Day 11

The Day of Atonement

from the reading plan

Leviticus 16:1-34, Leviticus 17:1-16, John 1:29, Mark 15:33-39, Romans 3:25-26

I’ve never been particularly comfortable with the sections of the Bible that describe animal sacrifices. As someone who regularly has emotive reactions to the sight of roadkill and contemplates giving up meat every time I pass a truck transporting chickens, the thought of willfully slaughtering an animal is hard to take. It’s not that the practice is primitive, but that it’s awful. 

However, I’ve come to believe that the awfulness is part of the design. The consequences of sin and evil are awful. They ruin the goodness of God’s creation and destroy the beauty of God’s gift of life. We see that ruin and destruction are on full display in these animal sacrifices. They are a vivid and powerful reminder that our sin carries grave consequences. 

And yet, through these sacrifices, it is not the Israelites who bear these consequences but the animal on the altar. It has died, while they continue to live. What a powerful image of God’s justice and grace: evil is dealt with, and His people are saved. 

But what about those sins that they didn’t even notice? How could they be rescued from the wickedness that escaped their conscious minds? Enter the annual Day of Atonement. On this day, the high priest would enter the holiest place, where the ark of the covenant rested, and he would make a sacrifice for all the sins of Israel. In this way, God’s people could be set at ease with the confidence that every ounce of sin had been covered. This was the promise: “Atonement will be made for you on this day to cleanse you, and you will be clean from all your sins before the LORD” (Leviticus 16:30). 

There were many sacrifices in Israel throughout the year, but this one had the greatest reach and sanctifying effect. Through this one sacrifice, the sins of the many were forgiven, which is why the apostle Paul would take up this very same image to explain the death of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:25–26). In Christ’s death, every one of your sins is covered over—past, present, and future. 

Whenever you wonder whether God could forgive you for something you’ve done, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” And the reason for such confidence is that Jesus has once for all atoned for your sins by His sacrifice. There is nothing beyond His saving reach. There is peace of mind in Jesus. He is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Whatever fears you have that something in your past might keep you from the loving embrace of God the Father, you may put those fears to rest. The sacrifice of Jesus on your behalf is perfect and complete. You are forgiven.

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