A Christian's response to Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, begins at sundown this Sunday. In observation of this holy day thousands of Orthodox Jews will purchase chickens, wave them over their heads three times, praying for their sins to be transferred to the birds. They will then witness the slaughter of the bird on their behalf. According to New York Rabbi Shea Hecht, pictured at left, "The main part of the service is handing the chicken to the slaughterer and watching the chicken being slaughtered. Because that is where you have an emotional moment, where you say, 'Oops, you know what? That could have been me."

I'm a notorious animal lover, one who cried for hours after her two pet laying-hens were killed by a dog. But let me assure you, my motivation in addressing this story today is not my compassion for chickens, it is for the subjects of the article that brought this story to my attention. My heart is not breaking for the birds, though I abhor cruelty to animals. My heart breaks for the Jews. The article ends with these words:
Come Saturday, the sidewalk in front of his yeshiva will be packed with believers. It will be loud; it will be bloody. And 4,000 chickens will pay the price of atonement.
There is an even greater tragedy than the death of the animals. It is in the false hope it gives each one who sacrifices. "For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins...." Can chickens take away the sin of man?

The continuation of the sacrificing of animals after the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ was made is exactly the practice the writer of the biblical letter to the Hebrews was trying to prevent. Shortly after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, there were Hebrew Christians who were being tempted to go back to the old ritual of animal sacrifice, ostensibly in order to avoid persecution from Orthodox Jews. They likely reasoned that it wouldn't hurt anything, that is was a good old tradition, and one, after all, that God Himself had instituted. Perhaps they even thought it would be a good reminder for them of the high cost of sin. The inspired writer to the Hebrew Christians, understood their thinking, but had a stern warning for them, he wrote:
"Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not only into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins....

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

'Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God.
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.'

When he said above, 'You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings' (these are offered according to the law) then he added, 'Behold, I have come to do your will.' He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

'This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,'

then he adds,

'I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.'

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin." Hebrews 9:22-10:18
In fact, if we reject "the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is through His flesh" (Heb.10:20) and...
"...if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishments, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay.' and again, 'The Lord will judge his people.' It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Hebrews 10:26-31
God has offered His eternal and only begotten Son as atonement for the sins of the world, and His blood to wash away sin, once for all time. The sacrificial offering of the blood of the perfectly holy Son of God, has once and for all rendered the offering of animals profane. What an offense it is to "spurn the Son of God" - to reject the Holy offering of God in preference for the blood of bulls and goats...and chickens.
"But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God." Hebrews 9:11-14

"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful." Hebrews 10: 19-23
Christ is the perfect sacrifice. Christ is the perfect High Priest. A perfect and eternal way to God has been opened for us through His perfect Atonement for our sins. Let us not seek access to God any longer through works of our own, or through sacrifices God has now declared unfit. Let us enter the Holy place boldly trusting in nothing but Christ, our sacrificial Lamb.

And as for the Jews who reject God's sacrifice. Let us not dare be puffed up in our attitude toward them, as though we brought ourselves to believe, as though our faith comes from ourselves and makes us somehow superior, as though it were not God's grace alone which saves us, but the use of our own wisdom. We are all born sinners, rejecting from our earliest days the authority and wisdom of God. If we recognize the truth of the gospel, it is only because Christ has given us eyes that see. I will let the apostle Paul, himself a Jew, explain what the proper attitude of Christians toward the Jews should be:
"Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
'The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob';
'and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.'
"As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

"Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" Romans 11:25-33

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