I am writing from my parents’ home as sun sets at the beginning of Yom Kippur. Jews around the world are beginning to fast for the holiest day of the year, remembering the days of the temple and the tabernacle, when God could be accessed; for repentance and for cleansing. Many pray prayers of confession and repentance, asking that their names might be written in the book of life.
Yom Kippur, translated in most English Bibles as ‘Day of Atonement’, was the one day in the Jewish Calendar when Israel’s Levitical High Priest would be allowed to enter the most sacred area of the Jewish national shrine; the Ḳodesh ha-Ḳodashim or ‘Holy of Holies in its literal translation. This was the place where it was believed the presence of God permanently resided. The priest would offer a goat (a scapegoat) as a blood sacrifice for the sins of the people for the whole preceding year, and the blood would be presented by the light of seven lamps inside the Kodesh ha-Kodashim before the golden winged-creatures on the Ark of the Covenant itself. No other opportunity for cleansing for sin would be available until the following year and the repetition of the same bloody ceremony.
The mystery of this strange event echoed down the centuries long past the time of the destruction of the first and second temples, and today even some secular Jews treat the day with an awed sense of foreboding. For the Christian, whose religion has been inherited from the traditions of their Jewish forefathers, the day seems stranger still. A deeply weakened concept of the costliness of sin pervading Western Christian culture makes blood sacrifice offensive; even disgusting. Yet the book of Hebrews makes it clear that sin is so costly that even such a blood offering cannot deal with it effectively.
But in those sacrifices there is a REMINDER of sins EVERY YEAR. For it is NOT POSSIBLE that the blood of bulls and goats could TAKE AWAY sins. (Hebrews 10:3-4 NKJV, emphasis added)
What is most fascinating about Yom Kippur is that despite all the ceremony, it never actually dealt with the problem. It was an illustration; a reminder of the costliness of sin and ‘a shadow of the good things to come’ (Hebrews 10:1). Something greater was needed.
Without an understanding of Yom Kippur, the scripture in Matthew following the crucifixion of Jesus that describes the veil of the temple being torn in two ‘from top to bottom’ (Matthew 27:51) remains cryptic. The death of the goat and the sprinkling of its blood on Yom Kippur foreshadowed the real event of significance which was the death of Messiah and the shedding of His blood. Even the Levitical High Priest, in a bizarre prophetic utterance just months before Jesus’ crucifixion, had acknowledged the necessity that a man should die for the sins of the people (John 11:50-51).
The tearing of the veil of the second temple, made of four-inch-thick linen sixty-feet high, represented the fulfilment of Yom Kippur and the closure of the annual system by which the High Priest would enter the Kodesh ha-Kodashim. The torn veil was a perfect physical representation of a cataclysmic spiritual event. The sacrifice of Jesus finally and absolutely tore up the rule book of Yom Kippur because sin was permanently broken.
And every priest stands ministering daily and offering REPEATEDLY the same sacrifices, which can NEVER TAKE AWAY SINS. But this Man, after He had offered ONE sacrifice for sins FOREVER, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For BY ONE OFFERING He has PERFECTED FOREVER those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-14 NKJV, emphasis added)
For He made Him who knew no sin to BE SIN for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NKJV, emphasis added)
The annual system of entry to God’s presence was permanently brought to an end. The writer of Hebrews calls it ‘obsolete’ (8:14). The believer is given liberal permission to boldly enter God’s presence to receive grace and mercy any time through the veil of Jesus’ flesh.
Therefore, brethren, having BOLDNESS TO ENTER the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through THE VEIL, THAT IS, HIS FLESH, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)
Yom Kippur remains a powerful reminder of the cost of calvary, and the requirement of every believer to live a life of consecration and repentance as a priest of the Most High God. Since forgiveness and cleansing has been made so freely available, we are without excuse. To run from God in shame and condemnation blasphemes the cross and underestimates the saving power of the blood of Jesus.
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus… (Romans 8:1 NKJV)
One of my favourite sections of any of the gospels is John 15. To me the truth of remaining in Jesus is the central truth of my daily faith. It is the truth that I never have to leave His presence, even in my weakness. The inheritance of the believer which was won at the cross is the privilege of unbroken fellowship with God. The Words of the Father and the secrets of His heart belong to me because Jesus calls me His friend. That is a life-changing reality. The believer’s inheritance is not just the ability to enter the presence of God, but it is the invitation to live in the very heart of God continually. I would invite you this Yom Kippur to read through John 15 slowly and ask the Holy Spirit to personally reveal this reality which Jesus died to bring into being. Consider fasting to pursue the precious prize of intimacy with Him, and as a reminder of its great cost.