Your Inheritance: Glorious Discovery to a Lonely Wretch
A Sermon on the Fall Feasts and the Jubilee (Leviticus 23 & 25) by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA, 3/7/99
What is the value of an inheritance?
Suppose that you were an orphan; you never knew your father and mother, you never knew a mother's love or a father's care. All your life you have been without money, and without love.
Now you receive word: You have a rich uncle! He has been searching for you! He loves you and wants you as part of his family! All that you have never known -- wealth, and family, and love -- is now yours in abundance. You are the heir!
We love such stories, don't we? The poor orphan, without hope, who all along is really the son or daughter of someone important. Two of the best such stories are C.S. Lewis' The Horse and His Boy and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Both supposed orphans, Shasta and Jane, grow in character as they deal with adversity -- and then, in the end, discover that they are heirs to a fortune, related to those that they already love and admire. Many of you will remember how the central characters react when they discover the blessings that are theirs. Having been poor, both appreciate the money and the freedom from want it provides -- but of far greater value is the knowledge that they have family, that they are loved and cherished. Listen to Jane describing her emotions when she receives this good news:
Glorious discovery to a lonely wretch! This was wealth indeed! -- wealth for the heart! -- a mine of pure, genial affections. This was a blessing, bright, vivid, and exhilarating! -- not like the ponderous gift of gold: rich and welcome enough in its way, but sobering from its weight. I now clapped my hands in sudden joy -- my pulse bounded, my veins thrilled.
What is the value of an inheritance? Freedom from want. Freedom from worry. Confidence in the love of another. Knowing that you belong, that you are not alone, that you are not a lonely wretch. You are family.
In the book of Leviticus, God pictures for us the inheritance that is ours as His people, an inheritance that is guarded for us, an inheritance than can never perish, spoil, or fade -- despite our own errors, despite our own profligacy. Last week we began our discussion of Leviticus 23, in which God lays out for Moses His calendar: the regular celebration of the Sabbath, and the annual celebration of seven festivals.
We first saw how the Sabbath pictures for us our need to rest in God, to depend on Him and on Him alone for our righteousness -- and for our ability to accomplish any good work.
Then we discussed the four spring celebrations: Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, and Pentecost. During the first Passover, the Israelites smeared the blood of the Passover lamb on their doorframes, so that the Angel of Death would pass over their houses, sparing their firstborn sons. That blood represents the blood of Christ, paying the penalty for our sin, so that we might not suffer our due punishment. And so God arranged history so that Jesus died at the time of the Passover.
The feast of Unleavened Bread immediately follow Passover. The Israelites eat no yeast, no leaven at this time, signifying the cleansing from all subtle forms of evil. Firstfruits takes place on the first day of the week during Unleavened Bread -- the very day that Jesus rose from the dead. Just as the first stalks of the barley harvest are offered up to God, Jesus is the "firstfruits of those that sleep," the first human to receive a resurrection body, incorruptible and eternal.
The last of the spring feasts, Pentecost, takes place 50 days later. This coincides with the wheat harvest, when the Israelites would offer bread baked with yeast to God. And on this day, the Holy Spirit began the church age by appearing as flames of fire at the Temple, indwelling believers in a new way for the first time, as prophesied by Joel centuries before. So we become new creations as temples of the Holy Spirit -- but still living in sinful bodies, still sinning, as represented by the bread baked with yeast.
Today we will look at the last 3 feasts of Leviticus 23, which picture the beginning of the new heavens and the new earth, the culmination of the harvest of which Jesus is the firstfruits -- and then turn to Leviticus 25, which discusses God's long-term calendar, the special years that God ordains. God here ordains both a Sabbath year and a year of Jubilee. We will see that this year of Jubilee pictures the joy that we share with Shasta and Jane Eyre: the joy of knowing that we have an inheritance that is secure, the joy of being freedom to love and be loved, the joy of knowing that we are family for the God of the universe.
Feast of Trumpets (Rosh Hoshanah)
So please turn with me in your Bibles to Leviticus 23. We'll begin reading with verse 23:
23 Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 24 "Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'In the seventh month on the first of the month, you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. 25 'You shall not do any laborious work, but you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD.'"
