The life of a disciple is one grounded in repentance and the forgiveness of sins. It is life in Christ that impels the believer to fulfill the imperatives of discipleship. It is life in Christ that impels the believer to defend the faith when its is challenged and to witness to others so that they too can know the joys of God’s forgiveness.
Jesus tells us that He, the Son of Man, has the authority to forgive sins on earth. One day the Lord encountered a paralytic whom some people brought to Jesus. Instead of pronouncing words of healing, Jesus said, “Take heart, my son: your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9: 2b ESV) The paralytic was healed. Christ addresses these words to every son and daughter of His.
At the very beginning of the Gospel in the narrative regarding both the location and the manner of Jesus’ birth, Joseph decides “to divorce her (Mary) quietly,” because she was found to be pregnant “before they came together.” An angel came to Joseph to announce, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1: 21 ESV) Jesus’ mission is one of rescue for those dwelling in darkness: ” . . . the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has shined.” (Matthew 5: 16) Then, immediately afterward, Jesus begins His ministry with the announcement, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 5: 17 ESV)
Near the end of the Gospel, where is recorded the Last Supper, Jesus says over the cup, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26: 27b-28 ESV) The forgiveness of sins is granted through the expiatory death of Jesus Christ. While Matthew contains large amounts of teaching material in five discourses, the purpose is to advise disciples on what they are called to do in their discipleship, not an encouragement to an attitude of works righteousness. The foundation of discipleship is the forgiveness of sins granted by Jesus Christ, and by Him alone.
The great irony of the crucifixion is that in not saving Himself, Jesus saves others. The religious leaders revile Christ with words that actually speak the truth, “He saved others ; he cannot save himself.” (Matthew 27: 42a ESV) Jesus will not save Himself so that He can save others. The end of the Gospel returns to the angel’s message to Joseph that the child will save people from their sins. To save the people is Jesus’ mission.
Forgiveness of sins is accompanied by repentance. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus calls people to repentance in preparation for the coming of the kingdom of God. Participation in the kingdom now means the assurance of forgiveness of sins for those who repent and entrance into heaven.
The life of discipleship is built upon God’s granting of forgiveness. In our apology and witness we wish others, who have not known the mercy and compassion of God, also to participate in the kingdom Christ brings.
Michael G. Tavella
November 14, 2019