The Year of Jubilee is a beautiful concept. Found in Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 15, it’s is God’s economic and social structuring for Israel. In it God commands the people to live in such a way that all Israelites will never be destitute and will have options if they fall on hard times. It also commands that in the Sabbath year all ancestral lands will be returned to their original owners, debts will be cancelled, and indentured servants will be free to return to their land and homes. In God’s economy there is no generational poverty, there is always hope for a clean slate and a fresh start.
This is a tall order for Israel so it’s no coincidence that God designed the jubilee year to begin on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). This was the day each year that the High Priest confessed the sins of the entire community, placing them on the scapegoat which was then released from the camp, a picture of their sins being removed from their midst. It was their spiritual jubilee, the day when everything that they had done wrong over the past year was wiped clean and their debt of sin was forgiven. In this posture of having received great mercy and forgiveness from God, they were to extend the same mercy and forgiveness to their brothers and sisters.
Yet there is no record of the Israelites ever observing the Year of the Lord’s Favor. Not once. Why was it so hard for them to follow this set of commands? Let’s turn to Luke 5:17-26. As this paralytic is brought before Jesus, through the great efforts and tenacity of his friends, Jesus looks at him:
“20 And when He saw their faith, He said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”
In this situation when it seemed to everyone present that this man’s greatest need was to be healed of his paralysis, Jesus demonstrates that his greatest bondage was being a prisoner to his sin. As the religious leaders begin to grumble about Jesus’ audacity to offer forgiveness of sins:
22 When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? 23 Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? 24 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” 25 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God.
Christ asks us a fundamental question, “Which is easier to say?” Do we think it’s easier for God to intercede in our environment and experience of the physical world, or to intercede before the Righteous Judge on behalf of those that stand rightly accused? Is it easier for God to deliver us from a tangible affliction, or the unbearable weight of sin and guilt?
When we find ourselves overwhelmed by our circumstances and feeling as though what we face is hopeless, we can rest assured that Christ has already done the hardest thing. On the Day of Atonement, on the cross and each day after, the hardest thing to accomplish has been done. The chasm that separates us from God has been bridged and we are now righteous and innocent before our Creator. The impossible has been realized, and every other form of affliction is easy by comparison.
By all means we ought to continue praying for God to work and move in our physical world to bring renewal and healing. Jesus goes on to heal the paralytic and God cares very much about everything that He has made. We can always pray in the hope that God has the power to change every circumstance and a heart that desires flourishing for His children. At the same time, we need never lose hope if God does not act in the way that we requested. When bills continue to mount up, when relationships continue to be strained, when loved ones continue to suffer from illness and perhaps die despite all of our prayers for healing, when injustice seems to prevail in the world. When my brother was killed in Iraq even when we prayed every day for his safety. We can rest in the knowledge that Jesus already did the hardest thing for us and for all of God’s children. When miracles visibly happen and when it seems like they don’t, our greatest need has already been met. In this posture of having received great mercy and forgiveness from God, we are empowered to extend the same mercy and forgiveness to our whole world, eternally hoping in God’s power to accomplish the impossible.