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TEXT: Leviticus 16:1-6

SUBJECT: Yom Kippur #2: The Priest Prepares

Yom Kippur is the most sacred day on the Jewish calendar. We call it, 'the Day of Atonement', and that's what it was: one day, in late summer, when the high priest went into the Holy of Holies, and either atoned for the sins of Israel-or didn't.

If the priest was successful, the people would have God's blessings for another year. If he failed, they would have nothing but His curses-

Cursed you shall be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country, cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl, cursed shall be the fruit of your body and the produce of your land, and the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks. Cursed you shall be when you come in and cursed shall you be when you go out.

This is why Yom Kippur was observed every year, but it was never celebrated. It was a day of fasting, of public confession and private repentance. It was the Day of Atonement.

The word, 'Atonement', has been replaced in most modern translations, and if a better word can be found, I'm all for it. I'm not sure a better word can be found. If you look at the word carefully, you see what it means: 'At-one-ment'. It is the state of being 'at one' with God.

Adam and Eve had this oneness for a time. Before they sinned, they lived in the Garden of Eden, which was a Temple, the place where they and the Lord met and enjoyed each other's company. But when they betrayed God, they were thrown out of the Garden and angels were posted at the gate with flaming swords-

To guard the way to the tree of life.

When we come to the Day of Atonement, many years later, we find the tabernacle is set up in the wilderness of Sinai, and it's full of references to Eden, including trees, fruit-and angels.

But these angels have no weapons. They're not there to keep people away from God, but to peer into the mysteries of the Gospel. Peter says they've always wanted to do this, and this may be how he knows they do.

The angels are standing over the Ark of the Covenant and staring down at the Mercy Seat, to see the sins of the world atoned for and man restored to God.

All this was in the Tabernacle every day for centuries, but human eyes only saw it one day a year, the Day of Atonement.

Some people think the Old and New Testaments are totally different. Marcion, a heretic in the Early Church, thought the New was inspired by the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Old by the God of the Jews whom-he said-was cruel and bloodthirsty.

No Christian goes as far as Marcion did, but many think of the New Testament as all Gospel and the Old Testament as little more than Law. This cannot be true for the simple reason that the Apostles preached the Gospel from the Old Testament, and Jesus said it all-

Testifies of Me.

Though the Gospel in the New Testament is clearer than the Gospel in the Old, both Testaments are Gospel. No place better demonstrates this than Leviticus 16, a chapter smack-dab in the middle of the Mosaic Law.

THE PREPARATIONS

The Atonement itself takes place in v.14, but the ceremony doesn't start there. It starts with Aaron putting on special clothing for the day, taking a bath, and offering a sacrifice for himself and his family.

THE CLOTHING

If you're going to the doughnut shop on Saturday morning, it doesn't matter what you wear-pretty much anything will do: jeans, sweat pants, shorts, I once saw a woman in her nightgown! You don't have to dress up for a doughnut shop.

The Holy of Holies is not a doughnut shop! It is God's House, and you dress the way He tells you to, or you stay out.

Think of how disrespectful it would be to get a wedding invitation: 'Formal Attire Only', it says, but you don't like to dress up, and so thumbing your nose at the family's wishes, you show up in your favorite cut-offs and tee shirt. The ushers will not let you in. What you're wearing may be fine for the beach, but not for a wedding.

The Day of Atonement is like a formal wedding only more so. Thus, you'd think the high priest would wear his Sunday Best. He'd be decked out in the full regalia of office. Exodus 39 describes his vestments, and they were magnificent!

On his head he wore a white linen turban with a gold plate across the front engraved with the words: HOLINESS TO THE LORD. His shirt was sewn with blue, scarlet, and purple threads, with real gold woven into it. In the breastplate, twelve precious stones were placed in fine gold settings. The robe was royal blue and on the hem hung brightly colored pomegranates and bells made of solid gold. And then a sash around his waist, of the finest workmanship, a pattern God Himself designed.

This is what the High Priest wore every day of the year-except for the Day of Atonement. That day he wore all linen-

Turban, tunic, trousers, sash.

Unlike his other clothes, these did not set him apart from his fellow man; quite the contrary: every man had the same wardrobe: a linen hat, jacket, belt, and boxer shorts. To enter the Holy of Holies, Aaron had to humble himself, to lay aside the dignity of office, and come to the Lord like any other man.

In one way, the High Priest was a special man, but in another, deeper way, he had to be made like his brethren.

Thus, Aaron anticipates another great man in Israel, David. He was no ordinary man; David was the Lord's Anointed, who had been a hero his whole adult life. But when the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem, the King stripped off his royal costume and wore the clothes of a working man, to dance before the Lord with all his might. The King's scornful wife sneered at him for lowering himself to the level of the common man, but David knew better: in the presence of the Most High God, everyone is a common man! We're all made of the same stuff! The King is no better than the boy who cleans out his stables.

Put together, David and Aaron point to another man, far greater than they, and also more humble. Of course I mean our Lord Jesus Christ, who, to make an atonement for our sins, laid aside the glory of God and joined the human race-at the bottom. Paul said of Him-

Who, being in the form of God, did not think it robbery to be equal to God, but made Himself of no reputation, came in the form of a servant, and being found in appearance as a man, humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Though always Divine, Jesus did not clutch the privileges of being God, but gave them up, choosing to be a poor man in a slave nation, and then die the death of a criminal and outcast from God.

When we think of the sufferings of Christ, we think of Mount Calvary and the hours that led up to it, sweating great drops of blood in the garden, slandered in the Jewish court, punched in Herod's hall, whipped by Pontius Pilate, nailed to a cross, and so on. But His sufferings did not start on Black Friday! They started the day He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

To make an atonement for Israel, Aaron has to become like any other man. This is what Jesus did to make Atonement for us.

