Sermon: GracePoint Church Kikuyu
Sunday 22nd March 2020
Text: Leviticus 25
Theme: The Sovereign God orders how His people are to live and rest.
We are living in a difficult time especially occasioned by the Novel Corona Virus. This ‘new’ infection has caused untold pain to many in the world with nearly ten thousand dead and many infected. It also has meant closed borders for many countries, closed schools and workplaces. The government has called upon us to exercise extra hygiene measures like more frequent handwashing, use of hand-sanitizers, avoiding public gatherings and self-isolation. All these are good measures to ‘flatten the curve’ or rather minimize the spread of this dangerous infection. In light of this, our body of elders found it necessary and wise not to gather in person today but to use technology to share the gospel with you. We certainly miss each other’s fellowship but rejoice in the almighty God who gives all things including science and technology that allows us to fellowship virtually.
Having said that, it might be helpful to mention that although the virus is being called ‘novel’ meaning ‘new’, there is nothing really new under the sun. Working from home or teaching children at home is not new – people have been working from home for much of human history. In fact, it can be said to be the normative way of life and work is more home based rather than away from home in a factory, an institution or business. Diseases have also ravaged generations in the past – The Antonine plague in Rome in the 2nd Century AD killed about 5M people between 165 and 180 AD and another one followed between 250 and 271 killing so many (estimated to 5000 a day in Rome alone) that the African Bishop of Carthage (Cyprian) described it as the end of the world. The black death of the 14th century wiped out half of Europe’s population between 1346 -1353. More recently the Spanish flu a hundred years ago (1918 -1920) affected 500 Million people and killed 50 Million, The Asian bird flu of 1958 claimed more than 1.1 Million lives including more than 100K in the US. Right now, HIV AIDS remains a global epidemic since when it was discovered in 1981 – more than 35 M people have died. Ebola, Zika Virus and others remain a threat to human life and flourishing. Praise God for the advances in Science and Technology that there are cures and vaccines for most of these plagues today. I pray that soon there will be a cure or a vaccine for COVID 2019. But it wont be the last one, if the Lord tarries.
I say these things not to minimize the threat of COVID 19 but indeed to allay your fears which have been greatly multiplied by the misinformation going round in these days of social media. My aim is to encourage your faith in the almighty God who does not change with the changing seasons of human experience. May we be reminded of the sovereignty of God in this season and may that lead us not to hard-heartedness but to worship for whether we live or die, our hope is sure in Christ. The first question in our New City Catechism course, which we did on the first Sunday of this year, comes to mind:
Question 1 – What is our only hope in life and death?
That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.
Brothers and sisters – The gospel gives us a firm assurance – whatever happens, we are Christ’s. May that give us confidence as we continue in this unusual season.
We are continue on in our journey following God’s people Israel through the Desert from Egypt to the Promised Land. Last Sunday we were reminded of God’s holiness and how we are to live as his holy people – in a sense separated from the world around us, the standard mark of quality for God’s people is holiness. Today we see how that theme of holiness works in the communal life of Israel through the institution of the sabbath year and the Jubilee.
The sabbath year – Chapter 25 Verse 1-7, (Deuteronomy 15)
The Lord commands his people that when they come to the land, they will observe a sabbath rest for the land. They will not sow or reap that year but the Lord would provide for them. That the land belongs to the Lord and he just gives it to them. They must never feel entitled to it or depend entirely on it, but rather on the Lord. They were essentially sojourners who had a ‘tenant-owner’ status of the land. Deuteronomy 15, speaking of the Sabbath year points three elements of social justice among God’s people.
- Release of Debts. Israelites in debt are to be released from their obligation. It is interesting how lending is literally big business all over the world with little thought given to whether debt is good for human flourishing. Today, predatory lending happens in both small and large scale, confining millions to poverty. I shudder at the thought that many, if not all Francophone countries in Africa still owe Paris huge debts which they pay for being colonized, read as development done for them when the French ruled them.
- Giving to the poor verse 7-11. It is striking to see the Lord say that there will always be poor people among you. Verse 11. God’s people were to give freely to the poor and to open their hand widely to your brother. How generous are you to the needy? Paul challenges us that a mark of true biblical ministry includes a genuine concern for the poor (Galatians 2:10)
- Release of captives. Hebrew slaves were also to be set free verse 12. The way the economy worked then, dare I say even now was that there were slaves – less privileged labourers who were either sold into slavery or sold themselves.
The Jubilee year – 25:8 -end.
After every 7 weeks of years, God’s people were to have a Jubilee (50th year). The Jubilee was an enhanced sabbath year and had the following elements to it
- Proclamation of liberty (Lev 25: 9)
- Returning to ancestral land and clan (Lev 25:10)
- Rest from all work (verse 11) (Echoing the fourth commandment)
- Fair business dealings (Verse 13- 17)
- Redemption of Property (23 -34)
- Generosity to the poor Israelite (35 -46)
- Redemption of Hebrew slaves (47 -55)
The purpose of the Jubilee, it seems to me from the passage was;
- To remind the people that the Land was His. That the earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24). The land also needed rest from cultivation.
- To Remind the people of their frailty – Their need to rest and trust in the Lord. We watch many super-power movies and we might have gotten the idea that we are invincible. In 2002, soon after I learnt how to print (rather belatedly) I typed out a song that was going round at the time – I am unbwogable. It was a political lie that has since been proven false. We have made the same mistakes of choosing corrupt and inept leaders over and over again.
Whereas the jubilee was indeed a great time for the nation to press the reset button every fifty years, It is interesting to notice that it was ethno-centric with no universal application. For instance, non-Hebrew slaves were not set free at Jubilee. Further, it did control human greed as we see the prophets later calling on Israel to act justly, to be merciful and kind (Isaiah 5:8, Micah 4:4, 6:8). Their disobedience led to judgement and they were exiled in Babylon for 70 years.
The Sabbath Year and The Jubilee Looked forward to a greater Jubilee – the real ‘year of the Lord’s favour’ that the Lord Jesus Christ would promulgate. In His declaration of mission in Luke 4 verse 18 and following Jesus says:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me 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 favor.”
If we read this passage from the beginning we notice some striking parallels and contrast. The context of the passage is Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth, the town where he had been brought up. It is on a sabbath day and he reads from Isaiah 61 and when he finishes says this scripture is fulfilled NOW. Nobody makes such a claim! The Messiah is here announcing the sabbath, proclaiming the gospel in all its elements to a bewildered crowd that will soon reject his message and ‘run him out of their town’
Brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is the true sabbath. He is the one who has been anointed (set apart) to
- Proclaim the gospel to the poor
- Proclaim freedom for prisoners
- Proclaim sight to the blind
- Proclaim freedom to the oppressed
- Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
This is the true essence of Sabbath and Jubilee. A weary and confused world needed a saviour and the Lord sent one in the Lord Jesus Christ. He promises rest to the weary and burdened (Matthew 11:29) and the promise of eternal rest for God’s people stands.
Therefore remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
Hebrews 4:9 -11
In the name of the God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.