Posts from the ‘atonement’ Category

From the Archives: The Day of Atonement

This is a reposting from a post originally published on September 14, 2010. Astute readers may notice that Yom Kippur this year also falls on a Saturday. This is coincidence. The Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, and days are calculated as being from sunset to sunset. Yom Kippur actually begins this year at sunset on Friday, October 7.

I’ve posted previously on Rosh Hashanah, the first of the Jewish High Holy Days. This Saturday, ten days after Rosh Hashanah, marks the holiest day in the Jewish religious year: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a day that God set aside so that the people of Israel could atone for their sin as a nation.

“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the LORD. Neither shall you do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the LORD your God. If there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people. As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no work at all. It is a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is to be a Sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening to evening you shall keep your Sabbath.” Leviticus 23:26-32

Now you’ll notice that that there are two words in the passage which are repeated three times: atonement and humble (which carries the context here of denying oneself). This is the one day when the children of Israel were invited by God to consider their lives before Him and to confess their sin. It was the one day a year that only one man in all of Israel – the high priest – could enter into the one most holy spot, the Holy of Holies in the center of the Temple in Jerusalem. There he would offer a blood sacrifice first for his own sin, then the sins of the nation of Israel. The children of Israel would be gathered around the courts of the Temple, watching and waiting to see if the sacrifice would be accepted by God.

Yom Kippur was tied into the very purpose of the Mosaic Law. God had required that His people to be holy and He had given them the Law at Mount Sinai so that they could be instructed in righteousness. Yet God knew that His people could be not become holy on their own, so He gave them a means to be reconciled to Himself: a sacrificial system. The culmination of this system, by which sinning and rebellious Israelites could have their sin covered over, was Yom haKippurim: the Day of Atonement. On this day the High Priest of Israel would enter into God’s presence where He dwelt within the Holy of Holies, first in the desert Tabernacle and much later in the Temple in Jerusalem. The preparations that the priest had to make in order to purify himself before entering this holiest of places were exacting. Should he make an error it would be doubly disastrous, for the descendants of Aaron would be slain by God should they attempt to stand before Him in an impure state. Even worse, the priest would die without the sins of the nation having been atoned for.

In the Biblical period, rigorous requirements were made of each Israelite on Yom Kippur. They were commanded to humble their souls and present offerings of fire for their sins, or be cut off from the people of Israel. They were asked to set aside their earthly appetites and needs, by fasting from sundown to sundown. They were not allowed to do any work, or risk being completely destroyed. These were far harsher strictures than an ordinary Sabbath rest, and served to point out the absolute seriousness of the Day of Atonement.

Very special offerings were made before God on Yom Kippur. These consisted of incense, a bull, and two goats. Four times the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies, beginning with the incense offering. As the incense burned, it formed a cloud which obscured the Ark of the Covenant; between the outstretched wings of the seraphim on its lid was the Mercy Seat, where God’s Shekinah (His glorious Presence) rested. This cloud was not just and offering but was for the protection of the high priest, since no man could see God and live. Next was the sacrifice of a bull. The priest would lay his hands on the bull, acknowledging his own personal sin and that of the priesthood. This process of laying on of hands was the symbolic means by which those sins were transferred to the bull, allowing its death to serve as a substitute for others. The bull was then slain, and its blood taken into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat.

Finally came the climax of Yom Kippur: the sacrifice of two goats. Two goats were brought before the high priest and lots were drawn. One goat would be for the Lord, and one would be for the sins of Israel as a nation.

The first goat was to be an offering to the Lord, and once more the priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the blood of this sacrifice upon the Mercy Seat. Then he symbolically laid his hands upon the second goat, known by the Hebrew term Azazel, or scapegoat. It was then led from the camp – and later the Temple – into a deserted place, where it would be forced off of a cliff. Jewish tradition holds that people would line the path of the scapegoat and curse at it, strike it, spit at it, and pull out its hair, to encourage it to depart with their sins as swiftly as possible.

Although today Yom Kippur is still considered the holiest day in the Jewish year, modern Judaism observes the day in a radically different fashion. Jews continue to fulfill the command to humble themselves by severe fasting. There is no Temple now, and no sacrifices are offered. Modern Judaism teaches that blood sacrifice is not necessary, and that through prayer, repentance and mitzvot, good deeds, that one’s sins will be forgiven. Yom Kippur is a day on which the practice of charity is encouraged. Observant Jews spend the day praying in the synagogue, where the confession of sin is the high point of the service. The congregation confesses in unison, naming only general sins that cause all men to stumble. There is no mention of specific sins committed by individuals. White clothing is worn to symbolize a contrite and humble heart and confidence in God’s ability to forgive sin. The shofar is blown at the end of the synagogue service to symbolize the closing of the Books of Judgment, and the congregants will gather in one another’s homes to break the fast and share a meal.

