Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Appreciating our Atonement: Yom Kippur Made Simple

Perhaps Yom Kippur is a day that has passed on your calendar year after year and you never paid much attention. Though we in modern Christianity tend to think of it typically as a "Jewish thing," my hope for readers of this blog is that you to begin to understand that the precious words of God transcend religion. Words from YHWH are first and foremost a God thing, worthy of our attention and investigation, at the very least. So even if you don't particularly feel inclined to observe these Old Testament Moedim (Hebrew for "Appointed Times"), let me challenge you to better understand what it's all about - when you see what a beautiful picture it paints of our Messiah's love and care for us, when you are enlightented to the powerful and prophetic day that points to our victory in Christ Jesus, you might just change your mind. But first thing's first: Read Leviticus 16 all the way through.

An Annual Event

It's a long passage, and I'm going to begin by pointing out something toward the end of it. Notice the summary of this annual feast day is in verses 29-31:

This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your soul and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the lord. It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you,
that you may humble your souls; it is a
permanent statute.

By now you have probably seen calendar of God on this blog enough that you are pretty familiar with it. Let's look at the Moedim of the Lord yet again:

We've seen how, as pictured above, the spring holidays are prophetic pictures of events that occurred during the first coming of our Messiah - His death for our sin, His death and burial, His resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We also looked at the first of the fall feasts, which have yet to be fulfilled and serve as reminders of the events in God's salvation plan that have yet to be. Yom Teruah/The Feast of Trumpets), we learned, is an annual wake up call, pointing to the Trump of God that will one day signal the judgement of God and the grand entrance of our Messiah's second coming.

Each of these events are annual commemorations, celebrating what the Lord has been faithful to fulfill thus far and reminding us of the events that are still to come. The purpose is to help us to keep the big picture of what this life is all about on the front burner of our minds all year long. What a kind and patient God He is; He knows that our tendency is to forget, and so He set these days in motion to gently nudge us to keep our focus and our attention on Him.

The Day of Atonement is no different. It is a day to stop, to pause, to reflect and to remember. But what exactly is it all about? And if we who follow Jesus Christ are dead to our sins and have made Him Lord of our lives, how is this relevant to us at all? Aren't we already "clean"? Do we need a day each year to atone for our sin?

A Physical Event Depicting a Future Spiritual Event

If we are in a faith relationship grounded in the sacrifice of Christ for our atonement, then no, we do not rely upon this Yom Kippur for our own removal of sin. It is no longer about that. But as we await our Messiah's return and look to a day that sin no longer dwells among us, we can look back to the sacrifice that made our freedom possible. This day, for believers in Christ, is a memorial, a solemn day of reflecting and honoring the sacrifice that was made on our behalf, of the cost of our freedom. When I think of what has been forgiven and washed away from my own life, I reckon spending one day meditating on that is the very least I could do!
We have to remember that while these things actually happened, they served as prophetic pictures - tangible, worldly practices that had spiritual implications for us. In the details of the prescribed ritual itself, the ones we would normally be tempted to look over, we find our answer to what this day is all about.

Often I try to take myself to an "aerial view" of what is happening when I read passages like this. I look at the very basic picture and try to think about where I have seen it before in other places in Scriptures. Let's take a look at a few of the images here in this ritual we see in these verses :

          The High Priest (vs 2-4)

In the first few verses, Moses is told that people are not able, and are not even allowed to simply make atonement for themselves. Someone has to do it on their behalf - in this case, a high priest. And he was not to come before God in his typical beautiful attire. He had to remove all of the colorful adornment you see pictured here. He had to don a simple, humble white tunic.
When I read this, I remember that while Aaron was the high priest of the Old Testament Scriptures, he was but a shadow of the High Priest that presides over us now, who is our messiah, who humbled Himself that He might make atonement on our behalf when we could not do it for ourselves.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
 Hebrews 4:14-15

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:5-8

Beloved, we cannot do anything to become right with God. Nothing we can do - no penance, no good deed, could erase our sinful past. And we all have a sinful past, according to God. But thankfully, there is One who was willing to go before us, to approach God when we could not, to intercede, to make restitution, to make peace with God possible for us.

  The Scapegoat (vs 5-10, 20-22)                       

 In modern vernacular, we think of a scapegoat as a person who is made to bear the blame for others or to suffer in another's place. This term has survived thousands of years and comes from this passage in Leviticus.
Again, from our big picture view, we see that two goats are presented before God - one will be sacrificed, and the other is sent into the wilderness, "to a solitary land," bearing the weight of the sin of Israel on itself.

