Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Christian Yom Kippur

I stumbled upon an interesting newspaper article about the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur this week. I was surprised to find that there are still some traditions in modern Judaism that offer a bird as a sacrifice for their sins—a chicken, to be exact. I was under the impression that all animal sacrifices had ceased since the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., but apparently not.

Of course, the newspaper article did not describe the chicken as a sacrifice. That would probably be too politically incorrect. Instead, the event was described as a ritual that involved waving the beheaded bird over the participants in the ceremony. It was loosely insinuated that the bird acted as a sort of atonement for past sins.

My curiosity got the best of me. I whipped out my New Bible Encyclopedia from Tyndale to find that Yom Kippur is the Hebrew name for the most solemn of Biblical holidays described in the Old Testament scriptures, the Day of Atonement. And its solemnity is for good reason. The day is spent remembering past sins, which were then figuratively transferred to the scapegoat in ancient times, and presumably to the chicken in this modern twist. (Apparently another modern angle has been added, in that the beheaded chickens are sometimes donated to feed the poor.)

Intrigued as I was about modern observances of real Biblical holidays, I immediately felt sympathy for those who have not yet realized who Jesus was and is, and what he came to do. I feel such joy and thankfulness in knowing that my sins have been tossed into the depths of the sea, never to be held against me again. The prophets in ancient times could only look forward with anticipation to the forgiveness that we believers in the Lord Jesus Christ experience every day:

    Micah 7:18-19 - Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

    Isaiah 53:2-6 - He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (NIV)

The atonement we have received in Christ bestows upon us one of the most treasured gifts from God that a Christian receives: a clean conscience. Purged from guilt by the blood of Jesus Christ in the “washing of regeneration,” we are free to approach boldly the throne of grace in a way that no Old Covenant believer could ever think of doing:
    1 Peter 3:20-22 - …once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him. (NKJV)

    Hebrews 4:16 - Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (NIV)

As the writer of Hebrews states so well, the blood of bulls and goats (or chickens, for that matter) could never take away sins. To the contrary, those sacrifices were for the remembrance of sin, not the forgetting of them. One of the most important aspects of Jesus’ atonement under the New Covenant is that it was only necessary to be done once for all time.
    Hebrews 9:24-26 - For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. (NIV)
Only the pardoning act of a just but loving God could cause our sins to be forgotten and cast into the depths of the sea. He chose to accomplish this with the atoning sacrifice of a perfect lamb, without spot or blemish:
    1 Peter 1:18-19 - For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (NIV)
It’s no coincidence that Emmanuel means “God with us,” because communion with God under the New Covenant is exactly what was purchased by the atoning, singular sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross some 2000 years ago. As a result, we are far from needing an annual “Yom Kippur” or “Day of Atonement.” We should thank God that under the New Covenant we live in a perpetual age of atonement!

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