In my previous post on Rosh Hashanah, I discussed the sound of the shofar — the ram’s horn — as God’s wake up call for us, calling us to turn away from focusing on the physical world in which we live, and to contemplate the holiness of God and our relationship with Him. If Rosh Hashanah was the wake up call, then Yom Kippur is a day of preparation. Preparation for what? Very simply, preparation to be in God’s presence.

God instructed Moses concerning the Shalosh Regalim, three major festivals when every adult male Israelite would make pilgrimage to Jerusalem and worship at the Temple.

“Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Passover]; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest [Shavuot] of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering [Sukkot] at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.” Exodus 23:14-17

“You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread … You shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks, that is, the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year. Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.” Exodus 34: 18, 22-23

“Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths …” Deuteronomy 16:16

If Rosh Hashanah woke us up to point us to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, then Yom Kippur is to prepare us for the last of the fall feasts of Israel: Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. As the name of Sukkot implies, we’re preparing to have God tabernacle among us. The Israelites would go up to God’s house, up to the Temple.

But if you’re going to go up to God’s house, you have to get ready. Therein lays a problem. You see, God is holy, and He hates sin. He cannot even look upon us because we have sin. Luckily for us, God took care of this problem. God made sure that Yom Kippur took place before Sukkot, in order that His people could be cleansed of sin and stand before Him. Yom Kippur allowed His people to know that their sin had been forgiven, so that they could go up and enjoy being in the house of God with a free conscience and a clean heart. When Sukkot arrived, they could truly participate in the rejoicing that God commanded for that festival.

Believers in Jesus Christ have received atonement once and for all through His sacrificial death on the cross. The blood of God’s own Son, Himself sinless in nature, was the only sacrifice sufficient to make final atonement for sin. Interestingly enough, we have confirmation of this from an extra-biblical Jewish source. The Talmud records that on the Day of Atonement a scarlet thread would be hung outside of the Holy of Holies. If the scapegoat, the sacrifice for sin, was accepted by the Lord the thread would turn from scarlet to white, making real the words that the prophet Isaiah had written 700 years before:

“Though your sins are scarlet they shall be white as snow.” Isaiah 1:18

The Talmud goes on to record that each year on the Day of Atonement the thread might turn white or might not, reflecting the changing spiritual state of the nation of Israel. This continued for many years, until 40 years prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, after which the thread never turned white. It remained scarlet every year, until the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. This tractate of the Talmud bears evidence to the fact that somewhere around 30 A.D. – the approximate date when Jesus was crucified – the animal sacrifices offered by the high priest of Israel were no longer accepted by God! This is because the blood of bulls and goats could never atone for sin for more than a short time. They were only shadows of a final sacrifice, a once and for all atonement for sin – the sacrifice of our Messiah Jesus on the cross. Jesus is the fulfillment of Yom Kippur, as both our great high priest and a sacrifice for all of our sin. In Him our sin is truly forgiven and our conscience cleansed.

This Saturday my wife and I — as we have done in years past — will observe Yom Kippur. In our own way we’ll follow the tradition of fasting, albeit not a fast from food. Since neither of us are allowed to fast from food for 24 hours due to health issues, we will be fasting from some other normal aspect of life, such as the use of the computer (which is a sacrifice for two people who can’t seem to go an hour without checking email). Why do we do this, if we know that we’ve already achieved atonement? We do it to honor my Jewish heritage, and we do it to acknowledge and honor what Christ went through to atone for our sins. The solemn gravity of Yom Kippur has taken on for us a great joy as well, because we know that our sins are forgiven and that we have eternal life through Jesus.

Whose Justice?

In 1995, I was a public school teacher. My afternoon classes were interrupted on the afternoon of October 3, when the principal at my middle school came over the PA system to announce that a “not guilty” verdict had been issued in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Absolute pandemonium broke loose, as even my sixth-grade students howled with outrage at what seemed an unjust and unbelievable verdict.

