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).

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.

Shout For The King

These are the Days of Awe. That’s what Jewish believers call the 10 days between Yom Teruah/The Feast of Trumpets (which fell on Thursday, September 25th this year) and Yom Kippur/The Day of Atonement (Saturday October 4th).

Having recently started attending with a Messianic Jewish group, I wanted to focus my pre-Trumpets study this year on the Hebraic roots of this Holy Day. With the Feast of Trumpets just a few days past, I’d like to share some of that study with you today as we look forward to the Day of Atonement.

A Question of Trumpets

I found five different Hebrew words translated “trumpets” in the Old Testament. Let’s just take a quick look at each one:

  • chatsotserah (H2689). A metal trumpet (Num. 10:2, 8).
  • yobel (H3104). The signal of a trumpet or blast of a horn. A common noun referring to trumpets, horns , and the year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:10).
  • shophar/shofar (H7782). A ram’s horn. The word most often used in the Bible.
  • taqoa (H8619). A trumpet with a looped tube and flared bell that makes a shrill sound (Ezk. 7:14).
  • teruah (H8643). A shout of joy or alarm. The noise from a trumpet.
“Rabbi Blowing Shofar” by Carole Spandau

This last word is the one used in Leviticus 23 and in Numbers 29 in reference to the Feast of Trumpets. My Hebrew dictionary says it means “a shout of joy; a shout of alarm, a battle cry. It refers to a loud, sharp shout or cry in general, but it often indicates a shout of joy or victory. … It can refer to the noise or signal put out by an instrument” (Baker and Carpenter, 2003). A more literal translation of Yom Teruah, the phrase we translate as “Feast of Trumpets,” would be “Day of Shouting.”

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord.’” (Lev. 23:23-25)

Now, I’m certainly not saying this day doesn’t involve blowing trumpets. Silver trumpets would have been blown for the new moon and because this was a high Holy Day (Num. 10:1-2, 10). Shofars (the ram’s horn trumpets) were blown as well. In fact, they were blown on every Sabbath and Festival.

Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, at the full moon, on our solemn feast day. For this is a statute for Israel, a law of the God of Jacob. (Ps. 81:3-4)

Based on this scripture alone, I’d say shofars belong as part of every Christian service. And there are other passages too, like Joel 2:15, which indicates shofars are a key part of calling solemn assemblies and sanctifying fasts, and Psalm 150:3, which instructs us to praise God “with the sound of the trumpet.” But I digress …

So, lots of trumpets blasts on Yom Teruah. There’s even a traditional pattern for how to blow them, and shofars are sounded at least 100 times in a typical Yom Teruah service. (Here’s a link for more about Jewish tradition associated with Yom Teruah, and a recording of the shofar sounds). But even though trumpets are a huge part of this day, looking into the Hebrew had me wondering if I’d been keeping the “Feast of Trumpets” my whole life when I should have been keeping “the Day of Shouting for joy and battle cries.” I also wondered if it really made any difference. Does a better understanding of the Hebrew add layers of spiritual meaning?

The Day of Shouting

The word “Teruah” is used 36 times in the Old Testament. It is translated “blow an alarm” as for war (Num. 10:6, 31:6) and to shout like when the walls of Jericho fell (Josh. 6:5, 20). The people shouted for joy when seeing the ark of the covenant and when the temple was rebuilt (2 Sam. 6:15; 1 Chron. 15:28; Ezr. 3:11-13).  Teruah is also translated “joy,” “rejoicing,” and “joyful sound” (Job 8:21, 33:26; Ps. 27:6, 89:15). It is used of praising God (Ps. 47:5), and of fighting with Him on our side (2 Chron. 13:12).

The meaning of Yom Teruah/the Day of Shouting can be interpreted several ways. A website for Karaite Judaism says it may be “intended as a day of public prayer. The verb form of Teruah often refers to the noise made by a gathering of the faithful calling out to the Almighty in unison.” The examples they give are Psalms 47:2, 66:1, 81:2, and 100:1. A Messianic website says the shofar and trumpet blasts are “a wake-up blast — a reminder that the time is near for the Day of Atonement.” There are strong themes of repentance, rebirth, and resurrection associated with this day.

Another element of Yom Teruah was brought out in the teaching given by the Rabbi at my local Messianic congregation. He said that the shofar is blow every day in the month leading up to Yom Teruah as a proclamation that the King is returning. We are to prepare ourselves to hear the voice of the Lord (traditionally, the shofar is seen as symbolizing God’s voice). In Hebrew, the word “prepare” is connected with the human face — we’re making ourselves ready to be face-to-face with God. In that sense, Yom Teruah is a yearly reminder of something we should be doing all the time. It’s also just the beginning of such reminders to repent and be at one with God, since it’s starts out the 10-day count to Atonement (which will definitely be the subject of next week’s blog post).

