Is there any way one of God’s seven annual festivals can be “better” than another? Probably not. Each one is the best for the lesson God is teaching. Still, it is permissible for us to have our favorites. Mine is Atonement. Here’s why.
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Atonement is one of the seven annual biblical festivals that were observed by the ancient Israelites, the New Testament Church, Jesus Himself was our example of Christian behavior and faith, Jews still today, and some Christians. Notice that I said, “The New Testament church.” That’s right! The New Testament shows us that the early church observed all the these days. And it wasn’t because they were recovering Jews.
From the beginning, each of these days has had Jesus Christ stamped all over them. So they are days all Christians ought to keep, following the New Testament example. And if we would do that, we would learn something. Of course, most of Christianity has forgotten that Jesus Himself, through Jude, tells us to contend for the faith once delivered by Jesus to the church, and so have forgotten how God is going to save us from our sins and transport us into His Kingdom here on earth. Because the seven annual festivals portray, on the calendar every year, God’s seven-step plan of salvation. In a way, they’re like a map showing us how God is taking us from point A – where we are now – to point B – eternal life.
But forgive me from straying from my primary purpose. Today I want to show you why I think the Day of Atonement is the best holy day. Now I know that’s completely subjective and everybody’s allowed to have their own opinion, including me. Right? But just for fun today, let me try to convince you, to sway you, to draw you to my side of the argument – to help you see that the Day of Atonement – from my way of looking at it – is the best holy day of all!
Since the word best implies a comparison, let’s look at the other six holy days first. Passover comes first on the calendar in the early spring. Jesus gave His life on the stake to cleanse anyone who would accept His agreement from their sins. And since the entire world is now under deception of our adversary, relative to all humanity, way fewer people have today accepted Christ’s agreement and live by it than God than God eventually plans to call. Far more have died without even the knowledge of Christ than have had a covenant with Him. And He died on Passover day at the time the Jews were killing the Passover lambs for their festival. As His cousin, John, said – in John 1:29:
John 1:29 – Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
So John understood the meaning of the holy day, beyond just the killing of the Passover lambs and the celebration that the Jews had because God brought them out of Egypt.
So that day – the Passover – now is about…what all that symbolized, which, as Paul later called it, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Notice this statement about the Passover by the apostle Paul, written in 1 Corinthians. So the Corinthians were a group of people that were in a congregation, and many of them were Gentile, so this wasn’t right away – right after Christ died. It happened many years – that he wrote this – after the church was founded. And he said, in 1 Corinthians 11:23:
1 Corinthians 11:23 – For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you – that the Lord Jesus, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread – that was the night before the Passover lambs were killed and He was killed – and when He gave thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me. In the same way also, He took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and the blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.
So we see here that the emphasis that Paul places on the Passover is deeply personal for all those who have accepted Christ’s covenant. It’s an annual spiritual self-evaluation to see if each one of us are still in the faith – still accepting Christ’s death to cover our sins.
So this festival is extremely helpful to Christians and awesome in the power of it’s meaning. It’s a great festival!
Next comes the Days of Unleavened Bread. The next day after the Passover begins the First Day of Unleavened Bread. Both Passover and Unleavened Bread, of course, are in the very early spring. Here’s what Paul said to the New Testament church – that was the group of people who were the holy days as Christians – to understand the New Testament meaning – 1 Corinthians 5:6. He’s kind of reading them the riot act here, because they’ve done something he’s unhappy about. He says;
1 Corinthians 5:6 – Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened, for Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed. Let us celebrate the festival – that is, the Festival of Unleavened Bread – not with the old leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
So he’s telling us that there is a New Testament meaning for the Days of Unleavened Bread. The Israelites of old ate unleavened bread when they left Egypt, because they didn’t have time to let the bread rise. So God told them to eat unleavened bread for seven days to remember that. But he’s telling us here that it’s talking about leaven as sin. And living in an unleavened state means to be sin free, which we are because of what Christ has done for us. So there’s a New Testament meaning to the Days of Unleavened Bread – with Jesus Christ right in the middle of it. And we’re to learn, too, from this that Christians are to observe this seven days festival without leaven as a picture of the struggle we humans have with sin and also our promise to try to live sin free lives, and so follow Christ’s example.
So both Passover and Unleavened Bread are about a Christian’s individual relationship with God. That is an awesome revelation in itself, is it not? Here we thought these days were about coming out of Egypt, and all along they were about something greater than that. They were about those things too, but the New Testament meaning supersedes them. It puts the spotlight right on what we must all do, as our part of God’s salvation plan. So this, also, is a great, great festival.