Yesterday, I experienced a heart-stopping emotional flashback to that day, when a similar verdict was handed down in the Casey Anthony trial. Anthony, in case you don’t follow any news at all, is the young woman who was on trial for the alleged 2008 murder of her two-year old daughter Caylee. After a much publicized trial — and to much surprise — a jury found her not guilty of any of the charges against her related to the murder of the toddler.

I’ll admit that like many, my initial reaction was anger. It makes me sick to my stomach that someone who by all appearances seems to have murdered their child will go scot-free. Like many, I was forced to ask, “where is justice?” Now that I have had time to absorb and more importantly, time to pray, I realize I have asked the wrong question. My question should have been, “Whose justice has been served – man’s or God’s?”

How you answer this question depends on which of two camps you might fall into:

  • You feel that justice hasn’t been served and you are angry. If you are in this camp, you probably feel sick inside, just as I did when the verdict was announced. Your internal sense of justice screams that something more needed to be done about  the fact that a little girl was murdered and her body dumped in swamp like garbage.
  • You are upset that other Christians are angry. If you are in this camp, your internal sense of grace is loudly telling you to ask those who are screaming for Casey Anthony’s head why they are not willing to extend a grace that they received. After all, justice would be for you and me to die for our sins, yet instead we received God’s forgiveness. Who, then ,are we to demand justice?

After a day spent working through my own emotions and thoughts, here are some observations on this subject. I pray these might help you to put things in perspective if you are wrestling with how you personally should feel about the Casey Anthony verdict.

  • It is right to have strong emotions about events such as this.  In 1 Samuel 13:14, David is described as a man after God’s own heart. This was the result of David seeking to have emotions like God’s own emotions. When we commit to following Christ, it is essential for us to do as David did, and cultivate hearts that feel as God does towards people and circumstances.
  • There is nothing wrong with desiring  justice. One of the most frequent admonitions found in Scripture is that we be people who love justice. Scripture calls over and over for the wicked to receive punishment that is proportionate to their crimes or sins. Romans 13:1-7 is a clear call for us to allow the administration of justice on earth to be in the hands of human governments, who are to “punish those who do wrong,” as per 1 Peter 2:14 .
  • Grace and justice serve the same ends. As I’ve observed the reactions of fellow Christians during the last 24 hours or so, one thing I have taken note of is an attitude of “either/or” that seems to be present. Either justice must be served (meaning that crimes/sins are punished) OR grace must be given (meaning forgiveness is extended). But grace and justice go hand in hand; if you have no sense that wrongs must be punished, you’ll never feel that anything needs to be forgiven.
  • Overriding all else, it is offensive to the Gospel itself if we do not pray for and earnestly desire Casey Anthony’s salvation. If what goes through our heads in this tragic set of circumstances is more of “I want to see her get what she deserves” than “Lord, may your salvation come to her,” then we reveal that we have hearts that are wicked, not hearts full of the grace of God that was extended to us through the Gospel in Christ. In fact, to do other than pray for her salvation is sin, as Jesus himself made clear through Matthew 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

At this point, regardless of whether the preponderance of evidence points to it, no one can say for certain whether Casey Anthony murdered her own daughter. We may never know for certain who did. That is Man’s justice. But God’s justice is so much bigger than that. If she did murder little Caylee, our hearts can find a place of peace in the knowledge that God’s justice is centered on a grace so deep that God gave up His own Son that we might find forgiveness. God’s justice has been accomplished already at the foot of the cross. If the person who murdered Caylee Anthony trusts in Christ, then God’s wrath for the crime was already poured out on Calvary and His justice was done. If that person does not trust in Christ, then we can be certain that a future Judgement yet awaits, in which the administration of God’s justice will be done.

Thomas Jay Oord Review of “Love Wins”

Thomas Jay Oord, whom I have a lot of respect for, has posted a review of Rob Bell’s controversial book Love Wins. Oord is very positive about the book; in fact, he says it is a great book. I have not yet had a chance to read the book but since I have previously posted a link to a Kevin DeYoung review which did not view the book so positively, it seems fair to post a link to a review which takes an opposite stance. I remain concerned about the vitriol which has characterized discussion of the work – it just seems to me that it violates the Great Commandment.

Have you read the book? And what did you think of it?

Isaiah and Holiness

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the     hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings:   with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they        flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole      earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called,  and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean  lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of  hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the  altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has  touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice  of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send  me!” Isaiah 6:1-8 New Revised Standard Version

When Isaiah glimpsed God in all His holiness, it was as if a light came on in a dark room. All the imperfections, blemishes, sin, uncleanness and crookedness of Isaiah’s life became exposed. He had to discard any pride in his own accomplishments. He knew he was being revealed for what he really was – unclean and unholy.

