Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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The Day of Atonement

Season:  7 Feasts   Buy

Dannah Gresh: All of us are ashamed of sins in our past, and maybe that shame is leading you to think that you can never be forgiven. Erin Davis has something important to say to you.

Erin Davis: You are not the one person the cross is not big enough for. You’re not the one woman in the crowd on the Day of Atonement that cannot be at one with God. You are the recipient of over-the-top, elaborate, permanent grace. 

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for February 25, 2021. I’m Dannah Gresh.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: There are some really important words in the Christian vocabulary that are crucial to our faith. Sometimes they are words we don’t use very much in normal language, and I think sometimes we just trip over them or just ignore them. Or we think, Well, everybody else understands what they mean. But we don’t stop to think about what they really mean and why they’re so important as they explain foundational doctrines of our Christian faith. 

We’re going to talk about one of those words today, the word “atonement.” You have probably heard it if you’ve read the Old Testament or the New Testament. If you’ve read through the Bible, you’ve seen this word. But have you ever stopped to think, What does it really mean, and why is it so important to my relationship with Christ? We’re going to hear more about that today.

I think when we started this series on the seven feasts, Erin, people might have wondered, How can you spend a week-and-a-half talking about some feasts in the book of Leviticus? Did you ever have that thought yourself when you were starting into this?

Erin: Now I hope they’re thinking, I could spend months thinking about the feasts in Leviticus. But certainly, when I started to explore the feasts on the surface level, it does seem like something you could just skip over and go right along with your Bible reading plan. But they’re so, so rich. 

Nancy: So rich and so vital to our faith! Today we’re going to talk about, again, one of the most important doctrines of the Christian life. If we don’t get this, we’re going to miss so much more about our faith! So let’s just pray that the Lord will open our ears and our hearts.

Lord, thank You for the wonder of Your Word, for this amazing word, “atonement.” Where would we be without it? I pray for every listener—those who love this Word and know how rich it is, and those who perhaps may be hearing it for the first time, or they’ve heard it a jillion times, but they’ve never stopped to contemplate what it means and why it matters. Would You open our ears to hear, our eyes to see, our hearts to receive what You have for us today?

And I pray that today might actually become a day when many listeners would receive the gift of atonement through Jesus Christ our Lord! And for all of us, may we wonder, may we be amazed, may we be touched, may our hearts be stirred by the incredible gift it is to have our sin atoned for and to be right with the Father! We pray Your blessing on Erin as she teaches. Thank You for the work of Your Spirit in our hearts during this time. In Jesus’ name, amen. 

Erin: Well, several years ago I walked through the seven feasts with the women at my home church. I wanted to find a way to move our knowledge of the sixth Feast, which we’ll talk about today, the Day of Atonement, from our heads to our hearts. So, I got creative.

The sanctuary in my church has a large platform, maybe a lot like your church. On that large platform there is a set of double curtains, and in-between those curtains it’s usually full of things like drums and guitars and microphone stands. But for this event when we were studying the seven feasts, we cleared the space. Leaving only an empty void—large platform, two big curtains, and nothing in-between. 

As the women read about the Day of Atonement, I sent the women out all over our church campus to read about the Day of Atonement in quiet corners around the church. As they were reading, they got to a part where they were sitting and were invited to come back into the sanctuary and enter the space behind the curtain, one at a time. 

I knew what was about to happen, and I knew I wanted a front row seat. I sat on the front row of the sanctuary and I watched as the women I love, my closest friends, the women I go to church with, my mom, my aunt, my sister . . . I watched as one by one they stepped on that stage and they stepped behind the curtain.

Now, there was nothing magical happening. God’s Spirit was present on both sides of the curtain, but almost every woman emerged from that experience in tears. I choke up a little bit when I think about that moment. I hope that I never forget it. 

I hope that I never get over the wonder of watching women get waylaid by the grace of God. Cause that is what God was doing in their hearts behind the curtain. Now, going behind the curtain might not mean anything to you, as I am describing it. They went behind an empty curtain, and then they came out crying, what’s that about?

