Rhythms of Worship

The people of God are set apart, with different priorities, habits, and festivals than the rest of the world. We may celebrate national holidays of our homelands, such as July 4th for Americans, but those are not the observances that shape our identities as God’s people. The kingdom we belong to under Christ’s authority has a different calendar.

A couple months ago, I read Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith. In Chapter 5: Practicing (for) the Kingdom, he discusses “rhythms and cadences of hope” that Christians observe in weekly and annual practices. For him, this means Sunday, Easter, Lent, Advent, Christmas and others. He connects the observances to a rich history of “a people gathered to worship the Messiah, who does not float in some esoteric, ahistorical heaven, but who made a dent in the calendar — and will again” (p. 157). Rhythms of Worship | marissabaker.wordpress.com

But when you read the Bible, you won’t find those days he talks about on God’s calendar. Even the one mention of Easter in the KJV is a mistransltion of pascha, or Passover (Acts 12:4, Strong’s G3957). Rather, we find the church from the Torah to Revelation on a calendar even more unique than the one Smith claims for Christians. I know it puzzles many Christians that I would keep the “Jewish holidays,” but I find it equally puzzling that they would continue a tradition of co-opting pagan holidays and attaching them to Biblical events God gave no instructions to observe. When we search the scriptures looking for God’s version of liturgical rhythms, we find a worship pattern far more richly layered and deeply rooted in God’s plan than what man has invented. Read more

Thirst

I woke up this morning and reached for my water bottle. It wasn’t there, of course, since today is Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) and we started fasting last night as the sun set. What struck me was how automatic the gesture was — I always have a bottle of water nearby, and grabbing it when I feel thirsty is almost unconscious.

So I asked myself, “Do I long for God the way I crave water when fasting?” Jesus called Himself the “living water.” Just as we need water to survive physically, so we need Him to survive spiritually. And yet somehow, I don’t think we are as attentive about drinking Him in as we are physical water. We should keep Him even closer than I usually keep my water bottle, and turn to Him at every reminder just like we take a drink whenever our throats feel a bit dry.

Thirst | marissabaker.wordpress.com
photo credit: [cipher], CC BY-SA, via Flickr
The Jews consider Yom Kippur the most solemn and holy day of the entire year, and I’m inclined to agree with them. This isn’t to belittle any of the other holy days or the weekly Sabbath, but God does seem to put a special importance on this day. For one thing, it’s the only day when He strictly specifies “you shall do no work at all.” The other holy days are also days of rest, but He uses a different phrase for that: “you shall do no customary work” or “No manner of work shall be done on them; but that which everyone must eat—that only may be prepared by you.”

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath.” (Lev. 23:26-32)

On the Day of Atonement, everything stops. We stop eating, we stop drinking, and we stop doing any work. Usually, my morning routine goes like this: pray, feed fish, make breakfast, read a book, Bible study, yoga, then start working. On the Sabbaths, I usually only do the first three and then head off for per-services dance practice. But today, the only thing I have to think about is thirsting after God. I took a minute to feed the aquarium fish, but that’s it. I don’t have to worry about making breakfast or scheduling my day. I can listen to Hillsong music, pray, study, and turn my thoughts into this impromptu blog post.

I wonder if my younger self would have believed she’d learn to look forward to the Day of Atonement. Fasting doesn’t make me terribly ill, but it’s not really easy for me either, and I often thought of it as something we just had to get through before the Feast of Tabernacles. But, God be praised, I’m starting to learn more about how amazing this day is and why He considers it so important.

I pray each of you has a blessed, refreshing Yom Kippur that draws you closer to God.

G'mar Chatimah Tovah -- traditional greeting for this season. Literally," A good final sealing" or idiomatically, "May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for Good"
G’mar Chatimah Tovah — traditional Hebrew greeting for this season. Literally,” A good final sealing” or idiomatically, “May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for good”

Shabbat Shuvah (Lessons from Zechariah)

The fall holy days are yearly reminders that this world isn’t permanent. Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets) pictures Jesus Christ’s return and signals preparation for His arrival. Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) reminds us of the price paid to redeem us and points to a day in the future where Satan is finally locked away. Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) looks forward to the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth.

Peter talks about this day of the Lord’s return in his second epistle, and asks a very important question.

Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? (2 Pet. 3:11)

We know what’s coming, at least in part. We don’t know when, but we know the world isn’t sticking around. We also know that God expects certain things from His people if they want to receive a reward of righteousness in the final judgement.

