Day of Atonement, year 5777: a time for reflection, repentance and worship

Today is the Day of Atonement. What does that mean for us as believers in Jesus? When I was a child, it was mainly a curiosity or a historical observation. At most it was symbolic of Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross, but it was never a day of which we took any special note.

Leviticus 16 is the primary text giving instructions for the Day of Atonement.  The high priest is instructed to offer a bull as a sacrifice making atonement for himself and his family. Atonement means reconciliation (with God) and removal of and payment for all wrongdoing and offense. Next two goats are selected. One is offered as a sin offering to make atonement for the sins of the people. On the head of the second goat, the high priest places his hand and confesses all the sins of the people. This goat, called the scapegoat is then led away into the wilderness, removing the people’s sins from them for good.

Jesus fulfilled all of these roles, as well as that of the Passover lamb when he died on the cross. So today is a perfect day to remember his sacrifice. It is also an excellent day to ask the Lord to reveal any sin in our lives or our families’ lives, to turn away from them and ask for the blood of Jesus to be applied to us as atonement. We should take this day to soberly consider our lives and to rededicate ourselves to Jesus! We should ask him to speak to us about the coming year and wait on him for direction. He will speak to you today. He loves you and wants to walk through life with you. He is your best advocate.

After giving the specific instructions for the sacrifices and the sprinkling of blood and ceremonial washings, in Leviticus 16:29-34 the Lord gives Moses more general guidelines for the observation of this most holy day. Some key points: it is a “statute forever” (vs 29, 31, 34); “you shall afflict yourselves,” that is fast from food (vs 29, 31); you “shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you.” “It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you,” (vs 29, 31).

I know what you’re thinking, “Wait, we’re free from the law, that stuff is old covenant!” But Paul reminded the gentiles (non-Jews) in Ephesus that before they knew Christ they had been “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise,” but that “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:12-13) So the Jewish people have not been brought out of their faith into a new one; rather, through Jesus we have been joined into all the covenants and promises that the Lord had given to them! I’m tired of people acting like the instructions of the Lord, his eternal wisdom, are some kind of weight we have finally been freed from. Psalm 19:7 says “the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” Psalm 119:72 says it is better than “thousands of gold and silver pieces.” His commands not to steal, kill or commit sexual immorality are not some burden or restraint on living a full good life, but actually are a blessing, enabling us to thrive. Likewise, his guidelines for his holy days keep us in sync with his timeline and enrich our lives.

More on that another time perhaps. For now please join me in remembering Jesus’ sacrifice, and confessing and turning away from any and all sin or disobedience in our lives. This is a very special and sacred day. Let’s take time to set aside distractions and devote ourselves to the Lord in prayer and fasting.

All quotes from the English Standard Version of the Bible