Atonement, At-One With God

There are seven festivals in the Bible that picture steps in God’s salvation plan. Since Jesus Christ is the focal point of that plan, He is also the focal point of each festival. Perhaps that is one reason why the New Testament church observed all seven of these God-given Biblical Festivals.

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With the last sacred festival, which was the Feast of Trumpets, we began a series about what the Bible calls the Feasts of the Lord. We asked the question, “Why keep the feasts?” And we saw that the New Testament church, as our model, observed those days. So we can take it that they are part of New Testament Christianity. We believe that we should follow the example of the early church. We saw that we keep them to worship God. We saw that we keep them to know about our destiny with God, because they show what God is doing with us. And we also saw that all those reasons are good ones, but they are not the main reason why we keep the feasts. And actually this festival – more than any other festival of the seven – clarifies the deepest reason why we keep the feasts of God. It’s actually in the name – Atonement – at one with God. All these days – the plan of salvation – everything God does – is all about creating a family. It’s all about becoming at one with God. And these days are about that relationship with God and with others.

What is the foundation of our relationship with God? Let’s think about that a little bit. Let’s go to John 3:14. It says there:

Jn. 3:14 – Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.

Have you ever met people that just make you feel bad? Not as good as? Kind of condemning in their approach? That’s not how God is. He doesn’t do that to us. God created us out of desire for a family. We’re His children. He loves us. He wants to see us succeed, and to prosper, and to be blessed and to grow. In spite of that, we’ve separated ourselves from Him by our actions that have taken us way off away from His way of being and His life.

The whole story of this terrible situation begins in the Garden of Eden. We know that God made Adam and Eve and that they were in close relationship with God. They realized they needed Him, trusted Him. They spent time with Him, they talked to Him and they loved Him. But then they made a terrible mistake. They listened to the devil. They disobeyed. And that created guilt and emotional distance from God in their minds. So we see there, in Genesis – the early chapters – that they were hiding from God – hiding from their Creator. They began to develop resistance to Him. And then they began blaming each other. Long story short, they lost their relationship with their Creator. So there they were, out on their own, fending for themselves. And the rest of the Bible is all about how we’ve gone way off and how God is working to draw us back to Him again. He hasn’t given up on us.

A few years ago I took a course on Atttachment Theory. It related to my other career in counseling. And interestingly, I learned that one of the hallmarks of a person who is securely attached to their parents is the inclination to restore relationships when they go bad. And every human family suffers relational ruptures. But secure families move back toward relationship. They seek to heal the differences in the problems. And that is what God is doing with all of us. And the only way to pull us all back from isolation was an act so extreme that it would get our attention and prove to all of us – every last one – that God loves us. And that act, of course, was the death of Jesus Christ.

Elaine and I saw an excellent movie recently. It’s called Fireproof. It was made by the same people who made the movie, Facing the Giants. I don’t know if you are familiar with that. I may be a bit hazy on the details, but I know that a church in the South made both of these films. Members of the congregation wrote the screenplay, produced the film, directed it and acted out the parts as well. How much fun was that for them – a terrific project! I remember a television interview with the pastor. He played the coach of the Giants, who were the adversaries of the heroes. They asked him if he liked playing his part, and he said that he had fun, but he wouldn’t give up his day job for it. I think they made $11,000,000 off of that movie. Quite interesting.

So they decided to do it again. They made a second movie. This time they hired a professional actor to play the key role. You can still see a lot of the congregational members in bit parts. So they’re having a great time. But the movie is about a guy who is a fireman and his marriage is on the rocks. It’s because he is an idiot when it comes to women. Of course, what man isn’t? But what woman understands men? Anyway, his father comes to him while he is deep in the midst of this marital crisis and challenges him to take a forty-day challenge to restore his marriage. He gives him a book about what he should do on each of these forty days. He tells his son that, in this challenge his faith in Jesus Christ was restored – and so was their marriage. And his son, hearing what his father said, tells his dad that he’s really happy for him and his mother, and he’s glad that they found Christ and all that, but then he says that he isn’t the guy who needs religion. He doesn’t need Christ as a crutch. He doesn’t need to pray. He can take care of himself. He’s a good guy. He saves people’s lives. He pays his taxes. He’s not a criminal. And all his marriage problems are his wife’s fault anyway. At this point he kind of goes on a little rant about it. She doesn’t respect him. She doesn’t trust him. She doesn’t love him. She doesn’t communicate with him. She doesn’t spend time with him. She doesn’t need him. She’s off in her own world. And it is while he is ranting out all of these negatives about his wife, he realizes that he has just described his relationship with God. Doesn’t respect Him. Doesn’t trust Him. Doesn’t communicate with Him. Doesn’t spend time with Him. Doesn’t need Him. And he’s off in his own world doing his own thing. The movie, very powerfully, shows how we all not only need God, but how we’ve gone way off from Him and need to be rescued – pulled back – made at one with God once again.

