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.

Starting Soon: The 2018-19 Renovaré Book Club

How do we read for transformation, not just information? Choose books that stir the soul and have an enduring quality. Then read with God and others at an unhurried pace, attentive to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach. The Renovaré Book Club is designed for transformative reading. It runs October 2018—May 2019.

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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.