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The Day of Atonement

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 The Day of Atonement Leviticus 23:26-29 Pastor Pat Damiani September 24, 2017 Recent studies indicate that as many as 1 family out of every five is impacted by some kind of permanent estrangement within the family, where one or more family members refuse to have anything to do with another family member. That whole idea is rather foreign to me since I’ve never experienced it personally, although I have certainly witnessed it in other families. But this morning the chances are that you have either experienced that personally in your family or you at least know someone who has. That this kind of separation between family members could occur is heartbreaking and if you’ve been impacted by that kind of estrangement I just want to say that I’m sorry you’ve had to go through that. What makes these situations even more disheartening is that recent studies reveal that over half the people in these situations feel like there is no chance they could ever have a functional relationship again in the future. There is another kind of estrangement and separation that all of us have experienced that is even more painful and certainly much more significant. It is our separation from God. At one point in our lives, every single one of us in this room was estranged from God because of what the Bible calls sin, our choice to rebel against God. And whether that rebellion was the aggressive, stick a finger in God’s face kind of rebellion or a more subtle kind in which we just refused to live according to God’s standards, our rebellion had the effect of developing a wide gulf between us and God. And, as we see consistently in the Bible, we are incapable of doing anything to bridge that gap on our own. The feast that we’ll be studying this morning – the Day of Atonement, certainly reminds us of that fact. But that feast also reminds us of the good news that God has made it possible for us to be reconciled to Him based on what He has done on our behalf through Jesus. Let’s quickly review where we’re at in our study of the Jewish feasts. Those feasts were divided into two seasons. The four spring feasts, were fulfilled by Jesus at His first coming: [show chart] • The Feast of Passover was fulfilled by Jesus’ sacrificial death • The Feast of Unleavened Bread was fulfilled by His burial • The Feast of Firstfruits was fulfilled by His resurrection • The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) was fulfilled by the coming of the Holy Spirit Then there is a four month break until the fall feast season – a gap which represents the “Church Age” in which we are now living. During this time God is bringing salvation to the Gentiles in order to make Israel jealous so that they can eventually be saved. [Show next chart] God’s dealing with Israel resumes with the three fall feasts, which will be fulfilled by the second coming of Jesus in the same way that the spring feasts were fulfilled by His first coming. [Show next chart]. Last week, we looked at the first of the fall feasts – the Feast of Trumpets. We saw the connection between the blowing of the trumpet during that feast and the trumpets that will accompany the return of Jesus. We also learned that the Feast of Trumpets inaugurated a ten-day period known as the Days of Awe or the Days of Repentance. The Jews believe that during the Feast of Trumpets three books are opened – the book of life for the righteous, the book of death for the wicked and another book for those who are somewhere in between. Those books are then sealed ten days later on the Day of Atonement, the feast that we’ll study today. During the ten- day period between those feasts, the people have a chance to reflect on their lives and repent of their sins before their final destiny is determined. Like we’ve seen with the other feasts, the instructions for the Day of Atonement are found in several different places in the Scriptures, but we don’t have time to look at all of them in detail this morning. Let’s begin in Leviticus 23, where we find the most concise description of the feast: [Read Leviticus 23:26-32] There is a more detailed description of the required food offering in Numbers 29:7-11, but since that really isn’t our focus, I’ll just encourage you to read that on your own. Before we proceed any further this morning, it seems like it would be a good idea to define the word “atonement”. It is one of those religious terms that we use frequently, but perhaps without completely understanding its meaning. In Hebrew, the Day of Atonement is known as Yom Kippur, and the Hebrew word ‘kippur” which is usually translated into English as “atonement” comes from a Hebrew word which means “to cover”. There are two crucial aspects to the concept of atonement: • It is the provision of a “covering” or “satisfaction” for sin • It provides reconciliation between two parties that have been estranged The genesis of this idea is found – not surprisingly - in the book of Genesis. Although we began this journey through the Old Testament nearly nine months ago, hopefully you’ll remember that when Adam and Eve sinned they attempted to cover their sin with a covering of their own choosing – fig leaves. But since that