Yom Kippur: A Reason for Christians to Celebrate

Yes, you read the title correctly.  To many, Yom Kippur is merely a foreign word that appears on our Outlook calendar each year.  It seems that most believers do not even know what it is, where it came from or most certainly what it represents.  Yom Kippur is a good reminder of just how much rich heritage of the faith gets lost for modern Gentile believers.  Because we do not serve the Mosaic requirements for Holy Days each year, we miss the richness of the Old Testament Feasts; each of which point to and are fulfilled by our Messiah, Jesus, in some way.

Yom Kippur, or The Day of Atonement in English, falls each Hebrew calendar year on the 10th of Tishrei.  The 10th of Tishrei this year, on our Western calendar, is tomorrow, October 8, 2011.  The celebration of Yom Kippur, for Jews, begins at sundown tonight.

There is perhaps no single symbolic ritual in the Old Testament that points more articulately to the work of Christ as Yom Kippur; for it was on Yom Kippur each year that the high priest offered blood sacrifices and placed substitutionary blood on the mercy seat in the very Holy of Holies in the innermost part of the Temple.

Yom Kippur was the culmination of the sacrificial system each year, for while the Jewish sacrificial system tirelessly went about its business of providing blood offerings day by day – literally twenty four hours a day – this special holy day provided the principle application of the sin offering for the entire nation. As such, Yom Kippur demonstrated more articulately the nature of Christ’s later work of redemption than perhaps any other requirement of the sacrificial system.

Yom Kippur was the only day of the year in which the inner most room of the Temple, the Holy of Holies (or “the Most Holy Place”), was entered. It was in this inner room where the ark of the covenant resided (until it was lost). God’s presence literally inhabited the area above the ark, and no one was permitted into the Most Holy Place except on Yom Kippur and in the precise manner which God had established. If one should enter that place at a different time – or in an improper manner, they would literally be consumed by fire before the Lord. Such is what happened to Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, when they decided to take a joy ride through the Holy of Holies in Leviticus 10.

Thus, it must be understood that what happened in the holy of holies on Yom Kippur was nothing less than a direct encounter between the high priest and God himself. It is this magnificent presentation of the blood sacrifices on Yom Kippur which the book of Hebrews notes Christ to have completed upon his own substitutionary death; through which he served as both priest and sacrifice.

Leviticus 16 gives a detailed examination of the requirements for Yom Kippur to Aaron, the first high priest of Israel.  Of first and foremost, to enter into God’s very presence, the high priest was required to make a sacrifice first, for his own sin.  The sin offering of a young bull was required for this purpose. Even the high priest was yet a sinner and in need of cleansing before he could enter God’s presence. Before he ever enters the most holy place, the high priest would sacrifice this bull for his own sins and the sins of his family.

Other preparatory requirements for this day were two male goats and a ram for the people of Israel. The goats would serve as a sin offering and scapegoat respectively, while the ram would serve as another burnt offering on behalf of the nation.

Of the two goats, one would be sacrificed while the other-the scapegoat – would be released into the wild, symbolically carrying the sins of Israel away. The high priest was to cast lots to determine which goat was sacrificed and which was to be the scapegoat.

After slaughtering the bull, but before entering the Holy of Holies, the high priest took a handful of incense and scattered it on the altar so that it would provide a thick cloud of smoke. Before any further actions inside the inner most place occur, Aaron was to create a literal smokescreen to conceal himself from the Lord’s presence. Under normal circumstance, no one was able to see God’s presence in the inner most room, as a huge curtain completely shielded the holy of holies from human eyes. On this day, however, because he must work behind the curtain, another shield was required to hide Aaron’s eyes from the Lord’s presence. As God had explained to Moses, “no one may see me and live.” (Ex. 33:20) Thus, the high priest must enter through the curtain and put incense on the coals which immediately created a sweet-smelling smoky curtain. This curtain of smoke shielded him from looking directly upon God’s presence “so that he will not die.”

With this protective smoke covering, he then applied the blood of the bull for his own sins by sprinkling seven times before the atonement cover. Now, with his own sins atoned for, the priest is able to leave to prepare the sacrifice for the nation. This completes the first of two entries into the holy of holies on Yom Kippur.

In the same manner as the high priest presented the bull before the Lord, he would enter the holy of holies a second time to present the goat’s blood for the nation’s sins. As with the bull, the goat’s blood was sprinkled upon the mercy seat and in front of it. This atonement provided for all manners of sin which the Israelites were guilty.

Finally, the sins of the people are transferred to the scapegoat.  Placing his hands on the scapegoat, he confesses Israel’s sins and symbolically transferred them to the goat’s head.  An appointed man will then release the goat into the desert, representing to the nation that their sins have left them.

Considering this amazing requirement of the law, Yom Kippur, should cause one to seriously consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:

Matthew 5:17 (ESV)
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

While the common sentiment for believers in Christ today is to focus their discipleship journey on the New Testament, one must never forget that the New Testament is not something which is entirely “new,” but rather the completion of that which had been shadowed and typed from the very beginning. It was no paradox that Jesus was crucified during Passover, participating in the Feast of Unleavened Bread the night before he suffered (Matthew 26:17) or that John the Baptist introduced him to Israel with the seemingly strange announcement, “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).” Indeed, the biggest mistake one can make in one’s journey to understand the doctrines of salvation is to understand them as something which were thrust upon history uniquely in the first century. Substitutionary atonement had been revealed, defined and practiced – albeit in imperfection – long before Jesus arrived to fulfill and complete the work which God had prescribed via the bloodshed of the Law.

When Jesus said that he had come “to fulfill” the Law and the Prophets, that is precisely what he meant.  The law stipulated that sin could be cleansed solely by sacrificial blood. Jesus spilt the blood which would once and for all complete the work of God’s legal requirements in the matter. The law stated the nature of the sacrifice; a male without blemish or defect. Christ alone lived such a life among men that he may be such a satisfactory offering.

For a full evaluation of this subject matter, see the posts on this site concerning Yom Kippur and Christ as the fulfillment of the law.

As for Yom Kippur being on your calendar tomorrow, worship Christ in spirit and truth: knowing that HE was the foreshadowed blood which was to be applied before God for the remission of sins.  Celebrate Yom Kippur – not as the yearly celebration of blood being offered for the people’s sinful year – but as the reminder that Christ perfectly fulfilled and completed that system in himself as both priest and sacrifice.

Hebrews 10:1-4 (ESV)
1 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Hebrews 10:11-14 (ESV)
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Believers in Christ, Yom Kippur is something you should understand. And, it is something you should celebrate: because the blood required to pay for your sin was applied to your account some 1980 years ago.  It was paid one time for all- without being ever required again, by the perfect sacrifice of Christ Jesus.  It is still effective.  Still forgiving.  Still sufficient.  May Yom Kippur serve to remind you annually of the sufficiency of the blood of Christ.

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