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The Feast of Israel
The Day of Atonement
** Watch at: https://youtu.be/QKYBhu5XFy8
The song we just listened to, Kol Nidre, is sung around the world in synagogues during the Yom Kippur services. Yom Kippur is the Jewish High Holy Day where the Jewish people will fast and pray, afflicting their souls in order to receive God’s forgiveness for another year.
But I wonder how many of them feel as if God truly has forgiven their sins?
I’d like to approach our time together as we look at the biblical feast of Yom Kippur with what Jesus said to His disciples when He explained the purpose of His coming.
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:17-18 NKJV)
The reason why I am starting here is that amongst most of Christianity these feasts, like Rosh Hashanah that we looked at last week, and the feast Yom Kippur that we are looking at this week, they are considered irrelevant, like they are some sort of ancient ritual and have nothing to say to us today. But the Apostle Paul squashes this notion.
“One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.” (Romans 14:5-6a NKJV)
What then are the purposes of the feasts as brought out in God’s word?
The feasts were God’s way of reminding His people, first not to forget the special covenant relationship they have with Him, but also that within these feast there’s something special they were to remember.
Take for instance, in the feast of Passover. Jesus understood the significance of the afikoman, that is the bread that was broken, and the third cup of the Passover, the Cup of Redemption, and therefore He used them to give the church what is known as Communion, for the purpose of remembering what He did upon the cross bringing in the New Covenant.
I believe that the purpose of the feasts is to reveal something greater. So, what is the purpose of Yom Kippur that God desires to teach us?
Yom Kippur is translated from the Hebrew and means, “A Day of Covering.” Today, the feast is more commonly referred to as the “Day of Atonement.”
The word “Kippur” is taken from the Hebrew word meaning to cover up. It is first mentioned describing the pitch Noah used to cover the Ark both inside and out. The pitch not only covered, it also concealed and protected it.
And so, through the sacrifices offered as atonement, the individual as well as Israel’s sins were covered, that is, hidden from God’s sight by the blood, and thus protected from sin’s consequences, which the Bible tells us is death (Romans 6:23).
Now, in the Book of Leviticus, the 16th chapter, the Lord lays out how the people were to conduct themselves on this day. First the High Priest would sacrifice a bull to cleanse himself and the temple. Then He would bring two goats; one would be sacrificed for the sins of the nation and the people, and then he took its blood and sprinkled it upon the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies.
Through this the people would see the cost of their sins, and that is the death of an innocent, as God in His grace and mercy provided a substitute to die in their place.
The High Priest would then lay his hands upon the head of the second goat, known as the scapegoat, and confess over it the sins of Israel, thus transferring all their sins upon the goat. He then had the goat taken out into the wilderness symbolizing God removal of the people’s sins far from them. But the goat was conveniently led off a cliff, because the last thing the people wanted to see was for the goat to wander back bringing with it all their sins.
Yom Kippur, however, has changed drastically from the commandments set forth by God. Today, Yom Kippur is considered the most holy and terrible day of the year. It is called terrible because it is claimed by the Rabbis that on this day God seals the Book of Remembrance.
Remember from our teaching last week how over the ten days between the feast of Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur the people were to search their souls and confess their sins, and hope that their good deeds outweighed their bad deeds in order to make it into the Book.
Now, upon this Day of Atonement, they took the admonition from Leviticus to afflict their souls in repentance, which is also the idea behind fasting the entire day. (We’ll delve into this a little later on in our study.)
But, what I would like for us to consider is what is missing in today’s celebration? Where are the High Priest and the sacrifices? The law of God clearly states without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Therefore there is no atonement.
“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” (Leviticus 17:11 NKJV)
Unfortunately, the Rabbis teach that repentance alone will atone for a person’s sin, along with prayers and good deeds. But this is not what God commanded. Today, in the Yom Kippur services confessions of sins are recited and the people beat their chests admitting guilt. This is to take the place of the scapegoat, but there still is no sacrifice, and hence no forgiveness.
Another tradition within the Yom Kippur ceremony is what we heard at the beginning of our time together – “Kol Nidre.” This song came into being during the Spanish Inquisition, also known as the Marranos, where Jews were forcibly converted to Christianity. Either they converted or tortured and put to death.
