Jubilee Bells: A Christmas Meditation on God’s Redemption in Christ

gold colored and black hanging bells near wall

  Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.
Luke 1:68 

And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Luke 2:32

27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads,
because your redemption is drawing near.”
Luke 21:27–28 

But [the two disciples] had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel . . .
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them
in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Luke 24:21, 27

Since I was a child I have heard and sung Jingle Bells too many times to count. At Christmas, that song is a staple. Yet, until this year I had never considered the place that Jubilee Bells, or rather a Jubilee trumpet might play at Christmas. And as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ I want to share a few reflections on Christ’s birth that relate to the Jubilee told in Leviticus 25, retold in Isaiah 61, and folded into the swaddling cloths that held Jesus.

Indeed, Jubilee is not just a part of the Levitical law, nor a planned redemption of Israel’s land and people. Jubilee is a part of God’s revelation that prepared the way for Christ. In Luke 4, Jesus announced his ministry with the words of Isaiah 61, which tell of the redemption God was planning for his people. Clearly, Jesus had an understanding of his role in redemption, as one who was fulfilling the prophetic word. Yet, Isaiah 61 goes back to Leviticus 25, and the redemption of redemptions promised in the Jubilee.

Even more, as we read Luke’s account of Christ’s birth with the light of Leviticus 25, we can see how the Evangelist portrayed the birth of Christ as indicating the coming of Jubilee and the restoration of all things. While this biblical theological meditation would require a full consideration of Leviticus 25, Isaiah 61; Daniel 9, as well as Luke and Hebrews, in the spirit of Christmas, I will focus on what we see in Luke’s Gospel. For in itself, Luke shows in at least four ways how Christ, from his birth to his death and resurrection, fulfills the ancient promise of Jubilee.

With that in mind, let’s consider how Christmas requires us to sing not Jingle Bells, but a carol of the bells celebrating Israel’s long-awaited redemption. Continue reading

Acts 13:13-41 (pt. 2, Fall & Redemption)

After Paul addresses his audience and touches on creation, he moves to the heart of the gospel: the desperate lostness of fallen sinners and the compassionate grace of God to provide redemption in Jesus Christ.  Here is the second part of my exposition on Paul’s sermon in Acts 13:

Redemption is the theme of the Bible, and in Abraham redemption begins to take shape. God who made mankind in his image, to bear his likeness, and rule his creation, is now restoring a people for himself. Mankind by way of deception sinned against God, incurred his judgment, and fell under the thralldom of sin and Satan and incurred the righteous judgment of death and damnation (cf. Gen. 3; Rom. 5:12-21). Yet, from the first sin in the garden forward, YHWH has been seeking to save a people for himself (Gen. 3:15), and the covenant with Abraham is the first official announcement of such good news (cf. Gal. 3:8). (The covenant with Noah, though necessary for salvation history to continue, preserves humanity more than it promises redemption).

Moving forward in Paul’s sermon, the great apostle emphasizes the shape of redemption in the story of the Exodus. Paul recounts Israel’s captivity in Egypt and speaks of “the uplifted arm” that delivered the people of Israel from Pharaoh’s afflictions (Acts 13:17). The uplifted arm pictures both Moses lifting the staff at the Red Sea (Ex. 14:6) and more powerfully the effect of God’s righteous right arm which promised salvation for Israel (Ex. 6:6; cf. Isa. 51:5; 52:10; 59:16)—the first connection is literal and historic, the second is an anthropomorphism but just as historic.

Paul goes on to rehearse the salvation history of Israel (Acts 13:18ff). He recounts God’s patient endurance in the wilderness, his powerful leadership in the entry and conquest into the promised land. He references the destruction of the nations (v.18), the exaltation of Israel (v. 19), the cycle of disobedience, judgment, contrition, and deliverance through a God-ordained mediator, and the painful return to disobedience found in Judges (v. 20), and finally the establishment of the king (v.21).  The arrival of the king is a fulfillment of kingdom promises in the Torah; it is also the high point of Israel history, one that would establish an everlasting covenant for David’s descendent to reign on the throne (2 Sam. 7), and one that would permanently guarantees YHWH’s provision of such a king (cf. Is. 9:6-7; 11:1-10; Dan. 2:44-45; etc. ). Though this kingdom tottered and fell, the Messianic promises remain and have now been fulfilled in Christ (v. 23). This leads Paul to his next phase in his sermon.

Moving from ancient Scripture to the recent events of the Messianic fulfillment, Paul recalls the ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Verse 23 is the culminating verse, “From the descendents of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus!” Surely the Jewish segment of Paul’s audience would have been tracking with him through the history of Israel, some may have even granted him the inclusion of John the Baptist, but when he turned to Jesus Christ, he was submitting a whole new chapter in the history of God and his revelation. Yet, this is clearly the final crescendo in God’s master symphony. Jesus Christ came as the son of Abraham and the son of David (Matt. 1:1), the recipient of all the promises and the royal son who would sit on the throne of David. He obeyed all the law and thus upheld the covenant long since broken by the rest of Israel (Matt. 5:17-18). In this Paul upholds Jesus as the perfect Israelite who ratified the covenant with YHWH and made a way of salvation for his brethren.

Then Paul, capturing the attention of his audience again, (v. 26), declaims how Jesus was misunderstood, how the Scriptures well-known and well-read in Jerusalem were dismissed concerning Jesus, and how the leaders sought to dispatch of this unruly prophet. Paul recounts the suffering, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus (13:26-29). But as soon as Paul touches the low note of Jesus death, he responds with the positive affirmation of his resurrection from the dead (13:30). The crucified savior is none other than the exalted messiah! In the life of Jesus, both the suffering servant and exalted messiah are embodied. Jesus himself is the message of salvation, and his resurrection is its final and highest proof. This is the good news and the completion of all that God has promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and the prophets, and this is the full-orbed biblical-theological gospel message that Paul left with the Galatians (and us).

The question then becomes, what must I do in to know this Jesus, the risen king, and the triumphant savior?  We will consider Paul’s conclusion tomorrow, but you can know for yourself today today: Acts 13.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss