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Father in heaven, we come now as we turn to Your Word and we don’t pray simply because we think that’s how sermons begin but because we need Your help. I need Your help to speak Your Word truthfully, powerfully, humbly, and we as Your people need Your help if we are to listen and not only be hearers but doers of the Word, that we may be humble enough to be changed and to come to Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.
There are few objects more important and more enduring in the American imagination, and few symbols more powerful, than that of the Liberty Bell. I bet many of you have seen it before, on tour through Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. It was originally the state house bell, which was ordered from a foundry in London by Isaac Norris, the speaker of the Pennsylvania assembly in 1751. That bell, wouldn’t you know it, cracked on the very first ring. It was hard to get the bells not to crack. Local metal works John Pass and John Stow then melted down that bell and cast a new one. Famously, after 90 years of very hard use, that bell, the Liberty Bell, also developed a crack and a crack that was made more noticeable in 1846 when technicians attempted, unsuccessfully, it turns out, to repair the bell and stop the crack by making it wider. Yes, there is a logic to it. We can make the crack better by making it wider, it was one of those. Good thing they didn’t have the internet, it would have been internet fail, you nailed it, but you didn’t.
So today the 2000-pound bell sits in the Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia, viewed by more than a million visitors every year. For Americans, it is very well-known as one of our most historical artifacts. Liberty is such a positive ring, especially for Americans.
We may not realize, and I hope we do, but many Americans may not realize the Liberty Bell is also a manifestly Christian artifact and symbol. The name “Liberty Bell,” That’s not what they called it when they first made it. It was employed as best as historians can figure for the first time in 1835 by an anti-slavery publication. It comes from the biblical inscription that runs around the bronze exterior.
I hope you realize there is a Bible verse that runs around the exterior of the bell, and it’s from this chapter, Leviticus 25:10. I’ve been waiting all these sermons to use the Liberty Bell illustration. It says, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants there to,” from the King James, of course.
During the 19th century, that inscription became a rallying cry for abolitionists, and after the Civil War the bell traveled across the country for displays and commemorations, to help remind the fractured nations that the colonies once fought together for liberty from British tyranny, figuring if there was anything that could bring the country back together after four years of conflict, 600,000 deaths, it was an appeal to the nation’s past, a shared history where they believed in freedom and liberty, and in the Bible.
Of course, those beliefs were held with tragic inconsistency, especially in the case of black Americans, which is why it was a rallying cry for the abolitionists.
Proclaim liberty to all the land and its inhabitants thereof. This rallying cry, this Liberty Bell, this verse comes from Leviticus of all places. If you needed any more reason to have spent these months in Leviticus, here you have it.
Now this text, Leviticus 25, is not a simple passage but my outline for the sermon is simple. First, as we’ve done with many of these chapters, we’re going to walk through the text, stopping to explain various parts along the way. I’m not going to read every verse, but I want to explain what the year of jubilee is about.
Second, I want to talk about why this step from exegesis, what does the text mean, to application is especially difficult, and then having cleared some of that groundwork, we are going to end with several points of application.
So first let’s walk through this text. I hope you have your Bible open to Leviticus chapter 25. Let’s look at the first paragraph, verses 1 through 7.
“The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Lord. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired worker and the sojourner who lives with you, and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food.”
So this, we’re coming to the year of jubilee next, but this is the Sabbath year. Once every seven years the land gets a rest. Did you notice how the land is almost personified in these verses? That the land itself would be tired. Some of you, many of you would be experts in this more than I would, but the same principle that they’re getting at in Leviticus 25, farmers and agronomists will tell you today, that’s why you rotate crops, why you use fertilizer, whatever it takes to keep carbon in the soil, because the land can be depleted and the land can get tired. So there’s a rudimentary version of it here that you give the land a break every seven years, its own Sabbath.
This would have been good for all those who worked the land, the animals, the servants, the household, and it would have been good for the land itself. It was also meant to be a provision for the poor, that in that seventh year as the land would lie fallow, the poor could come in and they could eat and the beasts could eat. It would be a year of rest and recuperation.
