THE DAY OF ATONEMENT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-7-87 7:30 p.m.
The title of the message is The Day of Atonement. As I said a moment ago, when we turn to such a theme, or a topic, or a doctrine, we are speaking of the very heart of the Christian message, and the whole substance of the revealed Word of God in the Bible. The reason I think of it and the reason that I speak of it at this time is because, as all of us are aware, at this season of the year the Jewish community is observing those high and holy days that belong to the heart of the Old Testament ritual.
The Jewish new year Rosh Hashanah is just at this time, and it is placed on the first day of the seventh month [Leviticus 23:24-25]. Then the tenth day of that seventh month, ten days later, after Rosh Hashanah, is the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur [Leviticus 23:27]. When you read the Bible, actually Israel had two beginnings for its new year. One was in the spring: the first month and the fourteenth day of that first month was the observance of the Passover [Leviticus 23:5]. That first month was one of the new years of ancient Israel. Then one-half year later, in the fall, is the new year that is observed by the Jewish community that lives in Dallas and is a part of Jewry around the world.
The word “atonement” is the only word that the English language has contributed to theological nomenclature. “At-one-ment,” at-one-ment, atonement, at-one-ment, means bringing together two who have been antagonistic toward one another, and bringing them together into a relationship of peace and harmony and fellowship, “atonement.” Now it’s an Old Testament word; it appears only one time in the King James Version, and that in Romans 5:11: “We joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the atonement.” That’s the only time in the New Testament you will find the word katallagen: it actually means “reconciliation.” So to repeat: “atonement” refers to a reconciliation; bringing into peace and harmony and fellowship two who have been antagonistic.
Now the root verb of “atonement,” kopher, occurs one hundred ten times in the Old Testament; and that, principally in Leviticus and Numbers. The root idea of kopher, atonement, is “to cover.” You have a use of the word in Genesis 6:14: God says to Noah, “Make thee an ark; and kopher, pitch it within and without with kopher, with pitch.” The pitch, or the asphalt, the pitch covered the ark and protected Noah and his family. So the blood of expiation stands between the sinner and the broken outraged law of a holy God [Exodus 12:13; Hebrews 9:22]. The covering for the ark protected the family of Noah from the raging waters of the flood [Genesis 6:14]. Kopher, the covering of the blood protects us from the outraged law and judgment of Almighty God [Exodus 12:13; Hebrews 9:22].
Now, the Day of Atonement [Leviticus 16:1-34]: the Day of Atonement was the day upon which the people afflicted themselves in confession, unworthy before God; and the ritual, led by the high priest, brought to the instruments of worship the tabernacle and all that was in it, and to the people themselves a covering, a protection, a salvation between them and the great God of holiness and purity. On that Day of Atonement, the high priest first made atonement for himself and his house [Leviticus 16:6]. It was just not they beyond the tabernacle gate who were sinners, but the high priest himself was a sinner, all of his household were sinners; and first he must make atonement for himself and for his house.
Then second he made atonement for the tabernacle and for all that was in the tabernacle [Leviticus 16:16]. It had itself been fouled, rendered unholy by the presence of the people. Whatever they touched, wherever they walked, wherever they were, there was impurity and unholiness and sin. So after the high priest had made expiation, kopher, atonement, covering for himself and his house, then he made kopher, he made covering, atonement, propitiation, expiation, he made it for all the things in the tabernacle and for the tabernacle itself [Leviticus 16:5-19].
Then last of all, he made atonement for the people [Leviticus 16:21]. And that was done in an unusually effective and tremendously typical way. On that day—and this is the sixteenth chapter [of Leviticus] out of which you read—on that Day of Atonement he took two goats; one of them he slew, a covering [Leviticus 16:20-22]. “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission” [Hebrews 9:22]. One of them he slew as a sin offering before the Lord [Leviticus 16:20-22]; and the second goat, over his head the high priest placed his hands, and he confessed above the head of that second goat all of the sins of the people. And that goat was led away, and taken away into a land desolate and uninhabited, and driven away [Leviticus 16:20-22]. It was a picture that in the shedding of blood all of our sins are taken away [Hebrews 9:22]. As Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath the Lord removed our transgressions from us.” The blood sprinkled upon the mercy seat itself [Leviticus 16:14-15] provided a covering for our sins. And the goat sent away became a symbol of the Lord separating us from the penalty of our sins [Leviticus 16:30].