was an inadequate covering, God had to cover their sin with animal skins which required the shedding of the blood of the animals from which the skins came. That covering provided the means by which Adam and Eve could be reconciled to God. Our English word “atonement” actually has a very interesting history. When William Tyndale was working on his English translation of the Bible in the early 1500’s, he couldn’t find an English word that adequately conveyed both ideas – covering and reconciliation. So depending on which source you believe, he either coined a new word or used one that somebody else had coined earlier – literally “at-onement” – a word that describes how we are made to be at one with God as our sins are covered through the sacrificial death of Jesus. Leviticus chapter 16 contains some very detailed instructions about the observance of the Day of Atonement. Again I encourage you to read that on your own, but for time’s sake I’ll just summarize some of the most important instructions: This feast is held beginning at sunset on the tenth day of the month of Tishrei and it concludes at nightfall on the following day. This year, it will begin this coming Friday at sunset and end on Saturday at nightfall. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest was io engage in a prescribed series of purification rites and sacrifices. He would begin by taking part in a washing and then put on the priestly garments. After that, he would come before the people with a bull, a ram and two goats. He would sacrifice the bull to atone for his own sins and the sins of his household. He would take some of the blood of the ram inside the Holy of Holies and sprinkle it on the altar. He would then exit the Holy of Holies. Next, two identical goats were brought before him and the high priest would cast lots. One goat would be designated “for the Lord” and the other “for Azazel”. The goat that was chosen by lot “for the Lord” was then killed by the high priest and he re-entered the Holy of Holies to sprinkle some of the blood on the altar to atone for the sins of all Israel. Only the high priest was ever permitted to enter the Holy of Holies and even he could only do that one day a year on the Day of Atonement. After that, the other goat, the one chosen for Azazel, was brought before the high priest who would lay his hands on the goat and confess all the sins of Israel. That goat was then released into the wilderness to symbolize that God had carried away the sins of the people until the ceremony was repeated the following year. This is where we get the concept of a “scapegoat” – an innocent person who is blamed for the wrongs of others. As you would expect, with the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, the Jews have had to greatly modify the way they observe the feast since they can no longer make the prescribed sacrifices. In modern rabbinical Judaism, sin is now atoned for through prayer, repentance and good deeds. Many of the practices that have been adopted are related to this verse in Leviticus 16: And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you. Leviticus 16:29 (ESV) Notice the words “afflict yourselves”. That exact phrase is used only five times in the Bible and every time it refers to the Day of Atonement. The idea here is one of one humbling himself before God. By the time of the second Temple, this had evolved into the practice of fasting and of denying oneself physical needs. So today, the Jews participate in a complete fast, not even drinking water during the 25-hour period that begins at sunset on the day before the feast and ends at nightfall on Yom Kippur. Other additional restrictions, such as not wearing cosmetics or leather shoes, have also become traditional. Most of the day is spent in the synagogue, in prayer. In Orthodox synagogues, services begin early in the morning and continue until about 3:00 p.m. People then usually go home for an afternoon nap and return around 5 or 6 p.m. for the afternoon and evening services, which continue until nightfall. In rabbinical teaching, the Day of Atonement is also considered to be the day on which God’s individual judgment on each person is sealed once and for all. The Yom Kippur services end with a ceremony called Neilah, which pictures the closing of the gates of heaven. That part of the service ends with a final blast of the shofar, which indicates that the opportunity for repentance has ended and that each person’s judgment has been sealed. There are two major aspects of the way Jesus fulfilled and will fulfill this feast. I’ll comment briefly on the past fulfillment and then we’ll spend most of our time examining the future fulfillment. • At His first coming The entire text of chapters 8 and 9 in the Book of Hebrews deals with how Jesus fulfilled the Day of Atonement at His first coming. That passage reveals that the tabernacle, and later the temple, as well as the sacrifices made on the Day of Atonement, were merely meant to be a picture of how Jesus would more perfectly provide a way for our sins to be covered and for us to be reconciled to God. After the message this morning, we’ll remember that aspect of the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement by observing the Lord’s Supper together and we’ll be reading some passages