When we truly understand the holiness of God, our response should be the same as Isaiah’s: our pride unravels  and we stand expose us for the sinful creatures we truly are.  Our utter dependency on God for even our next breath becomes apparent. Our Wesleyan tradition within the Church of the Nazarene maintains that when the Holy Spirit initially brings us to awareness of our sin, we should view it with repugnance.  Spiritual senses which have been dead awaken us to the fact that the Savior is our only hope and only help. The ability to do this, to become aware of our sin even when our spiritual senses are dead, comes through prevenient grace, an act of grace by God that exists without reference to anything good which men or women might have done under their own power. Prevenient grace allows humans to use free will to either accept the salvation God offers through Christ, or to reject it.

Perhaps we don’t often enough consider our own response to God’s holiness. Have we allowed God to expose all of our imperfections, blemishes, sin, and uncleanness? Have we allowed our pride to be ripped from us, and become fully dependent on  God? If we say that we are pursuing lives of holiness, more is required than mere mental assent to Jesus’ atonement for us on the cross. To live a life of holiness – to be different, to be set apart for God – requires intentional commitment, effort, and discipline each day. It doesn’t matter how long ago we were first sanctified – but it matters greatly if we are sanctified right now.

The Day of Atonement

I’ve posted previously on Rosh Hashanah, the first of the Jewish High Holy Days. This Saturday, ten days after Rosh Hashanah,  marks the holiest day in the Jewish religious year: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a day that God set aside so that the people of Israel could atone for their sin as a nation.

“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “On exactly the tenth day of this seventh month is the day of atonement; it shall be a holy convocation for you, and you shall humble your souls and present an offering by fire to the LORD. Neither shall you do any work on this same day, for it is a day of atonement, to make atonement on your behalf before the LORD your God. If there is any person who will not humble himself on this same day, he shall be cut off from his people. As for any person who does any work on this same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no work at all. It is a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is to be a Sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening to evening you shall keep your Sabbath.” Leviticus 23:26-32

Now you’ll notice that that there are two words in the passage which are repeated three times: atonement and humble (which carries the context here of denying oneself). This is the one day when the children of Israel were invited by God to consider their lives before Him and to confess their sin. It was the one day a year that only one man in all of Israel – the high priest – could enter into the one most holy spot, the Holy of Holies in the center of the Temple in Jerusalem. There he would offer a blood sacrifice first for his own sin, then the sins of the nation of Israel. The children of Israel would be gathered around the courts of the Temple, watching and waiting to see if the sacrifice would be accepted by God.

Yom Kippur was tied into the very purpose of the Mosaic Law. God had required that His people to be holy and He had given them the Law at Mount Sinai so that they could be instructed in righteousness. Yet God knew that His people could be not become holy on their own, so He gave them a means to be reconciled to Himself: a sacrificial system. The culmination of this system, by which sinning and rebellious Israelites could have their sin covered over, was Yom haKippurim: the Day of Atonement. On this day the High Priest of Israel would enter into God’s presence where He dwelt within the Holy of Holies, first in the desert Tabernacle and much later in the Temple in Jerusalem. The preparations that the priest had to make in order to purify himself before entering this holiest of places were exacting. Should he make an error it would be doubly disastrous, for the descendants of Aaron would be slain by God should they attempt to stand before Him in an impure state. Even worse, the priest would die without the sins of the nation having been atoned for.

In the Biblical period, rigorous requirements were made of each Israelite on Yom Kippur. They were commanded to humble their souls and present offerings of fire for their sins, or be cut off from the people of Israel. They were asked to set aside their earthly appetites and needs, by fasting from sundown to sundown. They were not allowed to do any work, or risk being completely destroyed. These were far harsher strictures than an ordinary Sabbath rest, and served to point out the absolute seriousness of the Day of Atonement.

Very special offerings were made before God on Yom Kippur. These consisted of incense, a bull, and two goats. Four times the high priest would enter into the Holy of Holies, beginning with the incense offering. As the incense burned, it formed a cloud which obscured the Ark of the Covenant; between the outstretched wings of the seraphim on its lid was the Mercy Seat, where God’s Shekinah (His glorious Presence) rested. This cloud was not just and offering but was for the protection of the high priest, since no man could see God and live.  Next was the sacrifice of a bull. The priest would lay his hands on the bull, acknowledging his own personal sin and that of the priesthood. This process of laying on of hands was the symbolic means by which those sins were transferred to the bull, allowing its death to serve as a substitute for others. The bull was then slain, and its blood taken into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled on the Mercy Seat.