The third festival is Pentecost. Pentecost means count fifty in Greek. The ancient Israelites counted fifty days from the Sabbath that took place during Unleavened Bread, which was a seven day festival, so it had to have a Sabbath in it. Right? A weekly Sabbath. And what was happening in the fields at that time? Well, the early harvest was getting ripe – getting ready for harvest – a smaller harvest than the one in the fall. And notice what also happened on the same holy day in the New Testament – fifty days after Jesus was resurrected. Acts tells us that a group of a 120 people were assembled, waiting for something. They probably didn’t know what. And all of a sudden, the Holy Spirit came upon all of them. And the scripture tells us that it appeared like tongues of fire upon their heads. Well, you can imagine this caused quite a commotion.
Now, when a person is imbued with the Holy Spirit, that means they are a part of God’s church. They are then Christians. So God started His church on the day that represented a first harvest in God’s plan – what the world calls, today, a Jewish holy day, by the way.
So let’s see how it all fits together. These 120 people are the first of His smaller, or early, harvest. And that festival lasted seven days, and it implies that the church was to exist over time, producing more members until the next big step of His plan. That was the festival of Unleavened Bread. And then Pentecost pictures when the church started.
So have you ever wondered why current Christian churches make so little over such a momentous event? Well, it profoundly important. So how did they let go of it? It’s a mystery to me. Actually, I really do know the reason. They didn’t want to be persecuted by the Romans like the Jews were, so they dropped the Jewish holy days – or what the Romans thought were Jewish.
But what an awesome festival it is. We have to take leaven out of our homes, and then strive to be mindful, and not eat it for an entire week. What a hand-on lesson! Then, if we’re willing to do that, then Pentecost comes and we become a part of God’s church. Those first people that were imbued with that Spirit were given that Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost. Amazing! So it’s not really a Jewish holy day anymore. It is for them, but for us, it’s the anniversary of the founding of the church. So this festival is a great lesson – a great gift for us from God.
The next big step in the plan comes in the fall – the Festival of Trumpets. Now there’s a huge gap on the calendar between Pentecost and Trumpets, because Pentecost is in late spring, or early summer, and Trumpets is in the fall. So there’s a long time between the two. And this implies that the end time trumpets – the trumpets that are pictured by what happened on the Feast of Trumpets years ago – falls a long time after the founding of the church. Now this day on the sacred calendar has no meaning given to it. It just says to keep it. There’s no application. So there is a meaning given to it, and the meaning can be found in the Old Testament in Leviticus 23. Each month a trumpet was sounded to mark the beginning of the month. A priest would do it. So since this festival falls on the seventh month, this festival is the first day of the month, and so on the Feast of Trumpets, the seventh trumpet is blown. So what does that festival represent then? Well, Christ’s return is heralded by the sound of the last trumpet out of seven in the book of Revelation. So Trumpets pictures Christ’s return. We just celebrated it, because we at Atonement now, and Trumpets was just a few days before. So the momentous event in history – the most momentous in the history of the world – Christ’s return – surely God would not leave that great day unobserved. And He hasn’t!
Okay, the next one is the Day of Atonement. And that’s just nine days later – after Trumpets. So right after Christ’s return is this day. What is the significance? Well, I’m going to skip over that now and come back to it later, because that’s the day we’re talking about. And we have a lot to say about it. But on with the seven holy days.
The next holy day is the Festival of Tabernacles. It’s just four days after Atonement. That is when the ancient Israelites gathered in their larger fall harvest and then went to the festival in Jerusalem for seven days. So they had like ten days, nine days – ten days between Trumpets and Atonement – and then four days to travel. They gathered in their harvest and then they were all ready to leave for their festival then. So the seven-day festival in the fall – the Feast of Tabernacles – is about the greater harvest – not the spring harvest – not when the winter wheat is gathered in – but the summer crops are harvested. So it’s much greater. And that represents a much greater harvest of God’s plan of people.
Revelation shows us what happens after Christ returns. Jesus sets up His Kingdom. And we’re told that something amazing happens at that time. Everyone is now going to be involved in a covenant relationship with Christ. Revelation tells us that that day is going to last for a thousand years. And every year, we gather our stuff together, and we go a place away from our home, and we observe a seven-day festival that pictures the coming of God’s Kingdom to this earth. And we have a nice place to stay and plenty of money, and we’re around people that believe the same way we believe, and we go to church and worship God together – just like it’s going to be in the Kingdom. So that festival is given to us to remind us that this is not just something He made up. It’s something that’s real. It’s going to happen.