Now it’s doubtful whether the Israelites actually ever kept the Sabbath year, or the year of jubilee. We certainly don’t have a record that they did so; they should have. We don’t have a record that they did so. In fact, we have hints that they were never faithful. It was one thing to try to have the faith to take a day of rest and worship one day a week, maybe you could do that. But to take this great step of faith and trust that God would provide the miraculous harvest for a whole extra year, this seems to have been beyond them.
Why do I say that? Because in 2 Chronicles 36, as we get to looking toward the exile, we read he took into exile and Babylon those who had escaped from the sword. They became servants to him and his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, and listen to this, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbath. All the days that it lay desolate, it kept Sabbath to fulfill 70 years.
So one of the reasons that God’s people were eventually sent into exile, it seems, is that they had been disobedient to this command. They had not given the land the rest that God had commanded. So it says all of the rest that you were meant to give this land, now it’s going to have it. For 70 years.
Maybe it’s a little bit of a stretch, but there is a principle here. I’ve heard people say that you can borrow from sleep, but you can’t, in the end, steal it. Meaning you can get into a season where you’ve got kids up at night or you have to cram to get some assignment done or to get your work done, and you can borrow from sleep and you can go for a stretch, but the Lord has made us that eventually your body will make you make up for the rest that you’re not taking. You will break down, maybe mentally, maybe physically, maybe both.
So here they had not given the land its rest, so He sent them off into exile.
That’s the provision for the Sabbath year. But there’s an even grander, more glorious celebration to come. That’s once every seven years, but once every 50 years, oh, my. They would have a year of jubilee. At least they were supposed to.
Here’s what we read. First the introduction in verse 8: “You shall count seven weeks[of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years.”
You didn’t know you were getting math, but there it is, you’ve got 7 x 7.
“Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement.”
So this great, high holy day, “You shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate,” after you’ve had seven weeks of years, 49 years, “You shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.”
There’s the verse on the Liberty Bell.
“It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field.”
So on the Day of Atonement, there is a trumpet blast to announce the wiping away not only of the year’s sins, that’s what happened, remember, on the Day of Atonement with the goat sacrifice and the scapegoat into the wilderness. Not only that, but 50 years of potential financial ruin wiped away. Two components, two main components – you would return to your original property that God had given you and you would return to your clan. We see that in verse 10.
So there were two main aspects to this year of jubilee. It was a jubilee with regard to the land, and it was a jubilee with regard to the people. That’s what the rest of chapter 25 is going to outline.
So first a year of jubilee with respect to the land. Follow along, verse 13.
“In this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property. And if you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another. You shall pay your neighbor according to the number of years after the jubilee, and he shall sell to you according to the number of years for crops. If the years are many, you shall increase the price, and if the years are few, you shall reduce the price, for it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you. You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the Lord your God.”
So this is looking ahead to when they would come into the land. Did you notice that back at verse 2, “When you come into the land that I give you.” So they’re not in the Promised Land yet, but they’re going to get into the Promised Land and God is going to parcel out specifically for each tribe and each clan a parcel of land. That’s part of what seems very boring section in Joshua with all of the land allotments. But you can imagine how interesting it would have been if you were getting the land. Suddenly the session was just declaring to you where you were going to live in the town of Matthews, you would all be paying very careful attention. What street and how many acres and what do I get? It was God’s way of giving them God’s decree to where they should live.
Well, what would happen is over the years people would inevitably sell some of their land. Why? Because they might run out of other options. Perhaps someone died and they couldn’t make the harvest or locust destroyed a part of the crop or robbers came. Or maybe the family was lazy and they were poor managers. Whatever the cause, you might have to sell off some of your land. You need to make some money. You need to get food on the table.
Well, at the year of jubilee, everyone would go back to their original land allotment. So you get your particular parcel and over 50 years you come on hard times and you have to sell off some of your land, and other people are the beneficiaries, they’re buying some of your land, God established once every 50 years it all reverts back to the original allotment.
You can see in that paragraph the provision for selling your land. You pay according to how many years are left until the jubilee. Did you see that in verse 15? Look at the end of verse 15: You are selling according to the number of years for the crops.
