Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"JESUS COMFORTS THE PEOPLE OF NAZARETH WITH NEWS THAT THE YEAR OF JUBILEE HAS DAWNED."
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Today is set aside specifically to give thanks; it’s Thanksgivings Day for the Free Reformed Churches of Australia. We know that we have reasons to give thanks; we’ve received so many blessings in health, love, families, work, homes, freedom, church, reformed education, etc, etc. Yes, we can give thanks.
If truth be told, however, we can also mention so many concerns we have that dampen our gratitude. We know of discipline problems in home and church, we have witnessed breakdown in families and marriages, we have seen serious illness and death amongst loved ones, we have seen error in the bond of churches. More, we feel the effects of living in a society that turns away from God, we feel the pressures in the work environment of trying to speak and act as God wants us to. And it’s these negatives and concerns that take up much of our efforts and energies, that form the focus of so much of our conversations….
Is it then really fitting to give thanks? Certainly, we could choose to ignore these negative points for the day, could determine to focus today on the positives only. Then indeed we could be thankful. But we realise that tomorrow the concerns of this broken life would fly at us again; choosing to ignore the negatives in order to give thanks, then, boils down to more than a bit of deception….
That raises the pressing question: how can we give wholehearted thanks while we go burdened under various cares? In light of the shadows that stretch over our lives, can we even give eager thanks today?
The answer, my brothers and sisters, is a resounding yes! The Lord would have us know that thanksgiving is constantly in place, simply because the Old Testament Year of Jubilee has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Or, to use the words of Luke 4: ‘the acceptable year of the Lord’ has come. That gives reason to give thanks always, to give thanks in everything.
JESUS COMFORTS THE PEOPLE OF NAZARETH WITH NEWS THAT THE YEAR OF JUBILEE HAS DAWNED.
To draw out the comfort of Jesus’ message, I ask your attention for three points:
In the synagogue of Nazareth Jesus preached a sermon. The text of that sermon was taken from the prophecies of Isaiah 61:1,2. Luke prints the text for us in vss 18 & 19:
"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 brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."
Jesus’ sermon on this text was summarised by the Lord with the words found in our text for this morning: "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Of the Lord’s sermon, nothing else has been recorded for us than this text.
Truly, congregation, it’s a sermon we’d have loved to hear. Good news for the poor, release for the captives, sight for the blind, liberty for the oppressed: all of that now fulfilled for the people of Nazareth? Real good news for the poor of Nazareth, real sight for the blind of town, true freedom for the afflicted? How we’d have loved to hear Jesus work this out for His hearers! We’re sure: such a sermon would have given proper reason for a Thanksgiving Day!
We don’t have Jesus’ sermon. Yet, brothers and sisters, that does not mean that we cannot know the drift of what Jesus said. For we know the text. And we know the theme of the sermon. And because both the text and the theme are inspired can we compare Scripture with Scripture, and so understand the glorious gospel proclaimed that day in Nazareth.
"This Scripture," Jesus insisted in His theme, "is fulfilled in your hearing." We understand that the phrase "this Scripture" is a reference to the text from Is 61 quoted in the vss 18 & 19. To understand how that particular Scripture was fulfilled, we shall have to understand the meaning of this passage from Isaiah 61.
Isaiah prophesied some 150 years before the people of Judah went into exile. Yet Isaiah did not so much tell the people of Judah what would happen if they did not repent of their sins (they’d go into exile); the prophet was instead allowed to tell the people now already of the restoration that God would certainly bring at the end of the exile. So it is that in the chapters preceding ch 61, the prophet has spoken about a person called ‘the servant of the Lord,’ a person who would give healing to the people, would restore comfort and peace to God’s people. Who that servant actually is need not detain us at the moment; the point is that through Isaiah the Lord promised to send a servant who would bring His people out of exile, back to the Promised Land, and there grant them peace and contentment.
It is in that context that the words of chap 61 appear. Isaiah has to speak more words from the Lord, and the words given to him are these:
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the poor," etc.
