Beyond Jubilee

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 25.9-10
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 of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan.

Reflection: Beyond Jubilee
By John Tillman

Weekly sabbaths bring us freedom and joy in this world. This freedom and joy grows more expansive as we ponder the sabbath of years and Jubilee.

Sabbath years built, in an exponential crescendo, to Jubilee. After seven septennial sabbath years, trumpets were to announce liberty throughout the land. Liberty from debt. Liberty from enslavement. Jubilee brought a national reset of property and land ownership. The “monopoly game” was to be folded up, properties redistributed, and the game started over with all participants on equal footing once more. This was to remind Israel that the land did not belong to them. It belonged to the Lord. 

It is difficult for us to imagine such an economic system. In the dominant economic systems of their world and ours, the game never stops and each generation starts the game with an inherited benefit or handicap. Generational wealth and poverty are features, not bugs, of every world economic system in history. 

Biblical laws are intended to be a check on our tendencies toward greed, violence, and inequity. Jubilee was a systemic reboot, restoring the moral code God desired—equity, justice, righteousness, unity.

Talking about Jubilee upsets some people. Some dogmatically demand implementation of Jubilee in today’s economic terms, even though they would not submit to any other laws from the Old Testament. Others work just as stubbornly to deemphasize or even ignore Jubilee because it conflicts with their economic beliefs. (It is beyond the scope of this devotional to discuss how some of us have greater religious devotion to and faith in sociological, economic, and political ideas than we do in scripture or theological ideas…)

We must remember that many systems and laws in the Bible, like Jubilee, are bandaids on gaping wounds. For example, Jesus challenged laws regarding marriage and the sabbath, saying they did not complete God’s intention or will. (Matthew 19.3-12; Mark 2.23-28; Luke 6.1-10; Luke 13.10-16) We have little evidence of how Israel enacted Jubilee, but to whatever degree they did, it was insufficient. Great inequities persisted. (Deuteronomy 15.7, 11; 1 Samuel 2.8; Isaiah 41.17; Matthew 19.21, 26.11)

Implementing Jubilee would be insufficient. The gospel compels us to go beyond it. As the sacrifice of Christ surpasses the sacrifice of lambs, and our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, our sacrificial generosity should surpass that of Jubilee. (Matthew 5.20)

In Jesus, Jubilee is now and forever. Jubilee is the gospel. (Isaiah 55.1-2; John 7.37; Revelation 22.17

May our voices and actions be jubilant trumpets declaring liberty, freedom, and joy.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Our iniquities you have set before you, and our secret sins in the light of your countenance. — Psalm 90.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading

Leviticus 25 (Listen 7:41)
Acts 21 (Listen 5:55)

This Weekend’s Reading
Leviticus 26 (Listen 6:22), Acts 22 (Listen 4:26)
Leviticus 27 (Listen 4:45), Acts 23 (Listen 5:15)

Read more about Supporting Our Work
Please consider becoming a donor. Support ad-free content that brings biblical devotionals to inboxes across the world.

Read The Bible With Us
It’s never too late to join our Bible reading plan. Immerse in the Bible with us at a sustainable, two-year pace.

None Excluded or Excused

Scripture Focus: Acts 20.4-6
4 He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. 5 These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. 6 But we sailed from Philippi after the Festival of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days.

Reflection: None Excluded or Excused
By John Tillman

Paul was rarely alone and rarely did his work alone.

In Acts 18, we see that a group of believers accompanied Paul. Many of them are representatives from the communities he has just visited. Believers from Berea, Thessalonica, and Asia, as well as others, joined Paul. They left their own cities and situations to travel and work with Paul, taking the gospel to other communities.

We can sometimes forget that Paul’s ministry was never a one-man show. Seven of the thirteen “Pauline letters” open saying, “from Paul AND…” Paul and Sosthenes sent 1 Corinthians. Paul and Timothy sent 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Paul, Timothy, and Silas sent 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

Bible nerds debate whether these men were co-authors or scribes or letter carriers. To me, it seems scribes and letter carriers were typically mentioned at the end, not at the beginning and co-authorship does not threaten the quality of the letters or their authority or inspiration. Paul is, undeniably, the main voice but what the others might have contributed is a fun topic to think about.

More important than the question of co-authorship is recognizing the importance of teamwork in Paul’s ministry. If we have an idea of ministry as a top-down power structure, we’ve misread the book of Acts and Paul’s letters. We need to reimagine what ministry looks like in our heads. 

