Your Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)
Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: Leviticus 16:1–16:34
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Your Day of Atonement
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
January 28th, 2018
I. Yom Kippur
You may or may not know that the holiest day on the Jewish calendar takes place in either late September or early October. This year it will begin when the sun goes down on Tuesday, September 18th, ending at sunset the next day. That day is known as Yom Kippur. That Hebrew name simply means, “day of atonement” or “day of covering”.
How did this holy day get its start? Well, the book of Leviticus is going to answer that question for us this morning. Turn over to Leviticus 16.
II. The Passage: "That Atonement May be Made”" (16:1-34)
Last time we concluded a section of material, in chapters 11-15, that is connected by the keyword “unclean”. As Leviticus makes clear, while this kind of “uncleanness” could be connected to things like mildew in a house or a pig rolling in the mud, God's rules about diet, disease, and decay simply used everyday objects and occurrences to help the Israelites learn about being a set-apart people.
God was teaching them about the defiling, corrupting, poisonous nature of sin; sin all around them, and sin inside them. And beyond chapter 16, in chapters 17-22, God will continue to instruct the Israelites about ritual and moral defilement.
It is this dangerous and destructive reality which should drive us in desperation to chapter 16. It's not surprising this chapter stands at the center of Leviticus. As we talked about only moments ago, the holiest day on the Jewish Calendar is Yom Kippur. Well, chapter 16 is where it all started! It defines the why, who, and how of this “day of atonement”.
Let's unpack this chapter together and see what God has for us this morning. As we've done before with some of the longer chapters and sections, we will cover every verse, but we won't read every verse. I do want you to see how this chapter breaks into three parts. We will see how verses 1 and 2 are concerned with why God's people were “needing atonement”, the main middle section in verses 3-28 describes the process of “making atonement”, and the final section in verses 29-34 deals with what we might call “savoring atonement”.
1. Needing Atonement (vs. 1, 2)
Look with me at the first two verses of chapter 16. This is what we read...
The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the LORD and died,  and the LORD said to Moses, >>>
“Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.”
So we find here another reminder about the structure of Leviticus. If chapters 11-15 are part of what some call “the holiness code”, then here we see a direct connection to chapter 10; which in turn reveals how chapters 10 and 16 frame that section on holiness and uncleanness.
So where's our link to chapter 10? It's the reference in verse 1 to the death of Aaron's sons. You may remember that the opening verses of chapter 10 describe how Nadab and Abihu offered “unathorized [or 'strange'] fire” before Yahweh, and because of it, were instantly consumed by God's wrath. As we talked about when we studied that incident, these two men knew better, and were acting arrogantly and recklessly in the presence of God.
But as we see here, that traumatic event was used by God, not only as a means of judgment, but also as a moment of instruction. God knew he had Moses and Aaron's attention. He knew they had been struck and sobered. So in His mercy, God teaches Aaron and his remaining sons, and future generations of priests, about another area that could be extremely dangerous: the most holy place.
The most holy place, or the “holy of holies”, was the back section of the Tent of Meeting, the room behind the veil. It was the chamber in which the Ark of the Covenant was kept. As God makes clear, entering that chamber will lead to the same fate as Nadab and Abihu. Why? Because (v. 2) God will “appear in the cloud over the mercy seat” (that was the Ark's cover or lid—it represented God's throne).
So as the opening verses of a chapter concerning the “day of atonement”, God's warning here reminds us of why we desperately need atonement. We are selfish, stubborn, and sullied sinners. But God is perfectly good, gracious, and great in every way. Without our sins being covered, no one can stand in this King's presence. If something doesn't change, the fate of Nadab and Abihu is my fate, it's your fate.
2. Making Atonement (vs. 3-28)
But there's hope. When we look at verses 3-28, we discover an exception to the rule, that rule regarding entry into “the most holy place”. Listen to verses 3-10. God tells Moses...
But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.  He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on.  And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.  “Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house.  Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting.  And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for Azazel [a word that may mean, “the goat that goes”]. >>>
 And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the LORD and use it as a sin offering,  but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel [“the goat that goes”] shall be presented alive before the LORD to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.
So what we have in verses 3-10 is a kind of summary of the atoning rituals for Yom Kippur. If you drop down to verse 30, you will see the whole point of these special rituals:
For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins.
And if you drop down a couple more verses, 33 simplifies the more detailed description of 16:11-28. Verse 33 tells us...
He [Aaron] shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar [that's part one], and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly [that's part two].
So that first part is laid out in verses 11-19: Incense is first offered before mercy seat (vs. 12, 13), then the blood of the bull is sprinkled over and in front of the mercy seat seven times (purification from the priest's own sins), then blood of the goat is sprinkled in the same way, seven times, for the people's sins. Then the high priest will take the blood out into the first chamber/room (“the holy place”), and do something similar to the incense altar that is there.
Verse 16 is key to understanding this ritual of purifying the sanctuary and all it contains:
Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.
