As I type this, in just a few hours the sun will set in Jerusalem and Yom Kippur will begin. There will be no radio or television broadcasts in Israel on this day. Airports will shut down. All shops and businesses will be closed on this the holiest day of their year. Jewish tradition states that it is on this day that God seals the verdict of every person’s fate for the year ahead, so of course, no one wants to anger God. In days of old, it was the most important day of the year. It was a great day. Everyone from the High Priest on down had to make themselves ready. The High Priest would bathe himself, put on clean priestly garments, adorn himself with all the regalia of the High Priesthood, and then put blood on himself so that he would be cleansed. He would go through all kinds of rituals for himself so that he could then do what was necessary for the people. Those rituals would involve lambs and goats and lots of blood as prescribed in the words of the Old Testament. All so that God’s people would be forgiven of their sins.
We translate Yom Kippur as “the Day of Atonement,” a very meaningful way of putting it. It is the day that God provided a way for the Jewish people to be made one with Him. The literal translation of the phrase is “the Day of Covering.” You see, it was on this day that God would “cover” the sins of Israel so that they could enjoy that close personal relationship that He wanted to have with His people. The problem for Israel is that they counted on the rituals more than on the spirit of what God was teaching. Over and over in the Old and New Testament, God told His people that it wasn’t about the blood of bulls and goats. The outward rituals were just graphic reminders of what He was going to do and what He did to make forgiveness of sin possible. He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Once and for all. And what God has always looked for from those who want to enter His presence is simply this: a broken and contrite heart. A heart that breaks over what breaks His heart. A heart that is sorry for every act of disobedience. A heart filled with repentance.
Even today, we need to get it right. Too often we count on church attendance, baptism, tithing, service, and a host of other rituals to try to gain God’s favor, hoping that when God “seals the verdict” on our lives that He will consider these as positive entries on our accounts. The problem is that our sin far outweighs any good things that we can do. Our only hope is found in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and we find that hope through repentance and faith. We must turn from our sin and turn to God knowing that Jesus died, was buried, but rose again on the third day. We must believe that He did it all for us and confess to the world that Jesus Christ is Lord!