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TEXT: Leviticus 25:1-55
SUBJECT: Yom Kippur #6: Jubilee
Today we come to the final sermon in our study of Yom Kippur or what we call The Day of Atonement. Though Israel had several feast days every year, this was her only fast day-the one day God's People were to afflict their souls by recalling the number and gravity of their sins, and what their sins deserve.
Without making a formal doctrine of it, this may throw some light on how Christians are to think of themselves, and how pastors ought to preach. Is it right to remember our sins? It is. Should pastors preach the Law? We should. But as necessary as these things are, they are secondary to God's grace. When recalling that we're sinners, we must also remember: what kind of sinners we are-forgiven sinners. And, when preaching the Law, pastors cannot leave it there: we must go on to announce the One who frees us from the Law's condemnation, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Joy should have been the regular mood in Israel, and in the Church, even more so-
Rejoice in the Lord always,
And again I say, rejoice.
If most days were happy, one day wasn't. The Day of Atonement was observed in deep silence, with the only sounds being Aaron naming the sins of Israel and the people weeping in their guilt.
The Day was over at sunset, and the Bible doesn't say what the people did that night, because it doesn't need to. They went home exhausted, hungry, and chastened. This is how the Day of Atonement ended-
Not with a bang, with a whimper.
Except for one year in fifty. For forty-nine years, the priest would come out of the Holy of Holies, pronounce a blessing, and send the people home. But on the fiftieth year he didn't have the last word. The service ended, not with a benediction, but with a blast! A trumpet was blown announcing-
The Year of Jubilee.
The word, Jubilee comes from a word meaning 'the sound of a trumpet'. This provides some help in understanding the word, but not much, because trumpets were often blown in Israel, and not just once every fifty years. They were blown twice every week, to announce the start and end of the Sabbath; at the yearly festivals; and, in times of war, trumpets were used to give orders: advance, retreat, charge, and so on.
Thus, to say, Jubilee means 'the blowing of a trumpet' doesn't say much, and we're not the first people to feel this way. For centuries, the rabbis meditated on the word, Jubilee, and finally came to a consensus. Jubilee, they said, means-
Whether this meaning is exactly contained in the word or not, I'm not qualified to say, but I know the rabbis got its theology right. The Year of Jubilee was designed by God to restore His people, and with them, the whole world.
HIGH SABBATHThis is why it is called a Sabbath. The weekly Sabbath was a rest for man and beast and land. Every Saturday was a short Jubilee-you might say, or to turn it around-the Year of Jubilee was a long Saturday.
This means it was a time of thanksgiving-to remember what the Lord had given them and to thank Him for it. It was a time of trust-to believe God is able to supply their needs, even if they don't work for them. Most of all, it was a time of hope-for the rest given every Saturday or every seven years or every fifty years pointed to the True Rest God would give His people in His Presence and Favor on an earth renewed and made better than it was in the beginning.
For the people of Israel, the Year of Jubilee effected three changes: (1) all debts were canceled, (2) all slaves were freed, and (3) the parcels of land were returned to the families who received it way back in the days of Joshua.
If the Israelites benefited most from the Year of Jubilee, the blessings were not theirs alone. Their animals got a much needed holiday and so did the land.
Even the Gentiles had a stake in the Year of Jubilee, for when they saw Jewish masters releasing their slaves and creditors forgiving their debtors and homeless people coming home, they saw the way things ought to be, and would be, when the God of Israel became Lord of All.
This was the promise of the Year of Jubilee! One day, the God of Israel would be the God of the whole world, and everyone would have a place in His Kingdom of justice and love.
Good people must have quivered at the happiness Jubilee would bring, but it wasn't long till they stopped quivering and started weeping.
The Year of Jubilee was never put into practice. Debts were never canceled; slaves were never freed; and the families who lost their homes and property never got them back.
Why not? There was nothing wrong with the Law; its stipulations were clear and written down for all to read. The problem was the people were too greedy and power-hungry to obey the Law. Read the prophets and you might think you're reading the Communist Manifesto, as they're always denouncing the rich and the system they put in place to keep them that way. Here's a short sampling, one from Isaiah, the other from Amos-
Woe to those who join house to house,
Who add field to field,
Till there is no place
Where they may dwell alone
In the midst of the land!
How this word, you cows of Bashan,
Who are on the mountain of
Who oppres the poor,
Who crush the needy,
Who say to their husbands,
'Bring wine, let us drink'.