Return To God

Shabbat Shuvah | marissabaker.wordpress.comIn traditional Jewish teachings, this Sabbath between Yom Teruah and Yom Kippur is known as Shabbat Shuvah — the Sabbath of Return. It also plays on the word “teshuva,” meaning repentance, since that’s a central theme of these days. This is a topic dear to Zechariah, who comes next in my study of the minor prophets.

Like Haggai, where we spent so much time a few weeks ago, Zechariah wrote his book of prophecy during Zerubbabel’s temple rebuilding. More than Haggai, he also writes about future events pictured by these holy days. Even with a focus on the future, though, the first thing recorded in this book is a plea for immediate action.

In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying, “The Lord has been very angry with your fathers. Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts. “Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets preached, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Turn now from your evil ways and your evil deeds.”’ But they did not hear nor heed Me,” says the Lord. (Zech. 1:1-4)

God is telling these people, and us along with them, that it’s not too late to learn from past mistakes. They can still wake up and turn their lives around by returning to God. They don’t have to repeat the mistakes of past generations who ignored God’s warnings, and neither do we.

How to Change

Peter answers his question about what type of person we ought to be in the verses following what we already quoted in the introduction.

Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless (2 Pet. 3:13-14)

This is a description of who we can become in Christ — a goal to strive for. If we go back to Zechariah now, we find some specific instructions for how to become holy, blameless and at peace.

In Zechariah chapter 7, the Lord reproves Israel for a number of sins. They did everything for themselves rather than to exalt the Lord (Zech 7:5-7). They ignored God’s simple commands and outright rejected His law (Zech. 7:9-12). This rebellion resulted in punishment, but God planned to turn it around to blessing when Israel returned to following Him.

“For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Just as I determined to punish you when your fathers provoked Me to wrath,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘And I would not relent, so again in these days I am determined to do good to Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. Do not fear. These are the things you shall do: speak each man the truth to his neighbor; give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; and do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate,’ says the Lord.” (Zech. 8:14-17)

If we want to get right with God, we can’t keep doing things He hates. We have to turn our lives around and get rid of deception, squabbling, unrighteousness, vengeance and all forms of evil. These are simple commandments, but truly keeping them can seem like a tall order. Thankfully, we don’t have to do this alone.

By God’s Spirit

Like ancient Israel, we’ve spent far too much time looking to something other than God for answers. We try to fix ourselves with self-help books, center ourselves with meditation, protect ourselves with prepping, and listen to talks about all we can accomplish on our own. None of things I used as examples are inherently wrong, but they always have to come after our relationship with God. If we try to use them as a stand-in for things only God can supply or look to them first when we need help, they become idols.

Ask the Lord for rain in the time of the latter rain. The Lord will make flashing clouds; He will give them showers of rain, grass in the field for everyone. For the idols speak delusion; the diviners envision lies, and tell false dreams; they comfort in vain. Therefore the people wend their way like sheep; they are in trouble because there is no shepherd. (Zech. 10:1-2)

All we have to do to start seeing results is return to God. He’s eager to give us good things if we’ll only ask Him. This doesn’t mean everything will start going right and trials will disappear immediately, but God does promise to work good in your life if you’re walking with Him. A relationship with God always yields better long-term fruits than seeking answers elsewhere.

A couple weeks ago, we talked about obstacles we face today when trying to build up God’s temple — both the church as a whole and ourselves as individuals. Like Haggai, Zechariah delivers a message from God of encouragement to Zerubbabal to persevere in building the temple. It’s a famous verse, and applies just as much today as it did back then.

So he answered and said to me: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain! And he shall bring forth the capstone with shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”’” (Zech. 4:6-7)

If we, too, are walking in the spirit of the Lord and following His will, we can fill in our names here. Jesus told us faith can move mountains, and I don’t think He was joking. Whatever your “mountain” is, stop trying to shove against it by your own might and power. Turn back to the Lord, and He’ll turn that thing into a plain — even ground so you can move forward to keep building and singing His praises.

