May 11, 2005
“Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
This is an extraordinarily rich passage. It’s a passage
which deals with the Day of Atonement and the ritual that was required of the
high priest before he engaged in the other rituals that were attendant upon the
Day of Atonement. This was the yearly, the annual feast at which Israel
gathered; and, despite all of these other sacrifices that we’ve learned about
(and rituals that we’ve learned about) in Leviticus 1-15, this all-encompassing
sin offering was offered up not only for the high priest, not only for the other
priests of his household, but for the whole of Israel, because to draw near to a
holy God required the covering of sin. Because Israel, though God’s chosen
Israel, though the beneficiaries of God’s mercy–Israel–are the objects of God’s
affection and love, Israel was made up of sinners; and a holy God cannot commune
with sin, and so, that sin has to be dealt with. And so this all-encompassing
yearly ritual dealt with that ongoing reality of sin.
Now, to do this passage justice we would at least
have to preach through the whole of Hebrews 9 and 10. The fact of the matter is
much of the Book of Hebrews is a commentary on the Book of Leviticus. We’ve said
this before, several times. And Hebrews 9 and 10, especially–though we could
point to other passages like Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 7, and other places in the
Book of Hebrews–but Hebrews 9 and 10 specifically provide us much light on
Leviticus 16 as they explain the superiority of the atoning work of our great
high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, in fulfillment of these Old Testament types
and shadows…these former representations, these foreshadowings of the real,
and final, and true sacrifice. But we don’t have time to preach all the way
through Hebrews 9 and 10 tonight, although I did print out four sermons on those
topics to refresh my memory this afternoon.
But I want to zero in on two or three things that we
learn from this passage: first, from the Old Testament perspective; and then,
from the New Testament perspective; and then, draw four implications for us as
Before we read this passage and before we expound
it, I want to outline the passage for you before we even go to the Lord in
prayer, so that you have in mind the flow of this passage. It seems to me that
you could outline Leviticus 16 in five parts. There is the introduction–you’ll
find that introduction in verses 1 and 2; there is a specification of the
animals and the clothing that the priests must use in the ritual–you’ll see that
in verses 3-5. So, there’s the introduction in 1 and 2; there’s the
specification of the animals and the clothing that were used in the ritual in
verses 3 to 5.
Then, in verses 6-10, you have an outline…a
summary…of the sacrifices and the ceremonies that are going to be a part of
this Day of Atonement.
Then, the fourth part of the passage you’ll find in
verses 11-28. This section of Leviticus 16 gives you a detailed description of
the ceremonial requirements that are described and outlined in verses 6-10; and,
in fact, if you look at Leviticus 16:11-28, you’ll find three parts within that
section. In verses 11-19, you’ll have a description of the blood-sprinkling
atonement ritual that was required as part of the Day of Atonement worship.
Then, in verses 20-22, you’ll see a description of
the law of the scapegoat, and what was to be done in the case of this goat on
whom a lot fell.
Then, in verses 23-28, you have this description of
the cleansing rituals that were to be followed by the priests and by the one who
led the scapegoat into the wilderness.
And so those are the three parts of that fourth
section of the chapter.
And finally, in verses 29-34, you have a description
of this perpetual statute which is to be a permanent duty of the children of
Israel, year after year, after year. Those are the five parts of the chapter,
and we’ll pause as we read through this, again, fairly long chapter, to break it
up so that you have clearly in your minds the units that we’re reading. And
then, we’ll do our best to expound this great word of the Lord.
Before we do, let’s look to God in prayer and ask
for His help.
Lord God, You have helped us. You have helped us
much as we have covered unfamiliar terrain. So many of us who have benefited
from the study of the Book of Hebrews have not had so close a study of the Book
of Leviticus, and yet, when we read Leviticus ourselves and study it, the
richness of Hebrews becomes even richer to us. And so we pray that our study of
Leviticus 16 tonight would only enhance our appreciation of the New Testament
exposition of this great book; and above all, we pray that our study of
Leviticus 16 would exalt our Redeemer, our atoning mediator, in our hearts and
in our lives. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear God’s word from Leviticus 16.