But as we heard in verse 33, there is a second part to the needed atonement: it is a need to cover the sins of both priest and people. If what took place in the most holy place purified the Sanctuary, what about purifying the people? Look at verses 20-22:
“And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat.  And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness.  The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.
That sounds an awful lot like the ritual of the two birds in chapter 14, the ritual described as part of the restoration process for someone who was healed of a skin disorder. In both cases, animals symbolically carry away the defilement or sins of the people. If you didn't know, it is from this passage in an early English Bible that we get our word “scapegoat”.
And verses 23-28? They simply take us back to chapter 1 of Leviticus. With the sanctuary purified and the people purified, burnt offerings for both priest and people are presented in order to cover sinners and restore fellowship with God.
3. Savoring Atonement (vs. 29-34)
But there's one more section, isn't there. Verses 29-34. We've already looked at some of the summary statements from this section. But what we haven't talked about, and what we need to talk about is how this chapter moves us from priestly ritual to personal repentance. Look at verses 29 and 31:
“And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you... It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever.”
I simply want you to see how this was not just a series of rituals that took place in the Tent of Meeting; that this was more than regulations for the priest. This was a day on which everyone was to stop what they were doing, stop their regular routines, and fast with a broken spirit (that's probably what “afflict yourselves” means).
Remember, only a year before they had seen Yahweh decimate Egypt with supernatural judgments. Only a year before they had seen Yahweh come down on Mount Sinai in fire and fury. In Exodus 20:18, 19 we read...
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off  and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”
Think about it: the God of heaven, the Creator himself, the King of kings is dwelling in your camp. And on one level, that's a wonderful thing. He is your Redeemer and Provider. But on another level, He has made it abundantly clear to you that you are more defiled than you ever realized, AND that such defilement places you in danger because of His holiness.
But each and every year, on Yom Kippur, there was the promise of purity and pardon for all sin. You see, this was not simply God's prescription for the priest. It was for the people as well. It was God's call to repentance and humility in light of His abundant mercy.
III. Confidence to Enter the Holy Places
Brothers and sisters, friends, keep these concepts in mind and turn over to the book of Hebrews. Let's look at chapter 9. You'll see from the opening verses that Hebrews 9 is talking about all the same things we've been talking about. Listen to verses 1-3...
Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness.  For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place.  Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place...
In verse 7, the writer reminds us, but into the second [section] only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood...
But then something astonishing. We read about what Jesus did before the actual throne of God. Look at verse 11...
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)  he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
Now remember the point of Yom Kippur. Look at 10:3...But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. But (verse 12) ...when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,  waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.  For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
Astonishing, right? Yom Kippur was for the Israelites. It is not for you, believer. It is not your “day of atonement”. Your “day of atonement” is not on a Tuesday in September. It was on a Friday, a good Friday almost two thousand years ago. And it happened once...once...never to be repeated again.
But...but, in a sense, the writer here also wants his readers to know, God wants you to know this morning, that today is your “day of atonement”; that tomorrow will be your “day of atonement”. Why? How? Because atonement is not and was never intended to be a end in itself. Deliverance from the fires of God's justice was never the ultimate goal. Warmth and light was and is the ultimate goal. Listen to Hebrews 10:19-22...
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,  by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,  and since we have a great priest over the house of God,  let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
If we're camping with the Israelites in the book of Leviticus, these words from Hebrews sound unbelievable. Anyone, at any time, entering “the holy places”? Anyone, anytime, drawing near to God? “Confidence”? “Assurance”? Could it be? And if true, how? Well, we know it is true. And we know it's true because of what Jesus did. His body became the curtain, and that curtain was torn on the cross.
When Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us the curtain in the Jerusalem Temple was “torn in two” upon Jesus' death, that shocking event was meant to direct us to what was accomplished when His body was torn: that access to God was now available, because perfect atonement was now available through the blood of a perfect sacrifice.
Has Jesus covered your sins, your corruption? He invites you to trust Him for that very thing this morning. But if He has, is your life marked by the “confidence” and “assurance” to “enter the holy places”, every day? God calls us to come in prayer, with confession, with petition, with joy; to come before His throne and to savor his glory; to enjoy its warmth and light
We can do today the very thing David longed to do when he wrote in Psalm 27:4...
One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.
Will you think carefully about what God has shown us this morning? About what Christ has accomplished? Will you think carefully about and embrace the fact that today and every day is a “day of atonement” in Jesus? Will you seize the prize He made possible.
Let's finish in Hebrews 12. Listen to verses 18-24, and how they point us to what is ours through faith in Jesus, and when we walk by faith each day...
For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest  and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them.  For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.”  Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”  But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,  and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect,  and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
More in Living Leviticus
July 22, 2018Spiritual Vows and a Voluntary Spirit (Leviticus 27:1-34)
July 15, 2018Just Justice? (Leviticus 26)
July 8, 2018Belonging and Belongings (Leviticus 25)