So if you are in year 3 and you’ve got 47 more years to go, then you’re buy 47 harvests, so you have to pay a really steep price for this land. But if you’re in year 48 and you have just 2 more years before everyone knows that this is all going to go back to its original owner, then you’re essentially just paying for 2 harvests, so the price was to be much lower. God says several times there you are not to cheat your brother, you’re to give a fair price based on how many harvests he will have with the land until the year of jubilee.
In a way, you’re not even really selling the land, you’re leasing it. Look at verse 23: The land shall not be sold in perpetuity for the land is mine.
That’s the fundamental principle. This land is God’s land, so He gave to each tribe and each clan where He wanted them to live, and if you fall on hard times you sell, if you’re the beneficiary you buy, but really it’s not in perpetuity, it’s not forever. At most, it’s for 50 years, you’re buying the harvest.
And there was always the possibility, there was an open-ended system where you could buy back your land. Look at verse 24: And all the country you possess, you shall allow a redemption of the land.
So you fall on hard times, the locusts come and you don’t have enough food on the table so you have to sell some of your land, but then three years later things are good. It was always an open door that your neighbor would sell the land back to you which was originally yours.
The best option is that if you fall on hard times, you would sell it to your family. Look at verse 25: If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold.
Think about Ruth and the kinsman redeemer. There’s a whole system.
The best option is, things are hard, I’m going to sell this to my neighboring kinsman, to part of my family, and then my family, well, my family’s not going to cheat me, ha ha ha, well, they weren’t supposed to, and then you can buy it back.
The land cannot be sold forever. So you fall on hard times, you can sell. Verse 26 and 27, you can buy it back. Verse 28, if he does not have sufficient means to recover it, then what he sold shall remain in the hand of the buyer until the year of jubilee.
So worst case scenario you get back your original allotment in year 50, the year of jubilee.
Now there are several exceptions, some special cases. One, in verses 29 and 30, is if a man sells a dwelling house in a walled city. You can redeem it up for a year and then that’s gone and you can’t get it back. There’s no release at jubilee, likely because a house in a walled city is not a parcel of property in the same way. So you just have to get this, you almost have to throw out any sort of modern economic system with this Promised Land. This is not a Marxist redistribution plan, this is about the Promised Land and God’s specific land allotments.
So if you have a house in walled city, you don’t get that back. It’s the land that God has given you that He wants to revert back to its original owners.
Verse 31, there’s an exception about houses in villages without walls, and then verses 32 through 34, Levites can redeem their homes at any time. So the Levites didn’t get land of their own, which is why they were dependent upon others to bring animals for the sacrifices, but rather the Levites got 48 cities with surrounding pasture lands, so if they sold their house, they could end up homeless.
So there’s a number of special cases and scenarios, but the principle there is straightforward. You get the land, it’s your land. If you have to sell it, you’re really leasing it off. You can always buy it back. Worst case scenario, all of the pieces of the puzzle get put back in their original place on year 50.
So there’s a jubilee of the land.
Then there is a jubilee of the persons.
So look at verse 35.
“If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.”
If you are in financial trouble, you can sell your land, lease your land to your nearest relative. But if that’s not an option, then you can go to a non-relative, and if that doesn’t work, here we read if you run out of land, you go to the next step and you get a loan. Now notice it says a couple of times here, you shall not lend him your money at interest.
And all of Charlotte crumbled to the ground. Okay, what do we do with this? Are all of the bankers her to run and hide?
Usury, so charging interest on a loan, was for many centuries in Christendom, now this is, of course, a long time before that, usury was prohibited.
Jews, however, could charge interest to non-Jews. Deuteronomy 23:20 said an Israelite could charge interest to a foreigner but not to a brother. So there was a provision in the Mosaic law that Jews, here it says you’re not supposed to charge interest, but they could charge interest to a foreigner. So what happened in the Christian era, kings and magistrates would often get Jews to run banks and finances that weren’t subject to the laws of the Church. You can see that many of the Jews were happy that there was a way for them to make money and many of the Christian princes were happy, it was sort of an out that they could charge interest but they weren’t Jews, they weren’t violating the Christian law.