[First, the introduction–and in this section we see a
warning against Aaron about the danger of approaching God inappropriately, and
you’ll see what the warning harkens back to as we begin to hear God’s word.]
“Now the Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of
Aaron, when they had approached the presence of the Lord and died. And the Lord
said to Moses, ‘Tell your brother Aaron hat he shall not enter at any time into
the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, lest
he die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.’”
[And so, verses 1 and 2, the introduction, remind us of how
careful even the high priest must be in approaching the Lord. And we’re reminded
of how Nadab and Abihu died. We go on to verse 3…]
“ ‘Aaron shall enter the holy place with this: with a bull for a
sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen
tunic, and the linen undergarments shall be next to his body, and he shall be
girded with the linen sash, and attired with the linen turban (these are holy
garments). Then he shall bathe his body in water and put them on. And he shall
take from the congregation of the sons of Israel two male goats for a sin
offering and one ram for a burnt offering.’”
[So there’s the second part of the chapter, and there we’re
told what is necessary in order for the high priest to enter into the holy of
holies. He has to wear these clothes, and he has to bring these particular
animals for sacrifice. In other words, the animals and the priestly dress
required in the Day of Atonement ritual are specified here. There’s the second
part of the chapter. Now we come to the third part, in verse 6.]
“ ‘Then Aaron shall offer the bull for the sin offering which is for himself,
that he may make atonement for himself and for his household. He shall take the
two goats and present them before the Lord at the doorway of the tent of
meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the Lord and
the other lot for the scapegoat. Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the
lot for the Lord fell, and make it a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot
for the scapegoat fell, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make
atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat.’ ”
[Well, there’s the third part of the chapter. It describes
the sin offering and the scapegoat, and what is necessary to do with these
sacrifices and these rituals in order that sin can be dealt with…in order that
the people of God can worship God. The sacrifices and ceremonies required are
at least outlined here in verses 6-10. There’s the third part of the chapter.
Now we come to verse 11. Here’s the fourth part of the chapter.]
“ ‘Then Aaron shall offer the bull of the sin offering which is for
himself, and make atonement for himself and for his household, and he shall
slaughter the bull of the sin offering which is for himself. And he shall take a
firepan full of coals of fire from upon the altar before the Lord, and two
handfuls of finely ground sweet incense, and bring it inside the veil. And he
shall put the incense on the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of incense
may cover the mercy seat that is on the ark of the testimony, lest he die. And
moreover, he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his
finger on the mercy seat on the east side, and also in front of the mercy seat
he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.
“ ‘Then he shall slaughter the goat of the sin offering which is
for the people, and bring its blood inside the veil, and do with its blood as he
did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and in front
of the mercy seat, and he shall make atonement for the holy place, because of
the impurities of the sons of Israel, and because of their transgressions, in
regard to all their sins; and thus he shall do for the tent of meeting which
abides with them in the midst of their impurities. When he goes in to make
atonement in the holy place, no one shall be in the tent of meeting until he
comes out, that he may make atonement for himself and for his household and for
all the assembly of Israel. Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the
Lord and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and
of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar on all sides. And
with his finger he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it seven times, and
cleanse it, and from the impurities of the sons of Israel consecrate it.’”
[So here in verses 11-19 you have the first part of the
fourth section of Leviticus 16. And in this blood-sprinkling ritual, isn’t it
interesting that the focus is on atoning for the impurities of the priests of
the priesthood and of Israel, which affect the tabernacle. They make impure the
tabernacle, which is going to be the place where God manifests His presence.
Bear that in mind. That’s going to factor into our application tonight. Then,
in verses 20-22, we come to the second part of the fourth section of Leviticus
16. It speaks of the scapegoat.]
“ ‘When he finishes atoning for the holy place, and the tent of
meeting and the altar, he shall offer the live goat. Then Aaron shall lay both
of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the
iniquities of the sons of Israel, and all their transgressions in regard to all
their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into
the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. And the goat shall
bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary land; and he shall release the
goat in the wilderness.’ ”
[So, there we see the law of the scapegoat. Now, the third
section of the fourth part of Leviticus 16 begins in verse 23. It deals with
the cleansing rituals.]