Well, I hope that it soon will as we discuss the sixth feast together. So, all of the seven feasts are recorded in one chapter in the book of Leviticus, Leviticus 23. Keep your Bible handy as we talk about the feast. You’re going to need it. I am going to read us this description of the sixth feast, the Day of Atonement. 

It’s found in Leviticus 23:26–32: 

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the Lord.” 

This is consistent with most of the feasts. The Lord is giving Moses the commands for how the people are to observe the feasts. This word “afflict” is used in most of them. It's this idea that this is going to require some sacrifice and some offerings are required for most of them. But some parts of the Day of Atonement are very, very different from the rest of the feasts. 

"And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. For whoever is not afflicted on that very day shall be cut off from his people. And whoever does any work on that very day, that person I will destroy from among his people.” 

Again, the language here is a little different from the other feasts. Some of the feasts are very celebratory. It's about food and being with family and prolonged times of Sabbath, but this we can see is severe. If you decide not to participate in this feast, there’s punishment. 

“You shall not do any work. It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves. On the ninth day of the month beginning at evening, from evening to evening shall you keep your Sabbath.” 

The Day of Atonement was the most sacred day on the Israelite calendar. You can sort of feel that even though some of the things we’re reading about feel a little strange to us, as you read it slowly you can feel the weight of this one, I hope. 

That word “atonement” the Lord uses several times as He’s giving Moses the description of this feast. It means “at one meant,” to take what is separate and bring it back together. Literally means “agreed on” or “at one.” Because sin separates us from God, all of us. 

That’s true of the Israelites, and it's true of you and I. So they had to have a way to come back together. Their sin separated them from Him, and they had to find a way to be at one again, and that's what the Day of Atonement is about. 

One day every year the High Priest would enter the Holy Place within the Tabernacle to atone or make amends for the sins of God’s people. Now, the guidelines for this feast are outlined in greater detail in Leviticus 16. 

So Moses would have already had that very long description of what the Day of Atonement was supposed to be, and this is a reminder. It's grouped together with the other seven feasts. This is your year and remember the Day of Atonement. 

Leviticus 16 gives the instructions for the priests on the Day of Atonement. And here in Leviticus 23 we get the instructions for the people on the Day of Atonement. Let me read to us Leviticus 16:1–2. As you follow along with me, I would like you to keep a pen handy. I’m going to give you some words to circle or underline in your Bible. 

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.” 

Here’s what I want you to circle, that phrase “mercy seat.” It’s there twice. Because once again, God is showing us His heart through the feasts. He designated the most holy place within His sacred Temple as a place of mercy. 

God is the One who called it the mercy seat. It’s not a man-made description; it’s a God-given description. He could have called it the “judgment seat.” He could have called it the “wrath seat.” But instead, when God was handing out the rituals for the Day of Atonement, He established the intent, to show mercy to His people.

And yet, as we’ve already seen in so many of the other feasts, in order for God’s people to experience that mercy, death was required. Leviticus 16 includes a long list of the animal sacrifices for this feast, and it’s staggering. 

I’m a farm girl myself. I have cows in the field, sheep in the field, pigs sometimes, rabbits, chickens. I know a little bit about animals and what is required to slaughter those animals. And when you read the sheer number and diversity of animals required to be killed for the Day of Atonement, it’s mind boggling. 

It was rams; it was bulls; it was goats. And not like some feasts where one was required. Many, many, many animals were required to be sacrificed for this day. The priests had to be covered in blood. If you read the description of this feast, there’s a lot of talk about what the priests had to wear at certain times. That's because there had to be moments on the Day of Atonement when their garments were dripping with the blood of the animals they had slaughtered.

The Day of Atonement provided a way for the Israelites' sins to be cleansed through the death of sacrificial animals, rather than through their own lives. But I don’t want you to miss something that’s important, it was a gory, bloody day.

To deepen our understanding of this feast, we need to flip backwards a little bit in our Bibles to Exodus 25. I hope as you’re studying the feasts you’re doing a lot of flipping to lots of places in your Bible, and recognizing that these feasts connect to the Old Testament to the New Testament, all of Scripture. 

