October 22, 2020

It’s Party Time!

By Chaplain Mike

Today’s Gospel: Luke 15:1-10

I think Tom Wright perfectly catches the message of this passage in an illustration from his commentary, Luke for Everyone:

We had just moved house, to a dream location: quiet, secluded, at the end of a road near a lake. Everything seemed peaceful. then, on the first Saturday night we were there, all chaos broke loose. Loud music, amplified voices making announcements, cheers, fireworks—all going on well into the small hours, keeping our young children awake. We were appalled. Was this going to happen every weekend? Where was the noise coming from? Why had nobody told us about this before we bought the house?

In the morning, the explanations came. No, it wasn’t a regular occurrence. It would only happen once a year. It was the local Yacht Club’s annual party, celebrating some great event in the sailing calendar. We returned to tranquillity. But it left me thinking about how one person’s celebration can be really annoying for someone else, especially if they don’t understand the reason for the party. (p. 183, emphasis mine)

Jesus’ critics just couldn’t grasp why there was a party going on.

What they saw was a man attracting people who weren’t good at following God’s laws, and welcoming them as though they were worthy. They observed him talking, laughing, and sharing food with tax collectors, traitors who took Israel’s money and gave it to Herod and Rome; unclean folks who were in regular contact with Gentiles. He claimed to care about these people, and they were following him as though he were some great spiritual leader.

It didn’t sit well with them. God had made himself clear—these people needed to repent. For the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, that meant getting their act together. Offer sacrifices in the Temple. Start ordering their lives according to the commandments, statutes, and ordinances. Study Torah. Observe the Sabbath. Keep kosher.

Jesus called them to repent too. His definition, however, was totally different—Repent and believe the Good News. Embrace the coming Kingdom. Come to my table. Follow me.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matt 11:28-30, MSG)

A Law-free Gospel centered around the person of Jesus—that’s what this itinerant rabbi was offering, and it got the Law-folks’ skivvies all in a knot. This was not cause for celebration but rather for grave concern.

Jesus saw the looks on their faces, heard their whispers, sensed their disapproval. So he told them some stories. The first two were short and sweet. When a person loses something precious and makes a great effort to find it, it’s a cause for celebration when he or she finds it.

At the end of each of these stories, Jesus drives home his point with what amounts to an astounding claim. Heaven, he said, is celebrating over what I’m doing in finding and saving these lost sinners. In effect, he is saying to the religious leaders, “God is not happy with your approach. But he’s throwing a party over me and what I am doing.” The implication is even more insulting: If you really knew God, you’d be happy for what’s happening through me too.

You see, the real problem wasn’t that the Jewish religious leaders looked down on sinners. That was an issue, but it was a symptom of a deeper deficiency. The real problem was that they didn’t delight in Jesus. They were missing the Messiah. They were not looking at him in the same way Heaven was—throwing a party to celebrate him. Instead, they stood along the wall at the wedding reception, dissing the Bridegroom and mocking his choice of a Bride. They refused to join the dancing, and didn’t lift their glasses to the toast.

Wouldn’t know what prompts God to throw a party if he wrote it in the sky.

Luke 15:1-10 (GNT)—

One day when many tax collectors and other outcasts came to listen to Jesus, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law started grumbling, “This man welcomes outcasts and even eats with them!” So Jesus told them this parable:

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them; what do you do? You leave the other ninety-nine sheep in the pasture and go looking for the one that got lost until you find it. When you find it, you are so happy that you put it on your shoulders and carry it back home. Then you call your friends and neighbors together and say to them, “I am so happy I found my lost sheep. Let us celebrate!” In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent.

Or suppose a woman who has ten silver coins loses one of them; what does she do? She lights a lamp, sweeps her house, and looks carefully everywhere until she finds it. When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, and says to them, “I am so happy I found the coin I lost. Let us celebrate!” In the same way, I tell you, the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents.


  1. These parables are easier to apply when each of us understands that he is the lost one.

    The tragedy of the Pharisees was that they had fooled themselves with their outward show of righteousness. They couldn’t see that they needed what Jesus offered.

    • Chris Moellering says

      Being the lost one is the “good” place in the story. If we identify with the older brother in the third parable, we, like the pharisees, need a serious gut-check.

    • “These parables are easier to apply when each of us understands that he is the lost one.”

      Andy Z…that is great insight, so good that Chaplain Mike should include it in his post somehow!

  2. Good one, Chaplain Mike,

    You hit two groups: the stubborn and unrepentant religious leaders, and those who are celebrated over.

    I can’t find any reason to comment on the first bunch.

    On the second group, this post reminds me of Galatians:

    “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel…”

    God celebrates when one is found.

    After he is found, the believer has a tendency to “Go back to Egypt;” to act like the Pharisee.

    “…did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish?”

    At the end of Galatians, after a good chewing out, Paul calls them “brethren.”