“ ‘Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting, and take off the
linen garments which he put on when he went into the holy place, and shall leave
them there. And he shall bathe his body with water in a holy place and put on
his clothes, and come forth and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering
of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people. Then he shall
offer up in smoke the fat of the sin offering on the altar. And the one who
released the goat as the scapegoat shall wash his clothes and bathe his body
with water; then afterward he shall come into the camp. But the bull of the sin
offering and the goat of the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make
atonement in the holy place, shall be taken outside the camp, and they shall
burn their hides, their flesh, and their refuse in the fire. Then the one who
burns them shall wash his clothes and bathe his body with water, then afterward
he shall come into the camp.’ ”
[And so, the law of cleansing is described there. Then we
come in verse 29 to the final, the fifth part, the fifth section of this
“ ‘And this shall be a permanent statue for you: in the seventh
month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls, and not to
any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; for it is on
this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you shall be clean
from all your sins before the Lord. It is to be a Sabbath of solemn rest for
you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute. So the priest
who is anointed and ordained to serve as priest in his father’s place shall make
atonement; he shall thus put on the linen garments, the holy garments, and make
atonement for the holy sanctuary; and he shall make atonement for the tent of
meeting and for the altar. He shall also make atonement for the priests and for
all the people of the assembly. Now you shall have this as a permanent statute,
to make atonement for the sons of Israel for all their sins once every year.’
And just as the Lord had commanded Moses, so he did.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
This is an extraordinarily rich passage. Perhaps
you sensed that, just from reading through it…all the allusions that there are
in this passage, not only to the Book of Hebrews, but to other parts of
Scripture. When we read Leviticus 16, don’t we hear echoes of Isaiah 53? Did
you hear the echoes of when you hear that scapegoat described: “…on whose head
is laid the sins of Israel…” don’t you hear Isaiah saying that “the Lord has
laid on Him the iniquity of us all”? It’s extraordinarily rich, isn’t it? When
you hear the Lord speak about this cloud of incense which is going to shroud the
mercy seat during the ritual of the atonement, so that Aaron doesn’t die, don’t
you see the shroud of darkness which God causes to fall upon the world during
the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, lest He strike out at us and destroy us
Now, there are so many rich connections in this
passage with Old Testament and New, but tonight I want to restrict myself to two
or three things that I’d like to draw your attention to, and the first thing is
I. An emphasis on cleansing the priests
In this whole great passage, there is an
emphasis on the cleansing of the impurity of the priests of the priesthood,
and of Israel, as it makes impure the tabernacle. The tabernacle
is the place where God comes to meet with His people, and through this ritual
the sins of the high priest, of the whole of the priesthood, and of all Israel
are dealt with, so that Israel can come into communion with God and worship Him.
And it is dealt with through blood and through
riddance. In two ways, those sins are dealt with: through a ritual of blood and
ritual of riddance. The ritual of blood is that atoning ritual, that
propitiating ritual, that expiating ritual, the sprinkling of the blood of the
sacrificed animals. In that atoning ritual, blood is offered as payment for
sin, as covering for sin, in order to turn away the wrath of God, in order to
quit the wrath of God, in order to deflect the wrath of God, the just wrath of
God on Israel for her sins. This blood offering is offered to indicate that
there is no forgiveness of sins without the shedding of blood. And so, sin is
dealt with through bloodshed, and these rituals point to this reality.
But the sin is also dealt with through the ritual of
riddance, and of course that’s seen especially in verses 20-22 in the
manifestation of the scapegoat…this scapegoat, upon whom the priest’s hand
lays all the sins, all the iniquities of Israel, and then sends a man, a chosen
man, out into the wilderness.
What’s being pictured there? Two things are
being pictured there. One thing is the picture of the removal of Israel’s
sin. Israel’s sin is being literally carried out into the wilderness, out
of their sight. We heard the language in Stephen’s prayer tonight of the Lord
removing our sin from us as far as the east is from the west. Well, this is a
picture of the removal of sin out of the middle of Israel’s camp and out into
But it is also a picture, isn’t it, of what
Israel’s sin deserved. Israel’s sin deserved their being cut off from God,
sent out into the wilderness, cut off from God’s people. And so this whole
passage shows the cleansing of Israel and the cleansing of the tabernacle
through blood and through riddance.
