not tell them they could have believed if they would, like some of our modern divines.
Then it is said, verse 36, "And as they thus spake, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said unto them, Peace be unto you." How can any man live comfortably without the Gospel of Peace? What satisfaction is there in any earthly thing, but to know Christ? To love Him and believe on Him, brings peace to the mind, as much now as it did then. The Jewish people were very much affrighted at spirits, as they called them, or at anything that was unusual, and they supposed that they must die as Manoah thought in his day, because he had seen the Lord. They were at first terrified, supposing that they had seen a spirit. And He said unto them (and He is saying unto his people now,) "Why are ye troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I, myself; handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see Me have. And when He had thus spoken, He shewed them His hands and His feet." So we go on down to our text. It is said, "Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures." This is just what you and I want as believers in Christ. What is the use of a man saying he understands all the Scriptures, and does not want his heart opened. This arises from his self-importance.
Then He said, "Thus it is written (in the Old Testament Scriptures, in the books of Moses, in the historical parts of God's Word, the psalms and the prophets,) and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day." It was necessary, because He had engaged to do so; it was necessary on His Church's account; for sinners could not have been saved if it had not been so.
"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."--Ye have all heard Me preach, ye have listened to My prayers, ye have heard Me teach the people in parables: ye know it, ye are my witnesses, but they might have said, How can we testify of these things, when all the world is against us? Then He said, "Behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem until ye be endued with power from on high." You see it implies that, until the Holy Ghost was poured out upon them on the day of Pentecost, they had no more power to withstand persecution than you and I have now. The gift of the Holy Ghost is a power in the hearts of sinners, and in the hearts of saints.
In our text we shall first notice, His Name, "and this repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name."
In the second place we have before us, Repentance, and this is part of the Gospel testimony.
In the third place, Repentance and Remission of sins. I love this, as I do every Scripture: for if God is pleased to give us repentance, he will give us remission of sins: they come together as you see.
Lastly, we shall notice its amazing nature and power. What did He say? "Among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." That there is enough virtue in Christ's death; and the Holy Ghost will so convince sinners of sin, that whosoever is brought to repentance shall receive remission of sins: whether they be Jews or Gentiles, bond or free, they are all one in Christ, their Head. O, what a mercy that these great blessings are to be preached among all nations, that the effect of Christ's death shall be sufficient to save everyone that is brought to repentance: everyone that receives the Gospel testimony in his heart. "Preach it everywhere," he said, "among all nations, but begin at Jerusalem."
First in His Name. This name of Christ, how precious it is in the sacred Word. His Name, as the name of God, always proves His nature. Not as it is with us. There is a man, perhaps a very wicked man, and his name is Goodman: that is a flat contradiction; someone else perhaps, is called Badman, and perhaps he is a very good one, and one that fears God. But not so in the Bible; not so in regard to our Lord. His name is Himself; and God has deposited all His great and holy names in the person of His Son. We turn to Exodus 23, for instance; there the Lord is giving commandment in regard to sacrifices and such things. At the end of verse 19 there is a solemn pause, and in verse 20 it is said: "Behold I send an angel before thee to keep thee in the way and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared." This Angel is with every believer now; he will be with them always and bring them home to glory. "Beware of Him and obey His voice, provoke Him not: for He will not pardon your transgression, for My Name is in Him. But if thou shalt indeed obey His voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries. For Mine Angel shall go before thee and bring thee unto the Amorites, and the Hitties, and the Perrizzites, and the Canaanites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off." O what exaltation of the Saviour is here, He will be an enemy unto thine enemies. Come, child of God, this is beautiful to those that have enemies: and we know there is one enemy who goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. God says, "I will be an enemy unto thine enemies and an adversary unto thine adversaries." All hail His precious Name! The names by which Christ is known prove that He is God, and that He has all power in His hand; that He is able and willing to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him.
