The Day of Atonement
September 17, 2010
This evening at sunset, practitioners of Judaism will begin a day of complete Sabbath and fasting in commemoration of Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement.
Christians typically do not observe the Jewish holidays that were so important under the Mosaic Law, but it can be helpful to remember that our heritage in Christ reaches back to an earlier heritage in Moses. Part of the point made in the Gospels and in Hebrews is that Jesus Christ is, in a sense, the fulfillment of the Law, and He is a better representation of God’s relationship with us than any of the dim reflections found in the Law of Moses. And yet, we miss out on something if we do not appreciate the customs and practices that find so many fulfillments in Christ. They are still part of our heritage.
The Day of Atonement finds its fullest description in Leviticus 16. If you read this passage, you’ll find all sorts of odd and interesting elements—bulls, blood, ritual washings, scapegoats. The overriding principle of the event, however, was that God provided a way for people to acknowledge their sins and experience forgiveness, but not without sacrifice. Our holy God demands purity, but He provides a way for us to receive what we could not achieve on our own. We see this in the history of Yom Kippur, but we experience it ourselves in what God has done by sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins.
When we come together Sunday to partake of the unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine, let’s remember that these represent the body and blood of Christ. He sacrificed Himself for us so that we could receive atonement. He became, in a sense, our scapegoat. We know from the New Testament book of Hebrews (7:27; 10:1-14) that Jesus’ sacrifice does not have to be repeated. We no longer observe an annual Day of Atonement. But we do need to be reminded that He was sacrificed because of our sinfulness. We do need to be reminded that God calls us to remember Him and live appropriate lives of faith. We do need to be reminded that true atonement is in Christ alone, and as His life and death were devoted to pointing people to the Father, so too should our lives be devoted to the sharing of God’s good news with the world we live in. Take some time and think about the seriousness of our sin and the remarkable nature of the sacrifice God made in order to render us clean.
Hebrews 10:19-25 says, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, (20) by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, (21) and since we have a great priest over the house of God, (22) let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (23) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (24) And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, (25) not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
In Christ alone,