Yom Kippur for Christians

Tomorrow night, twenty minutes after sunset, Yom Kippur begins. It’s the Jewish Day of Atonement, described at length in Leviticus 16, and referenced in Exodus 30:10, Leviticus 23:27-31, 25:9, and Numbers 29:7-11. It lasts about twenty-five hours. For the Central Time Zone, then, if I’m not mistaken, it runs from 7:17 pm Friday until 8:17 pm Saturday.

Yom Kippur was an intense holy day during the Temple period, while the Holy of Holies stood. Leviticus 16:17 prohibited anyone but the high priest from entering the sanctuary area, and this was the only day that even the high priest was allowed to enter (upon threat of death, as Lev. 16:2 makes clear). An Eastern Orthodox priest told a group of us on a church tour last week that as a result of this, the high priest would go in with a rope tied around his waist. That way, in case he fainted or died, the other priests could pull him out without having to go in. Now that’s keeping a space sacred.

Anyways, this year, some Jewish groups are encouraging people of all faiths to take the day as one to abstain from technology and pray. Obviously, Christians aren’t obligated to do so, but I really like the idea. After all, our faith in Christ’s atoning death is prefigured pretty directly by the Day of Atonement. For example, look at Lev. 16:6-10, in which God says,

Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.

And a little later, in Lev. 16:15-16, we hear about the fate of the first goat, when God says of Aaron:

He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the Tent of Meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness.

As for the second goat, in Leviticus 16:20-22, God addresses that as well:

When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.

This escaped-goat is where the term “scapegoat” comes from. Christ clearly fulfills the roles of both goats. For the first goat, He dies in our place, as that goat did. But the second goat seems to be a prophesy of the Resurrection: after all, although that goat had the sins of Israel placed upon it, it lived. That it was two goats captured this contradiction: Christ died, yet He still lives, since He was Resurrected. Romans 6:10 captures this seeming paradox neatly.

Interestingly, both goats marked an exodus away from the world. The scapegoat, obviously, is sent into exile. Yet the sacrificed goat is also to have its body burnt outside the city (see Lev. 16:27). Hebrews 13:11-14 notes this, and shows that we should follow Jesus outside the city walls:

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

This idea, of being willing to suffer disgrace from the world in order that we might help draw the world to Christ, is a beautiful reminder. I’m curious as to what other people think of the idea of taking Friday night through Saturday as a technology-free day, and setting it aside for prayer and devotion to God, remembering His ultimate Day of Atonement?

Edit: On an unrelated note, Pope Benedict is on his trip to the UK, and could surely use your prayers, as could the people of the United Kingdom.

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