We want some great, glorious, and powerful Saviour to save us; for the devil will hold us fast if we have not such an one; our lusts will hold us fast; the world will hold us fast: and even now when a sinner is brought to seek the Lord it is very like the days of Laban when he said of Rebekah "Let the damsel tarry a few days" (in our scriptures, but in the margin a full year or ten months.) Let her stay. So the world says to those of our young friends who feel they want to know Christ. Not yet; enjoy a little more pleasure, a few more days, or a few more years, and then serve Him. Oh! my young friends, this is dangerous ground, we know not the hour of our departure, we should not like to be left with the world with its wickedness and sinful pursuits, which are so pleasing to the flesh. Oh, that the Lord may give us grace to "Come out from among them and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing," (2 Cor. 6:17) and He has said "I will receive you and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." (2 Cor. 6:18) The name, the precious name of Christ--preach it, He said, in My Name. The Church, too, in the Canticles made use of language very like this when she said, speaking of Christ under the idea of her beloved, (Chap. 1:3) "Because of the savour of thy good ointments, thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee." His name is as ointment poured forth. Has it ever healed our wounded spirits? Has it ever comforted our sorrowing hearts? Have we ever perceived the rich perfume of the name of Christ. O, how beautiful, how cheering, how fragrant, binding up all our wounds, healing our broken hearts, and giving us to feel that we are one with Him. How many times we come across this name of Christ, that His Name shall be called Jesus; we are to call Him so, not to think hardly of Him, not to think He is not that. "Thou shalt call His name Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins." (Matt. 1:21) Precious, holy Name; as we have often said, we say again: if the name of Christ be precious to us, it is because we are precious to Him. O, how precious is the Saviour; how dear His name, His person, His work. I would press this question home to your hearts: Is He precious to you? Is there anything in His name, His beautiful and glorious name, that is dear to you? We all know whether it is so or not, there can be no mistake about it, and I say that if, when we sing that hymn
"How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believer's ear,"
we know it; we are known and loved by Him.
In the second place we notice Repentance.
What is Repentance? The devil tells us there will be plenty of time to repent when we are ill, but we know it is one of his falsehoods. I am sure God has not told what His mind is, and Satan does not know when we are to be called out of this world; he will be very near when we are being called out; but as God is an enemy to our enemies and an adversary to our adversaries, we will not fear the attacks of the enemy.
There are two or three sorts of repentance spoken of in the Scriptures. We shall not stay to notice them all, but pass on and speak of gospel repentance, and see that it is not in man or by any human power that a sinner can repent of his sins. Heart repentance implies that there is something wrong, gone the wrong way, and are brought to know it. Judas knew he had done wrong when he repented and returned with the money that he had taken for betraying Christ; he valued Him at thirty pieces of silver, as the prophet had foretold. What estimate do you put upon Christ? Judas was a thief, he carried the bag, and robbed Christ and the rest, but he repented that he had betrayed Him, and came and cast down the pieces of silver into the temple and said, "I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood," and they said, "What is that to us, see thou to that:" that is no concern of ours; and he went out and hanged himself. (Matt. 27:3-5) I do not wonder at that: there was repentance but not unto life. A man may do wrong and finding he is caught at it expecting punishment, he will then repent of that he has done; that sort of repentance is not from heaven. He knows that he has sinned, he feels it, and if he should be exposed in any way then he will be very sorry for it, but if he is left to himself he will do the same again, if brought into similar circumstances.
Now let us hear what one person said in the Bible: a man that had done wrong and knew he was going the wrong way, and yet he could not turn to the Lord. Ah! poor sinner, you say, "If I could return to the Lord, if the Lord would give me gospel repentance, then I know He would accept me." Perhaps you are like this person. We read of him in Jeremiah 31, where God said, "I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus: 'Thou has chastised me and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke'"--the chastisement did not bring submission nor repentance to his heart. What did he say then? "Turn thou me and I shall be turned." He could not turn to the Lord. Turn me, Lord, from my wicked ways, turn me from idolatry, turn me from all that is wrong and false; Lord, turn thou me. Our Arminian friends would say the man was simple to talk like that; surely he could repent if he would. But how about it if the man does not repent when he can. Turn me Lord, I want to be thy child, I want to be right with Thee, I want real, genuine repentance, and I cannot turn myself. Nor can you my friend; it is all by Christ from first to last, who is the Alpha and the Omega. People say repent and absolve yourself. This is a species of Popery as true as ever Popery was from the devil. "Surely after that I was turned I repented." He could neither turn or repent by his own natural power. Then God called him His dear Son. Again we find (Lamentations 5:21) "Turn thou us unto thee O Lord, and we shall be turned."
"Repentance is a gift bestowed
To save a soul from death.
Gospel repentance towards God
Is always joined to faith,
Not for a day, an hour, a week,
Do saints repentance own;
But all the while the Lord they seek,
At sin they grieve and groan."
Does sin make you groan, my friend? Had such a man the love of God in his soul? certainly he had, because he had repentance, and it was joined to faith in Christ.
"Nor is it such a dismal thing
As is by some men named;
A sinner may repent and sing,
rejoice, and be ashamed."
This is gospel repentance: when we are brought to confess before God our wickedness, or weakness, our hell-deserving; it is gospel repentance, it is the work of the Spirit in the soul.
In Acts 5, we read of the disciples being brought before magistrates (or the High Priest and Council, which was the same thing) and sent to prison, and they said (verse 28) "Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine and intend to bring this man's blood upon us. Then Peter and the other Apostles answered and said, 'We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus" (there was a point in dispute,) "whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnessess of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him.'"
