“Also the tenth day of the seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement”
This coming week Jews around the world will celebrate Yom Kippur. It is the holiest day of the year in Judaism. It is a time of repentance. According to tradition, the Jews believe on that day God inscribes and seals each person’s fate for the coming year and puts it in a book called the Book of Life. As believers in Christ, we are familiar with the teaching in the New Testament about a book called the Book of Life. In that book God records the name of every individual who places their faith in Jesus Christ. It is different from the Book of Life in the Jewish religion. Because the Jewish Book of Life is believed to hold a Jew’s fate for the coming year, each Jew tries to amend their behavior on Yom Kippur with public and private petitions and confessions of guilt, hoping that by the end of the holy date they have been forgiven by God, and their fate for the coming year will be a positive one.
In the Old Testament this sacred day was called the Day of Atonement. It was the one day of the year when the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies. But before he could enter, he needed to first sacrifice a bull for a sin offering for himself and his family. He also had to present two goats. One of those goats was sacrificed and its’ blood sprinkled on the ark of the covenant inside the Holy of Holies. The other goat was referred to as the scapegoat. The High Priest would place his hands on the scapegoat’s head, confess the rebellion and sin of the Israelites, and then give the goat to an appointed man, who would then release it into the wilderness. That way the Israelites would be forgiven for another year. That forgiveness is now what the Jews seek through the celebration of Yom Kippur.
But there was another aspect of the Day of Atonement that I find of great interest. That was the preparation the High Priest had to make of himself before he could enter the Holy of Holies on that sacred day. First, he had to enter a changing room and literally strip himself. He had to strip off his priestly garments and change into a simple white covering. He also had to enter the Holy of Holies barefoot. The idea was that there could be no ostentation or pretense about him. He had to make himself as simple and humble a human being as he could so that he could be in the presence of the most holy God.
I find in the priest’s preparation a very profound lesson on how we should evaluate our attitude and prepare ourselves to come before God for prayer and worship. We must first strip ourselves of our pride and the selfish thoughts that distract us. We need to confess every sin that might blemish our time with God. We need to clear our minds and hearts of our busyness and worldly concerns. We must come before our Holy God with an attitude of meekness and submissiveness, having an undistracted focus on him.
When we come before God in prayer and worship, we are entering our own personal Holy of Holies with the One who is all holy. Therefore, like the Old Testament priest, we need to leave our sinful garments…..in the changing room.