Can you imagine receiving a letter saying that any debt you had has been cancelled, written off, you’re free? For some people in America this autumn that’s exactly what happened. The Occupy movement used donations to but up debt on the financial markets for a fraction of it’s value and then sent letters out to say the debt had been cancelled; 2,600 people, owing over fifteen million dollars, were set free from the chains of debt. This all sounds fantastic, and it is amazing, but God? He’s had this idea of setting people free going on since the very beginnings of civilisation.
Mankind has always been losing our freedom to one thing or another. Sometimes it is literally to servitude but often it’s to other things; we live in a world where it is easier than ever to find masters who will enslave us, be that finances, alcohol, sex, television, social media, relationships, or whatever. Freedom is a thing that is often in short supply in our society.
When Jesus stood up in a synagogue in Nazareth to announce the start of His ministry He used a very specific passage of scripture from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
– Luke 4:18-19 (ESV)
This is a pivotal moment in history. God, in human form, spelling out His manifesto for changing the world. For listeners at the time it evoked their expectations for something huge. These words were a messianic prophecy, they were as much an announcement of who He was as what He would do. The imagery the prophet uses called to memory a specific part of the law: The year of jubilee.
The year of jubilee existed in the old testament once every fifty years. Everyone returned to the land that was allocated to them, people who’d sold themselves into servitude were set free, and by extension debts were effectively cancelled. This was like God putting in place a reset button to be pressed once a generation, knowing that in the forty-nine intervening years we’d grow further away from where we were supposed to be.The year of jubilee gave people back the freedom which they had lost.
What Isaiah described in Isaiah 61:1-2 was a jubilee with a difference, when the Messiah returned and announced the year of the Lord’s favour it wasn’t for a literal twelve months but it was a time of favour ushered in by His coming; it is a time in which due to His sacrifice people can become free. When Jesus came He didn’t press the law’s fifty year reset button only for people to walk back into servitude, He came to offer true freedom. In fact, in Paul’s letter to the Galatians he reinforces this point and warns them not to submit to slavery again.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
– Galatians 5:1 (ESV)
The freedom from Christ is not a temporary reset and it’s not limited to any particular area of life. He was anointed to proclaim good news, to set free captives, give sight back to the blind, bring liberty to the oppressed. For anything that can gain mastery over the human soul, the only lasting form of freedom is through Him. There are many other things that we may think will bring us freedom, some may even work for a time, but true freedom comes only through Christ.
Like any proclamation of freedom how are people to know unless it is announced? If no one tells the slaves that they have been freed, will they not still continue to live as slaves? We are called and commissioned to announce it to others. How will your friends, colleagues and neighbours know there is freedom from the things that bind them unless someone stands like Christ Himself did and proclaims the good news? There are so many people in the world around us who don’t yet know that there is liberty, that they can be set free.
If no one tells the slaves that they have been freed, will they not still continue to live as slaves?
I pray that this year will be a year when, like never before, we will toll the liberty bell and proclaim to those in our cities, towns, offices, colleges and schools that this is the appointed time of God’s favour. That the things in life which hold them down need no longer do so and that for freedom, they have been set free.
Happy new year.