The Day of Atonement was (and still is) considered the most sacred of days in the Jewish liturgical calendar (Lev. 16:1-34; 23: 26-36; Num. 29:7-11). Beyond the Scriptural references to it, the Mishnah also contains a vast amount of detail on how it is to be observed both by clergy and lay people. The Biblical observation was very specific. Blood from a sacrificial goat was to be sprinkled on the Mercy Seat (Ark) to cover the yearly sins of the people and the High Priest had to administer it in linen garments. Because it had to be observed “just so” and so sternly, there was no missing the point of it: there would NEVER be a man who could make up for the sins of himself let alone those of an entire nation. The sin of Adam and Eve and the continued sins of their offspring (that is humankind) severed the intimate relationship with God once enjoyed in the Garden of Eden. And the only way to temporarily patch up that broken relationship and approach God was through the sacrifice of an innocent victim. But the blood of an animal was severely out of balance to those by whom the relationship had been broken. The blood of an animal did not equal the blood of a person, hence the reason for the perpetual sacrifices offered at the Tabernacle and Temple, and the yearly sacrifice offered on the Day of Atonement.
Jesus Christ, however, changed all that. The Apostle John writes in 1 John 2:1-2, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world”. The imagery is clear. Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross was equivalent to the act of sprinkling blood on the Mercy Seat by the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. The Greek word for propitiation is “hilasmos”. It can also mean “expiation” or “forgiveness” (forbearance). The Septuagint correlates this word to the Hebrew word “kippur” and the atoning sacrifices of the priestly system. John states that the death of Jesus not only atones for the sins of both the individual and the world but that in its very nature it is superior to those of the sacrificial system because Jesus was righteous from the start. The author of Hebrews conveys this as well (Heb. 9:6-14).
In our fictional scenario the High Priest is struck by the lack of God’s presence in the Holy of Holies. Why is He not there? Why continue with the ritual when there is no way of knowing whether or not it is acceptable or even received. The not-so-fictional answer is that there is no temporary sacrifice that can be better or more meaningful than the atoning blood of Jesus. John, along with Paul in Rom. 3:21-26, claims that Jesus’ blood is the only means of putting away sin and establishing a relationship with God. One author wrote, “Man is incapable of offering anything to placate God because He is a righteous God. For God to accept sinful man, it was necessary for God to do something to deliver man from his sin”. Christ’s sacrificial death does not merely cover sin, it clears it away. It embodies God’s righteousness and His love. God did not have to restore His relationship with His wayward creation, but out of His love for it, He did.
I have a friend right now who is facing an insurmountable mountain of debt. Poor advice and empty promises have put him there. He feels like a sparrow trying to fly through a hurricane. That is the position you and I face when it comes to sin. There is no way you or I can “pay it off”. If someone were to step forward and clear my friend’s debt, how do you think he would feel? I don’t think there would be enough words that could describe his gratitude toward that benefactor. That is what Jesus Christ has done for us on the cross. He has cleared an insurmountable debt for us. Most of the time we go to the Lord with a laundry list of things we think He should act upon. But our gratitude for His sacrifice should be unending! So, have you thanked Him lately? If not, do it now.
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 10/9/2016