If you’ve ever felt like a failure, know that you are not alone. Regardless of beliefs, everyone can agree that humanity is riddled with mistakes. Open a history book and you’ll read tales of both heroics and horrors. Turn on the news and you’ll find it easy to despair over the depravity of society. Not a single one of us is perfect.
The Bible plainly speaks this truth:
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Where, then, is our hope? If the pope and Mother Teresa, Billy Graham and Gandhi have fallen short of God’s standard, where does that leave us?
Do we just do our best, try to be “good” and hope that however that goodness is measured will outweigh the bad in our lives? Do we compare ourselves to others to convince ourselves that our bad is not that bad and our good is good enough? Do we hop on the performance treadmill to run the futile and frustrating race to perfection, a place we’ll never reach this side of heaven?
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement considered the most important holiday in the Jewish faith, begins at sunset. From dusk today until sunset tomorrow, practicing Jews will ask God for forgiveness for their sins from the previous year.
In ancient Judaism, animal sacrifices were made to atone for sins. In modern Judaism today, good works are used to make amends for sins of the past year. While this is a noble and ambitious task, how much good is good enough to tip the divine scale in one’s favor?
Here’s the problem: We can read self-help books, give self-care, strive for social justice, volunteer until our fingers bleed, and give away all that we own, yet it won’t wipe us clean. Doing good might make us seem good, but it won’t make us perfect.
The scale cannot be tipped when the truth remains hanging in the balance: All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.
More than moral improvement, humanity needs a heart transformation.
God is holy
Because God is holy, completely pure and without flaw, He cannot be in the presence of sin. Yet even before the very first animal was slain and skinned and wrapped around Adam and Eve to cover their shame, God pursued us (Genesis 3:21).
God has always made provisions for us, so that He could have a personal relationship with us.
Scripture says that even our righteousness – our best and most impressive day - is like filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6). While we are made in the image of God, we cannot reflect His image when it is stained and smeared by sin. Our best is not good enough, our good works not nearly sufficient, because Jesus defined sin not just by what we do, but what we think and feel.
Sin isn’t just about outward habits but about our inner heart. Jesus said that murder begins in the heart when we hate another (Matthew 5:22). Sexual immorality begins in the heart when we lust after another (Matthew 5:28). Theft begins in the heart when we covet another's possession.
It’s not enough to be moral, because moral isn’t perfect, and a holy God can only commune with a perfect reflection of Himself.
God is just
Because God is a just judge, there has to be a payment for sin. God is not a permissive Father but seeks absolute justice. Scripture says the wages of sin, or the cost of our mistakes, is death (Romans 6:23a). This is not just a physical death but a spiritual death.
We can be physically alive yet spiritually dead, unable to commune with God, because of the barrier of sin.
But God made a way for His people to be able to stay in relationship with Him. Even the animals that were sacrificed were provided by God.
“For the life of the creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Leviticus 17:11).
In ancient Judaism, the high priest was entirely responsible for the Day of Atonement for the Israelite people and making the animal sacrifices. One imperfect man, painstakingly and repeatedly cleansed before and during the ceremony, was accountable for the spiritual fate of an entire nation. Yet, even with the ritual and rigor and added bloodshed, it wasn’t enough.
The Day of Atonement begged for a better sacrifice.
God is merciful
Like Yom Kippur, this was a day where offerings were made so that past sins were forgiven – until the next year. Only on this day was the high priest allowed into the Holy of Holies to stand before the presence of God’s glory. In this inner sanctuary of the tabernacle (and later the temple) was the mercy seat of God and under it was the Ark of the Covenant that contained the Ten Commandments God gave to Moses.
God’s mercy was always present, covering the commands we could not keep, so that relationship with His people was always possible.
God gave an incredible picture and foreshadowing of what Jesus did for us through the high priest entering the Holy of Holies on behalf of his people. God, rich in mercy, sent Jesus not to abolish the law but to fulfill what we could not (Matthew 5:17).
“But Christ has appeared as a 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), he entered the most holy place once for all time not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12).
God is forgiving
In one particularly poignant part of the Day of Atonement ceremony, the high priest would take two goats identical in size, color and value. One was declared as a sin offering and would be placed on an altar and killed. The high priest would lay hands on the other goat’s head, confess the sins of the people upon it, and then drive it into the wilderness symbolizing how the sins of the community had been carried away.