from Hebrews then. Unlike the Day of Atonement, which had to be observed year after year, Jesus’ death on the cross made atonement for our sins once for all, as the writer of Hebrews confirms at the end of Chapter 9: And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:27-28 (ESV) That verse is also the perfect segue into our primary focus this morning, as it refers to the time when Jesus will return, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him. So let’s look at how Jesus will fulfill the Day of Atonement… • At His second coming Let’s begin with a passage that we looked at last week: Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:25-27 ESV) One word of caution before we proceed. When Paul writes here that “all Israel will be saved”, it is clear from the surrounding context, as well as the rest of the Bible, that he is only referring here to those who, by faith, accept Jesus as the Messiah. That will be confirmed in the other passages that we’ll look at this morning. Here Paul answers the question that many of us have often asked: “How do the Jews not understand that Jesus is their long-awaited Messiah?” While I don’t claim to totally understand how this all works, Paul reveals here that somehow God has temporarily hardened the hearts of the Israelites during the Church Age in which we now live because that serves His long-term purpose of saving Israel through faith in Jesus. In both the Old and New Testaments, we see that there is a connection between the Day of Atonement and this future event after the return of Jesus when the Israelites will receive their salvation. We only have time this morning to look at just a few of the passages that make that connection. Let’s begin in the book of Zechariah, chapter 12: On that day the Lord will protect the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them on that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the Lord, going before them. And on that day I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. Zechariah 12:8-10 (ESV) According to Zechariah, there will come a day in which God will pour out His Spirit on Israel so that they will recognize Jesus as the Messiah, and they will mourn over the fact that, as a people, they were responsible for His death. We find that both Jesus and John both refer to such an event as well: Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. Matthew 24:30 (ESV) Although as followers of Jesus, we often picture the return of Jesus as a time of great joy, Jesus made it clear that it would be a time of mourning for Israel. This mourning seems to be clearly connected to the words of Zechariah which explain that the reason for that mourning will be their role in the crucifixion of Jesus. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him… Revelation 1:7 (ESV) John, who would have been aware of the words of both Zechariah and Jesus confirms the idea of Israel mourning over the one who they had pierced, Jesus. Some of you may be thinking, “This is all really interesting, but where tis the connection with the Day of Atonement?” That connection becomes clear if we keep reading Zechariah’s prophecy as it continues into chapter 13: On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness. Zechariah 13:1 (ESV) Zechariah is still referring here to the same day he described earlier in chapter 12. And his audience would have clearly understood that this was a reference to the Day of Atonement, since during the Old Testament times that was the only way that the sins of the people could be atoned for and the people cleansed. As we discovered last week, there is a clear connection between the Feast of Trumpets and the return of Jesus. But just as there is a ten-day period between the Feast of Trumpets and Yom Kippur for the purpose of repenting and turning to God, there will also be some events which occur between the return of Jesus and the time when Israel will put their faith in Jesus and be saved. As Zechariah continues in chapter 13, he describes those events: In the whole land, declares the Lord, two thirds shall be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’” Zechariah 13:8-9 (ESV) The period between the return of Jesus and the salvation of Israel will be a time of testing and refining for the Israelites. Consistently throughout the Bible we see that the purpose of tribulation is to identify the righteous in Jesus, and that is clearly what is occurring here. And the result is that only one third of the people of Israel are going to pass the test and say “The Lord is my God” and be recognized by God as His people. It is that one- third that Paul is referring to in Romans when he writes that “all Israel will be saved.” As I mentioned earlier, shortly we are going to be remembering the past fulfillment of this feast in our lives by observing the Lord’s Supper. But it’s really easy to look at the future fulfillment of this feast and just assume that it really doesn’t apply to us because it deals specifically with events related to the salvation of Israel. But what I find fascinating is that there are so many parallels between how God is going to deal with Israel and how He deals with us that we can certainly develop a few… IMPLICATIONS FOR MY LIFE 1. Salvation is through faith in Jesus alone There is a