Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement. It’s the highest of holy days in the Jewish Faith. It’s the day when observant – and even non-observant Jews – call to mind their sins; A day when Jews humble themselves with fasting and prayer, and appeal to God for forgiveness.
The holy day has its roots in the Jewish Scriptures, specifically Leviticus chapters 16 and 17. On this day the high priest received two sacrificial animals from the congregation. One he slaughtered, catching its blood in a basin, and then sprinkled it on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant – a gold-lined box kept in the special room in the Tabernacle – and later in the Temple. The special room in both the Tabernacle and the Temple was called the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest could enter that room, and only once a year with the blood of the sacrificial animal.
It's important that we know the name of the lid of the Ark was called the “Mercy Seat.” The Hebrew word for Mercy Seat translates to the Greek word used by the New Testament writers – propitiation. The Hebrew and Greek words mean, “to a make atonement for, to remove sins and the associated judgment for those sins.” The word carries the idea of appeasing God’s wrath against the sinner because of his or her sins.
On Yom Kippur the high priest also took to himself a second sacrificial animal. He placed both his hands on its head and transferred to it all the sins of the people. The ‘scapegoat’ (as it was called) was then led out into the desert, never to be seen again.
In other words, God was not only covering the people’s sins with the blood sprinkled on the Mercy Seat, but He was also showing them He was removing their sins from their midst by the sacrificial animal sent out to the wilderness – or as the Psalmist tells us in psalm 103, God removed the penitent’s sins “as far as the east is from the west.”
We who are familiar with Yom Kippur AND the scriptures of the New Covenant – I’ll get to that New Covenant in a moment – those who know of Yom Kippur and the New Covenant understand the Day of Atonement was a picture of what God would do on Good Friday, when He placed the sins of the world on the body of Messiah Jesus, who filled the role of the sacrificed animal when He spilled His blood on the cross to cover our sins – AND Messiah filled the role of the scapegoat who took our sins as far from us as east is from the west.
To those of you who remember that wondrous prophetic passage in Isaiah 53, written 700 years before Jesus was born, you will immediately recognize the connection: “(Isaiah 53:5-6) “But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (21st Century KJV)
And those of you familiar with the Bible will also recognize the connection between Yom Kippur in Leviticus, along with the promise of atonement in Isaiah’s prophecy – you’ll see the connection with God's promise of a New Covenant – a New ‘Testament’ – that Jeremiah told us about in the 31st chapter of his Biblical book:
(Jeremiah 31:31-34) “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Focus a moment on that last clause: “I will remember their sin no more.”
That means YOUR sin. My sin. EVERONE’S sin whose sins are atoned through the bloody sacrifice of the Lamb of God – Messiah Jesus.
Yom Kippur is all about sin, isn’t it? Well, not completely. Yom Kippur and Good Friday are all about God's incomprehensible love for us and His understanding that our sin-nature makes it utterly impossible for us to free ourselves from our sins. Yom Kippur is all about God's forgiveness of the penitent’s sins and about FREEDOM from the penalty our sins so richly deserve.
Let me give you a personal illustration of how sin is so entwined with our nature that only God Himself can free us:
I go back in my memory to Yom Kippur in 1972. The holy day fell on September 18 of that year. I was sitting in my navy barracks, thinking about my Jewishness, and my relationship with God. And the thought suddenly dropped into my mind of what I had done exactly one year earlier, on Yom Kippur 1971.
I’d awaked on that day feeling badly that I was not a good Jew. And so, since it was Yom Kippur, I decided to change my life. And to prove to God I was earnest about my decision, I would fast and pray – and start living a holy lifestyle.
And I did fine all morning. But then my girlfriend unexpectedly rang the doorbell. It wasn’t long before we ended up in bed.
That memory of Yom Kippur 1971 now haunted me on Yom Kippur 1972. How could I be unable to live a holy life devoted to God for even a few hours?
Just a few HOURS?
When God opens our eyes to our sins, we do one of three things. We ignore what He shows us. Or we make excuses for ourselves. Or we acknowledge our sins and beg His forgiveness.
What I did on that day in 1972 was to pray a very simple – but very heart-felt prayer. I even wrote the prayer in my journal: “Oh, God. Please, God, “Forgive me my past sins, and look with tolerance on my future sins.”
Yom Kippur 1971 convinced me I could not consistently live a godly lifestyle, not even for 24 hours. In 1972, the memory of bedding my girlfriend on the most holy day of my Jewish faith convinced me I was undeniably trapped by sin. I could only hope when I prayed that simple Yom Kippur prayer in my navy barracks that God would be kind enough to forgive me.
And – He was.