Then there is one day that falls right after the Feast of Tabernacles – the 8th Day. And it doesn’t really say what it’s about either. But it’s the 8th Day. That’s what it’s called. The passage in Leviticus just tells us to keep it, like I said. However, if we go to Revelation, and read what happens after Christ returns, we see a thousand year of Christ that would be pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles, then we see several events occur in rapid succession – a resurrection being one of them, and then what’s called the New Heaven and New Earth. Like the day, the New Heaven and New Earth is mysterious. And we have a hard time wrapping our minds around what John tells us about it. He says there’s going to be no more sea. So, wrap your mind around that. Try to grab it. So, could this mysterious 8th Day represent the finale of God’s plan – or as much of it as He has revealed? Is it mystery solved? Well, personally, I think so, but I’m not going to say dogmatically that it is. I’m going to wait and see. But we know, whatever it is – this 8th Day – it’s going to be great!
Now let’s go back to Atonement and see why I think it’s the best of all of these holy days. On the Day of Atonement in ancient Israel, the high priest goes inside the Holy of Holies. And that is only day all year long that he does that. And that’s on the Day of Atonement. Imagine that! The only time in all festivals that the high priest goes into the place that represents the throne room of God. And what does he do in there on that Day of Atonement? Well, he offers a sacrifice to God for the sins of the people. It’s a male goat. He offers other sacrifices too, but we want to focus on that goat, because that goat pictures Jesus Christ and His atonement for our sins. He paid the sacrifice for it. Earlier that day, however, this goat and another male goat were brought before the high priest who was outside the tabernacle area, in plain sight of all the people. And from Leviticus 16, we learn that these two goats were selected specifically for that day, and then arbitrarily, by the casting of lots, one was selected to be sacrificed on the altar in the temple as a sacrifice for the sins of the people. That clearly represented Jesus Christ. The other one was to have all the sins of the people confessed on it by Aaron. It says he was to take him by the two horns and to pray over his head, and confess all the sins of the children of Israel on to that goat. And then it was taken by a strong man of Israel and cast out into the wilderness.
I learned recently that, by the time Jesus came to live on the earth, the Jews had kind of ritualized that, and there was a specific path. It was like 110 miles long with weigh stations along the way and all that – where this goat was taken before he was turned loose.
But let me ask you this question. So, there is the goat that is sacrificed for the sins of the people, and then there’s this other goat on whom the sins of people are prayed. So why two bearers of sin? Well, we clearly know one is for Jesus. So, what does this mean – the thing that was done on Atonement – the day between Trumpets, when Christ returns, and the Feast of Tabernacles, when the Kingdom is set up that represents Christ’s millennial reign – so maybe that tells us something. So let’s look in Revelation, where these things are laid out in chronological order.
We know, from Revelation, that after Christ returns, there’s going to be a terrible battle at Megiddo and also a wonderful marriage supper of the Lamb. Then, after that, begins the thousand-year reign of Christ. Revelation shows these events in order. However, after the wedding of Christ to the church and the Battle of Armageddon – after He returns, but before the millennial reign begins – Revelation tells us something very interesting happens.
Now, remember, Atonement is just ten days after the Feast of Trumpets – after Christ returns – and only four days before the Feast of Tabernacles. So it fits in between, just as does this event I’m going to read you about. It’s in Revelation 20:1 – John said:
Revelation 20:1 – Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven and holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. Can you see it in your mind’s eye? There is John, looking up in the sky, squinting into the sun, at this tiny object as it approaches. And as it gets closer and closer, he sees a single, solitary being – an angel. And as it gets closer, John sees it has magnificent wings and is brilliant with power radiating in all directions. John is looking at an archangel – an archangel on a mission. So, who is this amazing being? What’s he going to do? And what’s that chain for? What’s he going to do with that key? Well, John tells us what he sees. He says:
V-2-3 – He seized the dragon – that ancient serpent – who is called the devil and Satan…. You know, a lot of times the Bible is sort of mystical – not mystical, but cryptic – about the meaning of the symbols it gives. Not this time! He seized the dragon – that ancient serpent – who is the devil and Satanand bound him a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. Wow!