Let’s go to Hebrews 9. I want to show you something very interesting here. Paul explains the Day of Atonement and what it means for Christians here. Did you here that? Paul explains the Day of Atonement and what it means for Christians – here in the New Testament. It says in Hebrews 9:1:

Heb. 9:1 – Now the first covenant had regulations for worship, and also an earthly sanctuary. We know about the tabernacle. A tabernacle was set up. In the first room were the lampstand, the table, the consecrated bread. This was called the holy place. But then beyond the second curtain was a room called the most holy place, which had the golden altar of incense, the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded and the stone tablets of the covenant. And above the ark were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the atonement cover. So there’s this box, actually – what it is – with a lid on it. And on the lid are some gold cherubim whose wings touch. He’s says, “We can’t discuss these things in detail now.” It would have been good to know what he knew, because we don’t know much more than he knows right here.
He says in verse 6:

V-6 – When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year – and never without blood, which he offered himself and for the sins of the people, which they had committed in ignorance. So there was a sacrifice and the priest took the blood from the sacrificed lamb and went into the most holy place once a year to offer a sacrifice. And this “once a year” – this day – was the Day of Atonement.

Now if Paul had stopped there, I wouldn’t have thought so much of this. But notice what he said next, in verse 8:

V-8 – The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the most holy place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacles was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time – this tabernacle that existed in the time of Moses was an illustration for us that has meaning for us today – indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings – external regulations applied until the time of the new order. When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man made – that is to say, not a part of this creation.

So that tabernacle was only a picture. It was a picture of Christ’s sacrifice. So the Day of Atonement for New Testament Christians really is all about Jesus Christ.

It says in verse 12:

V-12 – He did not enter by the means of the blood of goats and calves, but He entered the most holy place once for all by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption for us. The blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean, sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God?

So the Day of Atonement is all about God drawing us back to Him through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We just read it right out of the New Testament. When Paul wants to explain what Jesus Christ is all about to the early church, he goes to the Day of Atonement. The sacrifices that they were familiar with were just a picture of what He did for everyone.

Now people will say, “Yes, but Paul clearly says that holy days, along with the sacrifices and washings, are no longer necessary.” Okay, let’s read it again. Verse 10:

V-10 – They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings – external regulations applying until the time of the new order. Do you see anything about festivals being done away with there? Washings? Yes. Sacrifices? Yes. Food and drink offerings? Yes. No longer necessary? Well, it’s clear in the New Testament that the church didn’t sacrifice or do the washings, but they did keep the holy days. Paul talked about keeping the fast. The only ritual fast mentioned in the Bible is on the Day of Atonement, so that’s the one he was talking about. And Paul is here showing the New Testament significance of the Day of Atonement.

They were not just harvest festivals for an agrarian nation. They were not just Jewish holidays or holy days, but days for all time with Jesus Christ smack in the middle of all of them. He is, in fact, the meaning of the holy days. We need atonement. We need to be drawn back to Him. And that’s what this day is all about.

Now, let’s think about something. The first festival, which is Passover, points strongly toward the sacrifice of Christ. We know that he was killed on Passover. So why does Atonement come back around and cover the same territory again? I suppose we can’t hear that too much – we need it so badly – but there is another reason. And this reason is an example of how we need to keep the holy days, if we really want to clear away the confusion about what God is doing with us.

There is a great dilemma in Christianity today. Most Christian people are genuinely confused about the idea of heaven and a resurrection from the dead. And most of them believe they die and then go to heaven. So that means that they’re not really dead, doesn’t it? So if that’s true – if they’re not really dead – why would they need to be resurrected? I mean, what’s the deal? Which way is it? Well, these last four festivals…they don’t clear away all the mystery. You know, great is the mystery of godliness and He knows a lot of things that we don’t know yet. But He has revealed a lot of things to us in the Bible. And these four festivals clear up heaven or resurrection confusion.