A few months later, on December 25, 1972, He showed me Jesus had become my atonement, my sacrificial Lamb. He was the One on whom the Father placed ALL my iniquities. Jesus was – and IS – my Jewish Messiah. It was in Jesus that God would forgive my moral failures – not only the one on Yom Kippur 1971, but He would forgive ALL my sins. Every last one of them. The small ones and the monstrous ones. In Messiah Jesus, who died as the atonement for my sins – I could be eternally forgiven, cleansed, and made right with God.
But I really do not want this message to be about me. It needs to be about YOU. It needs to be about anyone willing to admit to God that they’re trapped in sin, that they need a Savior, an Atonement for their sins.
God did not turn me away when I came to Him in humility. Neither will He turn away anyone who comes to Him for forgiveness.
Jesus came for sinners. He did not come for those who think they do not need His forgiveness. You might remember the story Jesus told of the self-righteous Pharisee and the humble sinner.
Luke 18:10-14 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Jesus came for those who recognize their utter insufficiency to live an abundant and full life apart from God. Many of you might remember Simon and Garfunkel’s song, “I Am a Rock.” Here are some of the lyrics:
“I've built walls; A fortress deep and mighty; that none may penetrate . . .
I am a rock. I am an island. “I am shielded in my armor, hiding in my room, safe within my womb. I touch no one and no one touches me. I am a rock. I am an island. And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.”
Jesus came for people who LIVE songs like that, but who do not WANT to live like that any longer. Jesus says to all of us, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Listen! If you haven’t recognized it yet, I pray God will open your eyes before it is too late. It was St. Augustine who said what every humble soul recognizes: “God has made us for Himself, and our hearts are RESTLESS until they find their rest in HIM.”
Now let me also say this. Jesus said His yoke is easy – but it is still a yoke. He said His burden is light – but it is still a burden. Why is it a yoke and a burden? Because following Messiah Jesus as LORD of our life was never meant to be easy. And I’m here to tell you that radio, television, and pulpit preachers who say – or even HINT that it is easy – they’re liars, false teachers, blind shepherds leading blind congregations.
The faithful Christian life is NOT easy. Jesus warned, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
He said again in John 16:33 “In the world you have tribulation but take courage; I have overcome the world.” And St. Paul told the Christians he won to the Lord during his missionary journeys: (Acts 14:22) “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
You and I do not have to look any further than our own lives to know what the Bible says is true about living faithfully for Almighty God. It’s been hard for us over these many years to walk the narrow way and to bend low through that small gate. And don’t expect it to get easier as we get older. That’s also why the Lord Jesus told us repeatedly that only those who persevere will receive the crown of life. (See Revelation chapter 2-3),
Listen! Jesus is our Yom Kippur atonement, given to us by the Father, so that those who walk in darkness, who are confused, who are unsure of the correct path toward the Celestial City may find IN HIM, and ONLY in Him, that path.
St. Matthew tells us that when Jesus settled in Capernaum He fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a Light dawned.”
And what did Jesus, the Light of the world do when He settled in Capernaum? How did He direct the people OUT of their darkness and into His light? Matthew tells us: From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:16-17)
The New Covenant Sacrificial Lamb of Moses, of Isaiah, of Jeremiah and of all the other prophets I didn’t now mention only for the sake of time – Messiah Jesus came for those who search for TRUTH, for those who are unsatisfied with self-deceptions and ‘feel good’ messages in books and from social media.
Listen! God's Truth is both hard in its reality and sharp in its clarity. The Holy Spirit warns us against listening to teachers and preachers who tickle the ears of their listeners with words they want to hear instead of words they NEED to hear:
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
I came across this word of warning by a mid-20th century preacher, A W Pink (d.1952). What he said reads like something any of the New Testament writers said:
“To turn away from the lifeless preachers and publishers of the day may involve a real cross. Your motives will be misconstrued, your words perverted, and your actions misinterpreted. The sharp arrows of false report will be directed against you. You will be called proud and self- righteous, because you refuse to fellowship empty professors (i.e. false Christians). You will be termed censorious and bitter if you condemn in plain speech the subtle delusions of Satan. You will be dubbed narrowminded and uncharitable, because you refuse to join in singing the praises of the ‘great’ and ‘popular men’ of the day.”
“More and more, you’ll be made to painfully realize that the path which leads to eternal life is narrow and that few there are who find it. May the Lord be pleased to grant to each of us a hearing ear and an obedient heart [and] take heed to what [we] hear and read.” (Bible teacher and evangelist, A W Pink, d. 1952)
Yom Kippur is a good day – as good as any day of the year – to confess your sins to God and to ask His forgiveness through and by and with the sacrificial blood of Jesus.
And even if you’ve asked those things of God in the past, today is still a good day to do it again. I repeatedly ask God to forgive me and to cleanse me of my many daily sins. And I hope you are actively doing the same.
And this is His promise to all who humbly ask His forgiveness: (1 John 1:8-9) “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Thanks alone to our God our Savior, Jesus the Messiah.