In his wonderful commentary of Job, David Jackson tells of the time he spent witnessing to a Muslim girl. She was keen on knowing more about Christianity, and for a time she was almost persuaded to believe. But one thing stopped her; it was so offensive to her views of God, she quit listening and returned to the faith in which she was born. In a million years, you'll never guess what it was. While she had no problem believing God could come to the world in the form of a man, she couldn't believe He had to go to the bathroom like everyone else. She couldn't picture God sitting on a toilet!

We know how she feels; there is something unnerving about the thought, isn't there? It seems irreverent and sacrilegious. But, however it seems, it is also true. In affirming the full divinity of Jesus Christ we cannot downplay His complete humanity, and all it means.

What a step down it was for Aaron-dressing like a High Priest one day and a common worker the next. But the step he took was nothing compared to the Lord's. One day at God's Right Hand, the next day in a young girl's womb, in a mob of angry men, on a Roman cross and then on a bed designed for a dead man.

The next time you feel you're not getting your due, meditate on the life of Christ-

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus,

How that, though He was rich,

Yet for our sakes became poor,

That we, through His poverty

Might be made rich.

THE BATH

After taking off his vestments, the High Priest washed in the bronze laver. Why did he do this? Because he was unclean-not dirty or sweaty or with greasy hair, but unclean before the Lord. He too was a sinner, and until he took the ceremonial bath he was not welcome in the Holy Places. God is clean and if you want to live with Him, you've got to be clean. This is what Leviticus is all about. Read it through and you'll find the words, 'clean' and 'unclean' more than one hundred times.

The theme, introduced in the Law of Moses, is developed through the Bible. David celebrates the purity of God and praises Him for His choice of friends-

He who has clean hands

And a pure heart.

When he fell into sin himself, David missed God and prayed to be restored to His favor-

Create in me a clean heart, O Lord,

And renew a right spirit within me.

Knowing the filthiness of the Babylonian invaders, Habakkuk wondered how God could put up with them another minute-

You are of purer eyes than to behold evil,

And cannot look on iniquity.

To live with God, you've got to be clean. That's what the ritual baths did for you. On the outside. Over the years, the prophets began to feel exterior washings were not enough. They saw dry devils go into the tubs, and come out-not saints-but wet devils. Something more was needed. The waters of Mosaic baptism did not wash the soul clean.

Many years later, a great prophet exploded onto the scene preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. He was John the Baptist, of course, and the whole country flocked to him, confessing their sins, and having them washed away in the Jordan River.

This was a mighty work of God, but as mighty as it was, even John knew it was not enough. Water baptism wasn't enough, no matter who provides it and how sincere the person is who receives it. The problem is not with the baptism, but with the water. What the world needs is a baptism in the Spirit.

This John sees with the coming of Messiah. Will He wash the people clean with the Holy Spirit? Yes, He will. But before He does, He comes to John for water baptism.

John is appalled at the request: I have need to be baptized by you, and are you coming to be baptized by me? The Man is Jesus Christ, and yes, He is coming to be baptized by John.

Why? Not because He Himself is unclean-He isn't-but because His people are, and to cleanse us from our sins, He has to fully identify with us. At His Incarnation, Jesus identified Himself with our humanity; at His baptism, He identified Himself with our impurity.

We needed the washing, but He took the bath alongside us and for us. Because Jesus is clean, He can go into the Presence of God and because we're clean in Him, we can go with Him.

THE SACRIFICE

Yom Kippur was a great day, solemn and scary, but mostly it was magnificent. Except for one thing: the High Priest could not stay in the Holy of Holies. Israel needed him there, but he wasn't welcome there for long, and had he tried to stay, God would have killed him.

Why couldn't Aaron and his sons remain with God and daily bring His blessings to Israel and their needs to Him? V. 6 tells us why-

Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering, which is for himself, and make atonement for himself and for his house.

The Lord could accept Aaron and his sons for only a few minutes a year. Because they were as sinful as everyone else; in some ways, more sinful, for it was Aaron who made the Golden Calf and called it Yahweh, and two of his four sons had been struck dead for offering strange fire to the Lord.

Only a holy man can stay with God, and Aaron wasn't a holy man. Like the rest of us, he had sinned and come short of the glory of God. That's why he and his sons needed a sacrifice, and were welcome in God's Presence only as long as it remained in effect-and that wasn't long.

We need a Man who can come to God and stay there; a Man who can daily bring His blessings to us and our needs to Him. God has given us the Man we need. He didn't offer a sacrifice for Himself, because He needed none. He was and is-

Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.

He is our Lord Jesus Christ. Thankfully, we still celebrate Easter, all over the world, the people of God gather that day to confess-

The Lord is risen indeed.

But in celebrating this holy day, we have forgotten the one nearest it in time and no less important: Ascension Day. Forty days after the Lord got the better of death, He ascended to God, and, as Hebrews 6 says, He-

Entered the Presence behind the curtain.

He went to the Holy of Holies, of which the one in Sinai was only a type. This means He is in God's Presence this very moment bringing our needs to His Father and His Father's mercy to us.

If this were not enough, the same chapter calls Him-

A forerunner.

That is, one who went behind the curtain into the Presence of God first, but not last. We're going to follow Him, and receive what Moses wanted but never got-to see God face to face and live-

They shall see His face

And His name shall be on

Their foreheads.

CLOSE

Yom Kippur is the most sacred day on the Jewish calendar, for on that day, the priest stripped off his glory to come into God's presence for Israel and to bring His blessings out to them. What Aaron did for Israel in a narrow way and for a short time, Jesus had done for us and in full and forever.

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