These three final feasts all take place during the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, corresponding roughly with September. This is the time of the grape harvest, and the time of harvesting other summer crops. Although this is the seventh month of the ceremonial calendar (counting from the month of Passover), in the civil calendar this is the first month, the time of Jewish New Year. This month, in effect, is a celebration of the anniversary of the creation of the world -- and we'll see that all three of these feasts prefigure the creation of the new heavens and new earth, God's new creation.
The first is the Feast of Trumpets, or Rosh Hoshanah. Little is known about this celebration -- indeed, the word "trumpets" does not even appear in the Hebrew in verse 24 (though Numbers 29:1 clarifies that trumpets are what is being blown). The Israelites are to offer burnt offerings, symbolizing Israel's belonging completely to God, and grain or present offerings, symbolizing their offering themselves back to God.
New Testament references to the use of trumpets emphasize their sounding at the time of the new creation. Consider what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians:
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51,52)
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise. (1 Thessalonians 4:16)
So the Feast of Trumpets seems to be heralding the new creation, the time when the harvest will be complete -- when all of us will receive new, resurrection bodies, when the heavens and earth will be changed.
The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)
Let's continue reading in Leviticus 23:26:
26 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 27 "On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the LORD. 28 "Neither shall you do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the LORD your God.
Leviticus 16 discusses the Day of Atonement in detail. We saw in an earlier sermon that the High Priest here acts out Jesus' atoning sacrifice for our sins. God also gives us here a vivid picture of our freedom from guilt, as the scapegoat disappears into the desert, bearing our sins far away into the wilderness, separating us from our sins as far as the east is from the west.
How are these pictures relevant to the end of the world as we know it -- and to the beginning of the new creation?
There is a sense in which Jesus' work was accomplished once and for all on the cross. No more sacrifice for sins is necessary. As the author of Hebrews points out, that one sacrifice once and for all satisfies the requirements of God's justice.
But there is another sense in which Jesus' work continues even today. You and I continue to sin, we continue to experience guilt, we continue to suffer from the effects of sin. The penalty is paid, our relationship to God is secure if we receive Jesus and believe in His name, but each day we need to seek forgiveness for our sins.
When will this end? After the sounding of the trumpet! After the completion of God's harvest! Then the atonement will be complete. There will be no more need cover additional sins. Jesus' work will then be complete.
Recall John's vision recorded in Revelation 21:4:
He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
We frequently think of this verse, rightly, in terms of the end of physical pain, or the end of mourning because of the death of a loved one. But this verse clearly also refers to the ending of mourning for our own sinfulness, the pain of guilt for sins we have committed. All that too has passed away. We then have a new body -- a body not tainted with sin, and we dwell with people not tainted with sin. There will be no more sin! It's ended! No more guilt! No more falling into bad habits! No more struggle with temptation!
So the atonement will be complete and perfect. Always sufficient, the atonement of Jesus' death will now have accomplished all that was intended.
The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth)
Let's return one last time to Leviticus 23, the 33rd verse:
33 Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 34 "Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to the LORD. 35 'On the first day is a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work of any kind. 36 'For seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the LORD. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the LORD; it is an assembly. You shall do no laborious work.
This feast is called Tabernacles, Booths, or Ingathering (for its coinciding with the grape harvest). For seven days the Israelites are to live in temporary shelters, as they did during the exodus from Egypt. Now, you might think that this would be a time of sadness: "Oh, poor us, we had to live in shacks all those years!"
Quite the contrary. As many references in the Old Testament make clear, the Feast of Tabernacles is a time of great rejoicing, a time of exultant praise to God. The Israelites here are celebrating their freedom from slavery, their leaving Egypt.
What is the parallel in the future? This is the final feast, lasting for a complete seven days, a feast of great rejoicing, celebrating the end of slavery. This feast foreshadows our time in heaven, united with Jesus, praising God as we sing out, "Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto Him, and unto the Lamb!" This feast foreshadows the final end of all the impact of sin on us.