As you heard, it is a very beautiful and haunting chant. “Kol Nidre” means “All Vows.” The singing and recitation of this prayer was meant to nullify in advance all vows and promises that the Jews were forced to make.
And while the ceremony and service is absolutely beautiful, and while it is called the most holy and terrible day, it is a far cry from God’s commandment.
And here’s the rub. If we don’t seek atonement the way God has set it up, then we can’t expect God to fulfill His promise to cover and take away our sins, or for that matter to usher us into heaven? What has basically happened is that there has been a huge reversal of roles; where God becomes subject to our demands and to our sensibilities.
Well, if there is no temple, no High Priest and no sacrifice, then how can humanity ever get right with God? To answer this: just as God provided a way through the Law, He has now provided the way through Himself, as the Bible declares.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NKJV)
Jesus became that sacrificial offering, the blood sacrifice required by law. Remember how He said that He came to fulfill the Law, not destroy it? The writer of Hebrews tells us about Jesus, as our great High Priest and the atonement He provides.
“Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:12 NKJV)
This is why the Apostle Paul could say that the observance of a feast day was no longer critical, because it’s purpose was fulfilled through the sacrifice that Jesus made.
Now, in this feast, there are several principles I would like to share with you.
“This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you. For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It is a sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever.” (Leviticus 16:29-31 NKJV)
Principle #1 The Exchange of Life
Today, Jews stand before the Almighty God during Yom Kippur confessing their sins, believing the Rabbis that say that prayers, good deeds, and repentance will atone for sins.
Unfortunately, God never said that this was His way. God set up a system where atonement is achieved through the life of an innocent for that of the guilty. That is, through the blood of bulls and goats their sins were covered.
However, there is no way that any of us can make atonement through our own acts. The Bible makes this perfectly clear when it says there is no one who is righteous (Romans 3:10).
Further, the very fact that they had to continually offer these sacrifices year after year reveals that these sacrifices didn’t complete the job; that they were only temporary.
Something was missing, which goes to show us that this ritual was pointing to something greater. Again I take us to the writer of Hebrews
“For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year … But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:1-4 NKJV)
And then the writer of Hebrews gives us God’s answer.
“But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God … For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12, 14 NKJV)
If the sacrifices found within the Law had been sufficient, then there would be no need to offer them again, as this and the other feasts continue to do.
Therefore, if the people are to have their sins forgiven, a new way would be needed, not a way that abolishes the principle set up by God, but a way whereby people can be assured that their sins are forgiven and that eternal life with the Lord is secured.
It was to this end that Jesus came, an innocent, one in whom was found absolutely no sin or fault. And it was His life given upon the cross, the blood of an innocent shed, that all who would believe in Him would have their sins forgiven, and not just covered over for a time. That is why John the Baptist describes Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Principle #2 The Affliction of the Soul
“For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people.” (Leviticus 23:29 NKJV)
The Jews hold that fasting fulfills this principle. The phrase itself in some versions of the Bible says to deny or humble oneself, which is then connected to the practice of fasting. Yet, I think that it goes much further and into the very way repentance is achieved.
Today we want things to be easy. Fast for a day, say a prayer, give some money, do some good deeds, and poof, repentance is achieved and we have eternal life. Yet, to afflict one’s soul, or to deny or humble ourselves, can only come when we truly repent, that is, to turn away from sin and toward God.
What this calls for is a leaving behind all that we are doing that harms our relationship with God. It is to humble our prideful attitudes as we turn from the pleasures of sin and to the Lord. The Apostle Paul talks abut this affliction of soul when he describes the difference between worldly and godly sorrow.
“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:10-11 NKJV)
In other words it wasn’t just the saying of a prayer, or crying by the bedside. It was something that went deep inside that produced godly results.
Therefore, on this feast of Yom Kippur, let’s keep it by the way and principles set down by the Lord. Let’s not pass over this feast saying that it was for a time long ago, but let us realize that it is God’s word for repentance for our day as well.
I’d like to end with a verse we looked at earlier where the writer of Hebrews says, “For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come.” (Hebrews 10:1a NKJV)
What this is saying about the law, which these feasts are a part of, is that they are a shadow of, and point to that which is to come.
A Shadow of the Coming Messiah
I am going to hold this last part until the end of next week’s teaching on the last or seventh feast of Israel, or the feast of Tabernacles. And I can’t wait to share this wonderful aspect of the feasts of Israel.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study