This coming week on Wednesday the Jewish community will be celebrating Yom Kippur, also known as the day of Atonement. On the Jewish calendar this is the most solemn of all holidays. In the Hebrew language YOM= “day” while KIPPUR= “atonement or covering”. Atonement speaks of the reconciliation of God and man. Remember from last week’s blog we were talking about the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur which are known as the days of repentance. Yom Kippur is seen as the final day of judgment when God judges His people. In the Old Testament the high priest sacrificed an animal to pay for the sins of his people and laid his hands on the head of a goat, which was then released representing all the sins of Israel that were being carried away into the wilderness never to return. This is where we get the phrase “scapegoat” from. It was only on Yom Kippur that the high priest entered in the holy of holies in the Temple that was separated from the congregation by a huge veil that hung from ceiling to floor. That holy of holies was only entered on Yom Kippur and the high priest would offer the blood sacrifice for atonement for his people. After the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 the Jewish people could no longer offer prescribed sacrifices for the atonement of their sins, something they had been doing for hundreds of years. In response to this they substituted prayer, good works and charitable donations hoping to take away the penalty of their sin. Yom Kippur is a day of very serious fasting where no work is done, including work around the home. Many Jewish folks will spend the day at the synagogue offering prayers for the forgiveness of their sins. As Christians we have a very different view of this concept of the day of atonement.
In fact the apostle Paul, who knew a thing or two about Judaism as he was trained as a rabbi, has a lot to say about this concept of atonement and redemption in his writings. In the book of Romans Paul states this, “being justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because in the forbearance of God he passed over the sins previously committed,” (Rom.3:24-25 NASB). The key concept in this passage is the word “propitiation”. It is not a word that we see normally in our English vocabulary. But the idea behind the word is the idea of “purging or cleansing or to make atonement for”. In the Old Testament it was always associated with the Mercy seat or the Golden cover over the Ark. It was at that place that the blood was placed to cover the sins of the people. The New Testament puts stress on the fact that it is indeed the cleansing and life-giving effect of the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ that has been shed on our behalf for the covering of our sin. Remember the blood of the Old Testament sacrifices was sprinkled on the Golden cover by the high priest. Jesus shed his blood as the highest expression of His love for mankind.
In fact in the Greek language the way the sentence is structured “blood” is the key word. In the Old Testament the blood had to be applied in order for it to be effective. In the Christian walk the blood of Christ must also be applied to our lives when we trust the Lord Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Christ’s death is the final sacrifice which completely satisfied God’s demands against sinful people thus averting His wrath from those who believe. God couldn’t excuse sin as the mere slip or simple mistake as we often do. God demanded a payment and atonement for sin and He provided it for us through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m not sure human reason can fully explain how the blood of Christ saves those who believe in him but Scripture makes this fact unmistakably clear. I also like the expression in verse 25 where the Word says “God passed over the sins previously committed”. I think this draws us back to the Passover lamb that was sacrificed back in the book of Exodus, where the blood had to be applied to the doorpost of each family in order for the death angel to passover that household. This was the final plague that God brought on Egypt in destroying the firstborn of every household when the death angel did not see the blood applied. This is the biblical basis of the Jewish celebration of Passover. Just as God passed over the households where the blood had been applied in Egypt, so God passes over our sin when we have applied the blood of Christ to our lives and are trusting in His death, burial and resurrection on our behalf. God’s purpose in Christ’s death was to demonstrate His justice, but it is also a remarkable demonstration of His great love for each of us. I would like to consider this concept of the day of Atonement further in our next blog. But for now I must ask you this question, “has the blood of Jesus Christ been applied to your life?” That is the only way to be assured that your sins are forgiven and that you’ve experienced the true day of Atonement!
To God be the glory,
Pastor Rich Sivo