Then repentance is God's gift. Cherish it poor sinner, though your heart is smitten, and you are grieved on account of sin. When you think of His love, mercy and grace in dying to save the lost, and remember how long you have despised Him and set Him at naught, these feelings come over you, and you are filled with grief on account of sin; and this feeling the people of God will know something of while they are in this world. This is God's work in the soul; this is the Holy Ghost teaching us; it does not arise from our own natural powers. Romans 2:4, "Or despisest thou the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance." Oh! repenting sinner, God has much goodness for thee, and it was by His goodness He led thee to repent.
A man may talk about religion, and perhaps say he repented fifty years ago. What! not since fifty years ago? Well, God's people do things, and feel things that are wrong, and He gives them repentance again and again; and I do desire that when I am wrong, God will give me this sacred holy melting power and feeling. God has been good, and although we have often departed from Him, O that we may be sorry at His feet, and bless His Holy Name. The Church of God at Corinth were wrong in some things, and the Apostle wrote to them, and like a faithful ambassador, told them of their wrong doing. He said, 2 Cor. 7:9, "Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance, for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation, not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death." Then he went on to say, "For behold this self same thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, (I daresay they said, Lord, keep us from doing wrong again) yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, (not indignant with each other, but themselves) yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter." God gave them repentance, and they turned from the way in which they had gone from God, and repented after a godly sort: which could never be repented of. So it is with the Christian; when we get wrong, as we do sometimes, and the Lord gives us this godly sorrow and confession of sins. And I apprehend that the brightest saint on earth: the man that is just about to cross the Jordan with the full assurance of faith in his heart; whilst God says he is a son, will still confess that he is a sinner: he feels it within him. Bless God that we are not merely condemned for feeling that we do wrong, but it is when the mind and the will assents to it that we sin; but the Lord gives His people repentance: a holy softening, solemn feeling before Him. Perhaps some of you have thought, it being Whitsuntide (if there be any friend here who is a Roman Catholic,) that you will go and confess your sins to the priest. How much will he charge? or, if you get absolution, it won't be worth anything. What! a man forgive sins in the Name of the Lord? When we come to Christ we get absolution free, and save our shilling. So, if we want it for nothing, we must confess our sins to the Lord; and he has said, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) May God give us this profound solemn feeling in His sight, that amounts to repentance before God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The woman that lost her piece of silver, said unto her neighbors when she had found it: "Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons which need no repentance." (Luke 15:9,10,7) The sinner upon earth is mourning before God, confessing his sin, feeling that he has done wrong, and his heart is filled with sorrow; and up there, heaven resounds with the songs of angels, that another sinner is born of God.
We stay here, and ask ourselves if we know anything about this. It is not what others know and fear; has the Lord given us repentance unto life, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ? Has the mixture of feeling, sorrow for sin and love to Christ, broken our hearts before Him? It is His great mercy; how merciful He has been, how kind in sparing us, in not cutting us off, and yet we have sinned; it is a mingled feeling, but it produces repentance unto life, and godly sorrow.
Thirdly, Repentance and Remission of Sins.
This remission of sins is so sweet to the repenting sinner. If we search for the meaning of the word remission, it signifies "the giving up of the right to punish." The man has done wrong, he ought to be punished, but someone else came forward, and said, Let me receive the punishment instead, and the Judge (the person who might have punished) remits the sentence: the sins are put back, are not counted, are not put to the account of these poor weeping, sorrowing ones; God sees that the sins were put away by Christ, that His precious blood like a flood swept them all away, and He will not charge sin upon the repenting one, He will not punish him. And as He has given him repentance, He will give him remission of sins; because the sins were laid upon Jesus Christ. Now you see these two go together in the Scriptures: and the Apostles preached repentance and remission of sins through our Lord Jesus Christ. Oh! the Gospel plan of salvation: how sublime, how beautiful, by which sinners escape the punishment they deserve, because their sins were laid upon Christ.
Then lastly, you see the nature of this remission and repentance which the Lord will give. It is to be preached in His name amongst all nations beginning at Jerusalem. See the extent of it: that God will give repentance and remission of sins, and wherever the Gospel is preached, if He gives repentance He will remit their sins; and this is so glorious that it will be appreciated by every repenting sinner wherever he is found, whatever his color may be, whatever his language. So the Lord gives remission of sins, and it is of such abundant greatness that it is to be preached among all nations beginning at Jerusalem. The Jews rejected it and the Gospel, and as it went forth to the nations around, sinners were brought to feel their need of a Saviour, and God gave them repentance, remitted their sins, took them home to glory; and still they come from every part of the world up to the portals of bliss.
May you and I be found there at that great day, and God shall have the glory.