Finally came the climax of Yom Kippur: the sacrifice of two goats. Two goats were brought before the high priest and lots were drawn. One goat would be for the Lord, and one would be for the sins of Israel as a nation.

The first goat was to be an offering to the Lord, and once more the priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the blood of this sacrifice upon the Mercy Seat. Then he symbolically laid his hands upon the second goat, known by the Hebrew term Azazel, or scapegoat. It was then led from the camp – and later the Temple – into a deserted place, where it would be forced off of a cliff. Jewish tradition holds that people would line the path of the scapegoat and curse at it, strike it, spit at it, and pull out its hair, to encourage it to depart with their sins as swiftly as possible.

Although today Yom Kippur is still considered the holiest day in the Jewish year, modern Judaism observes the day in a radically different fashion. Jews continue to fulfill the command to humble themselves by severe fasting. There is no Temple now, and no sacrifices are offered. Modern Judaism teaches that blood sacrifice is not necessary, and that through prayer, repentance and mitzvot, good deeds, that one’s sins will be forgiven. Yom Kippur is a day on which the practice of charity is encouraged. Observant Jews spend the day praying in the synagogue, where the confession of sin is the high point of the service. The congregation confesses in unison, naming only general sins that cause all men to stumble. There is no mention of specific sins committed by individuals. White clothing is worn to symbolize a contrite and humble heart and confidence in God’s ability to forgive sin. The shofar is blown at the end of the synagogue service to symbolize the closing of the Books of Judgment, and the congregants will gather in one another’s homes to break the fast and share a meal.

In my previous post on Rosh Hashanah, I discussed the sound of the shofar — the ram’s horn — as God’s wake up call for us, calling us to turn away from focusing on the physical world in which we live, and to contemplate the holiness of God and our relationship with Him. If Rosh Hashanah was the wake up call, then Yom Kippur is a day of preparation. Preparation for what? Very simply, preparation to be in God’s presence.

God instructed Moses concerning the Shalosh Regalim, three major festivals when every adult male Israelite would make pilgrimage to Jerusalem and worship at the Temple.

“Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me. You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Passover]; for seven days you are to eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the appointed time in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. And none shall appear before Me empty-handed. Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest [Shavuot] of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering [Sukkot] at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD.” Exodus 23:14-17

“You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread … You shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks, that is, the first fruits of the wheat harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering at the turn of the year. Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.” Exodus 34: 18, 22-23

“Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths …” Deuteronomy 16:16

If Rosh Hashanah woke us up to point us to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, then Yom Kippur is to  prepare us for the last of the fall feasts of Israel: Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. As the name of Sukkot  implies, we’re preparing to have God tabernacle among us. The Israelites would go up to God’s house, up  to the Temple.

But if you’re going to go up to God’s house, you have to get ready. Therein lays a problem. You see, God is holy, and He hates sin. He cannot even look upon us because we have sin. Luckily for us, God took care of this problem. God made sure that Yom Kippur took place before Sukkot, in order that His people could be cleansed of sin and stand before Him. Yom Kippur allowed His people to know that their sin had been forgiven, so that they could go up and enjoy being in the house of God with a free conscience and a clean heart. When Sukkot arrived, they could truly participate in the rejoicing that God commanded for that festival.

Believers in Jesus Christ have received atonement once and for all through His sacrificial death on the cross. The blood of God’s own Son, Himself sinless in nature, was the only sacrifice sufficient to make final atonement for sin. Interestingly enough, we have confirmation of this from an extra-biblical Jewish source. The Talmud records that on the Day of Atonement a scarlet thread would be hung outside of the Holy of Holies. If the scapegoat, the sacrifice for sin, was accepted by the Lord the thread would turn from scarlet to white, making real the words that the prophet Isaiah had written 700 years before:

“Though your sins are scarlet they shall be white as snow.”  Isaiah 1:18

The Talmud goes on to record that each year on the Day of Atonement the thread might turn white or might not, reflecting the changing spiritual state of the nation of Israel. This continued for many years, until 40 years prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, after which the thread never turned white. It remained scarlet every year, until the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. This tractate of the Talmud bears evidence to the fact that somewhere around 30 A.D. – the approximate date when Jesus  was crucified – the animal sacrifices offered by the high priest of Israel were no longer accepted by God! This is because the blood of bulls and goats could never atone for sin for more than a short time. They were only shadows of a final sacrifice, a once and for all atonement for sin – the sacrifice of our Messiah Jesus on the cross. Jesus is the fulfillment of Yom Kippur, as both our great high priest and a sacrifice for all of our sin. In Him our sin is truly forgiven and our conscience cleansed.

