In Biblical times, the observance of Yom Kippur involved a rather lengthy process of washing and sacrifices to cover both the sins of the High Priest as well as the nation. Yom Kippur was the only day of the year that the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies (Lev. 16; 23:26-32). His sole purpose there was to sprinkle the sacrificial blood on the Ark of the Covenant as a covering for the sins of the nation for another year (Lev. 16:9, 14-19). But in order to enter the presence of a Most Holy God the high priest washed several times over, wore simple garments made of the purest fabric possible and entered that sacred precinct with a censor filled with an aromatic coals (Lev. 16:4, 12-14, 23-24). Bringing the stain of sin into the Holy of Holies was very serious and the consequence of defiling it was disastrous to the one who caused it (Lev. 10:1-3).
Another ceremony carried out on this day involved the selection of the Scapegoat (Lev. 16:7-10). Two identical goats were chosen. Both goats symbolized the severity of sin. One died picturing God’s judgment. The blood of this goat was splattered on the Ark. The High Priest placed his hands on this goat and “transferred” the sins of the people to the animal. The same was done to the second goat but this time “the Scapegoat” was not sacrificed but instead led out to the wilderness (Lev. 20-22). The goats teach us two interesting aspects of God’s judgment. First, that although the punishment for sin is severe, a substitute can take the penalty. Second, once the appropriate sacrifice has been made, the Lord sends off the remembrance of that sin “into the wilderness”. It is gone, forgotten, remembered no more.
Since the destruction of the temple it has become customary for faithful Jews to offer prayers, repair broken relationships and right the wrongs of the past year for the atonement of sins on Yom Kippur. But the Scripture is clear that no amount of repentance or the intention of good works can atone for sin. So how can sin be erased like chalk from the blackboard? How is it that the writer of Hebrews can write, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more”? (Heb. 10:17)
The answers to these questions lie in the person of Jesus Christ. His atoning work is represented in the two goats. First, His shed blood has met God’s requirement and is an acceptable substitute for ours and secondly, through Christ’s atoning death, our sins are no longer remembered by God. But now at the consummation of the ages, He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Hebrews 9: 26b). Hebrews 1:3 and Hebrews 9: 11-12 also state that Christ has entered the Holy of Holies and has sat down, meaning His work was complete and finished, something earthly priests never had the privilege of experiencing and therefore Christ does not have to do this over and over again.
To most of us the Berlin Wall merely represented a division between two political ideologies. But for those who lived in its shadow, it represented separation from the love and warmth of family and friends. Mankind was separated from God in the same way. The veil which stood between the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place was heavily woven and six inches thick. It was only entered once a year. And like the Berlin Wall, sin seemed to stand solid and cold between man and God. Who could bridge the gap? No one but God Himself. For now there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ. (Rom. 8:1) Jesus more than covers sin, He removes it!
Ann LeFevre, M. Div.
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