The Year of Jubilee In The New Testament
When the government decided that Malaysia Day would become an annual national holiday, the Pastors' Fellowship Kota Kinabalu sensed a response to their prayers for the nation and started an initiative to mark 16 Sept 2012 as the start Malaysia's Year of Jubilee. Why have they done so and what does it mean for each of us? SIB Sabah President Rev Jerry Dusing explains in this article.
In Luke 4:14-19, Jesus read from the book of Isaiah about one sent to "proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."
Luke then captures the suspense of the listeners in v 20: Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.
What would Jesus say next? His next words were surprising: "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (v 21).
What a bold statement! Jesus is saying that what Isaiah had written in chapter 61 about himself, had now been fulfilled. In this powerful statement, Jesus had declared the Year of Jubilee.
What is Jubilee?
For us today, Jubilee may not mean much. But for the Jews, Jubilee Year was foundational in the formation of the Hebrew faith.
In Leviticus 25:10, we read the instructions: "And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family."
Behind this concept is God as owner of the land and his people as stewards. In the 50th year, they could neither sow nor reap what grew of its own accord nor gather the grapes of their untended vines (v 11-12); they had to set free their slaves, cancel debts and return land that was purchased in the preceding 49 years. This was part of God's laws for the newly-formed state of Israel. God's laws were to permeate all spheres of life - spiritual, cultural and economic. God is sovereign over His people and the land, and the people of God should live in harmony with the character of God.
When Jesus spoke about Jubilee, what did he mean? We need to look at his words in the context of his threeyear ministry on earth.
When Jesus spoke about the poor, he was referring to people from all social strata who had failed to know God's love and mercy, and who were instead prideful in their own abilities and accomplishments. The prisoner referred to those who went about their own business in an apparent state of freedom but were unknowingly bound by greed and lust for worldly things. The blind not only included those with the physical ailments but those who did not live by faith - who had eyes but did not "see". The oppressed were victims of evil spirits and false religions that exploited them and led them astray.
Jesus had a holistic view of a person's humanity - body, soul and spirit. He met physical needs through healing and feeding the people. He fulfilled spiritual needs through his offer of repentance and forgiveness. Jubilee, as proclaimed through his teachings, was the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Prepare for Jubilee today
Some pastors in Sabah have recognised that Malaysia, which was formed in 1963 through the joining of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak and Singapore (until 1965), will enter its 50th year as a country on 16 Sept 2012. We see this as an opportunity to declare a Year of Jubilee upon Malaysia and to seek a revival for this land. In the build-up to that, it is important to prepare ourselves. What can we do to usher in the year of the Lord's favour? What are our responsibilities as Christians? What does Jubilee have to do with each of us on a personal level?
Essentially, there are three elements of Jubilee:
Liberty was proclaimed to all inhabitants of the land. Slaves were freed. Today, liberation implies that we as Christians in Malaysia need to be the bearer of the Good News of Release to all. The world does not know it is enslaved, but we preach the news of release in Jesus Christ. Real freedom is being released from the bondage of sin to freedom in Christ.
Under Jubilee, land was restored to the original owners. In our context, what are we required to return to the Lord? We can return our lives to our Creator and God, for we are HIS possessions. He is our original owner! This includes our careers, families and all that we have. Our lives are not our own. We are only stewards of the blessings God has given us in our task to care for his Kingdom.
In Jubilee, the land was left idle for a year in order to rest and be renewed. The people only ate what grew wildly. What are the biblical analogies for today? Our faith is like the land or ground on which seed is scattered. In Jubilee, we can allow our faith to "grow wild" for a year by releasing ourselves from the comforts of life that we obtain through our own strengths and efforts. We can instead place our full reliance on God. This releases us from the pursuit of material wealth to seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33-34). By doing this, we also find rest. Jesus said, "Come to me and I will give you rest". Are you taking time to rest in the arms of Jesus to let him renew your spirit?
Despite the language of rest and renewal, Jubilee is not passive but is about moving forward in faith. It is more than just accepting Christ as King and Saviour but about making him King in every area of life. It is about taking radical steps to give our all to him in full dependence and trust.
Indeed, living out the year of Jubilee is full of risks! It is about moving forward by taking risks in our lives in order to know the great grace of God.
(This article was edited and adapted with permission from Rev Dusing from the full version in Bahasa Malaysia that was published in Bangkit, Malaysia! Sambutlah Kedatangan Tahun Jubili by the Pastors' Fellowship Kota Kinabalu. The full English version can be found at www.jubileemalaysia.com)