Life in the church is a life we hold in common.
Our walk as Christians is not something we do alone. We do this with God. “For you are strangers and sojourners with me,” God told the Israelites. As Christians, we know Jesus is Emmanuel – that is, Christ with us. Everything that we have – the food we eat, the places we live, the clothes we wear, the eternal life we experience now and forever – come from God.
At the same time, our walk with Christ is something we do with others. We have “brothers” and “sisters” in the faith. The apostle Paul said we “are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). And so we have fellow travelers in our walk with God.
God had this in mind from the very beginning. When he called the Israelites into a covenant relationship with himself, he did so while wanting them never to forget that God was with them as the Giver of all good things and that the people have a special relationship to each other.
And so the land would take a Sabbath rest. After six years of working their land, landowners would take the seventh year off. They would let the land “rest” from its own labors. They would not plant fields. They would not harvest them. In fact, the fields and the orchards and the vineyards themselves would be open to anyone who may live in the countryside. All essentially shared the fruit of the land in common.
There were several reasons for this.
First, it reminded landowners and the workers of the land the land really belonged to God and the fruit they received from it came from him. Everyone did well to stop and praise God for his provision for them.
Second, it put everyone – rich and poor – on level ground. No one stood above anyone else. They shared together in the good things God provided. Unity was to be restored in the land’s Sabbath year.
Of course, there is little evidence this practice was carried out in the life of ancient Israel. When Israel was conquered by the Babylonians in 587 BC and Jerusalem was destroyed, the writer of 2 Chronicles pointed out why – “to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years” (2 Chronicles 36:21; see also Jeremiah 25:8-12).
If this is true, the land was owed 70 years of Sabbaths.
And so this was a hard thing for the Israelites to practice. As was the second law laid out in Leviticus 25.
The Jubilee year, which was the 50th year, was to be a year of new beginnings and a year of return. Israelites who were in indentured servitude were set free, and that had been sold away was returned to its original owners.
Things were set right. The mistakes and misfortune of yesteryear were wiped clean. Everyone had a chance to begin again.
The reality of the year of Jubilee, of course, affected the nation’s commerce. If you were buying a field, you did so with the understanding that you would have to relinquish it at the Jubilee. And so the price was set accordingly. You paid more for a field if you were 25 years from the Jubilee than you did if you were only 12 years from the Jubilee.
Also, Israelites could redeem their land at any time. If they sold it while they were in financial distress, they or their closest kinsman redeemer could buy the land back when financial times were better.
And so everyone knew that possessions came and went. The wealthy knew that their holdings were only for a season, in many cases. And the poor always had hope. The year of Jubilee was coming. There would be a new start.
A really important theological principle here is this: The land belongs to God. God said, “The land is mine.” Everything you see around you – the trees and mountains and rivers – all this belongs to God. The people of the earth belong to God, too. The psalmist said, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell within” (Psalm 24:1-2).
About the people of Israel, God was clear. They belonged to no one but him. “For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt.”
And so the Jubilee was to bring in to clear focus the fact that God was the owner of everything – every piece of land and every Israelite person. It all belonged to him, and God’s people were not to lose sight of that fact.
The idea for us today is the ultimate “Jubilee year” has come, and our season of rest is already here.
When Jesus Christ came and lived a sinless life and then died on the cross for our sins, he wiped away our debts. We no longer owe death anything. We are free from slavery, and we are free from our spiritual poverty.
We enter into that ultimate Jubilee of Jesus Christ the day we put our faith in him. When you went down into the waters of baptism, you were submitting to a kind of death and resurrection – death to your old ways and new life in Christ (Galatians 2:20).
As Christians, we have been redeemed by God himself. Like the land, you do not belong to anyone other than God himself. The apostle Paul said, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
That price, of course, was the death of the Son of God. It was a high price. Your redemption wasn’t cheap. Grace was not cheap to God, even though it may feel cheap to you.
As a Christian, you now belong to God. And that means you are free.
And we are living in the year of the Sabbath. The idea of the Sabbath means “to cease” – just like God ceased from his work of creation on the seventh day. Every seventh day was a Sabbath for God’s people, where they remembered they were in a covenant relationship with the Creator of the universe.
And every seventh year, the land got its Sabbath. It got to rest.
We rest from our works in this Sabbath “year.” The apostle Paul said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8).
We no longer work for our salvation. We simply enter into the Sabbath rest of God.
And so you can see how these Levitical practices – the seventh year Sabbath for the land and the 50th year Jubilee for the people of God – point us directly to Christ. We are living in that Sabbath year and that Jubilee year right now.
And it’s not over. This is a story about something that’s already here – and not yet fully here. Just wait until Jesus comes back. The spiritual renewal will be paired with physical renewal.
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22-23).
As we live in this time, of course, we remember that this Christian walk is a walk that we have in common with God and in common with each other. Every one of us – and all of our possessions – belongs to God, and we are to share with each other. Never lose sight of this.
One temptation we face is that the things we have belong to us, and the work we do is lasting in nature. The Jubilee and the Sabbath remind us otherwise. We are God’s. And his family is all around us.