But of course, ultimately as a Christian, you
can’t read this passage without contemplating how it is fulfilled in Jesus
Christ, who in His own body on the tree bore our sins. Paul speaks of this
in Romans 3:25, doesn’t he? He was a propitiatory sacrifice for us. Through
blood sacrifice, Jesus Christ fulfilled the pictures here of Leviticus 16. The
Book of Hebrews, in chapters 9 and 10 reminds us that the blood of bulls and
goats cannot forgive sin, only the blood of Jesus Christ.
He tells us in Hebrews 9 that Jesus’ death was in
order to forgive sins that were committed under the first covenant, under the
Mosaic covenant. What does that mean? It means that these blood sacrifices did
not forgive sin! They pointed forward to the real sacrifice that forgave sin:
Jesus’ death on the cross on our behalf.
And doesn’t that remind us, my friends, that
if we look anywhere else other than to Jesus and to His cross for the
forgiveness of sins, we cannot find forgiveness there? Only at the
cross, only in Jesus can we find forgiveness of sins. If even the Old Testament
ritual, the ceremonial way that God dealt with the sins of the children of
Israel…if it was not effective for the forgiveness of sins, but pointed
forward to the one thing that was effective for the forgiveness of sins, can we
find forgiveness of sins if we look anywhere else?
And so, Jesus, in His own death on the cross,
fulfills this glorious picture, this glorious type, this glorious foreshadowing,
this glorious symbol in Leviticus 16, but His death also fulfills that picture
of the scapegoat, that ritual of riddance. You know, we spoke of the language
of Isaiah: “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” But does not Paul
speak of that in II Corinthians 5:21? “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin,
that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” There you see Paul
speaking of the Lord’s laying on Him our iniquities, that He might carry them
away. And at the cross, don’t we see in Jesus’ cry, “My God! My God! Why have
You forsaken Me?” the language of the scapegoat who has been taken into the
wilderness and forsaken.
You know, the rabbis say that that man who was
appointed here in Leviticus 16 to take that scapegoat into the wilderness was to
journey twelve miles into the wilderness, and then was to remain until that
scapegoat was completely out of his sight; and then, he would turn, and he would
come back to the people of God. And here, in the Gospel of Matthew, as Matthew
talks about Jesus’ lifting up that cry: “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken
Me?” you see Jesus utterly forsaken. He’s the sin bearer of His people,
removing His people’s sin–the due penalty of it–and expressing in that
abandonment and in that riddance what we ought to have experienced. And so we
see cleansing through blood and riddance here in Leviticus 16 being fulfilled in
Jesus’ atonement, Jesus’ abandonment, Jesus’ bloodshed, and Jesus’ dereliction.
II. Sacrifices were offered to
provide a pure sanctuary.
Well, there’s a second thing we see here, as well,
and I want to draw your attention to it. And that’s this: Isn’t it interesting
(and you see this especially in verses 16ff–“He shall make atonement for the
holy place because of the impurities of the sons of Israel. In other words,
the reason why these sacrifices were appointed on the Day of Atonement was for
the goal of having a pure sanctuary. The reason why these sacrifices were
offered was because the sin of the high priest, the sin of the priesthood, the
sin of the people of God made the sanctuary impure, which was the place where
God had appointed to meet with them. The goal was to meet with God, but their
sin made the place that God had appointed them to meet with Him impure, and
therefore it had to be dealt with. Does that not point to the complete, the huge
demands of holiness that God makes for meeting with Him? But at any rate, the
goal is in having a pure sanctuary–the place where God manifests His presence.
But think of the New Testament fulfillment of that,
my friends. What is God’s sanctuary in the New Testament? You are!
The people of God are…the gathered people of God are….what does Jesus say?
“Where two or more of you are gathered in My name, there I am in your midst.”
The Shekinah glory comes down!
