Chapter 3:Jesus and the Gospels

Wright starts chapter 3 by acknowledging the fact that Christ changes the course of the conversation. In the past, the Prophets have had a very specific ministry. With Christ on the scene, the famous “but now” has arrived to herald something new and unique. Wright begins this chapter with a passage from Luke, and I think it’s worth looking at the passage itself. It reads:

    There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

Here we see Jesus affirming two competing views. The first is that there is no difference, morally speaking, between those on whom tragedy befalls and those whom it does not. As Wright explains, “the Roman governor had sent in the troops and killed pilgrims in the temple.” But Jesus points out that these pilgrims weren’t really worse than anybody else. In the same way, eighteen people were all killed by a falling tower. Jesus again affirms that they weren’t particularly different than anybody else. Morally speaking, there wasn’t a judgement.

But in both cases, Jesus says repent or you’ll perish, too! Doesn’t that give us license to say that if a disaster should fall, we can perceive that it is a result of a failure to repent? Goodness no! Jesus has two things on his horizon. The first is the fall of Jerusalem (an event that occurs in 70 AD). He can see that the people of Jerusalem aren’t willing to do the things that make for peace, which makes conflict with Rome an inevitability. If the people of Jerusalem don’t repent (change their ways), they will be destroyed by the Roman occupiers or crushed beneath the toppling city.

But the other event in view on Jesus’ horizon is the final judgement. And Jesus’ whole mission is to save us from this judgement (in a John 3:16 kind of way). And Jesus’ whole point is that he’s the only one that can accomplish this task. You and I can repent all day, but there’s nothing we can do to put off the day of judgement. It comes for all of us, and the ministry of Jesus Christ is taking the judgement on himself. We don’t meet God trusting in our own righteousness, but through Jesus Christ we can be assured of “[his] abundant and great mercies” (from the Prayer of Humble Access).

Jesus tells us that there will be wars and rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes. He says people will try to use these things as a way of saying the end is near. Jesus tells his followers, “the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:6). These things don’t call us to repentance, because we should already have a daily posture of repentance. As Wright points out, “if Jesus’ followers are waiting for a special events to nudge them into looking for Jesus’ kingdom on earth as in heaven, or to tell them to repent when they were drifting into careless sin, then they’ve gone to sleep on the job.”

I haven’t read ahead, but I can’t imagine the book getting better than this chapter. I think it’s worth the price of the whole book. For the last few months, so many people have been wondering what God is up to in all that is going on. Wright says, “the minute we find ourselves looking at the world around us and jumping to conclusions about God and what he might be doing, but without looking carefully at Jesus, we are in danger of forcing through an ‘interpretation’ which might look attractive – it might seem quite ‘spiritual’ and awe-inspiring – but which actually screens Jesus out of the picture.”

For Christ (and Christians) the singular event that we are to be called to is the Cross. That’s where the victory was won. That’s where the problem was solved. That’s always been the answer to what is God up to. That’s the central message of our Gospel. That’s the strength of our proclamation. We don’t pretend to know anything else about anything else. Just Christ, and him crucified. Anything or anyone that is more concerned about what is happening now or about to happen without being firmly rooted in a victory that already been obtained is in danger of missing the point.

We’ll have a lot more to say as we move forward, but I want to make sure my summaries of the chapter aren’t longer than the chapters themselves! As you’re reflecting, I’d love for you to wrestle with Jesus’ call to repentance in Luke 13. You and I aren’t generally worse sinners than anybody else, but we all need repentance. We all need to be saved from a coming destruction. What does that destruction look like in your imagination? Is it sickness? Poverty? Or is it something bigger? What do you think Jesus means when he tells this to his followers?

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