There are many volumes of commentaries written by experts who will know more than I ever will about biblical study who have speculated as to the meaning of these two goats. But I will humbly offer you my speculation as to the spiritual implications here. The two goats serve two separate functions involved in the atonement - the blood of the one goat 'atones' for the sin, covers for it. It serves as a substitute, paying what is due for the sin of the sinner. The other goat bearing the sin is sent away. In a sense, it is the sin that is being sent away and not the goat. The meaning implied is that it is going so far away it will never return - it is gone forever.

When I think of the atoning work of Christ, I see that these two goats very much relate to two aspects of our atonement today. Jesus did die on the cross to serve as a substitute for us, taking onto Himself all that we deserved, as it says in the Scriptures:

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.
Isaiah 53:4-6

Yet, when I wake up every morning, I don't know about you, but I still struggle with sin. I drive to work every morning and that sin nature bubbles to the surface when someone cuts me off. I see its effects in the world through hurting, heartache, disease, loss, death, hatred. Sin is very much still a part of the world today. And that is where I think the second goat - the Scapegoat - comes in.

We read about the fulfillment of the day of atonement in Revelation 20 and 21, during the great judgment at the throne of God. Here those who are in the Book of Life, who have trusted Jesus as their Messiah, are separated from those who have not. Here is where we find  death and Hades cast away, and every other effect that sin has brought to the world.

...and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will be no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
Revelation 21:4

So, in one sense, we know that our atonement is secure and final in Jesus; but we can look forward to a day when the sin struggle and its nasty side effects are completely removed from our world, and when our amazing, merciful God, there will at long last dwell among us, with no more sin serving as a barrier between us.

                The Sacrifices (vs. 11-19)

This image is not an easy one to look at. It's overwhelmingly gruesome. Some of you will wonder why I would post something like this. But I do it intentionally because we need to understand something very important from these verses about the animals that died. Atonement and grace are free for you and me, but they DO cost something. In order for us to have the freedom that we enjoy, something else -Someone else - had to lose life. We should never forget that.

When we come to these verses about Aaron bringing the sacrifices, we must be careful not to skim past them. Let that image sink in. The beautiful veil inside that temple was splashed and stained. When Aaron emerged in his white garments, he was no doubt filthy and soaked. Atonement is a dirty job. So often we take the gift with no recognition of the tremendous pain Jesus underwent for us. When we fail to see this picture, it is much easier for us to return to our sinful lifestyle. But when I think of the cost...when I see this and know that it should have been me...something sickens me and I stop in my tracks. How much more grateful we are able to be when we see this physical picture of what we were spared from. And what He did for us. Hallelujah!

Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
Hebrews 10:11-14

Appreciating Our Atonement


So after reading all the background, I submit to you that this Day of Atonement, this God-instituted day of fasting and repentance, is a wonderful opportunity. In my house, we make it a day to spend time before the Lord thinking about the past year, doing some self-reflection and allowing the Holy Spirit to identify some areas where we need teaching and healing in the coming year. We repent, we make goals, we make commitments to God and to one another. It is also a day of praising and commemorating Jesus the Messiah as our high priest, who went in to the holy of holies on the day of His crucifixion to atone for our sins. Isaiah depicts it best in his words,

Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke?

The Lord instituted this day that it would be a time to address and release you from the bondage of the footholds you are currently encountering. It is a day of new beginnings. Of self observation. And of repentance, so that you can truly live freely in your freedom.

Maybe next time Yom Kippur rolls around you can try to think of it as this - and if you do, maybe it can help focus your thoughts if you ask yourself the following questions:

• Is the way I'm living my life honoring the freedom which Christ's sacrifice purchased for me? If not, in what way? why?

• What sins have become part of my regular behavior and character that I need to address and repent of?

• How am I showing gratitude to God for my freedom through my lifestyle, attitudes, and my words? What needs to change?

God doesn’t at all want us to live in shame, but we do need to feel the weight of our intentional sins. They should give us grief and sorrow. We should never have the attitude of “Eh, Jesus died for me, so I can live how I want.” No, as Paul says, we should not "continue in sin that grace may abound." And John says that no one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. If we are truly saved, if we truly know God, there should be evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, transforming our old sinful habits into a lifestyle of holiness that honors and exalts Him. We will never be perfect, but our hearts and minds should be striving toward being a holy vessel, equipped for His use.

I hope you find this helpful in your walk, Beloved. I pray for you continually and am grateful for your continued reading and response.


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