This is one of the factors that gave rise, unfortunately, to anti-Semitism. Who are the people that are allowed to charge interest in the kingdom? It was the Jews.
In the middle ages, the Church began to define usury, or interest, more precisely, and this distinction has been around for centuries, a distinction between loans of subsistence and loans for capital. What we’re talking about in chapter 25 is obviously a load of subsistence. The reason why you could not charge interest on this loan is because it’s a brother coming to you whose destitute, he’s poor, he’s run out of land, he’s run out of options, he needs help.
So God’s people are to help one another, not to say, “Okay, now you are really in a tough spot. This is where the loan sharks come out. This is where I can really make my money. You have no other options but to take this money at some exorbitant high interest rate.”
No, the law here in Leviticus 25 says you can give a loan but this is to help your brother. This is an act of charity. You don’t have to just give him the money, you can loan it to him, but you’re not trying to get rich on someone else’s misfortune. That’s the principle – you’re not getting rich on someone else’s misfortune. That’s a loan of subsistence. The person is going to die, they need to eat, and you say, “Ha, here’s an opportunity that I can get rich.”
That’s different than a loan of capital, for somebody who’s purchasing a car or a home or something else, or investing in education. The Church has made that distinction for many centuries.
According to Deuteronomy 15, all the debts were to be forgiven every seventh year, so your loans were really an act of charity. You may not even get that loan back because it would be forgiven. But even if you were in the sixth month of the sixth year and you knew that this loan was about to be wiped out, you should still loan to your countrymen because it was an act of charity. It was a way of helping out the poor in your midst. The point is if you have a friend, a brother in need, help him. Don’t try to make a quick buck off of him when he’s in desperate times.
You can see, following along, verse 39, so you might sell yourself. First you’re destitute and you get a loan. The next step of destitution, 39 through 46, is you sell yourself to another Israelite. They could buy slaves from other nations, but they could not make a fellow Israelite their slave, so these were indentured servants. They were to be treated kindly, they were to be released along with their families at the jubilee. So when we hear about slavery in the Bible, we have to understand it’s a different kind of slavery than chattel slavery that existed in the United States and through so much of the new world.
Verses 47 through 55, so first step of destitution, sell your land. Worse, get a loan. After that, even worse, sell yourself to another Israelite. Worse than that, sell yourself to a stranger or a sojourners who’s living among you. That’s verses 47 through 55.
Now as it was with the land, you can be redeemed at any time. A family member, or by yourself. You can save up your money. So this is not a kind of slavery in perpetuity, forever and ever, you and your kin and your family. You always have the option for someone to buy your freedom or for you to save up money and to purchase your freedom.
Then finally, if all else fails, you will come to the year of jubilee. Look at verse 54: “And if he is not redeemed by these means, then he and his children with him shall be released in the year of jubilee, for it is to me that the people of Israel are servants. They are my servants who I brought out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
That’s a quick blitz through, and we didn’t even look at every verse there, but you understand the basic premise: A jubilee for the land and a jubilee for the persons. Each level there is to make a way so that when you fall on hard times, you have a way to provide for yourself and there’s always the mechanism to buy back the land, to buy back your freedom, and if worst comes to worst and you’re in absolute destitution, the Israelites in year 50, everything gets reset. Debts forgiven.
Now applying this text is difficult. That was all… Let’s just get the exegesis. Now why is applying this text? You can almost run ahead of ourselves and see how you could get a lot of back economic advice if you took this as a modern blueprint, because we are not ancient Israel. Why is applying this text so difficult?
Let me just give you a few reasons.
One. We are not an ancient agrarian society. Most of us don’t deal with land and farming, or, I don’t know that any of us have a walled city. If you do, we’d like to have the pastors’ retreat there. None of us deal with slaves or indentured servants. If you left your fields for the poor to glean, it would likely not help very many poor people. Land is often not our chief source of capital. Some of the richest people in the country live in a penthouse and own no land, while a farmer in eastern North Carolina might have thousands of acres and be a very modest livelihood.
