Again the LORD said to Moses,
Leviticus 23:26-32Hebrews 9:12. Into the ritual of the Day of Atonement we need not here enter, after what has been said on the subject under chapter 16. But the reference here is to the spirit of repentance which was to characterize the people on that day. It was, in fact, a call to the whole congregation to repent and be reconciled to God. As the Day of Atonement is in all respects the climax of the sacrificial worship, it may be useful here to notice the spirit which belonged to that worship and the corresponding spirit in man which it demanded.
I. THE SPIRIT OF JUDAISM IS THAT OF EXCLUSION FROM THE DIVINE PRESENCE. Ever since man's fall until the vail was rent at the death of Jesus, man was deservedly kept at a distance from God. Sin is a separating power; as long as it is harboured it prevents near access to him. And even when, in the Exodus, God delivered a chosen people to bring them to himself (Exodus 19:4), they were only permitted to come up to certain barriers round about the holy mount. When, moreover, the Lord transferred his dwelling-place from the top of Sinai to the tent or tabernacle provided by his pilgrim people, he insisted on having a private apartment, railed off from vulgar gaze, and only allowed one representative man, the high priest, to draw nigh unto him once a year. He certainly sent this honoured individual forth with his blessing, to encourage the people waiting without. But the whole arrangement of the Day of Atonement was on the principle of excluding the people until such times as they might profitably have closer access. "God sent his people," says an able writer, "his blessing, to show them that he had not forgotten them. But he would not see them. Even the high priest saw but a very little of him at this annual solemn time. The cloud of fragrant incense filled the most holy place, and barred the view."
II. THERE IS NOTHING SO HUMILIATING AS THIS DENIAL OF ACCESS. On the Day of Atonement the people came to the tabernacle, and saw their select representative enjoy the privilege of drawing nigh to God all alone. Not a man of them dare venture beyond the vail. Nadab and Abihu, who seem to have done so, intoxicated by their elevation to the priesthood and perhaps also by wine, perished before the Lord. The Israelites felt at the tabernacle that they were an excluded people. This would lead to self-examination, and to repentance for the sin which excluded them. Doubtless the ritual of the great Day of Atonement would have a soothing effect upon their spirits. The blessing would fall upon their souls like balm. At the same time, they could not but feel that access to God was for them through a mediator, and that they were kept at a very humiliating distance.
III. OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST HAS GIVEN US THE REALITY OF ACCESS IN THAT HE HAS BECOME OUR FORERUNNER. This is the beautiful idea suggested by the apostle in the Hebrews (Hebrews 6:20). Christ has not entered the holiest to enjoy a privilege in solitude. He has entered it as our Forerunner, to announce our approach. This applies, not only to the everlasting felicity of heaven, but also to present devotional access to God. Through him we are permitted to draw nigh. The vail is rent; therefore we draw near with holy boldness. We are no longer an excluded people, but in the enjoyment of close communion. When the vail was rent at the death of Jesus, the ordinary priests were thereby raised to the privilege of the high priest. All had alike access to God. Hence we are to live up to our privilege as believers; for we are priests unto God, and access is our right through the rending of the vail of our Redeemer's flesh. Thus do we see the secret of penitence on the Day of Atonement, and how it is the preliminary arranged by the All-wise to communion with himself close and eternal. - R.M.E.
For it is a day of atonement.
I. THIS ORDINANCE DIFFERS FROM THE REST IN THIS RESPECT — THAT IT DOES NOT APPEAR TO HAVE HAD ANY COMMEMORATIVE, OR EUCHARISTIC IMPORT; IT WAS, INDEED, A FAST RATHER THAN A FESTIVAL OR FEAST; it was a solemn day of humiliation before God, national humiliation, on which the people were called to an acknowledgment of their sins, and by the sprinkling of the blood of the slain sacrifice, were reminded at once of the judgment which their sins demanded, and of the only remedy which was provided for them. It was calculated to teach a most important lesson, and leave a deep moral impression upon the national mind. But I cannot but think that this ordinance had also a prophetic bearing upon the Jewish people; that, in common with the two other festivals of the seventh month, it was designed to shadow forth the future dealings of the Lord with them, and that it will have its accomplishment in that day when they shall, as a nation, be brought to repentance for their sins, and faith in the blood of the Lamb.