Isaiah, in other words, must tell the people that he has himself been commissioned by God, even empowered by the Spirit of God, to preach good news to those burdened by the exile in Babylon. These broken-hearted must be bound up, the captives told of liberty, the prisoners in exile comforted with the good news of freedom. In a word, people who are one day to go into exile are told now already that they shall come back from their bondage; they shall be set free.
Yet more must be said about the words of the prophet in Isaiah 61. For in his words of comfort to those who will one day go into exile, Isaiah makes a point of using terms that come from the law of Moses. The prophet speaks, for example, about ‘liberty to the captives.’ That’s a direct reference to the freedom each Israelite was to receive in the Year of Jubilee. In fact, it is specifically the Year of Jubilee, that year of the Lord’s favour, that features heavily in the prophet’s words.
What that Year of Jubilee is? We read of it from Lev 25. Every seventh year was to be in Israel a ‘sabbath year’; in that year the people were not to work their land or prune their vineyard. It was to be a year of rest, a ful1 year’s holiday, a year in which Israel could delight in God’s grace. As to what Israel would eat in that year, God promised to give sufficient harvest in the preceding year to carry the people through to the harvest of the following year.
Every seventh sabbath year was in turn to be an extra special year of rest, an extra special year free from work, free to delight in the life and peace God gave. Every fiftieth year was to be a so-called ‘Year of Jubilee’, a year in which no one had to work his land or harvest his crop. What was uniquely special about this fiftieth year was the fact that in that year everybody was to receive his own land back. The point was that there could be persons who for whatever reason had incurred a debt, and so had to sell the land they had inherited from their fathers. But a landless person had no future in Israel; he was dependant on other people for handouts. As such, such a person was a slave to poverty. But God did not want His people to be captives of anything in any way; He had delivered His people from slavery in Egypt, and now wanted His own to be free always. So it was God’s decree that every fiftieth year each Israelite had to receive back, debt-free, the land of his fathers. Similarly, anyone who had a debt with anyone else was to have that debt forgiven in the Year of Jubilee; all were to start the next 50 years with clean slates again. Captives of poverty were simply not to exist in Israel after that Year of Jubilee. So we can understand too that the Lord refers to the Year of Jubilee as the year when the Lord ‘proclaimed liberty’ (Lev 25:10) to the captives; this was the year of the Lord’s favour, the year when He bound up the broken-hearted, opened the prisons of poverty.
But this Year of Jubilee, this year when the Lord showed His favour to Israel so vividly, had significance deeper than that the captives of poverty should receive relief. Why was it that the Lord was pleased to give this law about liberty in the first place? 0 yes, it was because God had delivered His people from slavery in Egypt, and did not wish His people enslaved again in any way. But what did that deliverance from Egypt imply? This deliverance, we understand, was a picture of Israel ‘s deliverance from Satan and from bondage to sin. By nature Israel was enslaved, enslaved to Satan. But God in infinite mercy was pleased to redeem His chosen people from the power of Satan, was pleased to make them His own children. So they are free, free from Satan, free also from the wrath of God on sin. But if that’s what God’s people inherently are –free- then God does not want His people enslaved any more to anything, not even to poverty. Nor, for that matter, were God’s people to be enslaved to the pursuit of wealth; whoever wished to be a big land owner found his labour and his dreams frustrated in that fiftieth year when he had to give all that land back to the families to whom God had given it when Israel first entered the Promised Land. Freedom, liberty: that’s what God wanted His people to enjoy, simply because they had been set free from bondage to sin and Satan.
In that context, brothers and sisters, it is also important to note that the Year of Jubilee started on a specific day. Liberty for the captives began not just on any day of the year, but began specifically on the Day of Atonement (Ley 25:9), that day when the Lord officially forgave Israel all her sins of the year past. It was when the Lord forgave Israel’s spiritual debts with Him that the people were also to forgive all financial debts any fellow Israelite might have with them. For forgiveness of sins meant freedom, a freedom that was to be tasted in daily life.