Shabbat Shuvah | marissabaker.wordpress.comCredits for photos used in blog images:

At The Mercy Seat

Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) — today — is considered the most holy day in the Jewish calender. After finishing such an exciting study of Yom Teruah (The Feast of Trumpets), I spent the ten “Days of Awe” in between these two holy days on a study of Yom Kippur, which I’d like to share with you today.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath.” (Lev. 23:26-32)

The other Sabbaths and Holy Days also include an instruction to cease from all customary work, but the admonition is much stronger here and includes any and every manner of work. This is obviously very important to God — He repeats the commands to “afflict your souls” and “do no work” three times each, and says that the person who does not fast and rest on Yom Kippur shall be cast off, or destroyed, “from among his people.” It is also described as “a statute forever,” so New Testament Christians aren’t getting “off the hook” (see Acts 27:9). The depth and meaning of this Holy Day teaches us so much about Jesus Christ, and we still need those reminders.

Yom Kippur

The Hebrew word kippur or kippurim (H3725) means atonement or reconciliation. Strong’s Dictionary notes, “atonement may be a figure of covering over and therefore forgetting (forgiving) sin.” Zodhiates says “atonement means the condition which results when one makes amends, a satisfactory reparation.” He also includes an interesting note about the history of the English word “atonement,” which “has its roots in Middle English and means ‘to be “at one”.'” You can see this by breaking the word into the phrase at-one-ment.

Kippur is used only 8 times in the Bible, and typically refers to the Day of Atonement. It is also used of the sacrifices that were offered when consecrating Aaron and his sons as priests and cleansing the altar of the tabernacle (Ex. 29:36), and in reference to a monetary sacrifice given by the children of Israel to be used in the tabernacle/temple (Ex. 30:15-16).

esvstudybible.org

Other times the word “atonement” occurs in the Old Testament it’s translated from kaphar (H3722). It’s the root word of kippur, and is where we get the idea of “covering” in relation to atonement. It can mean to hide sin, to annul a contract (Is. 28:18), or to make waterproof by covering with pitch (Gen. 6:14). Baker and Carpenter’s WordStudy dictionary says, “the word conveys the notion of covering but not in the sense of merely concealing. Rather, it suggests the imposing of something to change its appearance or nature.” It’s used most often “with reference to ‘covering’ (hiding) sin with the blood of sacrifices.”

Atonement Sacrifices

You’re probably way ahead of me in connecting this Yom Kippur observance to Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice. But before we move to the New Testament, let’s take a closer look at what happened on the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament.

and the Lord said to Moses: “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at just any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest he die; for I will appear in the cloud above the mercy seat.” (Lev. 16:2)

The Day of Atonement was the only time during the year that the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies, which was the inner sanctuary of the temple/tabernacle, and no one else was ever allowed inside. The rituals for Yom Kippur were quite involved, and you can read all about them in Leviticus 16. For now, I want to focus on what the high priest was doing inside the Holy of Holies on this day.

And Aaron shall bring the bull of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house, and shall kill the bull as the sin offering which is for himself. Then he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil. And he shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of incense may cover the mercy seat that is on the Testimony, lest he die. He shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the mercy seat on the east side; and before the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.

Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil, do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat. So he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, for all their sins; and so he shall do for the tabernacle of meeting which remains among them in the midst of their uncleanness. (Lev. 16:11-16)

quoted with Quozio

Notice how much of this ceremony is centered around the mercy seat. This was the covering of the ark of the covenant, and we’ll get back to it in just a moment when we go to the book of Hebrews.

This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you. For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It is a sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever. (Lev. 16:29-31)

Though we know Jesus Christ’s sacrifice did away with the need for animal sacrifices by fulfilling all that they pictured (Heb. 10:1-18), there is still meaning for us in the Day of Atonement. God said many times that observance of this day is something that would last “forever.” We are still to afflict our souls by fasting from food and water for 24 hours, we’re still to keep it as a sabbath of absolute rest, and we are still to be mindful of the sacrifice required to atone for our sins.

Christ, Our Atonement

In Hebrews 9, the writer speaks at length about the relationship between Christ’s sacrifice and the Day of Atonement. Following a description of the tabernacle, with particular attention paid to the sanctuary “called the Holiest of All” located “behind the second veil,” he talks about the priest’s daily ministrations and the high priest’s yearly role on Yom Kippur.

But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. (Heb. 9:7-8)

Up until the moment of Christ’s death, the average person had no right to enter the Holy of Holies or approach the mercy seat. But when Jesus died, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matt. 27:51). This didn’t mean the Jewish priests would let just anyone stroll into the physical Holy of Holies, but it did show that the way was open for us to approach the true Mercy Seat in heaven through the blood of Jesus Christ.