Now the purpose of the Day of Atonement was fourfold. Number one: the day shows, it presents, it dramatizes, it pictures God’s abhorrence of sin. Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death.” [Ezekiel 18:4]: “The soul that sins shall die.” In Hebrews 9:22: “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission.” It might surprise you that I would talk thus to children. When children are brought to me—and as you know, whenever the child comes and confesses his faith in the Lord, and the mother and father stand with the youngster, I ask the father and mother after the child is carefully taught, I ask the father and mother to bring me the child, and I visit with the child before the youngster is baptized—and when I talk to the youngster, one of the things that I begin with is this: “Do you realize that you face the judgment of death, do you? Do you know what a cemetery is?” I ask. “Have you ever seen a cemetery? Do you know what a cemetery is for? And do you realize that you face that ultimate judgment, you? Not just your father or your mother or your pastor, do you realize that you face the ultimate judgment of death, that you shall die? Do you realize that that is because you are a sinner? It isn’t just your daddy or mother or your friend or I, do you realize that you are a sinner and that you face the judgment of death?” The gospel has no pertinence, and the message of Christ has no application, and the baptismal waters have no symbolism unless you are a confessed sinner facing the judgment of inevitable death. That is what the Bible is about; it’s what the gospel message is about. It’s what the marvelous announcement of the good news is about: we are lost sinners and we face an inevitable, inexorable judgment of death, and what shall we do? [Romans 6:23; Ezekiel 18:4]. Where shall we turn? Who can save us? That is the purpose of the Day of Atonement: showing God’s judgment upon sin.
Number two: the Day of Atonement shows the pervasive nature of sin. It’s not just over there, or out yonder, or within them. The Day of Atonement, the covering of the blood was on the mercy seat itself; it was in the Holy of Holies; it was in that golden altar of incense, of prayer; it was the seven-branched lampstand; it was the table of showbread; it was the curtains, it was the tabernacle, it was everything in the Holy Place, all of it [Leviticus 16:15-19]. It showed the pervasiveness of sin. It isn’t just I have sinned, or he has sinned, or she has sinned, or they have sinned; it is that all of us have sinned, fallen short of the holiness and the perfection of God [Romans 3:23]. We are a sinful people; the gospel begins there. And the judgment of the righteous God upon our sin is inevitable death, death universal [Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23].
Wherever you turn there are the evidences of death. We’re in the fall time of the year. What is the fall time of the year? The whole earth begins to die: the trees, the shrubs, the grass, all of it. We live in a world of death; and the Day of Atonement is a picture of the pervasiveness of that judgment [Romans 3:23; Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23].
Number three: the Day of Atonement shows by the repetitive nature of the ritual, year by year by year, that the way of salvation was not perfected. Isn’t that an unusual thing? The fact that it was repeated, and it was repeated, and it was repeated, and it was repeated was a type and a picture of the inability of priest or ritual or tabernacle to wash away sins. It had to be repeated year after year [Hebrews 10:1-4]; and that brought to us the word and the type and the symbol that God had some other way, some other ultimate and final way to make that ultimate and final atonement.
Now, turn to Hebrews 9, Hebrews 9, verses 7 through 10; Hebrews 9, verses 7 through 10:
Now into the second, the Holy Place, went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:
The Holy Ghost thus signifying, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing:
Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;
Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of the consummation in Christ.
Then it goes on with the ultimate work of our Lord. Now we’re going to continue that in number four. Now remember number three: the Day of Atonement repeating, repeating, repeating; God was showing that the way of salvation was not perfect, it had to be repeated and repeated and repeated [Hebrews 9:7-10].
