What is Yom Kippur?

What is Yom Kippur?
Written by: Chris Stukenberg

Imagine it with me: Tishri 10, or the tenth day of the seventh month (called “Tishri”) since the Passover and just a few days after the celebration of a new harvest/year. The Israelites are on their way to view the Promised Land for the first time since Joseph invited them to join him in Egypt. They are farmers and former slaves, and are poorly prepared to fight for their own freedom. Even worse, they are completely unprepared for the holiness of God. They've been traveling for just over six months when God tells them how to properly ask Him for atonement, which means to be corporately cleansed of their sin. This ritual, known as the "Day of Atonement" or "Yom Kippur," would forgive them of all sins, whether the sins committed were intentional or not, and give them a clean slate before God. What a wonderful promise!

If you want to read Leviticus 16 to prepare, feel free. Following is how the day played out in layman's terms.

The high priest, Aaron, sacrificed a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering for his personal forgiveness. He then dressed properly and selected two goats for the ritual itself. The first goat would be sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people, which would pay for their sins. This shedding of blood symbolized the fact that sin brings death. Sacrifice is necessary to pay for sins!

One might wonder what happened to the other goat. This goat was the scapegoat. It was prayed over and all the sins of the people were placed on the goat and it was led out of the camp and often pushed over a cliff - as one pastor has joked, "this is not a goat you want coming back into the camp! This is a loaded goat!" This goat was given to the wilderness, or a demonic figure known as Azazel. This process causes the scapegoat to symbolize sin being removed, or expiated, from the camp.

At this point, the high priest would approach God, one day for an entire year, and receive forgiveness on behalf of the people, if they had done it right.

This is the holiest of days for Israel! They are cleaned and made right before God! Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was followed with tons of partying! The day itself was a solemn day of rest, of corporate confession and lament, and was followed by days of thanksgiving and praise to God for delivering them from their sin!

Jesus is the ultimate Yom Kippur. He takes away sins once and for all (Heb 10:2-4), we don't have to do this every year. His blood is the once and for all payment for our sin (Heb 9:11-12) and He is also the high priest standing before God on our behalf. He pays for sin (propitiation) and removes it from us (expiation) forever (Heb 9:25-28). This is not to say you and I will never sin again, but that sin is dealt with once and for all. Even more, Jesus now sits at the right hand, never having to stand before God on our behalf, but sitting. The work is done once and for all. You and I can approach God with confidence once and for all (Heb 10:19) not because we are sinless, but because Christ is and gives us access by His perfection. Jesus is the best!

Even today, though we no longer have to practice Yom Kippur (because Jesus paid it all), we still need to practice corporate confession. We don't do everything right. This fact doesn't stain the Gospel, because the Gospel is unstainable. However, we need to corporately confess because when we do things wrongly, the world mistakes the Gospel because of our disobedience.
Too often, we tie too closely to the ways of this world. Father, help us.

We desire too much worldly power and forget that our role is to show God's love to the world. Father, help us.

We desire to hold sway in this world, without understanding that Jesus was put to death by the world and shows that His kingdom is "not of this world." Father, help us.

We don't weep with God over the darkness of the world. Father, give us your eyes.

We desire to receive our blessings here and now, forgetting that our blessings await us fully in eternity. Father, help us to have an eternal perspective.

God is faithful and just to forgive us of all unrighteousness. Thank you, God! May we show this light to the world! Father, hear our prayer.

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