This concept Isaiah holds before the people who will one day find themselves in exile, the people who will one day also be delivered from exile. This is what Isaiah may proclaim: the year of God’s favour, the Year of Jubilee, shall come for these exiles. When that year of God’s favour arrives, God will give freedom to these captives of Babylon. Instead of walking around with ashes on their heads, these Israelites shall wear the garment of praise; instead of mourning, these Israelites shall deck themselves with the oil of joy; instead of having no delight in the future they shall sing the praises of their God (Is 61:3). For they’ll come out of Babylon, and that redemption from Babylon shall imply not just the end of captivity as such; it shall point up the reality of the forgiveness of sins. No longer shall that divine wrath that drove them into exile in the first place hang over their heads; they shall instead be free, free in the Lord, and so free to enjoy the life God gives.
All of it happened so many years later under the leadership of Zerubabel , Ezra and Nehemiah.
But the prophecies of Isaiah did not find their fulfilment in the day of Israel’s return from exile. 0 yes, on the day of their return Israel experienced a Year of Jubilee, experienced what it meant that the Lord God forgave their sins, delivered them from bondage, granted them freedom. But the freedom these returned exiles were allowed to enjoy was all so short-lived; they came back to a devastated country, came back to find their houses gone, their vineyards destroyed, came back to find foreign peoples and wild animals throughout the promised land.... Poverty, persecution: that was the plight of the returned exiles. Freedom? Life for these Israelites was hard.... Captivity to the Babylonians was replaced by slavery to poverty. And that reality served to point up the fact that Moses’ Year of Jubilee was empty in itself; the mosaic Year of Jubilee had to be fulfilled by the messianic Year of Jubilee.
2. The Messianic Year of Jubilee
Now there is this young man Jesus preaching a sermon in His home town of Nazareth. That sermon has this theme: ‘Today this Scripture, this prophecy from Isaiah, this prophecy rooted in Lev 25, is fulfilled in your hearing.’
That’s a remarkable word the Lord has for His audience in Nazareth. For the Lord does not say that this prophecy will one day be fulfilled, does not say either that this prophecy is in the process of being fulfilled; what He says is nothing else than that this concept of the Year of Jubilee is fulfilled. This is completed action; the fulfilment of this Year of Jubilee, says Jesus, has already happened. As to when exactly this word was fulfilled, Jesus says simply: today, in your hearing. In other words, Jesus at the moment of His speaking had fulfilled this prophecy of Isaiah.
How had Jesus fulfilled this prophecy simply by speaking? We are to realise, congregation, that the account of Jesus’ preaching in Nazareth is the first that Luke records of Jesus’ public ministry. Luke had told us in chap 3 that Jesus was baptised, had mentioned in the first part of chap 4 that Jesus was tempted those 40 days in the wilderness. Then had followed that catch-all summary of the vss 14 & 15: Jesus, being filled with the Spirit, taught in various synagogues. What Jesus said in these synagogues? The theme of that sermon in Nazareth tells us: in the various synagogues Jesus made a point of demonstrating to the people that He Himself was the fulfilment of the Year of Jubilee. Jesus started His public ministry by drawing attention to what God was doing in Him; God, said Jesus, had anointed Him to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to announce that the Year of Jubilee, that acceptable year of the Lord was here. ‘As far as you people in Nazareth are concerned,’ said Jesus, ‘this prophecy about the great Year of Jubilee is fulfilled now. It’s fulfilled, because God has set the wheels of redemption in motion. The big Day of Atonement: it’s coming, coming soon. Already I am empowered by the Spirit to carry out the will of the Lord; already I can preach to you the gospel of redemption, of freedom, of forgiveness of sins. And the day comes, 0 people of Nazareth, the day comes when I will be rejected by God and man alike, rejected by God because all sin will be piled on Me. I’ll be rejected, but I’ll pay for sins nevertheless, I shall triumph on that cross of Calvary. And in triumphing, I shall deliver sinners from captivity to Satan, I shall reconcile sinners to God, I shall give freedom to sinners. Today that Year of Jubilee starts for you, because today I preach to you this gospel of your freedom from sins. Rejoice, 0 people of Nazareth, rejoice and give thanks, for your redemption is at hand.’ "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
True, Jesus did not go to the cross straightaway. In that sense the big Day of Atonement, which was to initiate the Year of Jubilee, did not come immediately. But after Jesus began to preach this good news to the poor of Galilee, He spent three years demonstrating the reality of what He preached. For there was in Capernaum a man possessed of an unclean spirit; this demon controlled the man so that this Israelite was captive to the demon. Jesus came ‘to proclaim liberty to the captives,’ but He did more than proclaim it; He also told that demon to come out of that man of Capernaum, told that demon to let his captive go free. And the demon came out, the man was set free. On the spot that man experienced that the Year of Jubilee had come (Lu 4:3lff).
