The Day of Atonement was to be observed once every year among the Israelites, until the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. How greatly do we need continual atonement, for we are continually sinning! And even though Christ has redeemed us from our sins, the practice of continual repentance and sorrow over them must continue until we arrive in that happy place where all tears – even those of repentance – will be wiped away from our eyes. In the Book of Hebrews, the Apostle observes that the Jews’ repeated observance of the Day of Atonement was a proof that those animal sacrifices could never take away sin, nor cleanse the conscience of the sinner; for in these sacrifices, sin was remembered every year on this Day of Atonement (Heb. 10:1-3). The repeating of the sacrifices showed that they only made a feeble effort toward making atonement. The only way that our redemption could be accomplished was by the offering up of the body of Christ, once and for all. And that sacrifice never needs to be repeated.
On the Day of Atonement, when the animals had been prepared for the great annual ceremony, Aaron began by first offering a sacrifice to make atonement for himself and his family. He took the bullock for the sin offering, killed it upon the altar, and poured out its blood. With the blood, he filled a bowl; and then he took up a pan of live coals from the brass altar – out of the very same flames that had just consumed his sacrifice. But his next step was even more wondrous; for he advanced to the Holy of Holies, inside the Tabernacle, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. The bowl of blood and the pan of coals were in his hands. Upon the coals, he sprinkled a handful of incense; and its sweet fragrance instantly filled the interior of the Lord’s house as he directed his reverent steps towards the veil, which he drew aside. The bright cloud of glory immediately poured its full radiance upon him – too bright for his feeble eyes, except that it was softened by the cloud of incense arising from the censer full of coals in his hand. Thus enveloped, he sprinkled the blood upon the mercy-seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant. But what a moment was this! It was his own sins that he was thus confessing! His own death, and his own deserved wrath, were spread out before the Lord in that sprinkled blood! He continued by sprinkling the blood upon the ground in front of the Ark seven times. The blood was a symbol of his life forfeited, and of his life saved. When Aaron first sprinkled the blood, how deep was his agony! Yet how sweet was his hope as he waved the censer over the blood! The seventh sprinkling ended the whole transaction, and then he stood alone with God – justified, accepted, loved, and blessed!
Christ’s resurrection was pictured by Aaron’s coming out to the courtyard of the Tabernacle again after thus entering the Holy of Holies. He came forth and stood at the altar once more, and prepared to offer a goat to make atonement for the sins of the people. Having slain the goat, he once more entered within the veil; and with the goat’s blood, he repeated the procedure that he had done with the bullock’s blood. And thus he atoned for the sins of the nation.
In this ceremony that was carried out on the Day of Atonement, we see a picture of the two great Gospel privileges – forgiveness of sins and access to God – both of which we owe to our Lord Jesus. He is both the Maker and the Matter of the Atonement. He is the Great High Priest Who makes reconciliation for the sins of His people. And not only is Christ our High Priest, but He is also the Sacrifice with which the atonement is made. The slain goat was a picture of Him dying for our sins. But the atonement ceremony was completed by Aaron symbolically laying the sins of Israel upon the head of the living goat, which was sent away into the wilderness. And the sending away of this goat represented the free and full pardon of the people’s sins, as he symbolically “carried away” all their iniquities. In the same way, Christ – the Lamb of God – takes away the sins of the world by taking them upon Himself (John 1:29). Moreover, the entrance into heaven, which He opened for us, was pictured by the high priest’s entrance into the Holy of Holies (see Heb. 9:7). The high priest, however, had to come out again; but our Lord Jesus forever lives, always remaining in the presence of God and making intercession on our behalf.
By faith, we put our hands upon the head of Jesus, our offering. We rely upon Him as the Lord our Righteousness, and we plead His sacrifice as the only thing which is able to atone for our sins and procure our pardon. If we confess our sins, the Lord is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. By Christ’s atonement, we obtain rest for our souls, as well as all the glorious liberties of the sons and daughters of God. O sinner! Pray that the blood of Jesus may be effectually applied to your soul, or you will never be able to look God in the face with any comfort or acceptance!
Lord, we fix our eyes, with steady faith, on the God-Man Christ Jesus! He did not enter within the veil with the blood of others, but with His own blood; and He has not entered within the veil of an earthly sanctuary, but into heaven itself, to appear in Your presence on our behalf. O precious Savior! All glory to Your name; for You have gone before, and You have taken possession of the realms above in our name. Remember Your sweet promises to us, and cause us to feel their constraining influences in our hearts. Amen.
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illustration by Pamela Maxwell | Lightstock.com