Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship. – Acts 20:17-38
A friend and respected colleague of mine offered 10 farewell sermons to his congregation before retiring. They were on different subjects or facets of the Christian faith that were dear to him, and that he wanted to leave with the congregation he had served for many, many years. Knowing him, I’m certain they were well-thougth-out and very edifying. But, boy! That’s a long farewell.
Paul offers a significant farewell to the Ephesian elders – so significant that Luke records a large portion of his comments. Several things he mentions are notable, and near the beginning he points to his main message: a call to “repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Luther observed that repentance has two parts: we are sorry for our sins, and we put our faith in Jesus Christ. Contrition and faith are the two essential elements of repentance. Paul refers to both of them here. Perhaps this is exactly where Luther got that idea. Whatever the case, however, these two moves: turning toward God (away from sin), and placing our faith in Jesus Christ is a life-long calling for the follower of Jesus. Paul lifts this up in his initial comments to them.
That dual move is the foundation for all of Christian life. We may face challenges to our faith; sometimes even from within our church. We may have to defend ourselves from the wolves who are Satan’s servants seeking to devour and destroy the work of God in our hearts. But it comes down, always and in the end, to repentance and faith.
Here is the good news in all of this: Although repentance is a life-long calling for the follower of Jesus, faith in Jesus rests on his righteousness and faithfulness, mercy and forgiveness – which never runs out. We may wonder how it is that we constantly need to repent – sometimes of the same sin, again and again. But we never need wonder whether Jesus is ready to receive us. He is ready, and he delights when we turn to him in repentance and faith.