This preparation to meet God reminds me of the giving of the Ten Commandments. Before delivering His laws, God commanded boundaries to be set up so the people couldn’t get dangerously close to His presence on the mountain, but He did want them to be present as He delivered the words of the covenant. The people were commanded to consecrate themselves and wash in preparation for meeting with God, and then God commanded, “When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain” (Ex. 19:10-13). Here, the trumpet acted as a call to assemble in God’s presence.

The King is Coming!

In the New Testament, trumpet blasts and shouts are strongly associated with Jesus Christ’s return. Traditionally, Christians who keep Yom Teruah have said that the Feast of Trumpets pictures Christ’s second coming and the first resurrection from the dead.

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1 Thes 4:16-17)

For my readers who aren’t familiar with this particular interpretation of future prophecy and “what happens after death” belief, here’s a quick summary of what I believe: Those who have died are “asleep,” waiting for a resurrection. The believers who have died “in Christ” will be raised to eternal life at His second coming, and the non-believers will be raised 1,000 years later to be given as second (or in many cases a first) chance to understand God’s truth (Rev. 20:4-5, 11-15)

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Cor. 15:51-52)

“Behold, He Cometh” by Simon Dewey

Right now, we’re in waiting for our Bridegroom, Jesus the Christ, to return for us (John 14:1-3). If we’re dead when that happens, we’ll be brought back to life. If we’re still alive, we’ll be changed into spirit beings.

At first, shouting for joy and shouting a battle cry seem only distantly related. But if we turn to Revelation and read more about Christ’s return, the connection in Yom Teruah becomes more clear.

And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Rev. 19:6-7)

Here is where the shouts of joy, praise, and exhalation come in. We’ve been preparing to meet our Bridegroom, and here He is! Then, just a few verses down, we see how the shouts of joy turn into a battle cry.

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. (Rev. 19:11-14)

The armies which follow Christ at His return are clothed in “white linen” garments just like His bride, so this is often read as a sign that we’ll be riding into battle alongside Him to set up the promised kingdom of peace.

Yom Teruah is already passed for this year, but our preparations to meet the King and become a suitable bride for Him are ongoing. In Matt. 22:2, Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son.” This marriage is an integral part of Their great plan, and we as the church are the focus of it. I pray we all hear and head the trumpet blast that calls out to us and says, “The King is coming! make ready to meet Him.”



Baruch Hashem

As I wrote in Monday’s post, my sister and I visited a Messianic congregation last Sabbath/Shabbat. The teaching given that day by the Rabbi centered around the Hebrew phrase “Baruch Hashem,” which translates as “bless the name” or “blessed be God.” Jewish people traditionally write the initials B”H at the top of a letter to begin their correspondence, as a way of contextualizing everything that follows as being for God’s glory. The composer Johann Sebastian Bach did something similar by starting each new piece of music with the initials JJ (Jesu Juva — Jesus help me) and ended his compositions with the letters SDG (Soli Deo Gloria — all glory to God).

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Bless The Lord

One of the songs we opened services with last week was my new favorite Christian song, Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons. Like many of the Psalms, it is about wholeheartedly singing and offering praise to God at all times, “whatever may pass and whatever lies before me.”

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! (Ps. 103:1)

Praise the Lord, O my soul! While I live I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. (Ps. 146:1-2)

Have you made it your purpose in life to praise God? Perhaps this comes naturally for some people, but I suspect it is hard for most of us to be in a continuing mindset of praise. When things are going well it is easier to feel  like praising, but we often get so distracted by how well things are going that we forget to offer glory to God. Things going badly can serve as a reminder, but when that happens our typical response is usually to beg God for help rather than praise Him.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9)

One of the reasons we have been chosen is the show forth God’s praises, not just when we feel like it, but all the time. Ephesians 1:5-6 tells us that we were predestined to adoption as sons “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” Verses 12-14 add that we were “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,” redeemed, and purchased “to the praise of His glory.” Praising God is one of the key reasons we were created.

Praising His Glory

When we talk about God choosing us, we often turn to 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, about how God has selected the foolish, weak, and despised people who are nothing apart from Him so “that no flesh should glory in His presence.” There’s a “but” right after this, though.

But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:30-31)

We’re not told to just mope around and wallow in our insignificance. We are to be humble, yes, but there is also something we are to “glory in.” It’s not something that came from or belongs to us, though. Even if we have something which is impressive by the world’s standards, it still pales in comparison to what God gives us.