In Exodus 25, verses 10–22 describe this most holy place, and I would encourage you to read that description. It's going to give you a visual for what’s happening on the Day of Atonement. Also notice that God is very specific about the measurements of this place, and the materials of the mercy seat, this clearly matters to Him. 

And then in Exodus 26, God gives instructions for the curtains that would make up the Tabernacle and then a second set of curtains that would surround this mercy seat. Both the curtains and the Bible’s description of them are extremely detailed, and the details matter. 

In Leviticus 16 Aaron was instructed to go behind the veil on the Day of Atonement. I hope you’re not picturing some wispy curtains that might be hanging in your living room; that’s not what this was. It was very thick; it was very heavy. God had given very clear instructions about what it was supposed to be like. 

As the Levitical priests performed the rituals of the Day of Atonement, they were proclaiming the miraculous truth that God would mercifully forgive the sins of His people that year. Not because they had earned it, they hadn’t, despite their continued sin. In fact, on the Day of Atonement, I’m sure they were continuing to sin. And yet, this day was God showing them His forgiveness, His intent to give mercy. 

Try to imagine, knowing just the brief description I’ve given you of all the blood and all the slaughter, and that Holy of Holies, and the whole nation of Israel gathered to watch holding their breath knowing that this was the day their sins were atoned for, and not just them. I think as a mother how desperately I would want my sons’ sins atoned for. And knowing that because of this day, my sons’ could once again be one with God.

Listen, I know they’re sinners. That verse that they’re sinners since birth is true. That becomes obvious about the time they start talking. I would want to know that they could be one with God despite their sin. This was a terrible and wonderful day. But I want you to picture what’s happening. I want you to imagine the impact on their families, on their culture. 

Try to imagine our culture having one day a year where we knew we could be atoned for, and all that was required watching it happening. Try to picture the impact. Try to picture standing outside the Tabernacle. I picture being there with my four boys and whispering to them, that the priest was going inside the holy place to meet with God so that they could be forgiven.

I picture us all holding our breath and maybe holding hands, because it was so significant until that priest emerged, cleansed. And we could breathe, because we knew our sins had been atoned for.

It was a solemn day, and on some level they must have understood the significance. What they could not have known was that they were foretelling the story of Jesus on the cross. 

Each year when he entered the holy place, the High Priest was proclaiming the gospel. Matthew 27:45–54, you can go ahead and flip there in your Bibles, it is one of places where Scripture records the details of Christ’s death. I force myself to read it every Easter season, but otherwise I can barely stomach it.

I’m tempted to skip it now. It's hard to read, but we need to read it, just like we need to read the details of the animal sacrifices in the sixth feast in order to understand how they connect. 

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

Those phrases sixth hour and ninth hour might not mean much to you but the sixth hour was noon, meaning that the ninth hour would have been 3 o’clock in the afternoon. So for there to be darkness over all the land at the moment when the sun would have been the highest and they would have expected it to be light as day, the whole land was dark.”

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

It was a gory, bloody day. Let’s zero in on what happened the moment Christ gave up His Spirit. It’s recorded in verse 51, 

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 

Without the Old Testament we could not understand that the veil separated God’s people from His presence. They could not go to the Holy of Holies because of their sin and that veil is what kept them from being with Him in His presence. And without the New Testament, we’d never know that the veil was torn when Christ was crucified so that we could be in the presence of God. It’s not because we’re not sinners, we are, but because Christ has made a way for us to be reconciled with God. We didn’t need that heavy curtain any more, because Jesus became the bloody sacrifice.

And those women in my church, as they were stepping inside the curtain they had their Bibles and there was a passage that they were reading in that space that was reminding them that their sins had been atoned for, that they could be in the presence of a Holy God, and that is why they came out crying. 

And once again the feasts remind us that the redemption of our sins through Jesus was not God’s plan b. Though the Israelites could not have known it, because Jesus had not yet sacrificed Himself for the sins of the world, they were proclaiming gospel hope every year. 