Peter’s mother-in-law was ill with a high fever. The consequences of sin held her in bondage; she was sick. But from that bondage the Lord gave relieve. The year of God’s favour had come, forgiveness of sins was a reality, and that meant that the consequences of sin could also be done away with; Peter’s mother-in-law got off her bed healthy and served her guests.
So also that leper was cleansed, the paralytic made to walk, the son from the widow of Nain raised from the dead, the crowd of hungry people fed, etc, etc. So many consequences of sin were placed before Jesus, and this Jesus who would pay for sin took away these consequences of sin, took them away so that the people of God might be free, might no longer be enslaved to anything, be it sickness, or death, or poverty.
Then came the day when Jesus Himself was deprived of His freedom. He was made prisoner by the Jews, spit on by the soldiers, derided by the people, condemned to death by Pontius Pilate. On the cross He was rejected by God, lost His freedom in God, was handed over to Satan to be enslaved by the evil one. And there on the cross no good news was proclaimed to Him, no one came to tell Him that there was freedom coming for the captives, liberty for the oppressed. No one came to tell Him such gospel, for God had turned His favour from Him; He did not live in the year of God’s favour any more.
But despite that rejection, despite the total absence of divine favour and any comforting word about a Year of Jubilee, the Lord Jesus Christ refused to let Himself be enslaved to Satan. By His own power He broke the chains of Satan, shattered the bonds of sin, bound Satan, atoned for sin. And the result of that triumph of the Saviour on the cross is that He forced the Year of Jubilee to be reality for Him; because He atoned for sin and bound the devil was God’s favour directed at Him again. More, that favour was directed not just to Jesus Christ; all those for whom He died were freed from bondage to Satan, were released from slavery to sin. The messianic Year of Jubilee had come!
3. The Eternal Year of Jubilee
And that means, brothers and sisters, that we today are free. Bound to Satan we are not. And enslaved by the consequences of sin we are not either. The Lord has sent forth His Holy Spirit so that we might be renewed after the image of Christ, renewed so that committing sin and following Satan is no longer inevitable for us. As the apostle Paul says: "sin shall have no dominion over you" (Rom 6:14) – for the power of sin is broken. In a word, for us has the eternal Year of Jubilee dawned.
Granted, we still experience so many consequences of sin in our lives, so much misery. The day of total freedom from sin has not come yet – that day when there will be no more tears, no more
death, no more mourning nor crying nor pain any more. That, the Lord says, is the crown still to come. But even so, we have today already the beginning of eternal joy (LD 22). For the eternal Year of Jubilee has begun, sin is atoned for, the power of sin broken. And as to those consequences of sin we see in and around us, as to al1 the sickness and pain and sorrow of our lives – the promise of
God is that He uses these remaining consequences of sin to mould His children for greater obedience and service to Him; the results of sin are tools in His hands for His glory and our salvation.
Are we then bound by sin? Are we enslaved by evil and the consequences of sin? No, brothers and sisters, we are not! The gospel of Jesus Christ is that we are set free, free from sin’s dominion, free from sin’s heavy hand, free from slavery to sin’s bitter consequences. It’s recorded in Holy Writ: "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing," and that means nothing else than that we live today in the acceptable year of the Lord, the Year of Jubilee.
The Year of Jubilee: it’s today a blessed reality, beloved. And that’s the reason why we can give thanks to our God today, thanks not just for positive blessings while we ignore the negative things of life; we can rather give thanks for Father’s blessings even as we find ourselves surrounded by so many miserable consequences of sin. For I believe: the eternal Year of Jubilee has come, and so God is my Father for Jesus’ sake, and turns to my good whatever evil He sends upon me in this vale of tears. Amen.