Can I confess that every time I sit down to write a new entry for this blog, I feel more and more inadequate? There is always a certain tremble in my heart, but today I undertake to write as a Gentile believer an appeal to others in the Christian church to consider a day that many do not even know originated from the Father in their own holy script: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Out of that necessity, I want to describe Yom Kippur very briefly as one of the appointed times of the LORD (emphasis indicating His Name) in which corporate atonement was made for Israel once a year. If you’re totally unfamiliar with Yom Kippur, read Leviticus 16 to get a sense of what the Father set forth for this day.
I’m only touching briefly on what the day is because the purpose of my writing today is to address the question implied by my title: Why should happy-seeking Christians consider Yom Kippur?
Because happy-seeking Christians love what God loves
Somehow we’ve allowed this truth to become cliché, but the Father promised Abraham that He would bless those who blessed him (Genesis 12:3). Even if you’re one who thinks that applies exclusively to Abraham or to the children of the promise (but for some reason not to Jacob) – let’s at least come face to face with one thing: the Father loves Israel. Like, head-over-heels, singing-love-songs, always-take-you-back kind of love. And when we love what the Father loves, we can’t help but find happy (read: blessing).
What does that have to do with a day of affliction?
Let’s be sober about this. Yom Kippur is not a day of rejoicing. In fact, it’s a day when all of Israel fasts to honor the Scripture’s command to “afflict yourselves” (Leviticus 16:31). It is a day of sorrow, repentance, and, frankly, terror for the unsaved Jewish people. Most miss the spiritual significance of the Day of Atonement being a Sabbath rest for them and wrongly afflict themselves and perform good deeds leading up to Yom Kippur in a desperate attempt to earn their way into the Book of Life. The more terrifying reality is that they know their sin cannot be atoned for except by sacrifices that can no longer take place due to the absence of the temple.
There may be many Jewish people who are cold to these terrors due to the same secular influences that harden our own hearts to eternal realities, but can we as cold to their plight?
What about Jesus? How can the church relate to Yom Kippur?
As Christians, we have been personally relieved from this terror because we know that Messiah has already come and shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins. Many in the church who do know of the Day of Atonement choose to observe it as a celebration of that fact or to ignore it as an acknowledgement of that fact. I did both at different times in my life, until I finally asked the Father this week in prayer why, as a believer, I should “afflict” myself on Yom Kippur rather than rejoice in the atonement that was already made for me.
I can only tell you that I shortly found myself imagining the scene in Israel on Yom Kippur (the same day I was praying) as I just described it to you. My eyes brimmed with tears, my heart gripped with likely only a sliver of the compassion and the zeal that the Father has for His people, Israel, and I could only blush at my own selfishness.
My heart was like Jonah’s when it should have been like that of Moses or Paul.
Change our hearts, O God.
While it is perfectly legitimate and even praiseworthy to rejoice in our salvation, should not the church also have its own interests so crucified that it can ask with Moses to be blotted out of the book of life or with Paul to be cursed and cut off from Christ if it would save Israel? It’s hard to imagine that today’s replacement theology church would intercede on Israel’s behalf if the Father wanted to destroy them and make a people out of us, instead. That is a reality that should make us blush, beloved!
The blessing of loving what the Father loves is not only a joy, but it is also a grieving. It is easy to rejoice when He rejoices, but it is when we learn to weep when He weeps – and He weeps over Jerusalem – that we begin to discover the blessing of a life poured out and raised up again.
What can we do?
Yom Kippur took place last Tuesday through Wednesday evening. Next year, it begins at sundown on September 13, 2013. If you observe it next year, I pray that you will spend the day in prayer and fasting for Israel (and perhaps as well for the lost nations who have no such annual reminder of their eternal state) as the Father reveals His heart to you. If you can, take the day off and consider attending a service at a local synagogue or Messianic Jewish congregation.
But it’s more than observing a day. It’s about the desperate need for a change of heart toward those that move the heart of the Father. This mystery of Israel and the church was the heartbeat of Art Katz, and I urge you to listen to his messages and read his writings on the subject. Recently, I’ve also found great insight from some younger voices in Dalton Thomas and Bryan Purtle.