Most children in America look forward to one day a year more than any other. They look forward to it, they count down the days, they bounce with excitement starting a month or so in advance of this one special day.
Do you know what day I’m talking about? Obviously the first day of school!
Seriously though, there are days that we anticipate and look forward to more than others. Some look forward to the weekend, some to finishing school. Other’s to a wedding day or a vacation.
Some look forward to football season, hunting season or there are some strange people that mark their calendar for when they go to the dentist.
Imagine if you were able to do something only once a year. Imagine you could have chocolate only one day a year. Would you look forward to it?
Take a shower or bath one day a year? Everybody else would look forward to it.
What if there was one room in your house that you could not go in except one day a year or you were killed?
What about seeing your wife, your husband, your children only one day a year.
Would you miss that appointment? I doubt it.
What if there was only one day a year in which this nation could be right in the eyes of God? Would you hope that your leaders take that moment seriously?
Would you be relieved to know it was finished and accomplished? That your sins and the sins of the whole nation had been removed?
That’s what the Day of Atonement meant to the people of Israel. It was the one day a year that the High Priest could go behind the veil, into the Holy of Holies with the blood of the sacrifice and sprinkle it on the altar or mercy seat to make atonement for the sins of the nation.
If he didn’t do it, would the nation survive?
The Day of Atonement is the end of the 10 Days of Awe, days of repentance that started with the Day of Trumpets when the Book of Life were understood to be opened. But Atonement, Yom Kippur is when the book of life is closed and that makes it was the most solemn of all the feast days. We talked about that last week.
The Day of Atonement was the day that the two goats were presented at the temple to bring about the cleansing of all sin for the priesthood, the sanctuary, and Israel as a nation.
Leviticus 16:29-34— “This is to be a permanent statute for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month you are to practice self-denial and do no work, both the native and the foreigner who resides among you. 30 Atonement will be made for you on this day to cleanse you, and you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord.”
But strangely, it is not a day that God required everyone to be there to participate. It wasn’t like Passover, Pentecost (Shavuot) or Tabernacles. They could be at home on the Day of Atonement, but they would await word that everything went well.
They didn’t have to be present themselves, because they had a High Priest to serve as their Mediator—he was the one who went behind the veil and stood before God on behalf of the people and sprinkled the blood on the Mercy Seat.
But he had to do it again and again, every year it had to be done again. Every year, he had to atone for his own sins, he had to atone for the temple and the altar in case there was any sin or defilement on them. He had to enter with the blood of bulls and goats which could cover but not take away sins.
Much of the book of Hebrews is built around this point—the Ministry of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.
If you don’t understand what the High Priest is doing and what it means on the Day of Atonement, you won’t understand the significance of the book of Hebrews and the point of how Jesus is better.
Because so much of Hebrews is a contrast between the regular High Priest and Jesus the High Priest.
Hebrews 9:6--“With these things set up this way, the priests enter the first room repeatedly, performing their ministry. 7 But the high priest alone enters the second room, and he does that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. 8 The Holy Spirit was making it clear that the way into the most holy place had not yet been disclosed while the first tabernacle was still standing. 9 This is a symbol for the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the worshiper’s conscience.”
That’s why Jesus is a better Mediator,
1 Timothy 2:5—“For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, Himself human, 6 who gave Himself —a ransom for all, a testimony at the proper time.”
Hebrews 9:15 Therefore, He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance,”
Jesus is also a better High Priest. Jesus didn’t have to atone for His own sins, He was sinless.
Hebrews 7:26—“For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do—first for their own sins, then for those of the people. He did this once for all when He offered Himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak, but the promise of the oath, which came after the law, appoints a Son, who has been perfected forever.”
He didn’t enter a temple or holy place that also needed cleansing, the Messiah entered into the real, heavenly tabernacle.
9:11-15a—“But the Messiah has appeared, high priest of the good things that have come. In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands ( that is, not of this creation),
9:23—“Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves to be purified with better sacrifices than these. 24 For the Messiah did not enter a sanctuary made with hands (only a model of the true one) but into heaven itself, so that He might now appear in the presence of God for us.”
He didn’t enter with the blood of bulls and goats, but His own blood, willingly shed on the cross to take away the sins of the world.
9:12 He entered the most holy place once for all, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God?”
Jesus didn’t have to sacrifice His life every year over and over again to address the sins of the people.
9:25 He did not do this to offer Himself many times, as the high priest enters the sanctuary yearly with the blood of another. 26 Otherwise, He would have had to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. But now He has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
Hebrews 10:11- “Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins. 12 But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. 13 He is now waiting until His enemies are made His footstool. 14 For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified.”
Hebrews 10:4— “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
Hebrews 6:19— “We have this hope as an anchor for our lives, safe and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. 20 Jesus has entered there on our behalf as a forerunner, because He has become a high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.”
The High Priest could only go behind the veil, the curtain in the temple one day a year—Day of Atonement—more and more I’m told that the rope around the leg story you may have heard is a legend, but no matter what, I’m sure he was nervous when he went in there.
Once the high priest was done with the ceremony, he had to leave, access was revoked. And certainly no one else could go in there.
But Jesus our High Priest never loses access, never has to leave, never has access denied.
