By Randy Ballinger
Sin is a pervasive contaminant. Sin originates in the forbidden desire of humans, but it results in death (James 1:14-15). Even creation groans because of the corruption brought upon it by sin (Romans 8:20-23). Because of sin, you and I are guilty of breaking God’s law. We are spiritually sick, and everything suffers because of it. Sin is toxic and effects everything on this planet, making us “unclean” before God.
To be in a proper relationship with God, our sins must be atoned for—we must be cleansed of sin. Cleansing sin is a big deal only God can handle—and he does!
In the days of Moses, the Israelites’ sins made not only them unclean, but it also contaminated the holy items in the tent of meeting, God’s symbolic residence on earth.
So, the Lord directed Moses to instruct his brother Aaron, the high priest, to preside over a holy convocation—Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement—to cleanse all the sins of the Israelites.
Blood is the cleansing agent of Yom Kippur. According to specific biblical instructions, this was the only day of the year the high priest entered the Most Holy Place; he carried the blood of sin offerings into God’s presence where it was sprinkled on and in front of the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. In this way, the high priest made atonement for himself, the people, and for the tent of meeting.
Not all of the activity of Yom Kippur occurred behind the veil of the Most Holy Place. The cleansing of sin was symbolized by the scapegoat. The high priest, in front of the tent of meeting, placed his hands on the head of the scapegoat and confessed before God all the Israelites’ sin, after which the scapegoat was led into the wilderness, bearing and removing the sin from the people.
God cleansed his people on the Day of Atonement. However, this cleansing was mostly ceremonial as it did not cleanse the conscience of the sinner (Hebrews 9:9-10).
We gather around the Lord’s Table today in a different time and under a new covenant, but in the presence of the same God who cleanses sin. But today, he does so in a way superior to that of Moses’ day. Blood is still the agent of the cleansing, but now it is Jesus’ own blood. And the bearing of sins is not symbolic, but actual, as Jesus bore the penalty of all sinners on the cross.
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14, emphasis mine).
Randy Ballinger lives with his wife, Gina Ann, near New Paris, Ohio. He is an elder with the Centerville (Indiana) Christian Church.