The Day of Atonement
When God rescued the Israelites from Egypt, their redemption led to a relationship with Him. Living under God’s rule, the people enjoyed His presence in the tabernacle. But from the very beginning, the Israelites could not keep the law of God. This introduced a dilemma: how could a holy God live with a sinful people?
On a specific day of each year—the Day of Atonement—the high priest of Israel was instructed by God to enter the Most Holy Place—the place in the tabernacle where God’s presence dwelled—to offer sacrifices for the people’s sins. The high priest would take two unblemished goats. The first he would sacrifice as a sin offering for the people and then sprinkle its blood on the atonement cover, also known as the mercy seat. The Israelites deserved death for their sin, but God graciously provided this goat as a substitute to die in their place. The people could live because the animal had died. And the result of that atonement was seen in what happened to the second goat: the priest would place his hands on its head, confess the people’s sins over it, and then drive it out far into the wilderness. The high priest was then able to appear before the people, saying, in effect, Your sins are atoned for. The blood has been shed, and by the shedding of blood there is remission for sin. The other goat I have driven out into the wilderness, and in the same way you need not be concerned about your sins anymore nor bear them as a burden on your back. In a very specific way, God was establishing this essential truth: He is willing to do what is necessary to bring sinful people into His presence. Since His people were (and still are!) unruly, He had to provide a sacrifice for their sinfulness, allowing them to approach Him based on the actions of another. And each sacrifice pointed beyond itself to the perfect sacrifice that Christ would offer by His death on the cross, dealing with sin once and for all. As a result, we can enjoy utter confidence before God. But this confidence is not in ourselves; rather, “we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Hebrews 10:19-20).
When you are tempted to vacillate, doubt, and look at your own works as the basis of assurance, remember those two goats, both pointing you to the work of Jesus on the cross. Your sin has been paid for and your sin has been removed. Your performance neither adds to nor detracts from your status before our holy God. Here is where you find your confidence:
Upon a life I have not lived,
Upon a death I did not die,
Another’s life, another’s death,
I stake my whole eternity.
How is God calling me to think differently?
How is God reordering my heart’s affections — what I love?
What is God calling me to do as I go about my day today?
11And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But when Christ2 had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
15And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
16“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,”
17then he adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
The Full Assurance of Faith
19Therefore, brothers,3 since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
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