It makes me feel a little bit of longing. I know we have Christmas and what a beautiful holiday that is, that celebrates Christ’s coming. I know we have Easter that celebrates His resurrection. We have Good Friday, but do we sit in the weight of it?

Do we celebrate what He did for us on that day? I’m jealous for them because they had a calendar that pointed them to Jesus, pointed them to God’s mercy over and over and over. Every year they obeyed God’s commands for the Day of Atonement, they were teaching a lesson about who God is.

And without both pieces of the puzzle, the Old and New Testament, this picture would be incomplete. We would read that list of sacrifices required by God and we would not understand it. It might even seem cruel to us. But we need to picture all of that blood everywhere; we need to picture the cost to fully understand what Jesus did.

Now, many of the feasts have a New Testament counterpart. 

  • The Feast of Firstfruits correlates with Easter. 
  • The Feast of Unleavened Bread with the Lord’s Supper. 
  • The Feast of Weeks with Pentecost. 

But the day of Atonement doesn’t have a correlating day like that, because we have no need for a yearly sacrifice for our sins, because Jesus was the perfect sinless sacrifice. His death did not atone just for a year of our sins, but once and for all.

I find such hope in knowing that Jesus has atoned for every sin I’ve ever committed and every sin I will ever commit. Every sin my sons have committed, and every sin that they will commit. Listen to Hebrews 7:27, “He has no need . . .” This is talking about Jesus of course. “He has no need like those high priests . . .” Which high priests? Those high priests here in Leviticus 23. “. . . to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.”

That phrase, “once for all,” is so beautiful and so powerful. Yes, the Day of Atonement is about sin, and the bloody sacrifice required to atone for it. But even more, the Day of Atonement is about grace. It’s about God’s grace in our lives.

Maybe as you read this description of the sixth feast and of Christ’s sacrifice, your heart defaults not to rhythms of worship and gratitude, but to rhythms of guilt and fear. Maybe instead of sitting in the weight of your sin and being grateful that Jesus carries it, you’re feeling squashed under the weight of your shame. 

I know that because those are my rhythms. I am driven by achievement and his ugly twin, perfectionism. And when I think about the Day of Atonement, I think about how fearful I would have been that I was the one woman that all that blood wasn’t going to be enough to cover.

And for those of us who are wired that way, we don’t need reminders of our sin today. We’re already thinking about our failures 24/7. For women who are wired like me, the harder pill for us to swallow is the extravagance of God’s grace and the Day of Atonement is for us too.

Let's revisit the description of the Day of Atonement found in Leviticus 23, and there’s a little nugget there that you might have missed the first time. Let me read us Leviticus 23, verse 28, 

And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. 

“You shall not do any work” on the Day of Atonement. It was not just the offerings of grain and livestock that were required by God for this feast. They also had to lay down their work and rest on the Day of Atonement. Both the giving of the offering and the commitment to stop working were meant to be physical expressions of the Israelites’ hearts toward God. 

God did not need their gifts, and God did not need their rest. He was asking them to take steps of humility as an outward expression of their grief over sin. When we struggle to accept God’s gift of grace, it might appear that we’re being humble. In reality, failure to accept that Jesus has fully atoned for your sins, for mine, it’s a sneaky form of pride. 

When we fail to accept that God’s grace is enough to cover our sin, to transform us into His image, we’re living in pride because the focus is ultimately on us. We’re hyper-attentive to our sins, our failures, our short-comings. Listen, there was no missing God on the Day of Atonement. 

Let us not miss that Christ is the One who did the work required for us to be at one with God. We don’t do that work, we can’t. It’s Jesus who does it. So many women I know and love, live as if the Day of Atonement is still written on their calendars. They afflict themselves with shame and guilt and fear and dread and anxiety. They’re hoping and they’re praying that their meager offerings are going to be enough to earn God’s acceptance, and He’s already offered it to them.

If that’s you, I want you to listen to me right now. You are not the one person the cross is not big enough for. You’re not the one woman in the crowd on the Day of Atonement that cannot be at one with God. You are the recipient of over the top, elaborate, permanent grace. 