Now, number four: the Day of Atonement shows by types and figures that our salvation ultimately lies in the atoning death of Christ. Now we continue with verse 11; Hebrews 9, verse 11—up above it said those Days of Atonement were repeated, showing it was not perfected—now let’s continue:
But Christ being come an High Priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, not of this building;
Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered into once into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.
For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:
How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
Now verse 24:
For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:
Nor yet that He should offer Himself often—
that He should die again and again and again—
as the high priest entereth into the Holy Place every year with blood of others;
For then must He often have suffered from the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time apart from sin unto salvation.
The Day of Atonement and the sprinkling of blood look forward to that ultimate and final day when Christ should once for all make atonement for the sins of the people. And that is perfect: never needs to be repeated again [Hebrews 9:11-14, 24-28].
Now I conclude: this is the central doctrine of the Christian faith. When you preach this, you are preaching the summation of the whole message of Christ. The Old Testament ceremonies were but types and symbols that look forward to the death of our Lord [Hebrews 10:1]. And after the death of Jesus, you don’t need a type, you don’t need a symbol; when He died the veil of the temple was rent, how? From the bottom to the top, as though men pulled it apart, tore it asunder? The veil of the temple, when Jesus died [Matthew 27:32-50], that veil between the Holy of Holies and the Holy Place, that veil was parted by the hand of God: at the top and down to the bottom [Matthew 27:51]. God did it. And those types and symbols are forever passed away; they’re not needed. They were but pictures looking forward to the holy day when Christ bore our sins away [1 Peter 2:24]. He paid the ultimate penalty for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3; Hebrews 10:4-14].
So the atonement of Christ looks in three directions. Number one: the death of our Lord, the atonement of Jesus for our sins, looks toward sin. First Peter 1:18: “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold. . .but with the precious blood of Christ” [1 Peter 1:18-19]. The atoning death of Christ has to do with sin. That’s why He came into this world: to die for us sinners [Hebrews 10:5-14].
Number two: the atoning death of Christ looks toward us. Christ is our reconciliation to God. We come through Him to the Lord who sits on His holy throne in heaven. We have a right—even though we are sinners—to stand uncondemned in the very presence of the holy and righteous Lord. Now I want you to turn to the fifth chapter of the Book of Romans; Romans chapter 5. We’re going to begin reading at verse 6; Romans chapter 5:
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
Scarcely for a righteous man will one die: possibly for a good man some would dare to die.
But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His intercessory life up there in heaven.
And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
The atonement of Christ not only looks toward sin [1 Peter 1:18; Hebrews 10:5-14], it not only looks toward us [Romans 5:6-11], but last, it looks toward God, our heavenly Father; 1 John 2:1-2, “If any man sin”—and that’s universal—“if any one sin, we have an Advocate with the Father,” up there in heaven, “Jesus Christ the righteous: And He is the propitiation for our sins [Romans 5:11]: and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world.” To propitiate is to make favorable, to render kindly, generously. And Jesus, having made atonement for our sins, is in the presence of God today making propitiation, pleading for us, our Advocate, our Intercessor in heaven [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25]. He not only died covering our sin with His blood [1 Corinthians 15:3], but He rose again [Matthew 28:1-7; 1 Corinthians 15:4]: He lives and is in the presence of the Father in heaven [Hebrews 9:24], there making appeal for us, interceding for us, propitiating, making favorable [1 John 2:1-2]—God’s wonderful forgiveness extended toward us.
Sweet people, there is nothing that could ever come to the heart of man that is so meaningful and so precious as the saving message of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], the covering of our unrighteousness, and He was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25]; that someday we be presented in the presence of the great Glory, justified, loved, accepted, a child of the King [Jude 1:24].
We’re going to sing us a song of appeal. And while we sing it, a family, a couple, a one somebody you giving your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:9-10], coming into the fellowship of our dear church, or answering the call of the Spirit in your heart; while we sing this song I’ll be standing right here. You make that decision in your heart. And while we sing the appeal you come and give me your hand. “Pastor, God has spoken to me, and I’m answering tonight with my life.” May the Lord bless and angels attend while you come, as we stand and as we sing.