Israel’s most holy day was known as Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. It was the second of the three festivals celebrated in the seventh month, in the autumn of the year.
This was the most special day of the year when the High Priest performed his most sacred duty.
The first High Priest, Aaron, was commanded to “take two goats and place them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. After Aaron casts lots for the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other for an uninhabitable place, he is to present the goat chosen by lot for the Lord and sacrifice it as a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot for an uninhabitable place is to be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement with it by sending it into the wilderness for an uninhabitable place (Leviticus 16:7-10, CSB)
One goat was slaughtered. The other goat was released into the wilderness. The symbolism was beautiful. One goat died to pay for sin. The other goat symbolically carried the sin and shame far away, into an “uninhabitable place,” where those sins remained ... forever forgotten.
With the blood of the sacrificed goat, the Hight Priest entered the Holy of Holies, there to atone for the sins of the entire nation. By sprinkling the blood of the substitute sacrifice upon the Mercy Seat as the payment for sin, the wrath of God was satisfied, and the people of God received the Master’s mercy.
Yom Kippur was not just something that the priest did for the people. It was a day that demanded every faithful Jew’s humble worship of Yahweh. “Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the LORD. And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:27-28, ESV).
They had reason to celebrate! On the Day of Atonement, the children of Israel celebrated two facets of God’s salvation. Their sins were covered, paid for, redeemed! Not only were their sins covered, they were forgiven and forgotten. Yes, there was reason to celebrate! The faithful worshipper enjoyed a refreshing peace with God!
The concept of atonement first appeared in the Garden of Eden following the fall of mankind. Religion was born when Adam and Eve attempted by their own efforts to cover their nakedness, but atonement was pictured when God sacrificed an animal so that the sin of His creatures would be covered.
The word atone/atonement first appeared in Genesis 6:14 when God told Noah to build the ark and “cover it inside and out with pitch.” To atone is to cover. At the cross Jesus covered our sin with His blood – He made atonement.
When Jesus declared from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), He affirmed that the atoning sacrifice had been properly paid! God’s just wrath was satisfied! Glorious grace and mercy had been poured out! Mankind was set free from the bondage of sin and shame!
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed”(1 Peter 2:24, CSB).
“Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ ... God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:1, 8, CSB).
Every day... atonement is worth celebrating!
South Georgia Baptist Church
Mike Martin, Pastor