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    Images of the Savior (31 - The Day of Atonement)

    And he shall take the two goats, and he shall set them before Yahweh, at the door of the Tent of Meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats, one lot for Yahweh and one lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat upon which the lot for Yahweh fell, and he shall offer it as a sin offering. And the goat upon which the lot for Azazel fell shall be presented alive before Yahweh, to make atonement upon it, to send it away to Azazel, into the wilderness. – Leviticus 16:7-10

    The Day of Atonement, coming as it does in the middle of the festive cycles, and in the heart of the calendar year, being observed on the tenth day of the seventh month, which is the month having the greatest symbolic and ceremonial significance; and being described most minutely, moreover, in the heart of the most intricate elaboration of the Law, which comprises the book of Leviticus, and which is itself at the center of the Pentateuch; must therefore take on a character of utter centrality and solemn importance from the very outset. With regard to the festive cycles, it is distinct in that it alone is a day of solemn affliction and mourning over sin (Leviticus 16:29-31); and yet, its observance prepares for the celebration of the most joyful of feasts, that of Tabernacles (see Leviticus 23:26-43); by which we may learn that it constituted the deep and solemn foundation for all the feasts of joy by which Israel's entire year was structured – without its time of sorrow and affliction, there would be no times of joyous fellowship in the presence of God. And then, it is likewise set apart from all the other feasts in the book of Leviticus, where it is described in great detail in chapter sixteen, in the midst of the laws and regulations governing cleanness and holiness; even though it is also described again in chapter twenty-three, where all the feasts of the Lord are discussed. In this way, its distinct character is emphasized, and especially its relationship to the heart of the Law, which existed to show God's people what it was to be clean and holy, so that he might dwell among them. The Law described what it is to be holy in God's sight: and in the midst of the Law, lest its overwhelming and unyielding demands should terrify and discourage the people, God enjoins upon the people this solemn feast, as if to say, “Although you are insufficient to keep my holy statutes, I have prepared a way for you to be made clean and holy again, so that I might continue to dwell among you”.

    So let us examine most carefully all the regulations concerning this day; for even as it taught Israel of old how to approach God and be clean in his sight, so it will instruct us today, if we look at it with an eye to see Jesus Christ, who was our true scapegoat, and our final sin-offering, and the High Priest who offered up his sweet-smelling prayers of intercession, and sprinkled his blood upon the Mercy Seat on that last and final Day of Atonement, which is called Good Friday, and which now and forever serves as the solemn and sorrowful foundation for all the joyous feasts and celebrations we enjoy today, and look forward to enjoying in the New Jerusalem.

    First, let us recount the things which took place on the Day of Atonement: the High Priest, having washed his body with water, clothed himself with his priestly garments, offered up a bull as an offering for his own sin, and then took two goats for the sin offering of the people whom he represented before God. Upon one of those goats, the scapegoat, or Azazel, which signifies utter removal, he would place his hands and confess all the sins of the people; and then, having laid all the people's sins upon it, he would drive it out into the wilderness, where it would carry the people's guilt far away. The other goat he would kill as a sin offering. After this, he would take coals from the altar, and sweet-smelling incense, and take them into the Holy Place, where he would place them upon the Altar of Incense, so that a sweet-smelling cloud would cover the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies. Only then would the High Priest pass beyond the veil into the Holy of Holies with blood to sprinkle upon the Mercy Seat, so as to make atonement for the people, that they might be clean, and that God might continue to dwell in their midst.

    Now, all of this ceremony speaks very exactly of the substitutionary and sin-bearing ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. For he was as the High Priest, wholly clean and having passed through the water of baptism, in the Jordan River, to consecrate himself to his redemptive task; and also having taken up the high priestly garments of human flesh, anointed with the Spirit, so that he might win redemption for his people. As the High Priest, he offered up a sacrifice, and joined that sacrifice with fervent and sweet-smelling prayers of intercession for those whom he came to save (John 17), which rose up to the Father in a cloud, and covered all the unsightly sins and transgressions of the people, so that he might not look upon their guilt; only, his sacrifice was his own body, which God had prepared for him (Hebrews 10:5-7), and by which he bore the sins of the people (1 Peter 2:24). And so, having made an acceptable sacrifice and a perfect and sweet-smelling plea of intercession, he entered the Most Holy Place of God, and won eternal redemption for his people, enabling God to dwell among them forevermore (Hebrews 9:24-26).