People often talk about “red flags” when visiting churches but when we first visited our current church, we saw a “green flag.” Instead of saying, “I’m the lead pastor” or “the senior pastor” or even “the teaching pastor,” the pastor said, “I’m one of the pastors at this church.” Those other phrases wouldn’t be sinful and would all be truthful. But consistently referring to himself as a collaborative leader was a sign of good things.

For Paul, ministry was collaborative. Paul’s ministry team included all races, men and women, young people and elders, slaves and free, rich and poor. Paul brought others with him because he valued them and their contributions. Not only was no one excluded from sharing the gospel, no one was excused from doing so. 

Are you one of those sharing the gospel? Who are you bringing along? Who are you collaborating with? Who is learning from you and from whom are you learning? 

Are you collaborating through funding, preaching, prophesying, serving, writing, traveling, or other means?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Your testimonies are very sure, and holiness adorns your house, O Lord, forever and forevermore. — Psalm 62.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 24 (Listen 2:58)
Acts 20 (Listen 5:22)

Read more about Embrace Your Mission
Paul’s mission brought others together and molded diverse people into unified disciples.

Read more about Facing Wolves
In hunting for “wolves” we can injure a lot of sheep. People who hunt wolves often become wolf-like themselves.

Holidays are Tabernacles

Scripture Focus: Leviticus 23:2
2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘These are my appointed festivals, the appointed festivals of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.

Reflection: Holidays are Tabernacles
By Erin Newton

Imagine you are far from home, perhaps forced away or maybe you’ve never found a place to call home. It is easy to become discouraged and lonely. You begin to wonder, “Who am I?”

Israel wandered the wilderness for forty years waiting for the place they would call home. In the exile, they watched their livelihood burn to the ground as they were forced into another wilderness.

The book of Leviticus has painstakingly detailed Israel’s religious identity. From the foods to eat to the clothes to wear, this book has covered seemingly every nook and cranny of their lives. Leviticus has brought order to their worship, cleanliness, relationships, and physical bodies. Now God will remind them of the order of time.

Israel participated in seven festivals a year and every seventh day was set aside as holy. The festivals were a periodic means of organizing time, making the calendar something that could define the people even when they were not in their land and felt far from God’s presence.

Richard Boyce summarizes the purpose of the festivals, “Every week, every month, every year now becomes a ‘camp’ wherein God’s holy presence might be manifest, through the observance of festivals.”

Even when they are far from home, God has created a temporal map to routinely bring them into his presence.

As Christians, we mark our calendar with different holy days. We focus on Christmas and Easter with some attention to Good Friday. Some churches also include celebrations for Epiphany, Pentecost, All Saints Day, and others.

We celebrate our holidays, but so do our neighbors. We are not distinguished because of our festivals.

The question becomes: Do we need more holidays to regain our religious identity, or do we need to reclaim our focus on the days already marked out for us?

We may feel lost, homesick, or unsure about where we fit in. We either can’t find our home or it’s out of our reach. It could be strained relationships or spiritual abuse that has created the distance. No matter the reason, at home or in exile, we can remember that our time is marked out for God.

At home or in pursuit of a new community, taking periodic days to focus on our relationship with God will help us gain a sense of identity. There is peace when we take the time to rest, remember, and reunite with God’s presence.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
Let me seek the Lord while he may still be found. I will call upon his name while he is near.

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 23 (Listen 6:31)
Acts 19 (Listen 5:47)

Read more about What Time is It?
Today, let us pray that we will understand the times and seasons that we find ourselves in.

Read more about Supporting Our Work
Please consider becoming a donor. Support ad-free content that brings biblical devotionals to inboxes across the world.

Portrait Shaped by Scripture

Scripture Focus: Acts 18.24-28
24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor t and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. 
27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. 

Reflection: Portrait Shaped by Scripture
By John Tillman

Apollos “proved” from the scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. 

This easy-to-miss phrase tells us that Apollos and the Jews had an agreed-upon interpretation of messianic prophecies and an agreed-upon set of facts about the life of Jesus. They compared the two and determined that they matched.

This was all happening just a few years after Jesus’ death. Information and people traveled fairly easily. Facts could be verified because people who experienced these events were still alive, including the people who condemned Jesus to death, those who carried out his sentence, and those who saw him resurrected. (1 Corinthians 15.3-7)

Our faith is a fact-based faith. The single-most important (and audacious) factual claim of Christianity is that Jesus was resurrected. Skeptics of this claim and of Christianity didn’t suddenly appear on the scene during the Age of Reason. Christianity was tested by skeptics immediately following the resurrection during a time in which its followers had no power or influence and it should have been easiest to disprove. 