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the Lord. (Jer. 9:23-24)

If we’re going to talk about, glory in, and be inspired by something we have, it should be our relationship with God. I recently re-read a book called Refiner’s Fire written by Sylvia Bambola. It is fiction, but set during the very real reign of Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania during the 1980s. A large part of the plot centers around the horrible persecutions Christians endured under Ceausescu’s leadership.

When we sit in our comfy armchairs reading about the apostles “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name,” it seems marvelous, but rather far removed from our own experiences (Acts 5:41). Perhaps we wonder if Christians in general, or us in particular, would react like that today. We in the U.S. complain about being persecuted when public prayer is condemned — not a bit of praise to God for being counted worthy to suffer for Him. Christians in Romania gloried in sharing the love of Christ when it meant being beaten to death or incarcerated and tortured. Reading something like Refiner’s Fire kinda puts things in perspective.

Can we do this? Can we live our lives in the context of always glorifying God no matter the cost? Do we let people see God’s work in us without fearing how they will respond? Will we bless His name even if people give us weird looks, wonder at our sanity, take us to court, or perhaps worse in days to come?

Written In Our Hearts

We might not write B”H at the beginning of our correspondence any more, but God is writing something in our hearts that should result in our lives being contextualized by blessing His name.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jer. 31:33)

God is writing on us, while He is re-writing us in His image. Let’s think about this analogy for a moment. When you write on something, you change it. I write these blog posts in pen on notebooks before typing them up. Once I’ve done that, you can’t use that paper for anything else — it has been changed by the writing process and the words are there to stay. Even if I used pencil and erased it there would still be marks visible. God wants to have an even more indelible impact on us.

At one time, God wrote His laws on “tablets of stone” (Ex. 24:12). Now, He is writing on a surface far more precious with the potential to be far more enduring — our hearts. In a way, we are His letter to the world, and our whole life should be contextualized by that.

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (2 Cor. 3:2-3)

God’s work in us — what He is writing on us — should change the way we approach our entire lives. When people see us, they should be able to read what God has written in us, seeing His signature on all that we do.

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.

Jesus The Christ

I’d like to share a quote from a book I picked up a couple weeks ago. I still haven’t decided whether or not I like Mysteries of the Middle Ages by Thomas Cahill, but it has given me several things to think about. For example, there is an interesting footnote to page 50, in which the author discusses the shift from approaching Christianity through a “Jewish conceptual framework” to a Greco-Roman view that disconnected Christianity from its Jewish roots.

By the time of Constantine, Jesus was already shedding his Jewishness; and the Greek word Christos (Christ), meaning ‘Anointed One,” a translation of the Hebrew mashiach (messiah), had become in effect Jesus’s surname.

The problem with this is that treating “Christ” simply as a surname can make us lose sight of an important aspect of Who He is and what He was sent to do. His names have meaning, but too often we pay no more attention to those meanings than we would to the fact that the names John Doe mean “God is gracious” and “a female deer.”

Christ, the Anointed, is a title that God gave Jesus. It is so important that it quickly became part of His name — the name “Jesus Christ” is used 198 times in the New Testament and “Christ Jesus” 58 times. “Lord and Christ” is how Peter referred to Jesus in his Acts 2 sermon.

This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on My right hand, until I make Thy foes Thy footstool. Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:32-36).

Looking For a Messiah

Having read from the scriptures we know as the Old Testament (some were discussed in this post last week), the Jews of Christ’s day were expecting an Anointed Savior to appear from the Lord. When Andrew (who became one of the 12 disciples) first met Jesus, he said, ““We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ)” (Jn. 1:41, NKJV). Even the Samaritan woman who Jesus spoke with at the well said, ““I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things” (Jn 4:25, NKJV). In reply, Jesus said, “I who speak to you am He.”

The fact that the Jews were expecting the Messiah — the Lord’s Anointed, or masiyach (H4899) — is why He is referred to as “the Christ” seventeen times in the gospels. It is why John’s Gospel was written, so “that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name” (Jn. 20:31).

What Was He Anointed to Do?

 The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)

This scripture is one Jesus chose to read as He taught in the synagog at Nazareth on the Sabbath. After reading it, He said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21). Quoted from Isaiah 61, this mission is what His anointing included. Here in Luke and Acts 10:38 are the only places I’ve been able to find where the word “anoint” is  used this way in the NT, but I think it is safe to say that the anointing Jesus received from God included other roles, such as High Priest (Heb. 5:1-10).

If we forget the meanings contained in Jesus’s names, we lose sight of much more than just the Jewish roots of our faith. The fact that Jesus is the Christ, the One chosen and Anointed by God, is one of the founding principles of our faith, and should not be ignored if we seek to follow and honor Him.