Let’s revisit Leviticus 23 one more time, verses 29–30, 

For whoever is not afflicted on that very day shall be cut off from his people. And whoever does any work on that very day, that person I will destroy from among his people.

God’s command to rest is especially severe on this day. Perhaps that's because we’re all tempted to keep working towards salvation. And the sixth feast is a precious reminder for every woman familiar with shame, for all of us frustrated with our chronic failure, for every one of us who just can’t imagine that God’s grace can cover our sin, for every time we miss the mark, for every moment that spiritual amnesia wipes our memories clean—the sixth feast is for us. 

We’re free to stop living as if the Day of Atonement is required and rest in God’s elaborate grace. 

Nancy: Thank you, Erin. How beautiful is it that we are free to rest in God’s extravagant, amazing grace! And let me say, that’s true for those who are wired the way Erin just described—with perfectionism and performance and the tendency to try and earn God’s grace. But it’s also true for those who maybe minimize their sin and are not so conscious of it and who feel like they’re okay.

We need an awareness, a sense of weight, of what our sin does to separate us from God, how desperately we need His grace! So the grace of God is not precious to us if we’ve not seen how horrific our sin is and how it separates us from God.

Lord, thank You so much for the wonder of what we’ve heard in these moments, and to go back and reflect on the gory, bloody day when Christ went to the cross for us. The marker that those children of Israel had every year on that Day of Atonement, as the priests’ clothes and hands and the area around the altars was just running, flowing with blood to remind us how costly our sin is. 

But then to see that because that curtain was torn in two at the moment at which Jesus died, we now have access to the Father because of the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God on our behalf. We worship You. We bless You. We rest. We trust. We celebrate. We rejoice. We give You thanks for the wonder of that grace, in Jesus name, amen!

Wow, what a rich study in the gospel and how desperately we need that reminder day after day! Erin, I don’t want to ever get over the wonder of what Jesus has done for us.

Erin: Me neither.

Nancy: I don’t want to take it for granted. I need that gospel and that grace as much today as when I was four years old and trusted Jesus to save me; you were fifteen. That was a significant day to each of us—our day of salvation—but the wonder of it is no less significant today.

And you have unpacked even more about this Day of Atonement in this eight-week Bible study that you’ve written, that we’ve been mentioning throughout this series. Tell us again just a little bit about what people can expect when they open that study.

Erin: Well, you can expect a deep dive into the seven feasts. One of my teaching mantras is, “Whoever’s doing the work is doing the learning.” So you can expect to do some work, but you can expect that work to transform not only your understanding of the seven feasts, but my hope is far beyond. My hope is that you fall in love with your whole Bible!

Nancy: And you can do that alone, or you can do it with a group—a small group, a Sunday school class, a prayer group, whatever. As you do this study you’re going to find Jesus in these sacred celebrations of the Old Testament. Leviticus 23 is going to get marked up in your Bible! In fact, that page has just fallen out of my Bible, thanks to Erin taking us through these feasts over these past several days!

We want to make this study available to you when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, so we can get women all around the world experiencing the wonder and the beauty of the saving grace of Christ, what it means to be atoned, to be right with God, reconciled to Him.

You can make that donation online at ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can give us a call at 1–800–569–5959. Thank you for your support of this ministry, and when you make that gift be sure and tell us that you’d like a copy of Erin’s book, 7 Feasts, and we’ll be glad to send that to you.

Erin, our hearts have been so moved by what you have shared today. 

We’ve got one more feast! You don’t want to miss that one from Leviticus chapter 23 as we finish up this series tomorrow. Be sure and join us again for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth reminds you of the wonder of God’s grace. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

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About the Teacher

Erin Davis

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is an author, blogger, and speaker who loves to see women of all ages run to the deep well of God’s Word. She is the author of many books and Bible studies including: 7 Feasts, Connected, Beautiful Encounters, and the My Name Is Erin series. She serves on the ministry team of Revive Our Hearts. When she’s not writing, you can find Erin chasing chickens and children on her small farm in the Midwest.