2012 marks the 50th anniversary of our church. Below are a few lines I composed for the occasion:
The Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about birthdays, anniversaries, and the like. The Israelites had their yearly feast of Passover, of course … like we have our regular observances of the Lord’s Supper. But there is not much said about ten year anniversaries of this great event, or twenty-five year celebrations of that thing God did. One exception, however, was the year of jubilee – to be celebrated every fifty years, dating back to the year the Israelites came into the Land of Promise.
You shall have the fiftieth year as a jubilee. Leviticus 25.11
There was something special about the fiftieth year. In that year, the Israelites released their indentured servants from their debts and their servitude. In that year, every Hebrew returned to the parcel of ground which God had first given to his tribal and familial forefathers in the land of Canaan 50, 100, and 200 years since. In that year, no crops were sown, but the people lived off the provision from the prior harvest. It was, in short, the Sabbath of Sabbaths. After seven sets of seven years came this one year of remembering and rejoicing!
Now, of course, we are no longer operating under the same covenantal forms of governance as in ancient Israel. We do not live in the Land of Canaan. Nor do we have indentured servants who might need releasing. And most of us don’t own any farmland on which we might refrain from sowing crops. Therefore there is much about the Old Testament year of jubilee that does not apply to us. And yet, as we mark fifty years of the Lord’s faithfulness to Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, there is application to be made from Leviticus 25. Namely that …
Fifty years is a good distance from which to look backward at God’s faithfulness and salvation!
That is, essentially, what the Israelites were doing each time the jubilee came around. There were, of course, a number of divine purposes behind the year of jubilee. But perhaps most straightforward was that, by sending them all back to their original tribal allotments fifty years after their first entrance into the Land, God was reminding His people of all He’d done for them in that time span – of His bringing them across the Jordan River on dry ground; of His driving out from before them the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; of His lining out of their tribal allotments in Canaan; of His settling them in houses they had not built and with vineyards they had not planted, and so on. At fifty years, sufficient enough time had passed that the people could look back and say: ‘God really has done amazing things, hasn’t He? We weren’t sure how it was all going to pan out in those early days, but look how far the Lord has brought us!’
And we can look back and say similar things, can we not? Look at all that God has done for the many people who have worshipped Him on this
hilltop for these last five decades. Who knew, in 1962, how it all would turn out? Would this little band of believers survive as a church? Would they see God’s blessing? Well, at a distance of fifty years, we can surely say that the answer was ‘yes’! Every Lord’s Day, for 2600 weeks, the good news of Jesus has been heralded in this place! Scores of people have been converted to Christ through this church’s witness. God has quashed our enemy’s attacks, again and again, by the preaching of the word and the praising of His name on this hillside! Numerous children have been raised, by this congregation, in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, and grown up to serve Jesus. Pastors have been raised up from this congregation. Missionaries have been sent out. And many of our beloved brothers and sisters have, in these last five decades, made safe landing in the harbor of heaven, helped along the way by the love, counsel, accountability, and truth poured into their lives by this family of believers. What reasons we have for jubilee!
Remember, too, that returning to the land and going over the memories wasn’t the only thing that the Israelites were to do during the fiftieth year. They were also to release their servants, and to cancel the arrears of their debtors! Why? As a reminder that they, too, had once been captives and debtors – both in Egypt, and to sin! But in the year of jubilee, when debts were cancelled and captives set free, God was reminding His people that they, too, had been released from sin’s captivity and debt! They, too, had been set free by the blood of a spotless Lamb! And what a good thing for us to fix our attention on at the end of fifty years atop this “pleasant ridge” – we once were lost, but now we’re found; were blind, but now we see! That’s worth remembering … and celebrating!
What has God done in your life these last fifty (or twenty, or ten, or two) years since you first sat down with these people in this place? There is no better time to thank Him than in this year of jubilee!