And so, this passage…doesn’t it beautifully point
to the fact that Jesus purchases forgiveness and cleansing for His people so
that we may be a sanctuary, and so that the fulfillment of all the promises of
God that “[He] will be our God, and we will be His people, and the tabernacle of
God will be among men, and He will dwell in our midst” will be realized. Isn’t
that what’s being pictured for us when the veil is rent from top to bottom in
the temple, that now a close communion has been brought about by this cleansing
work, this forgiving work of Jesus Christ in the midst of His people?
You know, it’s striking, isn’t it? These rituals…these
Old Testament rituals are gracious. They’re filled with grace. They’re
designed to help bring God’s people into communion with Him.
But think of it, my friends: If we had all been
members of First Presbyterian in the wilderness, we would never have seen the
mercy seat on the Day of Atonement. We would have never laid eyes on it! We
would never have laid eyes on the lampstand on the Day of Atonement. We
would never have laid eyes on what the high priest was doing in there for us…we’d
never have seen it! Because even these provisions of grace in the old
covenant remind us of our separation from God, but we have seen in
God’s word our Mediator, and we have seen the mercy seat in His word, and we
have trusted in Him, and He has brought us within the veil, so that these Old
Testament rituals that were designed to produce the goal of having a pure
sanctuary, so that the people of God can meet with Him…these things are only
realized in the finished work of Jesus Christ, who enables us to draw near.
And we see, as well…isn’t it interesting? In verse
29ff., the emphasis on “this is a permanent ritual”–this is always to be done.
Well, I want to ask you a question: Why don’t we
do this on Yom Kippur at First Pres? Why don’t we do this on the tenth of
Tishri every year? Our Jewish friends still observe it; why don’t we do
it? I mean, God says it’s a permanent ordinance…. Because Hebrews 9
and 10 tell us that Jesus’ work finished these shadows. Jesus’ work
accomplished all the reality that these shadows pointed to. The finality and
efficacy of Jesus’ sacrifice made these rituals that were once called
“permanent” obsolete, unneeded, unnecessary, never to be returned to again. That
is how complete, and final, and efficacious Jesus’ atoning work is.
Now, in Hebrews 9:19-25, the author of Hebrews
draws four implications for you of that reality…for you, for that
reality. Now let me just run over them.
If those things are true, if Jesus’ sacrifice is
final and efficacious, and has fulfilled and replaced and made obsolete all of
these Old Testament types and shadows, what are you supposed to do?
Hebrews 10:22 — You’re supposed to draw near with
assurance. You’re supposed to draw near with assurance, because your sins
have not been forgiven through the ritual cleansing of bulls and goats, but
through the shed blood of the very Son of God.
You see the point of the author of Hebrews: If He
will go that far to be faithful with His promise, how can you possibly doubt
Him? Draw near with boldness into the throne room of God.
Secondly (verse 23): Hold fast without wavering.
If the Lord has done this for you, if He has shed the blood of His own Son,
persevere! Hold fast without wavering! Don’t turn back, keep on going!
Thirdly, look at verse 24. Hebrews tells us to
encourage one another to love and obedience. Encourage one
another…stimulate one another to love and good deeds. That’s what we’re to
do. If Jesus has given this full and final sacrifice on our behalf, what should
we do? Encourage one another to love, encourage one another to be like Him. We
sang about that in that wonderful hymn tonight that we opened our service with.
In verse 25, what are we supposed to do in
response to this? Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together.
Isn’t that interesting? Don’t stop going to church! That’s the application
that the author of Hebrews gives: Because of the full and final sacrifice of
Jesus Christ, we’re not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is
the habit of some.”
The author of Hebrews says the final, complete,
efficacious sacrifice of Jesus Christ has ushered us within the veil; therefore,
draw near to God, hold fast, encourage one another to love and good deeds, and
don’t forsake the assembling of yourselves together. Those are the practical
implications and ramifications of this great truth of the atonement. We’ve
only scratched the surface, but we’ve begun to see some of the connections in
this glorious chapter in this glorious book. Let’s pray.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your word,
and we ask now that You would nourish us by Your truth, and that You would make
us indeed to love one another; to encourage one another in good deeds; and to
always be faithful to one another in assembling on Your Lord’s Day to give You
praise. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Stand for God’s blessing.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the
Father and our Lord, Jesus the Messiah. Amen.
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