So these three fall feasts all picture the great rejoicing that is ours at the beginning not only of a new year, but the beginning of a new creation. With the trumpet blast, we will all be changed -- an there will be no more guilt, no more sin; we are freed from slavery for ever and ever. Praise God!
The Sabbath Year
Let's now turn to Leviticus 25:
1 ¶ The LORD then spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai, saying, 2 "Speak to the sons of Israel, and say to them, 'When you come into the land which I shall give you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the LORD. 3 'Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop, 4 but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard. . . .
20 'But if you say, "What are we going to eat on the seventh year if we do not sow or gather in our crops?" 21 then I will so order My blessing for you in the sixth year that it will bring forth the crop for three years. 22 'When you are sowing the eighth year, you can still eat old things from the crop, eating the old until the ninth year when its crop comes in.
God here ordains not only the Sabbath day, celebrated every week, but a Sabbath year -- a year in which no agricultural work is to be done. Remember that Israel in 1400BC is almost exclusively an agricultural economy. God here is calling a halt to all productive work for a year. Can you imagine that? Elsewhere in this chapter he says they are not even to pick the fruit from the volunteer crops that might spring up from seeds left in the fields. They are to depend completely on God's provision. God promises in verses 21-22 that he will provide them with such an abundant harvest in the sixth year that they will have enough to live on without working for the Sabbath year.
Think of the faith that would be required to fulfill this commandment! God says, "Don't work for a full year! Don't depend on your own strength! Trust me; I will provide!"
The Sabbath year reminds me of the story Luke tells in chapter five of his gospel. Peter and his colleagues have been fishing all night. Jesus tells them to cast their nets again. Peter responds:
Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets. (Luke 5:5)
Can you hear the note of exasperation in Peter's voice? He seems to be saying, "Look, I've seen you heal my mother-in-law. I've heard your teaching, and I acknowledge your wisdom. But while you may be a carpenter, and a healer, and a teacher -- I'm the fisherman! I know what I'm doing! This is one area I know more about than you!"
Despite his feelings, Peter obeys -- and catches so many fish he has to call his friends in another boat to come and help.
Through the Sabbath year, God shows the people of Israel that He knows more about agriculture than they do. He knows more about the growth of plants, and the causes of rain than they. And he requires their trust in this area of their lives.
But the Israelites never gave God that trust; the nation of Israel never celebrated a Sabbath year. And in consequence, as 2 Chronicles 36 makes clear, God sent them into exile in Babylon for seventy years, making up for all those Sabbath years that the people had not observed.
Through the Sabbath year, God impresses upon us once again this central point: "Rest in me! You can accomplish nothing without me, spiritually or materially. All good gifts are from me -- even what you regard as the fruit of your own hard work."
You see, true life, true accomplishment is found in dependence, not in independence. We are to live in active dependence upon the God of the universe. He is the source of true fulfillment; he is the source of true satisfaction. Our own efforts lead at best to a temporary success; in the end, all our efforts lead to frustration. But by God's power we can accomplish all things; by depending on Him, we play a role in His plan for the redemption of the world. So rest in Him!
The Year of Jubilee
Let's continue reading in Leviticus 25:
8 "'Count off seven sabbaths of years-- seven times seven years-- so that the seven sabbaths of years amount to a period of forty-nine years. 9 Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. 10 Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each one of you is to return to his family property and each to his own clan.
Recall that in the Bible, the number seven represents perfection or completion. So seven times seven is complete perfection, or perfect completion. This year of Jubilee appears to be a special Sabbath year, every 50 years. While this is a different picture, many of the connotations are similar to the three seventh-month feast we discussed earlier -- and so God has the Year of Jubilee proclaimed on the Day of Atonement.
What is the cause of celebration? See verse 10: "Proclaim liberty throughout the land!" (You may recall that these words are inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.)
Liberty! Freedom! The year of Jubilee is a celebration of freedom. The Hebrew word translated "liberty" connotes being without constraint, flowing freely like a stream, or running freely.