Jesus is the Lamb of God slain for our sins, and He’s also the Scapegoat who removes our transgressions as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
The Day of Atonement was a gruesome and insufficient process that had to be repeated every year, until Jesus came to Calvary.
“But the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23b).
God is love
Because God is love, He sent Jesus, God the Son and the long-awaited Messiah, from heaven to earth to become the sacrifice for our sins (John 3:16).
Once, for all time. Eternal redemption.
Jesus took on the wrath of God we deserved and became the mediator, the bridge between God and mankind (I Timothy 2:5).
“We are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented Him as an atoning sacrifice in His blood, received through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed” (Romans 3:24-25).
Jesus hung on a cross during Passover, the holiday Jews have celebrated for more than 3,500 years to remember death passing over the homes of those marked by the blood of a lamb (Exodus 12:13). In His perfect timing and perfect way, God was telling the Jewish people - and all mankind - that He was providing His sinless Son as the Lamb of God, the final and only sacrifice needed to forgive the sins of the world.
“For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:21).
Like the blood painted over the doorframes of the Israelites at the first Passover, so is Christ’s blood a banner of love over our lives saving us from eternal destruction and separation from God.
Jesus purchased us from the slavery of sin by the shedding of His blood. It is a sacrifice for the ages given in divine, sacrificial love.
The blood of Jesus doesn’t just cover us but cleanses us, so that God sees only the righteousness of Christ when we are saved. No one and nothing could ransom us back from death to life but Jesus.
We are forgiven because of the finished work of the cross (John 19:30).
“How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God? Therefore, He is the mediator of a new covenant” (Hebrews 9:14-15)
A new and better promise
We cannot atone for our own sin. We cannot self-purify. We cannot spiritually revive ourselves. There is no amount of sacrifice or giving that can earn God’s favor because the debt is too high. So God did it for us.
The gift of our atonement has been given by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. We need only to accept it in faith and be made new.
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
As written in The Feasts of the Lord:
The Old Covenant, where man sacrificed animals as a payment for sins, was a shadow of things to come. The New Covenant, where God himself went to the cross to pay for our sins, is the substance.
Under the Old Covenant, the payment for sin was anticipated. Under the New Covenant, it is realized in Jesus.
Under the Old Covenant, the sacrifices were provisional and recurring. Under the New Covenant, the sacrifice through Jesus’ death is eternal and totally sufficient (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 25-28).
Under the Old Covenant, men’s lambs could only cover sin, but under the New Covenant, God’s Lamb is able to take away sin.
The incredible thing about accepting this forgiveness through Jesus is that it only takes responding to an invitation God gave over 2,000 years ago. Saying yes to God for salvation through Jesus is the first and only step needed for you to become spiritually born again.
And when you do that, God’s mercy will flood your heart and wipe you clean. Past, present and future sins have been forgiven by the all-sufficient, grace-filled work of Christ. Your name will forever be written in God's Book of Life.
“Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love” (Micah 7:18-19).
Share the good news
Once you are a Christian who has the Holy Spirit living inside of you, you are in a period of “engagement” with God. You’ve said yes to His proposal for eternity and now you are waiting, eager and expectant, for the wedding – the marriage feast when you go home to heaven or Jesus returns for His bride, the church.
Last weekend, my husband and I celebrated 17 years of marriage. Thinking back on the planning of our wedding, the list of guests was central. We were careful to ensure everyone who was important to us was invited. To have not included them would have been thoughtless, hurtful, unthinkable.
In the same way, we are called to invite those we love (and even those we don’t) to the marriage feast of our Lord. God wants everyone to come, so that heaven will be filled with glory stories of redemption and we can enjoy an eternal love relationship with God.
Who will you invite into God’s kingdom today? Who will you tell that they are forgiven because of the completely sufficient work of Jesus on the cross? No one is out of reach. No one is too sin ridden or too atheistic or too immersed in another religion. Not one of us is perfect.
Join me in praying for boldness and discernment from the Holy Spirit to invite those God has called to the marriage feast with Him. It is the most thoughtful and loving thing we can do as we abide in Jesus.
“Let him lead me to the banquet hall, and let his banner over me be love” (Song of Solomon 2:4).