scene in the movie, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, in which Ricky, a race car driver, gets in a wreck and thinks he is on fire when he is not. I’d show that clip but I really didn’t want to watch Will Farrell run around in his underwear and I didn’t want to subject you to that either. But what he yells as he runs around the track in his underwear is a great illustration of the predominant thinking in our culture: “Help me Jesus!” “Help me Jewish God!” “Help me Allah!” “Help me Tom Cruise! Use your witchcraft on me to get the fire off me!” Ricky does what so many people do in this culture by hedging their bets when it comes to god. Why limit yourself to just one God when you can believe in all of them at once? Or the other common alternative is the closely related idea that it really doesn’t matter which God you believe in because all religions lead to God and as long as you are sincere in your beliefs, it really doesn’t matter which God you believe in. But both the past and future fulfillment of the Day of Atonement make it clear that the only way our sins can be covered and that we can be reconciled to God is through faith in Jesus alone. Ultimately the source of Israel’s salvation is exactly the same as ours - faith in Jesus alone. So this morning if you’ve been trying to get right with God in any other way, including through your own good works, then this morning I implore you to make sure that you don’t leave here today until you have made the decision to trust in Jesus alone as the way for your sins to be covered so you can be reconciled to God. 2. Genuine faith requires repentance There has been an ongoing debate within Christianity about whether or not repentance is required for salvation. Essentially that debate centers around whether one views repentance as a “work” that a person must do in order to earn his or her salvation. But properly understood, repentance and faith are really just two different sides of the same coin. And the passages we’ve looked at this morning help us to see that. Zechariah, Jesus and John all focused on the idea that the only ones in Israel who will be saved are those who will mourn over the fact that their sin caused Jesus to die on the cross. When we combine that idea with focus on repentance during the ten-day period between the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement, there is no doubt that God views repentance as crucial. We don’t have time to deal with the concept of repentance in any detail at all this morning. But in both the Old and New Testaments, repentance involves a change in our thinking in which we turn away from being self-centered and turn back to being God-centered. That requires seeing my sin from God’s perspective and then dealing with it in the way He has prescribed – through faith in Jesus. And when repentance is genuine, that change in mindset will naturally result in a change in the way I live my life. So if my life doesn’t look any different after I put my trust in Jesus then it did before, then I probably need to carefully evaluate whether I’m really trusting in Jesus or if I’m still depending on what I can do to earn my salvation. 3. We should expect testing I won’t belabor this point since we’ve discussed it so many times before. But throughout the Bible we see God taking His people through times of testing and tribulation in order to prove the genuineness of their faith. This morning we’ve seen that God is going to do the same thing with His people, Israel, when Jesus returns to this earth again. So we shouldn’t really be surprised that Jesus warned His disciples that they should expect tribulation while they are here on earth. And when we understand that, it helps us persevere through trials, knowing that God is not trying to harm us, but rather, because He loves us so much, He is using those trials to prove that our faith is genuine. As I mentioned at the beginning of this message, all of us were separated from God at one time because of our rebellion. But the good news is that The Day of Atonement proves that God loves us so much that He has provided a way for our sin to be covered and that wide gulf to be bridged so that we can be reconciled to Him. But the even better news is that through Jesus that reconciliation has been made permanent for those who trust in Him. And the assurance from knowing that makes it possible for us to have a lasting intimate relationship with the One who created us. Discussion questions for the Bible roundtable: 1. How would you define “atonement” in your own words? How does the atonement provided by Jesus differ from the atonement provided on the Day of Atonement for the people of Israel? 2. The Old Testament saints like Abraham were declared righteous by God because of their faith (See Genesis 15:6). So why did they still need a ritual like the Day of Atonement to be cleansed from their sins? Since Jesus had not yet come to earth or died for their sins, what was the object of their faith? 3. Using a concordance or other search tool, look up some passages that address repentance? How is repentance connected to a change in behavior in those passages? What can we learn from those passage about whether repentance is required for salvation
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