This year, from the evening of September 18th to the 19th is Yom Kippur, also known as the day of atonement for the people of Israel. Whenever this day comes around I really start to think about the meaning of the atonement.
This also happens to me whenever Muslims observe their own day of atonement, because it really shows the contrast between belief systems, and how stark the difference is between Christ and other gods. When it comes to the celebration of Yom Kippur though, even Christians can reflect on the meaning of this day, because the Old Testament that we read is an account of God’s interaction with Israel and their constant disobedience to Him. This propensity towards sin shows the need for atonement is a human problem and not just a Hebrew problem.
This makes for a great time of reflection on what Christ did as He gave His life for our salvation so that we can be reconciled with the Father. Yom Kippur is a solemn time for the Hebrew people, especially coming off the heels of Rosh Hashanah, aka the New Year.
There’s ten days between the celebration of the New Year and Yom Kippur, and throughout that time is the time of repentance. What is truly significant are the activities that are performed as national repentance is offered up to God, because the High Priest plays a central role in representing the people before God. The one activity that stands out to me are the animal sacrifices that were done by the High Priest.
The animal sacrifices offered up were a central component of repentance to God, because it was the sacrifice that made the atonement for the sins of the nation. Today, in synagogues around the world, adherents fast, pray, and reflect, but the sacrifices that were so central to this day of atonement are missing. There’s no animal sacrifice, because there is no longer a Temple dedicated to sacrificing to God in since 70 AD.
If there is no sacrifice for sin, then no matter how much we pray, fast, reflect, etc., there is no atonement for sin. There is nothing that we could do in our lives that would atone for the sin in our lives. This is what makes what Jesus did eternally significant! The blood of bulls and goats were never able to cleanse us from sin, because the life of an animal is not the same as the life of humanity. Yet Christ our High Priest came in the form of man and willingly sacrificed His life, so that through His shed blood, we receive life and atonement for sin.
As Christians, I think we should think more about Yom Kippur, and reflect on what has taken place in our lives this year. We can use this time for some real self-examination on our lives. For example, we can settle issues with others that we’ve left on the table for so long, and much more. Most of all, let us remember the cost of our redemption in Christ, and that it is in Him alone that are sins are washed away.