The Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur – literally the ‘day of covering over’. The most sacred day of the Jewish calendar. It’s a day of reconciliation. It’s a day when the sins of the whole community were atoned for through an elaborate form of sacrifice. A temporary, ineffective covering over. No person, not even the high priest, could make atonement for their own sins – blood was needed to be shed by a substitute. At the time various animals would do. But it was always a temporary substitution in need of repetition. The animal sacrifices are but shadows of the ‘better’ sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The killing of the first goat demonstrates that a death must take place; the sending of the scapegoat into the desert symbolically represents the removal of sin, emphasising perhaps the separation caused by sin but more positively the way in which sin is expunged from the community through the sacrificial system. It all shows though how in life before Jesus sin could be put away but never completely eliminated.
But of course, all of this points to a greater sacrifice and a fulfilment of the promise that ‘as far as the east is from the west so far has he removed our transgressions from him’. Let’s just think about the difference Jesus makes. Jesus was sinless (Heb 7:26) – unlike the Levitical high priest he did not have to atone for himself before being able to atone for the people. He is our permanent high priest (Heb 7:24). He fulfils the role at one and the same time of both the sacrifice (Heb 9) and high priest (Heb 8). He is the victim and the victor. As a consequence, our sin – that which separates us from God - is not merely superficially covered over but removed (Heb 10). Not only is the penalty of sin – death – atoned for, but the power of sin over us is broken. We can live free.
His one, perfect sacrifice opens up the way to the Father; the curtain is torn, His life-blood poured out for us enables us to be welcomed into the presence of His love. He has borne our sins, reconciled us to Himself, He is our redeemer, and in Him we find assurance of forgiveness, peace, joy, acceptance, welcome, a life worth living.
Let us not rely on good works, charity, or the study of religion to make ourselves right with God ‘for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God’ (Eph 2:8).
1 John 4:10 ‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’ Spend some time drawing close to the God who loves you and gave Himself for you.