One of my favorite forms of Kenyan wildlife is a type of antelope called a topee. I believe God enjoyed designing the topee, for it is quite an amusing animal. It's rather silly-looking, actually: a big head, a long nose, rear legs shorter than forelegs. Topees spend a lot of their time standing on little tufts of grass, maybe a foot higher than the surrounding ground -- to what end, I don't know. But topees love to run. Oh, they can run fast when pursued by predators -- but most of the time they run just for the fun of it. They will run in circles and then leap up into the air, then leap three times in a row, then run some more -- just delighting in the ability to run freely. And when running these funny-looking animals become pictures of grace and speed.
That's the type of liberty and freedom celebrated in the year of Jubilee: No restraints. Genuine joy. Real freedom.
Note that the year is proclaimed on the Day of Atonement. On the very day which symbolizes our forgiveness of sins through the blood of Jesus, God proclaims liberty and freedom. You see the importance of this? As Ray Stedman says, "All liberty arises out of redemption." Liberty and freedom do not mean doing whatever we want, following our own selfish desires. That is slavery, not freedom! True liberty arises from our acknowledging who we are before God, and becoming what He intends us to be.
God paints a detailed picture of freedom in the specifics of the year of Jubilee. We do not have time to look at all of the chapter, but the central ideas come out in these verses:
13 "'In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to his own property. 14 If you sell land to one of your countrymen or buy any from him, do not take advantage of each other. 15 You are to buy from your countryman on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And he is to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. 16 When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what he is really selling you is the number of crops. 17 Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the LORD your God.
23 "'The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants.24 Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land. 25 If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold. 26 If, however, a man has no one to redeem it for him but he himself prospers and acquires sufficient means to redeem it, 27 he is to determine the value for the years since he sold it and refund the balance to the man to whom he sold it; he can then go back to his own property. 28 But if he does not acquire the means to repay him, what he sold will remain in the possession of the buyer until the Year of Jubilee. It will be returned in the Jubilee, and he can then go back to his property. (Leviticus 25:13-17, 23-28)
I want to draw your attention to two important concepts from these verses.
First, who owns the land? Look at verse 23: "The land is mine! You are aliens and tenants!" The Israelites do not own the land they are farming; instead, they have usage rights to the land. To use scholars' jargon, the Israelites have usufructuary rights, not freehold title; they can farm the land, but cannot sell those rights to someone else in perpetuity. The most they can sell is a lease on the land until the next year of Jubilee.
Second, why is this important? What impact does this have on the economy of the Israel? The land allocated to families after the conquering of Canaan would stay in those families forever! (There is one exception to this which you can find in Leviticus 27:16-21: if someone dedicates the land to the Lord and then, in effect, reneges on that promise by selling the lease on the land, at the year of Jubilee the lend becomes the property of the priests. This exception has some similarities to Esau's selling his birthright to Jacob, or Ananias and Saphira claiming to give the proceeds of their land sale to the church.) Families are free to sell a lease on their land up until the next year of Jubilee -- but they will always get their land back at that time.
Why is this important for Israel? This rule -- if it had been implemented by the Israelites -- would have assured that there was no long-term poverty in the country. Israel would have remained a relatively egalitarian society. Remember that Israel was an agricultural society. Land is the main form of capital, the primary means of production that is combined with labor to produce economic output. So assuring access to land means assuring a family that they will be able to generate income.
Think about the sources of poverty. The head of a family may become a drunkard, or might be lazy, or might suffer through some natural disaster, leading to the loss of all the family's assets. In most societies for most of human history, once that happens, it is very difficult for the children, the grandchildren, and the great grandchildren to overcome that handicap. Selling labor alone usually has not generated sufficient income to allow for accumulating savings and, thus, productive capital. So the sins of one family head, or a natural disaster decades or centuries in the past, can lead to long term poverty.
But in Israel that would never happen! Even if my father is a drunkard, even if my father wastes all my family's resources, and sells the family's land to pay for his habit, I know that within my lifetime the land will come back to me. The year of Jubilee is coming! And my inheritance is secure.
So no error, no economic sin, no natural disaster has consequences lasting more than fifty years.
Also, consider how much anger and bitterness is caused by fights about asset ownership. Think of the situation in South Africa, where one group of people took most of the best land, either legally or by force, more than 100 years ago. The pain and anger and economic destitution that resulted from that act continues today. In effect, the year of Jubilee puts an end to all that. There may be some dispute about who should own the land after transactions have taken place, but when Jubilee comes, it all goes back to the original family.