II. When we come to examine more minutely into THE CEREMONIES OBSERVED ON THIS DAY, WE SHALL FIND THAT THEY WERE TYPICAL OF THE GOSPEL SCHEME; and indeed, they present us with one of the most remarkable types contained in the Scriptures. These ceremonies are not mentioned in the chapter before us, but in the sixteenth chapter of this book they are detailed at length. Abstracting what was personal to the high priest himself, let us consider that part which concerned the people at large; and —
1. The offerings are to be considered, and in the first instance the sin-offering. This consisted of two goats, for although only one of them was to be slain, they are evidently to be considered as one offering, and indeed are spoken of as such — "two kids of the goats for a sin-offering." These two combined, then, represent the Saviour in death and life. Both were necessary; Jesus saves us by His life as well as by His death. A similar type to this we have in the ceremony of the cleansing of the leper, where two birds were provided, one of which was to be slain over running water, and the other, after being dipped into the water and blood, and used to sprinkle the leper, was afterwards let loose into the open field (Leviticus 14:1-32). We do not sufficiently dwell upon the life of Jesus, and yet it is this life which saves us (Romans 5:10). But that which was peculiarly characteristic of this day was —
2. The entrance of the high priest within the veil. And what a beautiful illustration have we here of the office which our Redeemer now sustains — the part which He now acts for us. Beloved, "we have a great High Priest, who has passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God." And for what purpose is He there? On whose behalf does He officiate? Let the reply be given in the language of the Holy Ghost — "now to appear in the presence of God for us." Oh! let the words be treasured in our hearts "for us." Unto them belonged the sons of Aaron; unto us belongs the Son of God. If Jesus has passed into the most Holy Place, He has entered there in a public character, as the representative of His people, and every part of the ministry which He sustains in all for them. When the high priest went within the veil he had a defined work to do; he undertook no vague, uncertain commission; the object for which he went, and the results of his meditation were clearly laid down and defined. It was for the chosen people that he ministered, for them he was ordained "in things pertaining unto God" — to make reconciliation for the sins of the people was the task assigned him. And accordingly he carried the names of the twelve tribes upon his shoulders, and upon his breast. And so with our great High Priest; there is no uncertainty in his work, it is all explicitly defined, ordered, and settled by covenant arrangement. But He bears them also in His breast; it; is not merely a matter of compact, of official duty, it is a matter of affection and friendship. "He careth for" us!
3. But when the high priest passed within the veil, he entered "not without blood." He was commanded to carry with him the blood of the sin-offering, and to dip his finger in the blood, and sprinkle it before the mercy-seat (Leviticus 16:14-16). Just so, our "great High Priest," "not by the blood of bulls and of goats, but by His own blood, He has entered in once into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption for us" (Hebrews 9:12). The blood of the sin-offering was commanded to be sprinkled seven times before the mercy-seat, denoting the perfection and completeness of that atonement which it typified. Beloved, we are here reminded of a most important truth, the inherent efficacy of the blood of Jesus to atone for sin.
4. But there is something more which the high priest was commanded to do within the veil, which we must not forget to notice. He was to take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the Lord, and he was to fill his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and to bring it within the veil. And then, when there, he was to sprinkle the incense upon the coals of fire before the Lord, that the smoke of the incense might ascend and cover the mercy-seat (Leviticus 16:12, 13). What a beautiful type have we here of the intercession of our glorious High Priest, ascending as sweet incense perpetually before God! The fire, too, with which this incense was kindled must not be common fire, it must be taken from off the altar of burnt-offering, reminding us of the ground of the Saviour's intercession — His consecration of Him. self to do His Father's will; His self-sacrifice upon the Cross to be consumed by the fire of Jehovah's justice as the sinner's Substitute. Oh! beloved, if we have not fellowship with our God in Christ, if we have not peace of mind and conscience, it is not that He has not opened unto us the bosom of His love; but it is because of our hardness of heart, and want of confidence in His mercy. We are not straitened in Him, but in ourselves.
5. But the whole of the duties of the high priest upon this solemn day were not conducted within the veil; he must come forth again to accomplish the service which awaited him outside. And the people, in the meantime, were expecting his return; "they were waiting for him to reappear and complete the work allotted to the day." And here again we are reminded of the position which the Church of Christ should occupy in the present dispensation — waiting for the reappearing of her Lord — "looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ." For as the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement were not completed inside the veil, so is it with the work of our great High Priest; His ministry in heaven will not accomplish all — there is a work outside the veil which He must come forth to do; and those who are interested in the one are interested also in the other (Hebrews 9:27, 28). When the high priest came forth from the sanctuary, and appeared again unto the people, he first dispatched the scapegoat bearing all their iniquities into the wilderness, and then united with them in offering the burnt-offering unto the Lord. And such shall be the results of the second advent of our Saviour. Then shall sin be completely put away, and every trace of it removed for ever. And then, too, shall Jesus and His people unite to offer the burnt-offering unto God. Then in the midst of His redeemed He shall sum up all their pure and holy service; and, blessed and consecrated by the presence of incarnate Godhead, the untiring energies of redeemed humanity shall be for ever consuming, yet unconsumed, upon the altar of eternal love.
(J. B. Lowe, B. A.)
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