Excerpt from Simply Jesus

[Luke 15] is a sus­tained expo­si­tion of the rea­son why there is a par­ty tak­ing place to begin with. Some­thing is hap­pen­ing, Jesus declares, that is bring­ing heav­en and earth togeth­er. The angels are cel­e­brat­ing in heav­en, so sure­ly we should be cel­e­brat­ing here on earth as well. And the rea­son the angels are cel­e­brat­ing is that noto­ri­ous sin­ners are see­ing the error of their ways and turn­ing away from them, even though the right­eous and respectable, who can’t bear to think there is any­thing wrong with them, are look­ing down their noses at such behavior.

The point, as with the heal­ings, is not that Jesus was sim­ply mount­ing a one-man res­cue oper­a­tion for lost and bat­tered souls — though that’s what it must often have looked like. Jesus, aware as ever of the long sto­ries of God’s peo­ple and the ways in which those sto­ries were expect­ed to come true, knew as well as any trained teacher of the law that one of the great things that Israel had to do so that God would launch his great renew­al move­ment, his new Exo­dus, was to turn,” to repent, to turn back from the evil ways of the heart, and to turn instead to God in pen­i­tence and faith. That’s what Moses him­self had said in Deuteron­o­my 30. Jere­mi­ah and Ezekiel had made the same point. This is how it would have to be: when the Israelites had hit rock bot­tom, then they would turn back to God with all their heart and soul, and God would turn back to them, restor­ing them, and mak­ing them his peo­ple indeed.

So, says Jesus, it’s time to cel­e­brate! It’s hap­pen­ing! Not, per­haps, in the way you thought it would, not yet on a nation­al scale, but it’s hap­pen­ing all right. How glad they will be in heav­en over one sin­ner who repents” (Luke 15:7). This broth­er of yours was dead and is alive again! He was lost and now he’s found!” (15:32). Res­ur­rec­tion, the ulti­mate hope of new life for Israel, is hap­pen­ing under your noses, and you can’t see it. But for those of us who can — well, we’re hav­ing a par­ty, the same par­ty that the angels are hav­ing in heav­en, and you’re not going to stop us. This, it seems, is part at least of what it means that God’s king­dom is com­ing on earth as in heav­en.” The heav­en­ly cel­e­bra­tions at the signs of renew­al, the first flick­ers of a dawn that will soon flood the whole sky, are to be matched by the mot­ley mob around Jesus here and there, in Matthew’s house (Matt. 9:9 – 13) and Zac­cha­eus’s house (Luke 19:1 – 10), in this tav­ern and that, with Mary Mag­da­lene and her friends and any­one else who cares to join in. This is what it looks like when God’s in charge. This is how the cam­paign gets under way.

Excerpt­ed from N. T. Wright’s Sim­ply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Mat­ters, pp. 70 – 71. New York: Harper­One, 2011.

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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