So Jubilee shows God's concern for the poor, for making sure that the poor have a chance to work hard and make a living for themselves. Jubilee also serves to ensure that Israel would not be a society dominated by a few, or a society torn apart by civil strife. All this is relevant for us today, as we consider how to set up our own civil society.
But what is the spiritual picture for us? All of these regulations we have discussed in Leviticus picture spiritual truths -- what is the truth represented by the year of Jubilee?
To answer that question, we need to ask another first: What is represented spiritually by the Promised Land? The crossing of the Jordan River, the entering of Canaan, represents what spiritual event? Recall that Egypt is a picture of slavery to sin, being lost in our trespasses. Crossing the Jordan is sometimes thought of as entering heaven -- but we don't fight wars in heaven! No, crossing the Jordan represents our salvation, our entering God's rest, as the author of Hebrews would put it, our salvation while we are still on earth. The land, then, represents our inheritance -- God's promise to us.
With that in mind, think of the year of Jubilee. While in this life, do our sins have an impact on our lives and the lives of others? Do we suffer because of our bad decisions, or because of natural disasters of one type or another? Yes, we certainly do! But the impact of all these sins, of all natural disasters is limited. There are no eternal consequences of our failures. The year of Jubilee pictures the security of our inheritance, the assurance that all our sufferings are temporary, that God has promised us an inheritance and while we may turn our backs on it for a while, or cause ourselves and our families pain because of bad decisions, in the end our inheritance is secure. Just so, others may fail me, others may hurt me, but God's promise remains.
So that is why Jubilee is a celebration of liberty! We are free! Our lives are not controlled by others' bad decisions, or by our own bad decisions. Our destiny is in God's hands, the God who loves us and cherishes us.
This also frees us to love. Nothing anyone else has done or will do to me can take away my inheritance. No one else can ruin my life. I am free to forgive, free to love, free to restore relationships. This is the promise of the Jubilee!
Listen to these words of Peter:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-- kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
So, if you have received Jesus, if you have believed in His name, you are an heir. You need never feel like Jane Eyre, like you are a lonely wretch. You have an inheritance that can never perish, one guarded in heaven for you specifically. You are shielded by God's power until that last trumpet sounds, and we are changed into our new, glorious bodies. Your inheritance is beyond what you can imagine in riches, beyond what you can imagine in love. In this world you can sin and consequently lose some of the benefits of that inheritance for a time. You may cause yourself and those you love severe pain and sorrow. But Jubilee is coming! All is restored! That inheritance will never fade, but is guaranteed! And think of it! We will all sing together, not 150 of us, but 10,000 times 10,000, "Blessing and honor and glory and power forever and ever." We will praise the King, Your husband, the Master of the Universe and Redeemer of your life! The one who gave his all for you, because of his great love . . . For You! Riches and Relations! Inheritance and love.
So you can rest in Him, the source of all power. You have no need to worry about your position -- instead, you need to respond in gratitude to His love. You have no need to try to impress Him -- he knows your deepest faults, your secret sins, yet still chose you. You have no need to try to accomplish anything on your own, proving your worth; instead, accept the Sabbath-rest He offers, now, in this life. Discipline yourself, work hard -- but work hard to focus on Christ Jesus, living a life of active dependence on him.
Let us close with Isaiah's description of that glorious day:
Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. 6 Then the lame will leap like a deer(or a topee!), And the tongue of the dumb will shout for joy. . . . 8 And a highway will be there, a roadway, And it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, But it will be for him who walks that way, And fools will not wander on it. 9 No lion will be there, Nor will any vicious beast go up on it; These will not be found there. But the redeemed will walk there, 10 And the ransomed of the LORD will return, And come with joyful shouting to Zion, With everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, And sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Isaiah 35:5,6,8-10)
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 3/7/99. I decided to preach a series of sermons on Leviticus after reading Ray Stedman's series, which is available at thePBC web site. I am heavily indebted to him both for his insights into Leviticus, and for all I learned about expository preaching from him.
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