In our Sunday studies through the Bible we have been continuing through the Hebrews letter, a great letter for understanding the roots of “the olive tree” described in Romans 11 to which gentile Christian believers have been grafted. We saw how Jesus, the Messiah, exceeded the priestly requirements as our Great High Priest, He Himself becoming the very sacrifice He offered for us, as prophesied in the Ketuvim, Isaiah 53.10, where it is written "Thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin."
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was the one holiday where basically one person did everything, the high priest. Though it was his personal responsibility, the details of this busy day were studied by all, both young and old in the Jewish community. On that most holy day, the most holy man entered the most holy place to perform the most holy duties. But he himself was imperfect and needed to repent and confess his own sins first before representing the people before God. Jesus, however, did not need to repent of anything, for he was sinless. It is remarkable to see how Jesus fulfilled so many of the details ascribed to the sacrificial system, details of the ceremonies etc. as described in the Tanakh, known to Christians as the Old Testament. The Tanakh consists of three sections: Firstly, the, Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible, then the Nevi’im, 8 books which includes the 12 minor prophets as 1 book. Then the Ketuvim includes all the remaining books.
I have a book which I purchased at the Temple Institute in Jerusalem which shows how 150 of the 600 plus laws deal with the sacrificial system. The reasons become clearer as you begin to look at the temple design. The temple was the main focus of life. The Holy of Holies was the main focus in the temple, the Ark of the Covenant was the main focus in the Holy of Holies, the Mercy Seat was the main focus on the Ark, and the blood of atonement was the main focus on the Mercy Seat. It was not a seat to sit down on but it implies the second meaning of the word. For example, the capital is the “seat of authority” in a country. And so the blood that was sprinkled on the cover of the Ark on the Day of Atonement was in fact the main focus of the whole temple. The blood atonement is described in Leviticus 16.27. The word atonement in Hebrew is "Kippur" as a noun, meaning a covering, and "kaphar" as a verb, to cover. What sins was the blood covering? Basically all sins, but each of the three things inside the ark was a reminder of the specific sins of the nation of Israel. The law, the10 Commandments, referred to in Deut 31.26 as a reminder of sin, were broken before Moses could make his way down the mountain. The bowl of manna reminded them of how the people murmured, desiring the meats, fruits and vegetables of Egypt, rather than simply being thankful for the daily manna. Aaron’s staff reminded them of Korah and the 150 princes who were jealous of his authority and rebelled. The contents of the ark have many meanings and applications for us, but on the Day of Atonement these things would be special reminders of the need to deal with sins , both past and present, both personal and national.
For us today, the blood atonement and sacrificial systems of the Old Testament help us to remember that sin is serious. Sin is a word we hardly ever hear today. The largest church in America, I won’t mention it by name, intentionally does not use the word sin or any “negative” words because they want to focus on joy and being positive. This is called “seeker friendly” but how friendly is it to deny people the truth? The blood of atonement was the main focus of the temple and Jesus’ atonement is the main focus of Christianity and ultimately it all has to do with repentance and regeneration. But there are many people in the largest churches today who will never actually hear the gospel message which is quite disturbing. This is really not positive or joyful at all to me. True, deep and lasting joy comes only from having one’s sins forgiven as David wrote: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Psalm 32.1. You can’t get to the truly blessed, happy state, step 2, without having your sins forgiven, step 1. Sure you can enjoy sin for a season but the end result is always death, fast or slow. The wages of sin is death, serious stuff. But the good news is that God’s free gift is righteousness and eternal life (Rom 6.23).
It takes a certain humility to admit "I am a sinner." Jesus knew who would be open to him and interestingly Luke 4.18 refers to Jesus' focus on the poor: “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.” Often it is the less wealthy who are the most "rich in faith,"as James pointed out (Ja 2.5). I have found this to be true in my own life. Many of the wealthier people I know seem to have the main goal of living for pleasure, to “get the most out of life.” This mindset chokes out the deeper yearnings for God and spiritual growth. To me it is more impressive to see those who may be less well off financially but who are rich in faith.
This Thanksgiving Holiday we had many students from Africa over and one in particular, Larry, prayed such a beautiful prayer of sincere thanks to God. For me it was the highlight of the entire evening. The Messiah is described “as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground” in the Ketuvim, Isaiah chapter 53. It was His tenderness that attracted so many people to him. And it was his willingness to be cut off, but “not for himself,” as a mighty tree felled, that made Him our great Redeemer (Dan 9.25-26). By sacrificing Himself, God imparts His own righteousness to us if we will but receive it by faith. This is why Jesus is the root of righteousness. He supports us as branches. The scriptures show, “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins” (Heb 9.22). When the people brought their animals to the jewish temple, the animals were inspected for blemishes, the people themseves were not. In a similar way, all the focus is on Jesus, our sacrifice, who was without any sin or blemish. His righteousness supports us completely by grace. And in this context, we can say “Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!” (II Cor 9.15).