So freeing slaves, returning land to its original owners, this isn’t the world most of us live in. That should be obvious.
But there’s a second, more important reason why this is not the automatic blueprint. Because our property was not assigned directly by God. That is the undergirding assumption in everything for the year of jubilee is that God Himself infallibly gave you the piece of property with all of its boundaries and said that’s yours and I want you to have that. That is the real problem in trying to apply the year of jubilee directly.
What would be year one? Today? A hundred years ago? 1776? 1492? How do we determine that? When we bought our house over in Mint Hill we were told by the owners, they were some of the original family, you could tell because the street name was named after them and at least according to them, they said this whole part of Mint Hill was deeded to our family centuries ago by King George III himself. Well, it was nice of them to sell it to us. We’re not giving it back and we’re not giving it back to the British either.
So who gets the land? We don’t have God on high telling you where you need to live. So that presents an insurmountable problem for making this a one-to-one application.
Third. Our economy, because it’s not based on a fixed piece of land, it means that wealth is not a fixed pie either. You hear this in economic terms, wealth is not a zero-sum game, meaning rich people can get richer without necessarily poor people getting poorer. Sometimes it happens and it shouldn’t happen that way, but you only have to look at the last 200 years or even the last 50 years globally and there has been, more people have been lifted out of grinding poverty than any time in the history of the world. It’s not because Robin Hood had to go and steal from the rich and give to the poor. Wealth can be created.
Here in Israel it was a zero-sum game. Zero-sum meaning -1 and +1 equals zero. For somebody to gain meant somebody else lost. When you have a fixed piece of land, if you get more land, someone else got less. So you got rich in land, someone else by necessity got poorer with their land. It was a fixed pie. It was a zero-sum.
That’s not the way it works in a modern economy.
Fourth. Our nation is not under the Mosaic covenant. We aren’t promised a miraculous harvest if we take a year off. The blessing and the curses that we’ll come to next week are for the covenant people, and they aren’t directly applicable. They may be applicate, but they aren’t directly applicable for America.
Then, here’s a final consideration, most of us in this room are not Jewish. So how do we apply these laws which distinguish between Israelites and foreigners in many places?
The year of jubilee was great news for the Israelite, but it didn’t do anything to help the non-Israelite. In fact, if a stranger lived among the Israelites and had acquired land, he would lose all of it at the year of jubilee and he would have no land in Israel to return to.
You say, well, that wasn’t fair. Well, it should have been an understanding that you were only leasing this land, just like everybody else, and it would return to its original landowner.
Same thing with slavery. If someone was made a slave, he was released, but only if you were a Hebrew slave. How would we apply this distinction today between legal citizens and non-legal residents, between people from one country or another, between Christians and non-Christians? Or between Jews and Gentiles? It just doesn’t work on a one-to-one correspondence.
So it’s very difficult to take this and say, ah, here’s exactly what a modern nation state should do with its economy. You say, well, great sermon, interesting, nothing for us.
Not quite. So before you leave, let me give you some ways that I think we can and should apply this text.
One. This text would have us find ways to give opportunities for the poor to succeed.
We should not be ruthless to the poor. We should not take advantage of the weak. More than that, that’s sort of negative, don’t do bad things, more than that we should look for ways to give fresh opportunities. Maybe this means for some of you, have the opportunity to hire people. Maybe with all the, you know, appropriate safeguards, you take a chance in hiring somebody who doesn’t have a very good record. Maybe it means some of the fine work that many of you do in prisons or looking for people who have come out of the military and have very few options for work. How can you, with the opportunities God has given you, look to give those with fewer opportunities an opportunity to make something of themselves?
The great thing about these jubilee laws, notice, it did not give a lump sum of cash. It helped give people opportunity. In fact, to put it in economic terms, it gave them access to capital. Well, what capital? It gave them land. It granted them intelligent assistance. Not everyone, you may say, well, not everyone deserves a handout, or what are they going to do with the money that I hand out to them? Well, that may be true, but everyone can get an opportunity that at least makes some kind of sufficiency possible if they’re willing to work hard.