The angry words do not describe the people in their darkest moments, but in pretty much all their moments! The Exile was the hardest discipline they ever bore, but it did them no good. Even in the days of Ezra, when the nation was just back from the East, and had 'finally learned its lesson', we find it had learned nothing at all, with the revival of Hebrew slavery. The people who themselves had been slaves in Babylon, get back to their land and enslave their own brethren!
The people were incorrigible. They had turned what should have been the happiest year of a man's life into a cruel farce. In doing this, they wore out the work animals, depleted the land, stirred social unrest, and made God a laughingstock in the world!
Instead of being a light to the Gentiles, the people of God became the Gentiles. The thing the longed for back in the days of Samuel had finally come to pass. Israel had become-
Like all the nations.
Thus ends another Utopian dream. It was good and true and beautiful. And unworkable.
THE TRUE ISRAEL
It seems the promises made to Abraham have failed. God had blessed him and his seed, but they had not done their part: Israel had not blessed all the families of the earth. In fact, they had cursed the world by making the City of God look like the City of Man. If the Gentiles were greedy and proud and cruel, so were the Jews.
For the most part.
A handful of them were not this way. They lived among a wicked people, but they did not share in the wickedness. They protested the sin all around them, and lived lives of distinctive holiness. The prophets were like this, and later, people like Simeon, Anna, and the parents of John the Baptist, whom the Bible says-
Were righteous before the Lord, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
These godly souls longed for the Year of Jubilee, but they didn't have the right to blow the horn. That was reserved for someone else, and Luke tells us who He was and where and when He sounded it. It was at the synagogue in Nazareth, in the late 20's AD. He walked to the front, unrolled the Sacred Scroll, and finding the place He was looking for read Isaiah 61:1-2-
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because He has anointed me to preach
The gospel to the poor,
He has sent me to heal the
To preach deliverance to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are
To preach the acceptable year of the
That was the lesson for the day. The sermon followed-
Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.
The key words in the Lesson are poor, captives, and oppressed. These are people who lost what they once had, maybe by their own follies, or by the wickedness of other men, but whatever the cause of their loss, they had lost something-lost their money and their land, their dignity, identity, and inheritance. Add to them the blind who had lost their ability to see and enjoy the world, not to mention the work they would have done had they kept their sight. And the brokenhearted, people so run over by life they've lost the will to live.
This is what the Year of Jubilee was for-for getting these people back the things they had lost, for restoring them to their rightful place in God's Kingdom. To make this clear, the verse ends with-
To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
This is another term for the Year of Jubilee.
The reading of this Scripture surprised no one: they had all heard it a hundred times before. But the sermon shocked the people who first heard it, because-up to now-they had always heard it as a promise-'Some day, God will do this', the rabbis all said, but this rabbi is saying, 'Some day is this day!'
The preacher is Jesus Christ who, as the True Israel, has the right to blow the Jubilee Trumpet, and to free His people from their captivity.
That's what He did. By dying in our place, He canceled our debt to God. Now, instead of saying, 'Do this and Live', the Law, looking at Jesus says, 'Done'. Because we are no longer condemned, we are now free from the mastery our sin once had over us. And because we are righteous in Christ, the inheritance we once had, but lost, is ours again, and never to be lost. It is-
An inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, that fades not away reserved in heaven for [us].
THE WORK DONE AND CONTINUING
God's work of restoration has begun in us, but it is not finished-not by a long shot. Believers-in-Christ now have the Holy Spirit, whom Paul says, is the security deposit of our inheritance. One day, the whole thing will be ours. This means, our spirits will be one day be sinless and they'll fit (you might say) the sinless bodies that will be ours at the Resurrection of the Last Day. On that Day, the Image of God, damaged by Adam's apostasy, will be restored to its original state-and better.
This Resurrection, Paul says, is not the end, for it will set off a chain-reaction, leading to a renewed world with everything in its place, and all under the lordship of man with man being under the loving Lordship of Christ.
If this seems impossibly far-fetched, it isn't, and you know it isn't because: the world's every groan, from old man getting out of bed in the morning with a groan to the widow groaning over the death of her husband, to the Christian groaning over the lostness of his son, to the groaning of earthquakes and volcanoes and asteroids are all groanings for the same thing: the glorious liberty of the children of God.
The groanings will be answered some day, and we know they will because Jesus groaned, God heard Him, and He's the prototype for the New Humanity, to whom all believers will one day be conformed.
The Year of Jubilee has come; we're now enjoying some of its rest and blessings, and one day we will have them all.
So, in the meantime, let us feel for the weak, the oppressed, the prisoner, let us pray for them, serve them in love, and tell them there's nothing in the future for God's people but freedom.
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