Today (September 18) is the Day of Atonement. You may be more familiar with it being called Yom Kippur. Today marks the end of the Days of Awe which began Wednesday of last week with Rosh Hashanah. This was a time to reflect and repent of sin. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are two of the feasts of Israel that God set forth. You can get an overview of them all in Leviticus 23.
So during the Days of Awe, the Jews would pray prayers specifically of repentance and at the end of these ten days, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would go into the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was kept and he would follow to the letter the instructions set forth by God. It was the only time anyone was allowed behind the curtain into the Holy of Holies and only the High Priest was allowed in. Once inside the Holy of Holies, he would find himself in the very presence of God. He was to sprinkle the blood of the bull on the top of Ark (the Mercy Seat) first for atonement for himself and his household and then the blood of one of the goats for the nation Israel. It was a rather involved process with specific instructions to be followed. All the details are laid out in Leviticus 16, which I encourage you to read.
This “atonement” of sin for the people of Israel occurred every year on the tenth day of the seventh month on the Jewish calendar. Note that…every year. It was never complete because every year it had to be done again. And also take note that the High Priest before he could atone for the people, he first had to atone for his own sins. Even he himself was only a man and needed cleansing just like the Israelites. Really a little unsettling for the Israelites to think that the one man able to offer an atonement sacrifice of their sins was in fact just as much a sinner as they were. Far from perfect. The only reason he would have had the job in the first place was because he would have been a son of Aaron (Moses’s brother).
Do you see then the freedom we have? In Jesus, all our sins were atoned ONCE AND FOR ALL. And they were atoned by the One who had no sin. He was perfect. He was the Son of God. Oh praise! When Jesus said from the tree on Golgotha “it is finished,” He meant it is finished. Done and done. His blood was poured out over Mercy Seat and our sins were covered for all time!
Now going back to Yom Kippur remember, in the week and a half or so prior to this day, the Jews would focus on repentance during that time. The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament for repent is usually “shuwb” which basically means to turn about or to return…and that’s exactly what repentance is. It starts with turning from sin. But turning from sin by itself really isn’t enough. We must turn FROM sin and turn TOWARD God. If our repentance does not bring God back to the forefront of our focus, then we have not truly repented. See, repentance is about more than just being sorry for something you did wrong. I can be sorry for something I did, but that still might not be enough to keep me from doing it again. In that case, what I feel is regret which is really just guilt wearing a different dress, you know? Our hearts should break with the things that break God’s heart. We should be so disgusted by our sin that we want nothing more to do with it and the separation it causes between us and God.
So I encourage you to take some time with God today and ask Him to reveal to you anything that is causing a space between you and Him. I’ll be doing the same right along with you. Lord, please show us the things that we are holding onto that pull us away from You. Help us to turn away from those things and seek you with our whole hearts.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.
Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.
In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
whole burnt offerings to delight you;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.