The author of this post is Rev Martin Pakula, the Pastor of Hills Bible Church. This is Part 2 of his four-part series on “The Privilege of Prayer”.
In The Privilege of Prayer (Part 1), we saw that a holy God cannot be approached by an unholy people. If we approach God in our sin, we will die. LEVITICUS 16, the passage on the Day of Atonement, begins this way:
“The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died, and the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.” Lev 16:1-2
Leviticus 16 goes on to explain that no one can approach God in the Most Holy Place, behind the curtain, except one man: the high priest. But even the high priest could only approach God once a year, on the Day of Atonement. And when he did approach, he did so with a cloud of incense smoke (verses 12-13), so that he didn’t see God and die.
I’m sure if I asked most Christians what the Day of Atonement was about that they would answer that it is about the forgiveness of sins. Basically, I would have to disagree! It’s not like God only forgave the Israelites their sins one day a year! Leviticus 1:4 explains how the daily burnt offering atoned for the sins of the Israelites. The burnt offering is made on the Day of Atonement as well (verse 24), and that atones for the sins of the Israelites, just as it did every other day. So what then was the Day of Atonement about?
The Day of Atonement, in a nutshell, is a spring cleaning ceremony! Once a year, the sins of the Israelites were cleaned out of the Temple, so that a holy God could remain dwelling with his unholy people. All year long the Israelites brought their uncleannesses and sins into the Temple. It’s like kids traipsing mud into the house. After a while you would need to clean the house. Here is the spiritual equivalent: the Israelites have brought their dirty, muddy, unholiness into the Temple all year long, and it needed to be cleaned out. Thus a holy God could remain dwelling with his people.
In Part 3, Martin writes about a holy God and his unholy people. How can they co-exist? In his next post; he writes about the Day of Atonement ceremony as a shadow picturing a future reality.