We know from Isaiah that Satan desires to take God’s place, and also from scripture, that there is an angel in God’s realm – an archangel – named Michael – one of two archangels. God has so much love for them and so much respect that He has honored them by including them in the seat on the Ark of the Covenant that was in the tabernacle of old. The Ark had a lid on it and that was called the Mercy Seat. On either side of it were two archangels with their wings outstretched, touching. And they formed an arch over the mercy seat. They were Michael and Gabriel facing each other.
Now the archangel Michael…do you know what his name means? It means, “Who is like God?” And I think the answer to that question is, “Nobody.” That’s the point of the question. Gabriel’s name tells us that he knows how great God is and he’s totally loyal to Him. I wonder if he really was the angel that came down. It seems obvious to me, but maybe not to others. And as he bound our adversary, he may have thought, “Who is like God? Well, certainly not you.”
So what does this have to do with Atonement? Well, I know there are many, many ideas about what this goat stands for. Some people think it represents Christ – that they are two representatives of Christ. But my money is on the devil. We know God called him the deceiver and our adversary. And we have been shown in scripture that he started the whole deception from the beginning with the first human – the ancient serpent, he was called there in Revelation. And he has a powerful presence in this present evil world. So, according to the Bible, he is the god of this world, responsible for the state of it. And I think, when the priest took hold of those horns and prayed responsibility for the people’s sin on his head, that’s what God is telling us – that He remembers how things got the way they are now, and that He holds that spirit responsible for all the terrible things that have happened.
Now we also have our own responsibility, because we all have free choice. But there is an influence there that can’t be denied. And I think that this casting out of the goat represents casting out of the devil, who is restrained in this pit, so that he can no longer confuse, deceive and manipulate humanity. And I think the strong man represents this angel with a chain in his hand. And I think he is Michael, the archangel – one of most powerful beings in heaven. Now, if I’m wrong, when we have the wedding supper and Jesus explains what the second goat represents, and it turns out it’s not the devil, I’ll just say, “Yes, Lord.” And at that time, I will learn more truth. But from my current vantage point, that’s how it looks to me.
All this happens, in the narrative of John, between the return of Christ and the millennium – right where Atonement fits on the sacred calendar. So, on the Day of Atonement, both the ancient observance and the modern observance, the root cause of all human sin and deception is revealed in Satan the devil. And when the archangel comes down and binds the now helpless adversary of humankind and throws him in the pit, we’re all going to blink a couple times, our mouths hanging open, and we’re going to realize, this changes everything! Suddenly, just like that, no more deception. Now humanity has eyes wide open, free to take a new path – the path toward God the Father and Jesus the Son. That’s the first reason that I think the Day of Atonement is the best holy day.
Here comes the second one. Let’s go to Acts 3. This is Peter giving his sermon on the day of Pentecost, when the church was founded and the Holy Spirit was given to all the members of it. He’s speaking to those who are not yet converted. This is a powerful evangelistic message. And he said:
Acts 3:17 – And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.
So the time of restoring all things. You know, we tend to look at the return of Christ and the millennium as something new. But that is not how God thinks about it. No, God tells us that He loves His people fiercely. And He tells us that He is a possessive God. And He had not forgotten what happened in the Garden. He remembers how good it was when Adam and Eve were open with Him and loved Him. And He remembers the close loving relationship He had with them. And He wants that back! And He’s going to take it back. And binding the devil is the second thing He does to begin the restoration of His rule and His relationship with all His children.
For 6,000 years, God has told us over and over and over that He’s the God of justice – that He never forgets anything. And now, in this holy day, He takes swift action. And that thing that we have all been praying for – “Thy Kingdom come!” – has arrived. So that’s the second reason Atonement – in my way of looking at it – is the best holy day.
Now for the third one. Modern-day Jews talk about the Day of Atonement as meaning at one with God – at-one-ment. Right? And that’s absolutely true! That is what this day is about. Have you ever wondered why there are two festivals in the plan about Christ’s sacrifice? Remember the one goat that was sacrificed for the people? That was Jesus. And then there was the Passover Lamb that was killed, too. And that was Jesus. So, why are there two? Well, Passover is about Christ dying for our personal sins, and then our personal struggle to live like Christ lived by the Festival of Unleavened Bread. But Atonement is different. When the high priest offered the first goat at the altar, that represented Jesus Christ and Him crucified, but not in a personal way, but for all the nation of Israel, and, by type, for all humanity – deception-free for the first time since the Garden of Eden.
