You are forgiven: Yom Kippur and what it means to Christians
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?
We all need to forgiveness
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, began on Sunday. Until sunset tonight, 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 or feel good, but it won’t make us perfect before a holy God. 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, we are not
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, skinned and wrapped around Adam and Eve to cover the shame from their disobedience, God was pursuing 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 holiness.
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 sacrificed in the Old Testament 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
Much like Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement 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.
Don't miss this incredible symbolism: The literal mercy seat, a slab of pure gold, was placed over the Ark of the Covenant that contained the commandments. God’s mercy has always been present, covering the commands we could not keep, so that relationship with His people would be possible.
God gave an incredible picture and foreshadowing of what Jesus did for us through the high priest entering the Holy of Holies. God, rich in mercy, sent Jesus as our High Priest not to abolish the law but to fulfill the law for us (Matthew 5:17).
The Cross of Christ is the new and better mercy seat that doesn't just cover our sins but cleanses us from all unrighteousness by His precious blood.
“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 accessible
A veil separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, illustrating that sin separates us from having direct access to God. But when the flesh of Jesus tore on the cross, the veil dividing the tabernacle tore from top to bottom to show that we can now go directly to God because of our mediator Jesus.
"When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He yielded up His spirit. At that moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked and the rocks were split" (Matthew 27:50-51).
Because Jesus is our Great High Priest and sufficient sacrifice once and for all, we who ask God to forgive us of our sins and turn to follow Him can "approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).
Once the Spirit of God comes to live inside our hearts, we became the new and better tabernacle, the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19-20).
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).
If you have accepted Jesus as your Savior, you are completely forgiven. You are completely cleansed. Your sins are completely forgotten. You have the righteousness of God and have been made holy in His sight.
"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (I Peter 2:9).
Even on the days you don't feel different or sin seems to weigh you down, you can trust in the all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus and the irrevocable gift of God in your salvation.
“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” (2 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.
“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).
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.
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.
“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).
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 the perfect Jesus.
We are forgiven, simply and completely, because of the finished work of the cross (John 19:30).
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).
Accepting forgiveness through Jesus the Messiah
The incredible thing about accepting this forgiveness through Jesus is that it only takes responding to the invitation God gives us.
Saying yes to God for salvation through Jesus is the first and only step needed for you to be spiritually born again.
If you have never asked Jesus to forgive your sins and live inside your heart, or you are unsure if you are really saved, whisper this life-giving prayer to the Lord:
"Father God, I am a sinner in need of a Savior. I know I cannot do anything on my own to take away my sins. I praise You that there is no sin too big for your mercy and grace. Jesus, I ask you to forgive my sins and make me new. Come live inside my heart so that You can abide in me and I in You forever. In Your holy name, amen."
When you pray any variation of that prayer, God’s mercy floods your heart and wipes you clean. Past, present and future sins are forgiven by the all-sufficient, grace-filled work of Christ. Your name is forever written in God's Book of Life.
If you prayed that prayer, please let me know. I would find no greater joy than to welcome you into God's family, rejoice with you and talk with you more about growing your faith in the Lord.
Abide in Jesus and in the forgiveness that He died to give, so that you can live life abundantly through Him.