This Saturday my wife and I — as we have done in years past — will observe Yom Kippur. In our own way we’ll follow the tradition of fasting, albeit not a fast from food. Since neither of us are allowed to fast from food for 24 hours due to health issues, we will be fasting from some other normal aspect of life, such as the use of the computer (which is a sacrifice for two people who can’t seem to go an hour without checking email). Why do we do this, if we know that we’ve already achieved atonement? We do it to honor my Jewish heritage, and we do it to acknowledge and honor what Christ went through to atone for our sins. The solemn gravity of Yom Kippur has taken on for us a great joy as well, because we know that our sins are forgiven and that we have eternal life through Jesus.

Entire Sanctification, Part Two

In my previous post, I began to examine John Wesley’s teachings from A Plain Account of Christian Perfection. Having established a base understanding of  entire sanctification as a state in which love rules a Christians heart and life, it’s time to address a major misconception that many people hold about the doctrine, which I touched on briefly in part one: Christian perfection does not mean one is perfect.

I realize that sounds a bit odd, so I’ll expound. As I stated in part one, the entirely sanctified Christian is not perfect in the sense of being without flaw. Entire sanctification does not mean the Christian lives without sin. Wesley himself rejected the idea that anyone could have such a sinless existence. He very carefully defined sin.

“Not only sin, properly so called (that is, a voluntary transgression of a known law), but sin, improperly so called (that is, an involuntary transgression of a Divine law, known or unknown), needs atoning blood…Therefore sinless perfection is a phrase I never use, lest I should seem to contradict myself.”  — John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection

Close attention needs to be paid to Wesley’s definitions. He painstakingly distinguished between two types of sin, perhaps mindful that many people would call any misbehavior sin. Wesley, on the other hand, characterizes sin as an intentional action which goes contrary to God; i.e. “a voluntary transgression of a true known law.” If the action was unknowing or involuntary, Wesley did not believe it could be correctly labeled as sin.

Christians who have achieved entire sanctification —  who are filled with and motivated by love — will still be capable of making mistakes, but Wesley taught that such errors were not sin if indeed love was the guiding standard.

“all men are liable to mistake, and that in practice as well as in judgment.  But they do not know, or do not observe, that it is not sin, if love is the sole principle of action.”

I would like to say that it gives me great comfort to know that if the choices I have made in life (and I stress if )have been instigated by love, then I have not sinned in the sense in which Wesley defines sin. Yet it doesn’t really give me much comfort, because my mistakes can and do haunt me as much as they do anyone else. Wesley addressed this problem as well:

“For neither love nor the ‘unction of the Holy One’ makes us infallible; therefore, through unavoidable defects of understanding, we cannot but mistake in many things.  And these mistakes will frequently occasion something wrong, both in our temper, and words, and actions….The holiest of men still need Christ, as their Prophet…they still need Christ as their King…they still need Christ as their Priest… Even perfect holiness is acceptable to God only through Jesus Christ.”

I’m captivated by one phrase here: “The holiest of men still need Christ.”    This is something that does comfort me, reminding me humbly that I will never attain Christian perfection without Christ, and that it is the work of the Holy Spirit He placed within me that causes me to grow slowly but surely. It reminds me that although I may stumble and fall (and I’ve done so many times), that Christ empowers each of us to stand up, brush off the dust of our mistakes, and begin anew. Wesley attributed the inevitability of such falls to the sin which is within each of us, Christian or not, which the blood of Jesus overcomes.

“But even these souls [who are filled with perfect love] dwell in a shattered body, and are so pressed down thereby, that they cannot always exert themselves as they would, by thinking, speaking, and acting, precisely right…yet as even in this case, there is not a full conformity to the perfect law, so the most perfect do, on this very account, need the blood of atonement, and may properly for themselves, as well as for their brethren, say, “forgive us our trespasses.”

 

Amen to that, eh?

 

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