But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (Heb. 9:11-12)

Christ’ one sacrifice did what none of the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament could do. The animal sacrifices were figures of His sacrifice, used to sanctify the physical representations of a heavenly temple, cover sins until the true Sacrifice came, and bind God’s covenant with Israel. In fulfilling the terms of that covenant, He paid the ultimate price for all past and future sins.

And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another —  He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Heb. 9:22-26)

In the Old Testament, an animal sacrifice was required before someone could approach God. Those who are sinful are separated from God (Is. 59:2), and the repeated animal sacrifices taught that in order for us to be made right with God, someone has to die on our behalf. That Someone — whose sacrifice covers and puts away the sins of the whole world — is Jesus Christ.

The Mercy Seat

and behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. (Heb. 9:3-5)

I personally think this last line is one of the most frustrating in the Bible. I’d love to know what would have been said if this writer could “speak in detail” about the mercy seat.

Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for “mercy seat” is kapporeth (H3727), and it is always used in reference “to the golden cover of the sacred chest deep inside the tabernacle or Solomon’s temple. This was the exact spot where God promised to meet with human beings (Num. 7:89)” (Zodhiates). The Greek word used in Heb. 9:5 is hilasterios (G2435). In the literal sense, it means the same thing as kapporeth — the lid of the ark of the covenant.  This word is only used twice in the New Testament, and the other use adds another layer of meaning.

being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed (Rom. 3:24-25)

The word translated “propitiation” here is hilasterios. Zodhiates says, “Paul, by applying this name to Christ in Rom. 3:25, assured us that Christ was the true mercy seat, the reality typified by the cover of the ark of the covenant. … He is designated not only as the place where the sinner deposits his sin, but He Himself is the means of expiation.” In the Old Testament, the high spriest sprinkled a sin offering for the people on the mercy seat once a year. Now, we can bring our sins directly to the High Priest, who Himself paid the blood price to cleanse us. In reference to Jesus, Zodhiates thinks mercy seat “is an inadequate translation of the Gr. word which is rather equivalent to the Throne of Grace.”

quoted with Quozio

Christ’s role as High Priest and ultimate sacrifice fulfill the role of the mercy seat in the Day of Atonement. It goes even deeper than that, through, since He also fulfills the role of the mercy seat as the place where God “will meet with” and “will speak with” His people (Ex. 30:6, 25:22).

Jesus is both High Priest within us as the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16), and High Priest in the heavenly places pictured by the physical temple. He is the only one with the right to enter the inner sanctuary of our hearts and minds, and He is the only one who can give us access to the heavenly Mercy Seat.

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. (Heb. 10:19)

My dear readers, let’s take this time on this Yom Kippur to work towards at-one-ment with our High Priest, and invite Him to dwell in us as His temple. Let’s approach the Mercy Seat with boldness, humility, and repentance as we keep this day for Him.

Creation Will Be At Peace

As you’ll know if you’ve been keeping track of my last few posts, my family and I are currently celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-43). One of the things I always look forward to at the Feast is singing in the choir. Since 2004 or 2005, I’ve only skipped singing one year. I’ve developed quite a collection of favorite songs, including the one we sang yesterday called “Let Us Join Our Hearts Together,” “King All Glorious” (which I someday hope to sing the solo part for), and “Creation Will Be At Peace.”

“Creation Will Be at Peace” sums up the hope that is an integral part of the Feast of Tabernacles. After the tribulation and after Satan is bound for 1,000 years (which we just pictured while celebrating The Day of Atonement), creation will finally be at peace, as will humanity for the first time since the Garden of Eden. It is such an encouragement to attend the Feast every year and be reminded of the wonderful future God has in mind for the entire world."Creation Will Be At Peace" marissabaker.wordpress.com

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Is. 11:6-9)

Reasons for Atonement

Today, the 14th of September/10th of Tishrei is the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. It is, as far as my research can find, considered the holiest day of the Jewish year. That does not, however, mean this important day holds no significance for Christians. Like the rest of the Old Testament, God’s Holy Days were given to man for a purpose that did not expire when Jesus Christ instituted the New Covenant. Some things were replaced/filled to the fullest, such as animal sacrifices being fulfilled by Jesus Christ’s sacrifice (Heb. 7:26-28). Others were updated to be understood in a spiritual light, which is what I touched on in “Righteousness by Faith” and “Purpose of the Law.” In the case of God’s Sabbaths and Holy Days, we have ample evidence that Jesus Christ kept these days as Holy and that the New Testament church followed His example.

