The Year of Jubilee

… to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD (Luke 4:18-19).

The shadow of the cross was over Jesus’ heart as He read these words from Isaiah in His own synagogue in Nazareth. He knew that He was to fulfill that prophecy in His own suffering and death.

The last sentence of the prophecy is easily misunderstood. “The acceptable year of the Lord” also meant the Year of Jubilee. Every 50 years, according to the ancient Hebrew custom, debts were canceled, prison terms were terminated, land holdings went back to the original owners, and people forgave the resentments held through the years.

The cross makes every year the Jubilee Year. Jesus’ death cancels our sin and gives us the freedom to be forgiving. This is the acceptable year of the Lord for us. What if we committed this whole year to be one in which we set people free by loving them unconditionally and forgiving them unreservedly? That can happen through us only if it happens to us. Is there any memory, unforgiven hurt, or unrelinquished hostility still keeping you in a prison of incrimination?

There are three steps to a Jubilee Year: 1) accept forgiveness; 2) ask for forgiveness from any person you’ve hurt or harmed; 3) offer forgiveness to those who have misused or misunderstood you. Forgiveness is the one gift our Lord offers that we can’t have unless we give it away.

Make a list of people who need your forgiveness. What is the Lord telling you to say and then be to them to assure them that they are forgiven? But don’t wait. Your Jubilee Year starts today. Tomorrow may be too late!

Today I will live as a forgiven, forgiving person.

God Sees Her

She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” —Genesis 16:13

My first eyeglasses opened my eyes to a bold world. Without glasses, items in the distance were a blur. At age twelve, with my first pair of eyeglasses, I was shocked to see clearer words on blackboards, tiny leaves on trees, and perhaps most important, big smiles on faces.

As friends smiled back when I greeted them, I learned that to be seen was as great a gift as the blessing of seeing.

The slave Hagar realized this as she fled from her mistress Sarai’s unkindness. Hagar was a “nobody” in her culture, pregnant and alone, fleeing to a desert without help or hope. Seen by God, however, she was empowered to see Him. God became real to her—so real that she gave God a name, El Roi, which means, “You are the God who sees me.” She said, “I have now seen the One who sees me” (Genesis 16:13).

Our God sees each of us too. Feeling unseen, alone, or like a nobody? God sees you and your future. In return, may we see in Him our ever-present hope, encouragement, salvation, and joy.

P. Raybon

Not Like Us

Hebrews 10:19–25

Perhaps we’ve all been given hollow promises, from people who were quick with words of assurance but slow to deliver on what they had pledged. Life is full of unfulfilled promises: marriage vows discarded in a moment of temptation and passion; business contracts broken and bills left unpaid. It’s rare that an agreement can be sealed with a word or a handshake. The value of a promise is entirely dependent on the character of the one who makes it.

God frequently lets us humans know that He is not like us. It’s a mistake to teach that God is just like a Father, when Jesus taught that God’s fatherhood is entirely unlike even the best of earthly fathers. And as Scripture points us to the faithfulness of God (1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Tim. 2:13), we realize that God is not fickle and untrustworthy, as we humans are. Obviously our ability to trust is shaped by our experiences, and it may be that we have been deeply betrayed or lied to, and that affects our relationship with God. But in a world of exaggeration, scam, spin, propaganda, and blatant lies, it’s good to know that there is One who is utterly and totally dependable, whose word can be depended on.

And then there are those of us who respond to God’s promises on the basis of our feelings. Too many of us don’t enjoy the scandalous grace and forgiveness of God because our emotions tell us to continue in shame.

But our hope is not based on our experiences or emotions, but on the rock-solid dependency of God’s character.

Pray: You are trustworthy, Lord. Help me to trust my life to Jesus, who gave His life as the fulfillment of a promise to rescue and save. Amen.

At This Time

“Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).

In today’s scripture reading, we find Jesus meeting His cousin and God-given herald, John the Baptist. We shall discuss only Matthew’s version of this encounter. Mark also describes it, but there are no words of Jesus in his rendition.