The year of jubilee didn’t do for people what they needed to do themselves, but it did give to the poor another opportunity to make good. They had fallen on hard times. Here’s another chance.
Second application, that follows on that one: Our God is the God of second chances.
I think a text like this would lend support to modern bankruptcy laws. I think it would lend support to something like the existence of a social safety net. Now whether that safety net should be provided mainly by the state, mainly by the family, or mainly by the covenant community, is a political question of prudence. I’m not weighing in on that. But you do see here that there is a built-in opportunity that things go really bad and people get another chance. At least once in their lifetime, that’s once every 50 years, so the idea was once in your lifetime you get a fresh start.
Our God is a God of second chances.
Third. And you’re wondering how many do I have, I have five. Third. The Bible supports the existence of private property. That’s a fair application from this text.
You notice here the land is not owned by the state. The land was owned by individuals, and by families. These property rights were guaranteed by God Himself. The fact that they were to own this land was to be an encouragement to cultivation, to development, and to initiative.
I remember reading a book years ago and it was sort of about building social capital in the two-thirds world or in the global south and some economist said if you could wave a magic wand, what would you do that would help the poor in other parts of the world. You might think, well, what would be that great act of charity. And he said something like, “I would refine property laws.”
Well, his point was, when you have multiple claims on property, no one is sure that this land really belongs to them or it’s really going to stay with them, and if you don’t think it really belongs to you, you don’t feel the motivation to take care of it, to cultivate it, to see that things are growing and maintained. So there’s a reason why the Bible supports private property. You can earn a living by it. In fact, God means for us, and whether you own land or not, or whatever sphere God’s given you some opportunity, we are to be little sub-creators, made in God’s image, to cultivate that little garden that God has given you.
So the Bible supports the existence of private property.
Here’s number four – the Bible also relativizes private property.
Go back to verse 23 – the land shall not be sold in perpetuity. Now that’s a specific instruction because God decreed the land for them, but here’s the reason: For the land is mine.
Psalm 24 – the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.
So private property established you have something, you should make something, you should cultivate something. This is yours, you should work it. You have a right to it. No one can just steal it and take it away from you. The state should not collectivize it. You have this piece of private property.
At the same time jubilee reminded people you should not think that this is the big prize in life. You can think about from the perspective of the poor – when’s the jubilee coming? I get a second chance. You can think about it from the perspective of the rich – man, all of this that I’ve accumulated, it all goes back, it starts all over again at year 50.
See, it was a hope for the poor, but it was a lesson for the rich. This is not ultimately what you’re living for.
Now before you say, whew, I’m glad we don’t have that, glad we don’t have to give all that back, but you realize you do. The old adage, you’ve never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul. Actually, somebody sent that to me once, “Pastor, look, it actually happened. Here’s a sermon illustration overturned.” There it was.
The point is all this stuff here you’re accumulating, you can’t take it with you. It may not be once every 50 years, but it’s going to happen. When you’re 70, 80, 95, 100, 45… We don’t know how long we have. But at some point God will end this earthly life.
So it’s the same lesson – don’t think that getting the bigger barn and the bigger castle here. It’s all going to be reset. You can’t take it with you.
That was the principle in jubilee and it’s the principle for us today.
Here’s the final lesson. Jesus is jubilee. Jesus is jubilee.
Do you remember the story in Luke chapter 4? It’s Jesus’ first day of public ministry as Luke records it and He’s there in His hometown of Nazareth and He enters into the synagogue and He grabs the scroll and He reads it. Here’s what He reads: The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. And He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down, and they eyes of all the synagogue were fixed on Him and He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
That is the ultimate mic drop right there. Jesus reads it, and they’re all looking at Him, now what? What are You going to do with this text? And He says, “It’s happening now.”
Now notice the verbs associated with this great release, this jubilee. They’re proclamation verbs. The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
In fact, the one verb here that’s not a proclamation verb is to set at liberty those who are oppressed. But this also was read in a spiritual valance. You say, well, that’s just a middle-class interpretation. Why do you say that?
