The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:7
Steven J. Pagels
Do you have any plans for Yom Kippur this year? If you aren’t Jewish, there is a good chance you aren’t even aware that it will begin at sundown on Sept. 22. Also known as the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur is a Hebrew holiday that goes by unnoticed by most Christians. We may or may not see “Yom Kippur” printed in tiny letters on our calendars, but because Christians don’t follow the Jewish calendar we won’t pay much attention to it.
Maybe we should. Even though New Testament believers are no longer required to participate in all the rites and rituals associated with Yom Kippur, we have good reason to remember what those events foreshadowed and what their fulfillment means for you and me.
A DAY OF SYMBOLIC SACRIFICE
For God-fearing Jews, Yom Kippur was the holiest day of their year. It was the one day every year when the high priest was allowed to enter the inner sanctuary of the tabernacle, called the Holy of Holies, to offer sacrifices for his own sins and the sins of the people. That meant this holy day was also a very bloody day. The high priest sacrificed a bull and a ram for himself and his family. He sprinkled blood on the cover of the ark of the covenant. He sprinkled more blood on the horns of the altar.
The high priest offered similar sacrifices on behalf of the people, with one exception. Instead of sacrificing a bull for the sin offering, he selected two male goats. The first goat was slaughtered, and its blood was sprinkled on the atonement cover and the altar. The second goat, however, was not killed. Instead the high priest placed his hands on the goat’s head and confessed all the sins of the people over it. He then sent this goat, called the scapegoat, far away from the camp to die in the wilderness.
These ancient religious rites might seem a bit strange or even brutal to modern-day believers, but we begin to appreciate them when we see the symbolism. The killing of animals and sprinkling of blood couldn’t forgive a single sin. The priests who performed the sacrifices knew it. The letter to the Hebrews confirms it (10:4). These Old Testament sacrifices pictured and pointed God’s people ahead to another sacrifice, a sacrifice that would make atonement for sin, a once-for-all sacrifice that would remove sin forever.
A ONCE-FOR-ALL SACRIFICE
Good Friday is one of the most sacred days on the Christian calendar, and, like the Day of Atonement, it was a very bloody day. Blood trickled down from the crown of sharp thorns that pierced Jesus’ head. Blood flowed from his hands and feet when the soldiers nailed him to the cross.
On Good Friday Jesus was the victim of a series of brutal acts of violence. Or was he? He knew what was going to happen. He had predicted what was going to happen. And yet he willingly went to the cross. He was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for us. The blood of goats and bulls never forgave a single sin, but the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purifies us from all sin.
Because Jesus took the sins of the world on his shoulders, you are forgiven. Like the scapegoat, he carried your sins away. Because your Savior has made full atonement for your sins, you are at one with God.
Contributing editor Steven Pagels is pastor at St. Matthew’s, Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
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Author: Steven J. Pagels
Volume 102, Number 09
Issue: September 2015
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