Day 049: Jesus’ “Reverse Day of Atonement” (Leviticus 16-18)

23 “Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and shall take off the linen garments that he put on when he went into the Holy Place and shall leave them there. 24 And he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people and make atonement for himself and for the people. (Leviticus 16:23-24)

Years ago, someone showed me the word “ATONEMENT” like this:

It emphasized that what happened on the Day of Atonement was for the purpose of reconciling the people back to God, in effect making them “at one” with God again.

As Tara-Leigh noted in today’s God Shot, The Day of Atonement points us forward to Christ. And I’ve understood that, on a basic level, ever since seminary.

But recently, I read Tim Keller’s King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus. (since renamed “Jesus the King.” Keller (who is one of my favorite communicators) shared a sermon from one of his favorite communicators, a man named Ray Dillard who was an Old Testament professor at Westminster Seminary. Keller records Dr. Dillard’s sermon on the Day of Atonement and the extensive preparation the High Priest had to undergo in order to be ready for this one day. It had a profound effect on Keller, and as he related it in the book, it altered my understanding of Yom Kippur. Here is an excerpt:

A week beforehand, the priest was put into seclusion–taken away from his home and into a place where he was completely alone. Why? So he wouldn’t accidentally touch or eat anything unclean. Clean food was brought to him, and he’d wash his body and prepare his heart. The night before the Day of Atonement he didn’t go to bed; he stayed up all night praying and reading God’s Word to purify his soul. Then on Yom Kippur, he bathed head to toe and dressed in pure, unstained white linen. Then he went into the holy of holies and offered an animal sacrifice to God to atone, or pay the penalty for, his own sins. After that he came out and bathed completely again, and new white linen was put on him, and he went in again, this time sacrificing for the sins of the priests. But that’s not all. He would come out a third time, and he bathed again from head to toe and they dressed him in brand-new pure linen, and he went into the holy of holies and atoned for the sins of all the people.

King’s Cross, p. 82

Three times, the priest enters the holy of holies. First to atone for his own sins, then for the sins of the priests, and finally for the sins of all the people.

All this after having stayed up all night the night before, praying and reading God’s Word.

Keller points out that all this was done in public. There was a thin screen that gave the priest a small measure of privacy. But still, the crowd gathered in front of the Temple would see him bathe, dress, go in, come back out, and repeat. Three times.

It was a public ritual because the priest was their representative. They were cheering him on as he atoned for their sins before God.

Keep all this in mind, and consider that the details of Jesus’ passion was sort of a Day of Atonement in reverse:

  • The night before Jesus was crucified, He did not sleep. Instead, He stayed up all night in prayer.
  • Instead of being cheered on by the people, Jesus was reviled and cursed, betrayed and abandoned.
  • Instead of coming before the people three times after He was purified, Jesus was presented by Pilate three times and then delivered to be crucified.

Keller writes:

And when He stood before God, instead of hearing words of encouragement, the Father forsook Him. Instead of being clothed in rich garments, He was stripped of the only garment He had, He was beaten, and He was killed naked.

King’s Cross, p. 84

And instead of being ritually bathed and made clean, he was spit upon and made vile.

Oh, my God! What you did for me to atone for my sins. What You endured on my behalf! The bruising for my iniquity! The piercing for my transgressions! The punishment You bore to bring me peace. The stripes on your back by which I am healed. Oh God, what can I say except thank you. Thank you that your atonement resulted in my at-one-ment with you.

Author: James

I pastor Glynwood Baptist Church in Prattville, Alabama. I read a lot, write a little, and drink lots of coffee. I have three callings in life: surrender to Christ, be a husband to Trish, and be the best father/grandfather I can be. Everything else is an assignment, because everything else can be done by someone else.

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