The 10 Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim) concludes with the celebration of Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. It is a high holy day in Judaism, but what happened on the Day of Atonement and what does the Day of Atonement mean for Christians?
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What is the Day of Atonement?
The Day of Atonement is also known as Yom Kippur. It occurs on the 10th day of Tishri and it is a day to “afflict the soul”, where the sins of the year are atoned for. It is a time of introspection and repentance of one’s sins. It is also a time to make amends with those you may have hurt or offended.
In Judaism, it is during Yom Kippur that God decides the fate of a person.
It is believed that God inscribes the fate of a person in the “Book of Life” on Rosh Hashanah and waits until Yom Kippur to seal the book, thus sealing their fate.
So one would have from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur to perform “teshuvah,” or repentance.
This is why it is a time of doing good deeds and asking forgiveness and making amends.
Yom Kippur is a great Sabbath; no work is to be done and a 25 hour fast (24 hours is typically what Christians observe) is held.
“the tenth day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be a sacred occasion for you: You shall practice self-denial.” Leviticus 23:27
Entering the Holy of Holies
Entering the Holy of Holies was the privilege and duty of one man; the High Priest! Yom Kippur was the only day of the year the High Priest could enter.
He was to bathe and put on special robes. A bull was sacrificed for a sin offering for himself and his family. The blood of the bull was then sprinkled on the Mercy Seat which sat upon the Ark of the Covenant.
He would also bring two goats, one to be sacrificed for the sins of Israel. He would sprinkle its blood on the Mercy Seat. The choice for which one would be sacrificed would be left up to God and that would be done by casting lots.
The Scapegoat and Jesus
The high priest placed his hands on the goat’s head, he would confess out loud the sins of the people and their rebellious nature, thereby transferring them onto the scapegoat.
The goat would then be taken far out into the wilderness by a carefully selected man. A far off, barren place would be chosen to ensure the goat would not return to the camp looking for food.
Then the goat would be sent out into the wilderness, where he carried away the sins of Israel for the year, only to have this ritual repeated the following year with a new scapegoat. This account can be found in Leviticus chapter 16.
So how does Jesus become the scapegoat for us as believers?
Hebrews 7:27 says-
“He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for His own sins and then for those of the people, since He did this once for all when He offered up Himself.”
Corinthians 5:21 says-
“God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Isaiah 53:6 –
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
Jesus became the “scapegoat” for us! He was crucified outside the city just as the scapegoat was removed from the city! He was numbered with the transgressors!
He took on the sins of the world. Our sins, our shame, our sicknesses. It was all laid upon Him and He bore them to the cross! He carried them away, as far as the East is from the West! They were taken away, never to be seen anymore!!
Jesus became the ‘scapegoat’ for us! He took on the sins of the world. Our sins, our shame, our sicknesses. It was all laid upon Him and He bore them to the cross!
What Does the Day of Atonement Mean for Christians?
So you may still be wondering, what does the Day of Atonement mean for Christians? Why should I celebrate Yom Kippur?
Even though Jesus became our sacrifice and our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, Yom Kippur still offers us a time of prayer and introspection. It still affords us an opportunity to think about those we may have offended during the year and make amends.
It can still be a time of reconciliation for the Christian. What does it say about personal reconciliation and atonement in the New Testament?
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar. First, go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
Reconciliation between people was important enough to Jesus that He said to not even offer a gift at the altar if you know you have offended someone!
What does the Day of Atonement mean for Christians? It is a time of making amends with others but it is also a time to call to mind the sacrifice that was made so our names could be inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Jesus offered Himself as our sacrifice once and for all. He said, “It is finished”.
Meaning the times for sacrifice are done! The work of atonement was complete! The veil of the temple was torn in two giving man direct access to God! There was no longer a need for a priest to mediate! He has done it once and for all!
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason, it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Hebrews 10:1-4
So what does the Day of Atonement mean for Christians? It can be a beautiful time for the believer to fast, focus on Jesus and His sacrifice for us. It is a time we can make amends with others and forgive those who have offended us, even if they have not asked for it.
He said, ‘It is finished’. Meaning the times for sacrifice are done! The work of atonement was complete! He has done it once and for all!
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