Summary: What had for centuries been the clearest object lesson of the Messiah’s work is something that no one connected with him.
Leviticus 16:15-22 Atonement
May 24, 2015 D. Marion Clark
Jesus and his disciples continue their walk along the Emmaus Road. He is interpreting to them the “things concerning himself” in Moses and the Prophets, i.e. the Old Testament. He has demonstrated how he fulfilled the expectation of being the Offspring of Eve who would strike the serpent’s head while his own heel is struck. He has explained how he is the long looked-for Redeemer who would redeem his people from bondage but with the twist of purchasing their freedom with his blood. In each case the disciples would have responded with something like, “Now we understand what we were expecting came to be fulfilled.”
The next lesson, though, would have taken them to a text they never would have considered. Indeed, what had for centuries been the clearest object lesson of the Messiah’s work is something that no one connected with him.
Our text presents the origin of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Through Moses, God had presented an elaborate system of offerings and sacrifices. They had various functions, but the underlying premise was summed up in these words, “be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45).
God is holy. It is true that God is love, but his love is in conformity with his holiness. When God gave the plans for the tabernacle, which would later be made the permanent building of the temple, he labeled the two inner rooms the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place, or Holy of Holies. The latter room was his throne room, and it is holiness that characterizes his presence.
God is holy; therefor his people must be holy. Now we are getting to the necessity of redemption. If God is to dwell with people and they with God, then they must be holy. God redeemed the Hebrews from bondage to Egypt not simply for the purpose of their liberty but that they may fulfill his purpose for them. Here is that purpose:
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:4-6).
There is an obvious problem. The Hebrews were not holy. They were sinners. How then could God dwell among them and they with God? There were two means. One was to develop a system by which things and people could be consecrated – set off for God and protected from becoming unclean. So there is the tabernacle and everything associated with it that must be kept clean so as to be used for holy purposes. The second means addressed the obvious problem presented by the first means – what to do when the consecrated items and people became tainted by being in contact with sinners and anything unclean. There needed to be a system to remove the uncleanness and to remove the stain and guilt of sin.
The system for both revolved around sacrifices. Through the shedding of blood of innocent and unstained, unblemished sacrifices, the tabernacle and its objects and servants (the priests) could be consecrated for holy service to God. And when sin defiled God’s holy objects and his people, the same shedding of blood could make restitution for those sins and render the people holy again, as well as the objects, which were sprinkled with the sacrificial blood.
It was an elaborate and onerous system. It required constant vigilance to maintain the purity of the tabernacle, which represented God’s presence, and he required constant vigilance to offer sacrifices for sins that were committed daily. The Day of Atonement took place annually and was the catch-all effort to cover all the sins of all the people that were missed through all the year. Here then is what took place.
“Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. 17 No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. 18 Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. 19 And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.