John is in the wilderness, calling people to repentance and baptizing those who positively respond to his message. Jesus asks for baptism and dispels John’s worries with regard to whom he can baptize and whom he cannot. This scenario is reminiscent of Lyndon Johnson having a friend of his, a low-level federal judge, swear him in as president following the murder of John Kennedy.

Today’s verse is Jesus’s response to John’s objection. By “at this time,” the Lord seems to be saying something like “I realize there are legitimate reasons to discuss this further before acting, but trust me when I say that any discussion we might have had would have led to a decision to go ahead with what I propose.”

John’s humility here is admirable, and though he makes a good point in saying it would be more appropriate for Jesus to baptize him, other factors counterbalance his concern. As fully man as well as fully God, Jesus needs baptism as much as anyone else. And though He is bound to live a sinless life, He has not yet done so. In addition, He needs to confirm His complete commitment to the Father in front of witnesses and, as He said, to fulfill all righteousness (i.e., do all things that are good). Perhaps God’s command here might be “Thou shalt keep thy ducks in a row.”

Matthew wrote primarily to his people, the Jews, though his occupation precluded their liking him.

During all of the time that Jesus spent in time, He constantly deferred to His heavenly Father. That’s because Jesus was fully man as well as fully God.

Prayer: Dear Lord, Abba (Daddy), Father, we love You and ask that we might love You more yet. Thank You for today’s insights about Your Word today, which is personified in Your Son, the Christ. As He so faithfully disdained all pride, even though He was entitled to it, let us do likewise and ever realize and practice our proper relationship with You, recalling that even Your only begotten Son did the same because of His humanity. Thank You again for answered prayer and even for prayer that is not, from our perspective, granted. In Jesus’s name. Amen

O Kanata

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
—JOHN 1:1

On behalf of King Francis I, Jacques Cartier sailed from France on April 20, 1534, with two ships and sixty-one sailors. They had all confessed their sins before sailing, and they prayed for the safety and success of their voyage. Their goal: to determine if a northwest passage existed that would link the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. European explorers were fascinated with the possibility of reaching Asia by sailing westward around the continent through a northern waterway that would connect the two great oceans.

Encountering good weather, Cartier crossed the Atlantic in less than three weeks. On May 10, he spotted what today is called Newfoundland. As he explored the coastline, he and his men paused on June 10 to worship God—the first recorded instance of public worship in Canada.

At first, Cartier and his men were discouraged by the desolate nature of the coastline, and the explorer commented that it reminded him of the land God gave Cain. But after the sailors began encountering tribes of Native Americans, their attitude changed. Eager to share the gospel, Cartier erected large crosses and sought to explain their meaning to local tribal leaders. On the shore of Gaspe Bay, Cartier wrote, ‘We kneeled down together before them, with our hands toward heaven yielding God thanks; and we made signs unto them, showing them the heavens and that all our salvation depended only on Him which in them dwelleth; whereat they showed a great admiration, looking first at one another and then at the cross.’

The next year, Cartier returned on a second voyage, this time with three ships; on October 3, 1535, he entered a Native American village named Hochelaga, the site of present-day Montréal. Cartier was deeply moved when local tribesmen gathered around him bringing their sick and afflicted. The villagers thought the French explorers might be celestial beings.

To a man of Cartier’s habit of mind, the scene must have been an affecting one, suggesting as it did the many similar occurrences in the Savior’s life upon earth; and in recalling the words of power from the Divine lips—I will, be thou clean—Receive thy sight—Take up thy bed—he must have longed for the gift of healing, if only for a few moments. . . . As his heart went out in sympathy for this poor people whose bodily ailments were but a faint type of their spiritual condition . . . he . . . sought to direct them as best he could to the Great Healer of men—to one who could do for them that which he was powerless to effect.