    Jesus is thus the last and greatest High Priest; but let us not forget that he is also the final scapegoat, Azazel, and likewise the final sin-offering. So great and wonderful was the effective sacrifice of Jesus, that on this Day of Atonement, it took two goats to symbolize what he would accomplish, the one showing forth just what he would do for his people, submitting to a bloody death in their place; and the other showing the blessed results that this self-sacrifice would obtain, in taking their sins far from them. Just as the High Priest took all the sins of the people and placed them upon the goat Azazel, so Jesus the High Priest took all the sins of his people and placed them upon himself, as our scapegoat. And then, just as the scapegoat went off into the wilderness, carrying the people's sins far away, so Jesus went into the grave, and carried his people's sins thither. Only let us note the graphic illustration of the means by which he should take the people's sins away, in the fate of the other goat! For just as that goat was slaughtered, so Jesus was slaughtered by violent and bloody men, and it was by this bloody death that he took the sins of his people into the wilderness and got rid of them forever.

    Now, let us be sure we note that this sacrifice on the Day of Atonement was only for those who were sorrowful and afflicted over their sin (Leviticus 16:29-31). Their sins were atoned for entirely by another, they were all taken far away, there was no work that they had to perform in order thereto, but had only to await the blessed end of forgiveness, cleanness, and joyful feasting; but all these blessed gifts came only to those who hated their sin, and were grieved by it, and cried out for deliverance. So too, Jesus did not come to bear the sins of the proud and self-righteous, but to those who hate their sin, and are broken down by the Law, and cry out in bitterness of spirit for his free grace and mercy, he gives mercy freely, and takes away all their sin. Thus he said to his disciples, as he was about to offer himself up for them, “You shall be grieved, but your grief shall turn into joy” (John 16:20). So is it ever: the Day of Atonement, in which Jesus offered himself up as a perfect sacrifice, and took away all our sins, is that which turns all our godly affliction and repentance into a joy that is eternal, and that the world can never take away.

    We have noted how the Day of Atonement was a foreshadow of Good Friday, but let us not forget how it proclaimed every year its own insufficiency: for thus it did not just teach the people how the Christ would win redemption for them, but it drove them to yearn for his coming and actually accomplishing that which the Day of Atonement could never finally accomplish. We see first the insufficiency of the High Priest, who had to wash himself first from his own uncleanness, and to offer up a bull for his own sins; but if he was unclean and sinful, how could he really win favor from a pure and holy God (Hebrews 9:7)? And then, the priests were always dying; so how could they then continue to plead for the people (Hebrews 7:23-25)? So that, the insufficiency of the High Priests taught the people to long for a perfect and eternal High Priest who should replace them.

    Then, we see the insufficiency of the sacrifices, in that they were continually being offered up from year to year, and the goats were continually being driven out into the wilderness, and yet the people still had their sins and uncleannesses to prevent them from approaching God (Hebrews 10:1-4). The insufficiency of the effects of the sacrifices and intercessory prayers is seen most especially in this, that the veil barring entrance into the Holy of Holies ever remained in place, thereby signifying that entrance into God's presence had not yet been finally won. But how much greater is Jesus Christ, who ever lives to intercede for his people (Henrews 7:25), who has offered up a perfect sacrifice once for all, that has eternally cleansed their conscience (Hebrews 10:10), and who tore down the veil forever on that great Day of Atonement so many years ago (Hebrews 9:3, 6-8; 10:19-22; Matthew 27:51)! If we would know the eternal joy and benefits of having our sins utterly removed “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12), if we would be brought into God's holy hill, to worship at his temple (Psalm 15:1), if we would sojourn in the Jerusalem which is above (Galatians 4:26; Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 12:22), and look for the day when we will sojourn in the New Jerusalem, where the Lamb is its Light and Temple (Revelation 21:22-23), then let us afflict ourselves and mourn for our sins for a day, looking unto Jesus, who will take our sins far away, and turn the day of mourning into an eternity of celebration in the presence of the most holy God.

    Posted by Nathan on November 7, 2008 02:19 PM

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