Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 9 2019 - Leviticus 16:1-22 – The Day of Atonement

Two of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, had sought to offer unauthorised offerings to the Lord and had been struck dead (Leviticus 10:1-4). They may have sought to enter into the Holy of Holies (or Most Holy Place) – i.e. into God's presence – in an unauthorised manner. Certainly they had done so arrogantly. But their father, Aaron, as the Chief Priest of Israel must be able to enter into God's presence on behalf of God's people. How is he going to be able to stand in the presence of God? How, for that matter, can anyone stand in the presence of the living God who is burning in holiness? The ceremony of the Day of Atonement provides something of an answer to this question.

On this one day of the year, Aaron and his successor as High Priest, is first to purify himself by offering a young bull as a sacrifice for his own sin. He is then to wash himself thoroughly and is to put on clean linen garments, the garments of a priest.

Aaron is then to take two goats for the people and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Lots are to be cast to decide which goat will be sacrificed on behalf of the people and which will act as the scapegoat. The sacrificial goat is to be slaughtered and, just as Aaron has done with the bull's blood sacrificed to atone for his own sin, Aaron is to take it into the Most Holy place and sprinkle it on the atonement cover which is on top of the ark of the covenant. In this way he will make atonement before the Lord for the sins of the people. The blood of sacrifice has been shed in their place.

Then Aaron is to come out of the tent and lay his hands on the head of the second live goat and confess over it all the "wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites." The goat is then driven away into the wilderness, symbolically taking away with it all the sins of the people.

This ceremony was to be performed annually by Aaron and his successors.

Aren't you glad that it is no longer necessary for us to perform this rather ghastly and bloody ceremony? Jesus Christ has made the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice for all our sins through the shedding of his own blood upon the cross. Risen from the dead he is now our Great High Priest who lives for ever in the presence of God, interceding for us in the courts of heaven. Our sins have been dealt with once and for all. There is no further need for any sacrifice for sin.

Let me return to the key question that gave rise to this extraordinary passage of Scripture: How can any of us stand in the presence of a holy God? The Day of Atonement provides the beginnings of an answer but it is only in Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, that this question finds its full and final answer. Jesus, our Great High Priest, did not need first to offer any sacrifice for his own sins – he was without sin. Nor is he the only one who can enter into God's presence; he has opened the way for each one of us to come before God: "Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

Father God, we thank you for the Lord Jesus who offered himself and shed his own blood for the forgiveness of our sins. We thank you that no further sacrifice is demanded from our hands except the sacrifice of heartfelt thanksgiving and praise. Lord, we are aware of our own sin and failings and readily confess them before you. Thank you that Christ has borne them all away so that they are removed from us as far as the east is from the west. Thank you that, trusting in him, yours is a throne of grace and not of judgment. May your Spirit encourage us to come confidently into your presence with both praise and petition, knowing that you are always ready to receive us and hear our prayers.

Peter Misselbrook