Loose The Bonds of Wickedness

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) for Christians marissabaker.wordpress.comThe Day of Atonement is specifically referred to as “the Fast” in Acts 27:9. But knowing that Paul and his fellow believers observed the Day of Atonement only gives modern Christians an example to follow. That in and of itself is not an explanation for why this day should be observed. For that, we have to take a look at the Old Testament observance.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God.For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people.And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people.You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath.” (Lev. 23:26-32)

Leviticus 23 lists the most important days of the year in God’s calendar, yet Atonement is the only one where the people are told they will be “cut off” and/or “destroyed” if it is not properly observed. A possible reason for the significance placed on this particular day lies in the symbolism of fasting. In my Google searches looking for descriptions of the Jewish observance of Yom Kippur, I stumbled across a Christian website that had the following to say about Atonement. (To provide proper attribution, here’s the link [but I didn’t finish reading this article and I don’t know anything about the site].)

An Israelite’s refusal to fast, which resulted in the offender being cut off from the community (Leviticus 23:29) is the Old Testament’s equivalent of a person today refusing to repent, which will result in the offender being cut off from eternal life (Luke 13:3). Fasting is outward proof that the person doing the fasting is serious about repentance, which is vital for forgiveness.

This idea fits in nicely with the purpose of fasting. In Isaiah 58, God answers Israel’s question about why He has no respect for their fasts by describing an acceptable fast. “Is this not the fast that I have chosen,” He asks in verse 6, “To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?”

Undo The Heavy Burdens

When we fast, it serves as a reminder of how much we need God and of the severity of our struggle against sin.  Going without food or water for 24 hours (or 25, in the Jewish tradition) reminds us how weak we are as human beings. The reminder of how much we need physical food and water — which is provided by God (James 1:17) — also helps us realize how much we are dependent on God for spiritual things. We are to hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matt. 5:6), but does my soul always long for God as much as my throat longs for water today?

As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. (Ps. 42:1)

O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. (Ps. 63:1)

Fasting should also remind us of our daily struggle against sin. I’m so used to drinking and eating that I have to consciously remind myself not to  grab a drink of water or open my dark chocolate and cashew stash today. While we were without God in the world, we were in a similar state of sinning without really thinking about it. But now that we have been redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice, we are to walk in newness of life and must make an effort to run away from sin and toward Christ (Rom. 6:4). Without His divine aid, we would slide back into sin.

Let The Oppressed Go Free

As we know, Jesus Christ’s sacrifice is what frees us from the heavy burden of sin (John 8:31-36). If freeing people from wickedness is also the purpose of fasting, it makes sense that fasting under the New Covenant would be related to the subject of repenting and accepting Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf.

In the Old Testament, the Day of Atonement was the only day of the year on which the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle or temple (Lev. 16:2-10; 16:29-34). It is, therefore, this day that is referred to in Hebrews when the writer says,

the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services.  But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. …

But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood The Day of Atonement for Christians marissabaker.wordpress.comHe entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh,  how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. 9:6-8, 11-14)

Christ’s sacrifice supersedes the physical animal sacrifices by a human priest, just as His priesthood supersedes the Levitical system. But doing away with the animal sacrifice does not do away with our need for repentance. Christ said His servants would fast (Mat. 6:16-18; Matt. 9:14-16), and our obedience to this (particularly in the commanded fast on the Day of Atonement) reminds us of our need for redemption. Fasting helps us draw near to God, shows us how much we need Him, and is a physical sign of our willingness to obey His commands.

Break Every Yoke

The third main element of the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament involved the “scapegoat” or the “Azazel goat.”

“And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness. (Lev. 16:20-22)

In the churches I’ve been a part of, this has traditionally been read as symbolic of Satan being bound so that he “so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished” (Rev. 20:1-3. Permanently removed in verse 10). I see no reason to contest this interpretation. Though God’s people have been freed by Christ’s sacrifice, we still have to deal with  living in a fallen world subject to Satan’s influence. The “whole creation groans” and is subject to “the bondage of corruption” until the time of Christ’s return and Satan’s removal (Rom. 8:21-22), which will finally fulfill the Day of Atonement. Today reminds us of the incredible hope God gives us that someday, the entire world will be released from Satan’s yoke and enjoy the true freedom found in being a part of God’s family.