16 Sep 2017

The Jubilee People: Jesus and His “Old Testament” Theology of Forgiveness for the Church (Mt 18.21-35)

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Forgiveness, Hebrew Bible, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Kingdom, Matthew

In our “Journey thru the Bible” we have been in the Gospels and in fact finished reading them this morning after Psalm time.  I love Jesus. I even worship him. His story is so compelling.  And reading the Gospels as a continuation of the same narrative contained in the first part of my Bible really makes Jesus “come alive” in ways that are powerful.

This morning for some reason I was drawn back to an earlier reading in the Gospel of Matthew.  And there the story of Jesus, the story of Israel and the story of me all came together.  In this text Jesus teaches the church about forgiveness.

Jesus and His Old Testament Theology Directed at the Church. (Yes the teaching of Jesus is for the church)

In this text, the call of Jesus is for us to be “The Return from Exile, Jubilee Immanuel People.” That is people molded by the heart of the theology of the Hebrew Bible. I pray you will appreciate this text more, your own relationship with God more and Jesus more …

You remember that powerful parable of Jesus in Matthew 18.21-35. The story begins with Peter asking how many times we should forgive a brother or sister caught in a terrible offense (vv.15-20) “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” (NRSV)

The Jewish theologian from Nazareth replied “Not even seven times but, I tell you, seventy times seven times.”

Ears to Hear: The “Old Testament” Baseline

This is a classic example to illustrate Jesus’s call to have ears to hear. Two powerful themes from the Hebrew Bible are quite literally shoved into Peter’s face by Jesus. These numbers, 70s and 7s, were floating in the air of Jesus’s day. But where did they come from and what were their significance?

Daniel 9

The first theme comes from book of Daniel. In Daniel 9, we are told Daniel prays to God in Exile. The exiled Daniel reminds God that he had read in the “book of Jeremiah the prophet” that the time of Exile would be “70 years” (9.2). Daniel continues in his prayer basically telling God it is time for the promised forgiveness to happen and time for Israel to return to the Land (9.3-19). The time of forgiveness has come is Daniel’s plea. Gabriel was dispatched to bring a response to Daniel’s prayer.  The angel tells Daniel that indeed he is right. The prophecy is coming true but not in the manner he assumes. Instead of 70, it will be “70×7” or 490 years. We see our phrase in that Jesus uses to answer Peter.

In Jesus’s day many Jews actually had their “calculators” out and expected the seasons of refreshment (see Peter’s statement in Acts 3.19-20) to be then (or now). God was doing his new work again. That is God would come and dwell with them again as in the days of old, as in the days of the glorious Exodus and the Temple (Exodus 40.34-38 & 1 Chronicles 5.13-14; 7.1-2) . So Jesus is telling Peter the time has come. It is Time to be Immanuel – God with them – People. The Forgiveness People. What Daniel had prayed for has come.

Leviticus 25

The second powerful connection in Matthew 18 is Leviticus 25, the great year of Jubilee, the year of grace, the year of forgivness.  The great, even unbelievable, command that every 7×7 years the people of God are to mimic Yahweh by forgiving one another’s debts. A life time of crippling debt (literal debt), grudges, animosities, and hates had sapped the life out of God’s people. The coming of the “year of the Lord’s favor” is signaled by the blowing of the shofar along with massive parties to celebrate liberation, restoration, redemption, and forgiveness (the entire parable Jesus tells is literally a “Jubilee” parable … the King destroys the records of debt and forgives.)

One of the fundamental claims of the Gospels is that in the person and ministry of Jesus, the Year of Jubilee has arrived with a vengeance! It is difficult to properly read the Gospels without the Jubilee motif constantly before our eyes and ears. But we moderns often miss it because of a failure to know the Hebrew Bible inside and out.

So Jesus tells Peter, the disciples — you and me — that we are the return from Exile people (we are no longer exiled from his Presence because Matthew tells us God is among us). We are the Immanuel People. We are those among whom God dwells.

If God has come to live with us we have been delivered, we have been set free, we have been forgiven. Jesus tells Peter that as such we are  to be “The Jubilee People.” In the Year of Jubilee there is no keeping a slate of the wrongs committed against us. The slate has been whipped clean and then destroyed! We are the 490 times, or better the people who just do not keep a record of wrongs. The means of keeping a record of grudges is itself gone. So Jesus is saying, “Peter if you are going to be a part of this return to the presence of God movement, then you have to be a Jubilee person. Stop parceling out grace, mercy and forgiveness as if it were mint, dill and cumin that Pharisees parse!!

The Jubilee People

Matthew, in telling the story of Jesus in chapter 18, is making massive claims about not only Jesus but also those who would be his “church” — as this parable directed to the church (18.15-20). It is not enough to claim to believe certain things about Jesus to be his church. It is not enough to proclaim certain marks of the one true church.

To be Christ’s church is to be a Jubilee, Return from Exile, Immanuel Forgiveness People!

This is what is going on in Matthew 18. What we call the “Old Testament” is quite literally essential to having any understanding of the text … and we pray that we become those 70×7 … that is those who do not keep track of sin … people. We do not even have a tablet to write the records upon (cf. Ps 130).

Exile is ended. Jubilee has begun. Immanuel is with us. So act like it, the Messiah says to Peter … and to you and to me.

Shalom & Be Blessed

One Response to “The Jubilee People: Jesus and His “Old Testament” Theology of Forgiveness for the Church (Mt 18.21-35)”

  1. Dwight Says:

    I don’t think I ever made the connection between Jesus when he tells them in Matt. 18:22 not to forgive seven times, but seventy times seven as being linked to Jubilee. This also drives or should drive the point that if we are willing to forgive another to this extent, then God will be willing to forgive us as well to this extent.
    For those of us in the conservative coC we need to learn that mercy is greater than sacrifice and judgment.

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