Cartier couldn’t heal the villagers of their sickness, but he knew how to give them the gospel. Lifting his voice, the explorer began reciting the first chapter of John, starting with verse 1: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ The gospel of John, Cartier knew, presents Jesus Christ as God Himself, who, in love, came down from heaven as the Great Communication—the Word—the message of eternal life. Cartier spoke of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, then he earnestly prayed for the physical and spiritual needs of those gathered around him. The villagers were ‘marvelously attentive, looking up to heaven and imitating us in gestures.’

Jacques Cartier didn’t find the elusive Northwest Passage, but his three voyages to North America brought the symbol of the cross and the message of the gospel to the vast areas of the St. Lawrence River, the waterway that slices through eastern Canada and links the Atlantic not with the Pacific but with the Great Lakes. In the process, he also gave Canada its name, from the Iroquois word Kanata, meaning “village.”

A Better Existence

Jeremiah 1:1–10

Life was tough for Judah—the Southern Kingdom of Israel—when Jeremiah was alive. The nation was at the mercy of three superpowers: Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon. Jeremiah, probably in his late teenage years at the time of his call, was being asked to speak out a message that wouldn’t be welcomed. His mission, if he chose to accept it, would be difficult and dangerous, because he was called to “uproot” as well as to build up. He’d been raised as “the son of a preacher man,” in the home of a priest, but nothing could have prepared him for the tough task ahead—except that God had called him. The conversation between Jeremiah and God follows a familiar pattern we often see in the Bible, which, put simply, goes like this:

God: Do this.
Human: I can’t, and here’s why.
God: I’ll help you, and I’ll be with you.
Human: Okay.

Moses and Gideon had similar conversations with God (Ex. 3:10–14; Judg. 6:14–16). But the Lord also assured Jeremiah that he was known by God. Not only do we know God by faith, but He knows us completely—our fragilities, fears, and failures. Even as He knows all of that, He still calls us to live significantly for Him. But that doesn’t mean what He asks us to do will lead us to an easy life. In a world that is consumed by self-improvement and the pursuit of the good life, the call of God is not just to blessing and a better existence, but it may be a disruptive call that is costly and dangerous, as the disciples of Jesus were to discover. But that’s our mission, if we choose to accept it. Will we?

Pray: Lord, Your call is not to make me happy but to make me fit for Your purposes. If that involves disruption, help me to agree. Amen.

It Bears Repeating

Does the Bible teach that life begins at conception?
The Bible does teach that life begins at conception. Every culture’s view of when human life begins changes as society’s values, moral standards, and knowledge about the process of embryonic development change. Prior to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed abortion on demand, developing embryos were considered unborn persons. Now, even a fetus that could survive on its own outside its mother’s womb could be aborted, under certain medical circumstances. This demonstrates that we do not consider an unborn child to be a true human being.

Science tells us that human life begins at the time of conception. From the moment fertilization takes place, the child’s genetic makeup is already complete. Its gender has already been determined, along with its height and hair, eye and skin color. The only thing the embryo needs to become a fully-functioning being is the time to grow and develop.

More importantly, God reveals to us in His Word that not only does life begin at conception, but He knows who we are even before then (Jeremiah 1:5). King David said this about God’s role in our conception: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb . . . your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13, 16).

Society continually seeks to devalue the lives of the unborn, creating its own definitions of humanity based on distorted views of morality. But the undeniable fact is that life begins at creation, and a human is created as soon as he or she is conceived. God is present at our creation; He is, in fact, our Creator. Our value as human beings created in His image is conceived even before we are.

God of the Ordinary

On any given morning as you read, watch, or listen to the news, do you ever find yourself thinking you are very small? Do you ever wonder, “Does God really know who I am or where I am? What interest would He, the Creator of everything, have in me?”

You and I are very ordinary—and we can easily believe that “ordinary” equates to “useless.” Yet Ruth and Naomi’s story reveals something different. In it, we discover the sovereign, providential hand of God working in and through life’s routines. He knows and He cares, He sustains and He provides.