People die. Death is like sleep, we’re told in the scriptures. Death has no consciousness. When Jesus was in the grave for three days and three nights, He was dead. He was unconscious. And then He was resurrected and ascended to heaven to be with God before He came back to earth to teach the disciples. That three days would have been a perfect time for Him to go to heaven, wouldn’t it? His immortal soul could have gone there. And that way He would have been ready to go to the disciples immediately. But that’s clearly not what happened. He was resurrected at the end of three days and three nights. And He ascended to heaven and then later they saw Him. So it is clear that He had to go to heaven after He was resurrected. He was dead for three days and three nights. In fact, the whole thing about His death was that it was a death. And without God to resurrect Him, life would not have been restored to Him.

And the last fourth, fifth and sixth festivals show us how God is going to draw all of us back to Him. Christ returns to establish a physical kingdom on this earth. We know that. At that time, all who have demonstrated faithfulness to Christ will be resurrected to help Him in this kingdom – to plant more seeds and harvest more children for His family. After a thousand years of this kingdom, all the rest, who died in ages past, will be resurrected and given a chance to develop a relationship with God. How do we know that? Well, Trumpets is about Christ’s return. Atonement is about drawing us back to Him. The Feast of Tabernacles is about the kingdom. And the last day of the Feast is about that great resurrection. It’s all spelled out. God is fair. No need to worry about all the Muslims, the Buddhists, the Hindus, tribal people, agnostics, atheists, premature infants – all those who died without knowing Christ. Scriptures tells us – the plan of God tells us – through these holy days that no one is going to lose life because the missionary had a flat tire – because we just couldn’t reach everybody. There’s a time for those folks.

I remember the exact moment I understood that truth. I grew up mainstream Protestant. And I remember the exact moment that the fog cleared away and understood what God was going to do. It was like a light went on! It all made so much sense at last. I mean, how amazing is God! Do you know when I understood that? It was at the Feast of Tabernacles – on the last day of the Feast – when it was explained how God was going to save everybody.

So the Passover shows us the need for Jesus Christ in the church – for those whom God is working with in this life. And Atonement shows us that it is going to be exactly the same for everyone in the future. Jesus Christ is for all ages. And Atonement teaches us that – that all humankind is going to be made at one with God – drawn back to Him. And without the Day of Atonement and the other festivals, we wouldn’t know how He is going to be for all ages – and how He is fair. But by the festivals, the mystery is cleared away. Clarity comes with observing these days. There are things to be learned there, but you can’t learn them unless you keep them.

Have you ever looked at a Bible commentary or some of the Bible dictionaries and looked up different holy days? You can tell the people writing about it never kept them, because they don’t really understand how they work. But all that clarity comes when we start to observe those days.

Let’s go look at something else related to this day. It’s in Revelation 20, verse 1.

Rev. 20:1 – And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the abyss, and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon – that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan – and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the abyss and locked it, and sealed it over him, and kept him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. And after that he must be set free for a short time.

So here’s this symbolic picture, or image, of Satan being restrained and not allowed to influence people any longer. We have always traditionally associated this event with the Day of Atonement. And there is a good reason for that. The devil was deeply involved in our loss of relationship with God in the Garden, wasn’t he? That’s where it all began. And we’re told that he is a deceiver and that he does all he can to keep us separated from God to this very day. In looking around we can know that he is very good at that. And that atonement is in between the return of Christ and the establishment of the kingdom. And in Revelation it shows us that in between these two events, he is bound. So that’s another indicator of the meaning of this day. Before humankind can become one with God, the source of the separation is going to have to be taken away.

Now, some people – from my experience, it’s those inclined toward prophecy and those who are inclined toward the devil – some people just see the devil under every rock – focus on this event so tightly that they lose sight of the real importance of the day. Satan is bound for a reason. And when we understand why, then we get closer to the real meaning of the Day of Atonement and also for all the sacred festivals.

In times past, I preached that Atonement is about the restoration of a kingdom – the Kingdom of God that once existed here on the earth in the Garden of Eden. And that is so. But if we ask, “What was the purpose of the kingdom?” then we get closer to the real meaning.

