The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 16, 2018
Yom Kippur— Promised & Fulfilled!
The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me. Who is he that will condemn me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up. Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant! Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As I was reading last Sunday’s newspaper I ran across something that caught my eye. At the end of the Dear Abby column I saw these words printed in bold: “To My Jewish Readers.” Then she went on to say: “At sundown tonight, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins. At this time of solemn introspection I would like to wish you all, ‘L’shana tova tikatevu’— may you be inscribed in the Book of Life and have a good year.” This reminded me of the fact that this coming Tuesday evening marks the beginning of the highest Holy Day in Judaism— Yom Kippur, or, Day of Atonement. Ever since the days of Moses Yom Kippur had been considered to be the most solemn, the most powerful and perhaps the most important day on the Jewish calendar. It was a day that God’s Old Testament people anxiously looked forward to celebrating!
Sadly, Yom Kippur has taken on a very different meaning in modern-day Judaism. This is what Yom Kippur has become now, “According to Jewish tradition, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into a book, the Book of Life, on Rosh Hashanah, and waits until Yom Kippur to ‘seal’ the verdict. During the Days of Awe (the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), a Jew tries to amend his or her behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against other human beings. The evening and day of Yom Kippur are set aside for public and private petitions and confessions of guilt. At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that they have been forgiven by God.” In other words, Yom Kippur is now seen as the day on which God decides whether you will live or whether you will die during the course of the next year. This decision is based on what you do! According to Rabbi Karen Companez, “There’s a great sense of relief that Yom Kippur is over, and hopefully we’ve been granted another year of life and health.” Hence the traditional greeting, “L’shana tova tikatevu’— may you be inscribed in the Book of Life and have a good year.”
The fact that we are now in what Judaism considers the “Days of Awe” led me to choose our Old Testament lesson for today as our sermon text. There is a picture and a promise here in Isaiah 50 that I think gives us a wonderful opportunity to review what Yom Kippur is all about. For that reason let’s study our text for today under the theme: Yom Kippur— Promised & Fulfilled.
You may remember that Yom Kippur was the one day of the year when the high priest among God’s people was allowed to go through the curtain and enter into the Holy of Holies in the Temple of the Lord. With a censer full of burning coals in his hand the high priest would put incense on the coals to create a fragrant cloud of smoke as he entered into the Holy of Holies. Then he took his finger, dipped it into a bowl that was filled with the blood of a bull and he sprinkled some of that blood on both the top of the “atonement cover” and then on the front of the Ark of the Covenant. That sacrificial blood was to atone for his own sins. Then the high priest would repeat that same procedure using the blood of a goat. That sacrificial blood was to atone for the sins of God’s people. For generation after generation Yom Kippur assured God’s people of God’s promise to them, the promise recorded in Leviticus 16:30, “On this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins.”
This powerful, solemn day provided God’s people with untold comfort and assurance— comfort and assurance that was based solely on what the LORD promised to do for them! Yom Kippur reminded them in a very dramatic and a very graphic way that through the shedding of innocent blood all of their sins were completely forgiven! At the same time, however, the simple fact that the high priest had to go into the Holy of Holies year after year after year emphasized to God’s people that the blood of bulls and goats can not atone for the sins of human beings. Both Yom Kippur and the sacrificial blood were designed to picture and promise an even greater Day of Atonement when an even greater sacrifice of innocent blood would completely pay for all the sins of all people— once and for all! (See Hebrews 7:23-27)
With that in mind let’s turn to our text. Whenever we look at a portion of the Old Testament Scriptures such as our text, like the Ethiopian eunuch it would be good for us to ask ourselves, “Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” (Acts 8:34) While it is possible that these words of our text could find partial fulfillment in the prophet Isaiah himself, ultimately these words could only be completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ our Lord. For example, look at verse four, “The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.”
As a true prophet of the Lord Isaiah had indeed been “instructed” by the Lord God Himself. As a true prophet of the Lord Isaiah had indeed been given the “word that sustains the weary.” What this reminds us is that the comforting message of the Gospel is clearly seen throughout the book of the prophet Isaiah. Think of Isaiah 1:8, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” Think of Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Think of Isaiah 40:1-2, “Comfort, comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” There are indeed many many portions of the book of Isaiah which clearly proclaim the message of the Gospel— the “word that sustains the weary.”