Notice what it says in Hebrews 8, and verse 10.
Hebrews 8:10-12 – For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.
See, that kind of at-one-ment is different. It’s major! It’s all encompassing. And this time everyone is going to have a chance to know God. God has looked forward to this time for a long time.
I remember, when I started my counseling practice, I was really enthused about it – maybe even more than I am now – but I was given a room to use, where I did a practicum, and I had to bring all my own equipment with me every day to work, because it wasn’t really my room. It was just lent to me. It was a very small start. Even in that small situation, with not the optimal equipment, I still got some pretty good results for people. And I was fired with enthusiasm about it. Then, after a bit, I stopped working at school, and I took a job at a clinic, where I worked my practice out of that facility – and it stayed very small. Finally, I shared an office with another counselor. It was just a tiny, tiny room, but clients started to come, as I worked more with them. Very slowly, it started to grow. One day, while I was pouring all my effort into this, I was doing my billing for the week, and I saw how much I had billed for. And I remember thinking, “I actually may be able to make a living doing this.”
I don’t mean to imply that God has any uncertainty at all about His plan, but I still think He gets excited when His plans start to bear fruit. And what he has been working for in the Day of Atonement is finally starting to happen. It’s such an important day to God that He has done everything possible to help us understand the importance of it. He even tells us to fast on this day – the only day of the year that He tells us to do that on. So it’s set apart in our minds in that way. It’s really different from the other days. So that’s the third reason why this holy day, to me, is the best holy day.
Now, here comes the last one. If you were the apostle Paul, and you needed to explain to Christians, who had been Jews all their lives, and gone to the temple and all that, and who worshipped at the temple, had been an organized part of Judaism, how would you explain to them the significance of Jesus Christ? How would you go about it? He wrote a letter to the entire church – aptly enough, it was called Hebrews. And he started with something they were familiar with – the tabernacle. He explained how there was a tent, divided into two parts. The first part was called the Holy Place, and then passing through a curtain, the second part was called the Most Holy Place. And he explained that, in that room, where the golden altar of incense, the Ark of the Covenant, the Mercy Seat – with Michael and Gabriel on it – he reminded them that all year long, the priests went into the Holy Place to do their ritual duties, but into the Holy of Holies, the high priest was only allowed in there once a year. And we know which day that was, don’t we? It was on the Day of Atonement.
So he explained how the sacrifice of the goat that high priest made was to cover the sins of the people. And he explained that those sacrifices couldn’t really cover anybody’s sins. They were only symbols of a sacrifice that was much better to come later. And that sacrifice was Jesus Christ. And then he makes a brilliant comparison. So I’m going to read a little bit of that here in Hebrews 9, starting in verse 11. After he talked about all that, he starts talking about Jesus Christ. And this is where the teaching, for them, begins.
Hebrews 9:11-14 – But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that …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 – which is what they believed – 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.
V-24 – For Christ has entered, not 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. Jesus doesn’t have to die on Atonement every year, or on Passover. He only had to do it once. 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.
So here’s my point: The apostle Paul – a Jew himself – used a holy day observance – the Day of Atonement – to explain the surpassing excellence of Jesus Christ. I’ve said over and over that Jesus is stamped all over all the holy days, but this one is so obvious. How could anybody not understand what it means? I love it! So that’s my fourth and final reason that Atonement is the best holy day.
But now, actually, I confess that I really have five. But this last one is so minor, I’m almost afraid to mention it. It’s not biblical. It’s just something I have noticed. Given my history of giving sadistically detailed descriptions of delicious food on a fast day – during Atonement sermons – I don’t think I can leave it out. After the Day of Atonement, after having not eaten for twenty-four hours, there’s just something about the food. It tastes so good! And because it’s a special night, this year we’re going to the Season’s Rotisserie – my favorite place in town to eat – where they have all manner of delicious cuts of beef and chicken and, even fish, roasted to perfection. I can barely resist telling you that there will be lots of ice-cold water and other thirst-quenching drinks – condensation running down the sides of the glasses. Wonderful vegetables, including steamed artichokes with lemon butter, mouth-watering mounds of garlic mashed potatoes, and, of course, a plethora of desserts to suit any taste. Better than any other meal of the year – even Thanksgiving! So there. I just couldn’t resist myself. And it’s only a few hours away, as we speak.
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