Apollos was able to point to the portrait drawn by the writings of Isaiah and other biblical authors and then point to the life of Jesus. For many faithful Jews, it was obvious that they were the same picture. 

When we speak about the gospel or engage in discussion with those who don’t share our faith, it may be difficult for us to “prove” anything from the scriptures. Apollos’s audience knew the scriptures inside and out. Modern people don’t know or trust the scriptures. Not only do they not have positive knowledge of the scriptures, many have negative experiences with scripture being weaponized, twisted, and used to accuse, abuse, dehumanize, and attack them.

Before we prove anything from the scriptures, we may first have to show people a portrait of Jesus painted with our words and actions. If we can show the beauty of living in a way that shows the Father’s love, people will be willing to consider trusting our Father’s words.

Lord, help us to remember that some have been wounded by scripture.
Help our lives to be shaped by scripture into a beautiful artistic portrait of you.
May the picture we paint of you show that the scriptures are good so that others can believe the gospel.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me. — Psalm 66.14

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 22 (Listen 4:41)
Acts 18 (Listen 4:06)

Read more about A Different Kind of Exile
In 1 Peter 2, we see that the scattered exiles from Jerusalem…Their lives—their good deeds—are literally the arguments they are to defend themselves with.

Read more about Default Settings for Scripture
The “default settings” of our mindsets about scripture have a big effect on our ability to make use of them in the ways Paul and Peter intend.

Apotheosis of Politics

Scripture Focus: Acts 17.16-21
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

Image Note from John: The image in today’s post is a picture I took of “The Apotheosis of Washington” in the US Capitol, painted in 1865 by Constantino Brumidi.

Reflection: Apotheosis of Politics
By John Tillman

The United States drinks deeply from Greek and Roman culture—perhaps more deeply than it does from Christianity.

The founders of the United States were undeniably inspired by Christian ideals. But they were also undeniably inspired by Roman power structures and Greek theological anthropology that separates body and spirit.

The United States, in many ways, is a Christian nation. However, the influence of pre-Christian Greco-Roman ideals is so strong that one could say with equal support that the United States is a Greco-Roman nation.

As I write, I am visiting friends in Virginia, near Mount Vernon, and I’m sitting on a bench on the National Mall in DC, where the very layout of the streets and the architecture speak loudly about Greco-Roman influence.

Imagine standing with me and Paul in the dome of the Capitol to my right. Looking up, we would see, painted on the cupola “The Apotheosis of Washington.” Apotheosis means the elevating of someone to a god-like status. Washington looks down on us as he rises into heaven, surrounded by female figures representing victory/fame and liberty. Imagine walking with Paul past the Washington Monument to my left to see Abraham Lincoln sitting on a throne in a temple.

After walking around Washington DC as he walked around Athens, Paul might say to us, “I see that in every way you are very religious!”

I am a very patriotic person but I would probably respond to Paul saying, “Hey, we don’t REALLY worship these men or this country.” We might say, “Relax, Paul, it’s metaphorical…” 

But metaphors shape our thinking and if I’m honest, sometimes the way patriotism slides towards holy reverence bothers me. The way the founding fathers (or current want-to-be leaders) are venerated as if they were apostles or Moses or Jesus, frightens me. The way some equate the inspiration of our founding documents to the inspiration of the scriptures terrifies me.

As traditional religion declines, politics is the newest, fastest-growing religion. Political parties are denominations and candidates are gods and apostles. We must beware the temptations of this apotheosis of politics.

Jesus is indeed a “foreign god” to us. (Acts 17.18) His kingdom is opposed to, not aligned with, any human government or party. He intends to bring down the exalted and exalt the humiliated and the humble. We must hold our patriotism and our political activism more lightly than our faith.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Why are the nations in an uproar? Why do the peoples mutter empty threats?
Why do the kings of the earth rise up in revolt, and the princes plot together, against the Lord and against his Anointed?… Psalm 2.1-2

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
You are the Lord, most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. — Psalm 97.9

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 21 (Listen 3:08)
Acts 17 (Listen 5:28)

Read more about The Seductive Idolatry of Politics
Politics is the idol we bring with us to church just as the Israelites worshiped Baal alongside Jehovah.

Read more about Be Yoked to Christ, Not Politics
May no party or human leader be permitted to yoke us or Christ’s church to their cause.