At the same, time, however, this opening portion of our text fits best with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Think about it. When Jesus was twelve years old we find Him in the Temple, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). When Jesus visited His hometown of Nazareth He read from Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor,” and then He told the people, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:18). And in John 14:24 Jesus told His disciples, “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” To me it seems pretty clear that while our text for today could be referring to the prophet Isaiah, these words fit best when see them in the context of our Savior’s ministry here on this earth.
Now let’s turn to the “heart” of this text, shall we. Look at verses five and six, “The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.” From our perspective as New Testament children of God it is all but impossible for us to read these words without remembering what our Lord Jesus Christ endured for us. From Jesus’ willingness in the Garden of Gethsemane to carry out His heavenly Father’s will to Jesus’ willingness to allow Himself to be put on trial by His enemies, from Jesus’ willingness to allow mortal sinful human beings to beat Him, mock Him, spit on Him and then whip Him within an inch of His life to Jesus’ willingness to have mortal sinful human beings nail His hands and feet to a cross where He would suffer the depths of hell itself to pay for our sins (Pointing to the cross)— all of that comes flooding back into our hearts and minds when we read portions of Scripture such as our text for today.
How does this tie in with Yom Kippur? In other words, how does Good Friday tie in with the great Day of Atonement? The New Testament letter to the Hebrews gives us a clear concise answer to that question. In Hebrews 9 we are told, “But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing…When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:7-8, 11-12).
What this means, my friends, is that the Old Testament Yom Kippur was a picture and a promise of what the Sovereign Lord Himself would do for mankind on the hill called Calvary. The eternal Son of God willingly sacrificed His own holy precious blood to atone for our sins. (See 1 Peter 1:18-19) When Jesus therefore declares from the cross “It is finished” (John 19:30) He was proclaiming to all the world “the word that sustains the weary” as Isaiah describes the Gospel message here in our text. This assures you that your sins are forgiven— because of the sacrificial blood of the Lamb of God!
The fact that Yom Kippur has been fulfilled, the fact that the ultimate perfect sacrifice has now been made to atone for our sins enables us to both understand and to revel in the confidence that exudes from the closing verses of our text. Look at verses 7-9. Did Jesus ever doubt the victory that awaited Him on the other side of the cross? (See Hebrews 12:2) Did Jesus ever fear that somehow His suffering and His death would be for naught and that in the end His enemies— our enemies— would win that epic battle for our souls? Never, my friends, never! As we heard in our Gospel lesson for today (Mark 8:27-35) Jesus clearly and confidently told His disciples that just as certainly as He would be killed by His enemies so also He would most certainly victoriously rise from the dead “after three days” (Mark 7:31).
That, my friends, is the confidence that Yom Kippur promised and pictured for God’s Old Testament children. That, my friends, is the confidence that you and I now have because of the fact that that Yom Kippur has been fulfilled. Yes, it is true that every single last one of us can look back over our life and weep over things we have done in rebellion against our Savior God. Yes, it is true that every single last one of us can look inside of ourselves and be shocked— shocked by both the level of pride, shocked by the depth of the depravity that lives within our old sinful nature. But don’t you dare let Satan use your sins to overwhelm you with a burden of guilt! Don’t you dare let Satan use your sins to try to convince you that you are so “hopeless” that God could never love or forgive “someone like you”! The fulfillment of Yom Kippur on the cross of Calvary’s hill guarantees that through faith in what Jesus has done for you His victory is your victory and His confidence is your confidence! Through the atoning blood of the Lamb of God you have every right to lift up your eyes to the cross and confidently say with Isaiah, “It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me. Who is he that will condemn me?” (See also Romans 8:31-34)
My prayer this morning, my friends, is very simple. I pray that as the sun sets on Tuesday night that you will take a moment to remember and reflect on Yom Kippur— the Great Day of Atonement. But, picture in your mind that the sun is setting behind the cross of your Savior and casting a shadow directly in front of you. Then kneel in the shadow of the cross to thank and praise God for the atonement that He has secured for you. And then on Wednesday when the setting sun marks the end of Yom Kippur instead of feeling “a great sense of relief that Yom Kippur is over” I pray that your heart and your life will overflow with the joy and the confidence of knowing that Yom Kippur fulfilled guarantees that your sins are forgiven! (Pointing to the cross) You are a saved child of God!
To God be the glory!