    I guess this is why the post reminds me of Galatians. God celebrates us and continually loves us in spite of ourselves.

    He reproves us with a continued, unconditional love.

    There must be a constant party going on in heaven because there are imperfect, repentant believers here on earth.

  3. Another good discourse on this subject is “The Prodigal God” by Tim Keller. I agree heartily with this premise and with the previous 3 comments, and would like to suggest that there is yet a third group of people – those who were faithfully keeping the law with hope and had eyes to see the fulfillment, beginning with Simeon. Or we could even go back to Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, for that matter. It behooves us not to forget that there was a third group, faithfully practicing the Old Covenant until the New arrived. And as it was then among God’s people, so it is today.

  4. I like the mention of the third group, they were keeping the laws that they knew and believed in. Jesus came and said, I am the word. He wasn’t politically correct in that society. He threatened the status quo and said Love the Lord and your neighbor as yourself. The pharisees thought that keeping the law was enough, if one broke it one paid a price of an offering. That has continued ever since in pennance, flaggilation,asceticism,avoiding certain foods, and the buying of indulgences. These things may be important, but without accepting Jesus as the only way of salvation we are all dead. “Life’s a bitch and then you die” Without Jesus that’s true.

  5. I mostly agree, but speaking from the Jewish POV, I hope to suggest a clarification. The New Perspective on Paul is helpful here. Jesus’ message to his own was not law-free. There is no dichotomy between Law and Grace (I know, Lutherans will disagree). The law-free part is the message to non-Jews and by law-free the meaning is “free from the identity markers of Israel,” not “free from the commandments that govern moral, social, and communal life.”

    I suspect you agree with me. But the dominant M.O. for interpreting Jesus’ challenge to his own culture is to jump to some anti-nomian Christian set of assumptions which (a) Jesus did not share and (b) do not make a well-rounded interpretation of Paul either.

    Derek Leman

    • Derek, I do think the NPP has validity, but primarily with regard to Paul, and I think I tried to clarify this post to reflect N.T. Wright’s own understanding of Jesus in this passage. In fact, his brief commentary was the main background source for my observations here. The key is in the different meaning of the word, “repent.” For the teachers of the Law this all had to do with turning from sin and embracing covenant obedience–Temple, sacrifice, Sabbath, kosher. For Jesus, it had to do with turning from sin and embracing HIM as the fulfillment of all those types.

  6. chaplain mike:

    Thing is, you say that last sentence as if it is established fact. I’m a big Wright fan, but this is one area I think he’s weak on. Jesus’ message should not be read as overturning God’s expectations for Jews, but expanding the horizon with new redemptive acts and revelation, IMO. But to argue it here would be tedious. I’ll just say: doesn’t it make more sense to see Jesus’ message for Jews in continuity and not discontinuity? How could God’s revelation prior to Jesus have been mistaken? The law-free message is for gentiles and even then, law-free means minus the identity markers of Israel, not minus the moral, social, and communal ways of life. That is applying NPP ideas to Jesus (which I have no idea why Wright does not do more of, and, yes, I’m very familiar with Wright’s ideas and write about them often). I just released my latest book, Yeshua in Context, with much debt to Wright.

    Derek Leman

    • I’m a little confused, Derek. I think what I said was that Jesus was speaking in continuity with God’s previous revelation. He was pointing to himself as the One to whom it all pointed. Perhaps the term “law-free” is inappropriate in this context, and I would be perfectly willing to restate that. Perhaps “Jesus’ law-fulfilling gospel” is a better way of putting it. However, on some occasions throughout the Gospel it must have appeared to the teachers of the Law that Jesus was promoting a kind of Law-free approach, since in their eyes he didn’t keep Sabbath, dishonored the Temple, failed to keep the kosher laws, and so on. Perhaps this is why he had to say at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, “I did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.”

      I appreciate your interaction, because I love Wright and have been helped greatly by NP teaching.

  7. I love your ending remarks, Chaplain Mike: “The real problem was that they didn’t delight in Jesus. They were missing the Messiah. They were not looking at him in the same way Heaven was—throwing a party to celebrate him. Instead, they stood along the wall at the wedding reception, dissing the Bridegroom and mocking his choice of a Bride. They refused to join the dancing, and didn’t lift their glasses to the toast.

    Wouldn’t know what prompts God to throw a party if he wrote it in the sky.”

    Chris Reimers wrote above that this is another example of one of your best posts getting few comments. I have noticed that it is the posts that people DISAGREE with that get the comments. Think: evolution, women as religious leaders, homosexuality. Those bring on the comments in droves! When we agree, we are apt to just want to write something like “Amen, brother!” but then we don’t really need to see hundreds of those.

    • Thank you, Chris and Joanie. I actually don’t mind having fewer comments on these kinds of posts. I hope a lot of people are reading them, but they are designed more for meditation than for discussion. We try to mix it up around here.