We have a concept in counseling. Many therapists don’t understand it. They think that people come to them for information. That’s not really what they need. What they really need is relationship. I talked on Trumpets about the boy who came to me and said that he had been dreaming about pie. And when I asked him what pie meant to him, he said, “When I eat pie, all my problems go away.” And I said, “So that’s how therapy works. You brought in this dream about eating pie, and you just said that you came here to figure out your problems.” And he looked at me, and he said, “Hey, you’re my pie!” So, I said to him, “Yeah. Together, you and I – together – together you and I – are going to figure out how to solve your problems. We can do some good work together,” I told him. I started emphaszing the connection between us right away – and the need to build that connection.

There’s a concept that goes along with this. And this is what I was referring to earlier. It’s called the relational field. The Garden of Eden was a relational field. Adam and Eve lived there with God. And they conducted their relationship in this field – this area of relationship. They knew God. They loved God. They respected Him. They talked to God.

So this little boy is going to be healed in this relationship. He’s going to figure out his problems and I’m going to help him because he trusts me to do that. He’s going to let me help him.

The Garden of Eden was a relational field at first. And the church is a relational field for us to get to know God and learn to love all of His other children. So the Day of Atonement points to the time when the whole earth is going to become a relational field – not just the church now, but everybody.

Let’s read about that. It’s in Hebrews 8, verse 10.

Heb. 8:10 – “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my laws into their minds and write them in their hearts, and I will be to them a God and they will be to me a people. And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest.” Everybody is going to know God then.

So what is really important to God? What is really important to God? All will know Me, from the least to the greatest. It’s about the relationship. Everything always goes back to that in the Bible.

There are a lot of people that accuse us of being legalistic because we observe the holy days and the Sabbath. But usually when you think of somebody else that way – you make an accusation – you usually have three fingers pointing back at yourself. The reason they hate those days is they see them as legalistic and they have, in their own minds, turned the law of God into a set of strict rules, which is legalism. They hate the Ten Commandments. If they’d just look into the Bible and just read what it says without bias, they’d know that Jesus had a conversation with a lawyer about what was the most important commandment. And they both agreed what the first commandment was, which was to love God. That’s one of the Ten Commandments, isn’t it? There’s nothing legalistic about it. The first four commandments show us how God wants to be loved. And the next commandment that they talked about was to love others as themselves. And that is what the last six commandments are about. And Jesus said – about loving God and loving others as yourself – “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” So the core of all the laws of God are about love. They are spiritual laws. And it’s interesting – very interesting to me – that when Jesus saw that this man understood, He said an amazing thing! He said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” I mean, I see where Jesus calls John and his brother the Sons of Thunder because they were political and manipulative and without empathy. And I saw where He told Peter to get behind Him, Satan. But I never before that heard Him say anything like this to anybody. “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And they were talking about the meaning of the Ten Commandments – their spirituality. What is it when you love God and love man? It’s all about relationship!

When people accuse us about legalists about the Sabbath or the holy days, anything God tells us to do can be done in a legalistic way. But when we do what He says with full knowledge, then it becomes relational. I think that those who make such judgments have fallen prey to another error.

Let’s say that you buy a new computer – and you buy it mail order. And you’re really pleased with yourself, because you got a good price and you also avoided sales tax – a double bonus. And it’s going to be coming in two days, because you saved so much money, you could have it shipped overnight. So it arrives in a gigantic box. And inside the box is a lot of padding and then another box. Then you open the second box. And there inside it, wrapped in more cardboard and styrofoam is the new computer. It’s clean. It’s new. It’s shiny. It’s awesome! You take it out. You check it out. You turn it on. You play with it. And after you’ve had your fun with it, you look at the big pile of packing stuff that’s there – the boxes, the styrofoam, all the tape and plastic sacks. It’s just a giant mound of stuff to get rid of. So you carefully wrap up the computer in the padding. Put it in the first box. You wrap that up with the original padding and then you put it in the big box. And then you get out your big roll of sealing tape and you seal it right back up again – just like you got it – and you throw it all in the trash. Would you do that? Would you throw the computer out with the trash? Some people, in their urgent need to avoid legalism, have thrown out the spiritual core of the law with the legal aspects of it.

The Day of Atonement is not a legalistic observance. It is about the restoration of a relationship with God – not just with Christians, but with everyone. Now you decide if that is about the worship of prophecy, or if it is legalistic, or if it is about Judaism, or if it is the core of what true Christianity and spirituality really is all about.

We could say more, but we’ll save it for the continuation of this series on the real meaning of the feasts of the LORD, which we’ll pick up at Park City at the Feast of Tabernacles. And remember, until then, it’s all about relationship.