First, I would like to give glory to God for allowing us to observe today as the Day of Atonement. Throughout the Old Testament, the word “atonement” frequently appears in Leviticus and is quickly referenced to the Mosaic Law. However, the need for atonement from sin transcended beyond the covenantal agreement God made with the nation of Israel and began at the onset of Adam and Eve’s rebellious acts in the Garden in Eden.
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”Genesis 2:16-17
The moment Adam and Eve consumed fruit from the forbidden tree, their eyes were opened to see the nature of the world that God was protecting them from. The opening of their eyes caused them to see themselves contrary to how God saw them. Instead of seeing themselves created in the glorious image of God, they saw the bareness of their body. A body without covering. A body that was deemed filthy and in need of cleansing. A body that could now feel the effects of sin reigning in their lives. Adam and Eve’s act of disobedience removed the spiritual covering and protection that God provides.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”Genesis 3:7-8
Adam and Eve had exposed themselves to become a slave to the detrimental effects of sin. Their sense of shame led them to take matters in their own hands by attempting to hide every portion of themselves from God. In retrospect, that is the same process that many of us have taken today. We allow the shame of our sins to force us into hiding and to turn away from God when he is pursuing us for reconciliation. The good and glorious news is that God has made a personal sacrifice of his own for the propitiation of our sins, and the sins of this world.
Atonement: How Does it Work?
“Atonement requires an innocent party to take the punishment of the one who is guilty.”
And the Lord God made clothing from animal skins for Adam and his wife.Genesis 3:21
Adam and Eve did not possess the power to fully cover themselves nor did they have anything to offer to God to simply say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” Their acts of sinning against God needed more than what leaves of a fig tree could provide. Their sin required the sacrifice of an innocent party. The sacrificial offering God presented as the atonement for Adam and Eve’s sin was the death of an innocent animal. This form of atonement became an act of worship for the subsequent generations to follow as mandated through the temporary covenantal agreement of the Mosaic Law, which was resolved upon the establishment of a new covenant through Jesus Christ.
“to cover; to cancel; purge; forgive”
The Hebrew word for “atonement” is kâphar, meaning to cover. God is the subject of kâphar and alone can provide an atonement for sin. Through Jesus Christ, God provided Himself as a sacrificial ransom for the sins of this world. Jesus is now the High Priest over all good things that have come and has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven. With His blood, not the blood of animals, he entered the Most Holy Place once and for all time and secured our redemption forever.
For if the sprinkling of [ceremonially] defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a [burnt] heifer is sufficient for the cleansing of the body, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal [Holy] Spirit willingly offered Himself unblemished [that is, without moral or spiritual imperfection as a sacrifice] to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works and lifeless observances to serve the ever living God? For this reason He is the Mediator and Negotiator of a new covenant [that is, an entirely new agreement uniting God and man], so that those who have been called [by God] may receive [the fulfillment of] the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has taken place [as the payment] which redeems them from the sins committed under the obsolete first covenant.Hebrews 9:13-15
If the blood of animals had some effect in cleansing, then, the blood of Christ is highly effective in covering our sins. When our ancestors ceremonially honored the Day of Atonement by sacrificing animals by following their covenant agreement with God, He considered their faith and obedience and cleansed them from their sins. I want you to understand that Christ’s sacrifice transforms or lives and hearts and makes us clean on the inside. On the Day of Atonement, we do not return to the sacrificial system of the old covenant. Instead, we turn to Christ to honor and thank him for his finished work on the cross. We observe the Day of Atonement with prayer, fasting, making amends, and asking for forgiveness. The Day of Atonement is a mandate by God that still stands today.