The book of Ruth’s account of God’s provision and care begins with a mistake. Elimelech made the ill-fated decision to leave famished Bethlehem for prospering Moab with his wife Naomi and their two sons—but he and his sons died there.

Whether Elimelech’s motive was one of desperation, discontent, or distrust, Scripture illustrates through his choice that our foolishness cannot set aside God’s providence. Even when we respond to circumstances with the wrong spirit—when figuratively we take ourselves up and out of the land of God’s promise—He can still accomplish His purposes. When we are tempted to fear that God has overlooked our lives because of our mistakes, we can rest in His providence, which is able to work through our biggest—or smallest—missteps.

Have you seen God move in life’s ordinary moments? Have you seen Him at work through your mistakes? Or are you caught in the lie that God only operates in spectacular, extraordinary ways or through our moments of greatest obedience?

When we look only for the extraordinary, we miss God’s glory in the ordinary—in a bowl of apples on the table, a well-prepared meal, a bird singing, a conversation with a friend, the moon shining through a cloudy night sky. When we assume God only works when we are good, we miss God’s grace in working through sinners—through a conversation about Christ with a neighbor, a parent’s repentance to a child after they have spoken impatiently to them, a prayer prayed for someone because anxiety has kept us from sleep. For Ruth and Naomi, the very sight of a barley field, ripe for the harvest, was in one sense a very ordinary view—but in fact it declared God’s provision to them. Mistakes had been made and griefs had been borne, but the barley harvest showed that God knows, cares, sustains, and provides.

God has not changed. Although He has the whole universe to care for, He turns His gaze on you and me, and He says, I know you. Your name is written on the palm of My hand. And as surely as I cared for Naomi and Ruth, I’m looking after you too (see Isaiah 49:16). God is sustaining and guiding His children. Let that knowledge comfort your heart and bring you peace today—however ordinary the day may be.

Listen to Your Conscience

“My conscience is held captive by the Word of God. And to act against conscience is neither right nor safe.”

These words formed a crucial part of Martin Luther’s fateful response to authorities of church and state when he was ordered to recant of his teachings at the Diet of Worms in 1521. He was pleading that his intention was to be neither rebellious nor obstreperous, but to be faithful to Scripture. What Luther was declaring was not so much that he would not recant but that he could not recant.

Luther used the metaphor of the prisoner. He was as a man in chains, incarcerated, with no option of liberty by which he was able to do what the authorities commanded. He was not physically restrained. The irons that gripped him were of a moral sort. It was his conscience that had been captured by the Holy Ghost.

The only option by which he could please men was the option to act against his conscience. To act for men was to act against God. Though the stakes were high, the decision was actually a “no brainer.” Scripture declares that whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23).

Reflect on this statement: “To act for men is to act against God.”

The Sinai Covenant

The nation of Israel has traveled from the borders of Egypt to the wilderness of Sinai (19:1–2), where God teaches them how to live as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (19:6). In Exodus 20–24, God through Moses reveals the Sinai covenant, including its core, the Ten Commandments (20:1–17). God demands that the people he delivered from slavery in Egypt follow him wholeheartedly in this covenant. Those he has graciously saved are to live as his holy people in all they do: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples” (19:4–5). God, Israel’s Redeemer, uses his people’s obedience to the law to draw them closer to him, the author of the law, and to enable them to fulfill their calling as his people in the world (20:2–6). The law functions to reveal sin (Rom. 7:7) and to curb both societal and individual evils. Above all, it teaches God’s people how to love him and keep his commandments (Ex. 20:6), since Israel is on display to the world as a nation of priests, calling the nations to the true God. Theology for Life—Like Israel, none of us can obey the law (Psalm 14), but there is one who came to fulfill the law, and he did so perfectly (Matt. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21). In his death Jesus ratified the new covenant in which God writes the law on the hearts of his people that they might freely live for his pleasure (Jer. 31:31–34; Luke 22:20).

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