Hebrews 10:19— “Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain ( that is, His flesh), 21 and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. 23 Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
When Hebrews is talking about that stuff, he’s talking about His ministry on the Day of Atonement. Everything about this day was really pointing forward to what the Messiah was going to do. And when Jesus did it—there is no need to repeat it. He did it once for all time because His sacrifice was accepted and powerful. There is power in the blood of Jesus.
That’s why He is a better High Priest and the Mediator of a Better Covenant. The Curse of the Law has been born by our Savior and now we are truly free to enjoy the Blessings.
Even as the day and the ministry of the Day of Atonement was pointing forward to something more long lasting and eternal—the ministry of the Messiah—and foreshadowed both His first and second coming,
Something else happened on this day that made it special and connected Jesus to the Day of Atonement. This is the day that the Year of Jubilee was announced to the people. Only on the Day of Atonement could the Year of Jubilee be made official.
How many of you have heard of the Year of Jubilee? How many of you know what it is?
The year of Jubilee occurs every 50 years—so after 49 years, 7 7 year Shmeta cycles. The 50th year was special—though they rarely if ever really practiced it.
Leviticus 25:8— “You are to count seven sabbatical years, seven times seven years, so that the time period of the seven sabbatical years amounts to 49. 9 Then you are to sound a trumpet loudly in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month; you will sound it throughout your land on the Day of Atonement . 10 You are to consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom in the land for all its inhabitants. It will be your Jubilee, when each of you is to return to his property and each of you to his clan. 11 The fiftieth year will be your Jubilee”
It was a year that slaves were released, a year that debts were forgiven, a year that land that had been sold reverted back to its original owner. It was supposed to be a special year of God’s favor and blessing; when miracles were supposed to happen.
Isaiah 61:1— “The Spirit of the Lord God is on Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord ’s favor,
If you recognize that passage, you’ll know that Jesus said it when He was teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth in Luke 4
Luke 4:16— “He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As usual, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to Him, and unrolling the scroll, He found the place where it was written:”
This is a powerful moment. There Jesus was on the Sabbath, small town boy, all grown up and making a name for Himself, but not too big for His britches that He forgets where He comes from. As is the custom in almost every synagogue to this day, they had already read from and heard a message from the Torah reading for that week—the local Rabbi would have spoken already. Now they were going to hear from the haftorah, the Prophets.
Since Jesus was in attendance and was getting known as a Rabbi or Teacher, He was asked to share His thoughts on the reading. He was handed the scroll of Isaiah and He read this passage from Isaiah 61—a passage about the Messianic Promise found in the Year of Jubilee.
Then Jesus said something, He pronounced something that only the High Priest on the Day of Atonement could say.
4:20— “He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled.” 22 They were all speaking well of Him and were amazed by the gracious words that came from His mouth.”
Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. He is pronouncing the Year of Jubilee and if He is pronouncing it, what day is it?
Day of Atonement.
He is pronouncing the Year of Jubilee but who has the authority to say that? Only the High Priest. And who is Jesus—the Great High Priest.
He is pronouncing the fulfilment of the Year of Jubilee which could only be brought about by the coming of the Messiah!
Jesus is announcing the Blessing of fulfilment, but to any person who knew the Scriptures, they would know that Jesus didn’t finish the sentence because that passage in Isaiah goes on to say…
Isaiah 61:2 – “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance;
In this one verse is the first and second coming of Jesus. The Messiah has two jobs to do—the first was to redeem His people as the Suffering Servant—to pay the debt for sin.
The second purpose of the Messiah is to come in Power as the heir to the throne of David, to judge the nations and right all the wrongs in the world caused by sin.
That’s what Isaiah goes on to say—61:2c—“to comfort all who mourn, 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion ; to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, festive oil instead of mourning, and splendid clothes instead of despair. And they will be called righteous trees, planted by the Lord to glorify Him.”
That is the future promise—all that we see and know that is wrong in this world—all of the pain and suffering that is going on all around us—it will not be this way forever.
That is the power of the Gospel story—It reminds me of a quote by GK Chesterton in talking about the power of story and even in fairy tales and the need to read them to children. - Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.
In the same way, the world knows that the dragon exists, knows evil exists, knows how dangerous it really is out there. What the world needs to know is that the Dragon can be defeated, and not just defeated but ultimately killed.
That is the Good News, that is what Messiah will do. And that is what the Day of Atonement Yom Kippur is proclaiming.
But there’s another connection between Jesus at Nazareth and the Yom Kippur. It has to do with the Azazel, the Scapegoat.
Two goats were used in the temple service, one was sacrificed and the second, the scapegoat was led out into the wilderness—symbolic of the sins of the people being taken away, never to return.
Tradition says that they were so concerned that this goat could find its way back home and wander back to the city that the man who lead the goat away would push it over a cliff.
Now read what happened to Jesus in Luke 4:28 --“When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. 29 They got up, drove Him out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl Him over the cliff. 30 But He passed right through the crowd and went on His way.”
So just as the ceremony threw the goat that carried away the sins over the cliff, the same was tried to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. But it was not the time. The Spring Feasts had not yet been fulfilled, the Messiah son of Joseph had not yet come, the Suffering Servant had not yet paid the ransom for our sins.
So Jesus, on the Day of Atonement, Proclaimed the Good News of the Year of the Lord’s Favor—because He was there to take away sins, not just for a year but for eternity.
He wanted people’s names to be written in the Book of Life not for a year, but for eternity.