Well, we know that’s the case because think about John the Baptist. Later when he’s in prison and he sends some people to go back to Jesus and he says, “Can you ask Him is He the One or should we look for somebody else?” Because John the Baptist was preparing the way for the Messiah and John knew his Bible and he knew that the messianic age means those who are prisoners are set free, and John’s going, “But I’m in prison. I’m going to be beheaded, I’m going to die.” He doesn’t know that, but I’m in prison, so go send… Did I get this right? Is He the Messiah?
But of course He was, because Jesus was talking about something that though it may have social implications, the far greater promise was to be set free from sin and Satan and the flesh and the devil. So, yes, John, He is the One to come.
This good news, this year of jubilee that Jesus announces, that He says is fulfilled in your hearing, it’s fulfilled with the coming of Christ. He says the year of jubilee is upon you. Good news for the poor.
If you know the story from Luke 4, we don’t have time to read it, but maybe you remember. Jesus gives two illustrations, two illustrations from the Old Testament of those to whom the good news was announced. So what does He mean when He said good news for the poor, liberty for the captives, sight for the blind? Who are the poor, the blind, the imprisoned? Who are these people who get this year of jubilee? This good news?
He gives two examples. The widow of Zarephath and Naaman, the Syrian general. Interesting, they’re both Gentiles, not Jews. One was materially poor. The widow was materially destitute. Naaman would have been the upper, upper class, one percenter. He was a general in the world’s superpower. He was rich. But he was an example of poverty because he humbled himself. Remember, he has leprosy and he says we’ve got rivers better than this back in Assyria, and they say hold on a second, just do what the prophet says, dip yourself seven times in this squalid little stream called the Jordan River. So he does. He humbles himself and lo and behold, he’s healed.
So the poor to whom Jesus announces the good news are those who are broken-hearted enough to believe. Jesus announces to them and to us, “I am the jubilee. Today,” He says in Nazareth and He says it here to you at Christ Covenant, “Today can be the day of rest and release. I am good news for the poor because I can meet their needs. Good news for the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. I am good news for the captives in chains because I can set them free. I’m even better news for those in spiritual bondage because I will be their deliverer. I am good news for the physically blind because I have power, should I choose to restore their sight. Even better news for the spiritually blind because I will open their eyes to see the glory of God. I am good news for the oppressed because I hear their cries for justice. I am good news for the spiritually oppressed because left will conquer sin, self, and Satan.”
Imagine what Jesus is announcing to them and to us, this year of jubilee. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and every Sunday I hope from this pulpit you have not just a once in a lifetime but weekly, you have an opportunity again if you’ll listen. No more debts, no loans to repay. I can’t forgive your student loans, can’t forgive your mortgage, gotta take that up with Bank of America or Wells Fargo, and you’ve got people who can see you here afterward. Can’t forgive your credit card debt.
But far more importantly, Jesus offers to you freedom from all that you owe to Him. You don’t have to be slaves to make it up. You can start over. You can get a second chance. He tells you that this final day of jubilee, it’s coming, it’s coming, rest is coming. The question is, will you be ready?
The widow of Zarephath, Naaman the Syrian general, were both examples of the poor in spirit to such a degree that they could hear the news. Will you hear the good news of jubilee found in Jesus? There is a reason that Jesus says it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. This business of poor and rich, it’s not completely absent from any material consideration, because it is generally harder for the rich. Because you say, well, you know what? I just have to say yes, Jesus, check, I want Jesus, yep, forgive me, let me go on with my life.
That’s not really what He’s saying here.
It takes a real poverty of spirit because you know what God wants? If you’re going to come and receive the jubilee? You have to come. You have to know that you need it. You have to listen to a sermon like this and not think of yourself as the rich but as the poor, as the one who has great debts, who has great poverty of spirit, who is not living your life the way that you should, who, if God should count our trespasses against us, we could never in a thousand lifetimes pay for them.
You have to be broken-hearted enough to know that you need it, that you are not the rich, but you are the poor. The good news comes to those who know that Jesus is jubilee and there is no one else who can give you what He is offering.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we thank You for this good news, for this word of redemption and release. We pray that we would not be hard of hearing but we could come to You, poor and needy, and You would set us free. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.