Free to Fellowship with God
On this day, atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. Leviticus 16:30
Imagine returning to your estranged parents’ home only to discover they have changed the locks on the doors and deny your request to enter. You’re willing to return, but they’re unwilling to receive you. Consequently, your relationship with them remains broken.
The Hebrew word for repentance, teshuvah, comes from shuwb, meaning “to return to a former state or place.”* In biblical times, the shofar called Jews to repentance on Rosh Hashanah. Ten days later on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, God demonstrated His acceptance of their repentance. Through the sacrifices the high priest offered on the people’s behalf, God’s requirements for entrance into His presence were satisfied. The fellowship between God and His people was restored.
Therefore, as essential as the people’s repentance was, God’s willingness to forgive their sins and His merciful acceptance of their sacrifices was more crucial. To meet God’s requirements, the high priest purified himself, the other priests, the tabernacle, the bronze altar, and the people. Then, by offering five separate sacrifices, the high priest made atonement for the nation’s sins, both known and unknown.
Perhaps the most meaningful segment of the day’s ceremonies featured two goats. One was sacrificed on the altar as a substitutionary death—for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). Then the high priest laid his hands on the other goat’s head, symbolizing the transfer of the people’s sins to the goat. That goat was led into the wilderness never to be seen again, indicating the sins were gone forever. Once again, the people could fellowship with their holy God.
At the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, John the Baptist declared that Jesus had come to “take away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Later Jesus said He had come “to give [His] life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Once for all, Jesus’ death on the cross removed our sins, opening the door into God’s presence so we may enjoy an intimate relationship with Him (Hebrews 10:10).
Yom Kippur may be a Jewish holiday, but Christians too can celebrate the joyous truth of sins forgiven and fellowship with God restored. In gratitude, may we present our bodies as a living sacrifice to be used for His glory (Romans 12:1-2).
The Hebrew word for atonement, kaphar, means “to be covered over” or “to obliterate.”** Think of what a stain remover does to spots. How does that image help you understand passages like Isaiah 1:18, Psalm 51:7, and Hebrews 9:19-22?
Read Leviticus 16. The high priest wore special garments on the Day of Atonement (vv. 3-4). Why do you suppose the high priest took off his special garments (vv. 23-25) before he made atonement for himself and the people? (Consider Philippians 2:5-8.)
Read Matthew 26:26-28. What connections do you see between Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper and the high priest’s actions on the Day of Atonement?
You might also want to read Rosh Hashanah under Dig into Holidays and I Lay My Sins on Jesus under Dig into Songs.
Denise K. Loock
*Blue Letter Bible. “Dictionary and Word Search for shuwb (Strong’s 7725)“. Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2013. 10 Sep 2013. < http:// www.blbclassic.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H7725&
**Blue Letter Bible. “Dictionary and Word Search for kaphar (Strong’s 3722)“. Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2013. 10 Sep 2013. < http:// www.blbclassic.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H3722&