Jews for Jesus

Posts Tagged 'atonement'

The Book of Life

"May your name be inscribed in the Book of Life" is the most common greeting for the Jewish New Year season.

From the time of Moses onward, the roll call of the redeemed has been closely linked with atonement (reconciliation with God). The Book of Life held much meaning for other world religions as well.

The ancient belief can also be traced to Mesopotamia. Babylonian religious writings speak of "The Tablets of Transgressions" and "The Tablets of Destiny," which record man's fate. If one's name was written in the sin-recording tablets, it was blotted out of the Tablets of Destiny. According to this legend, every year all the gods got together in a special room in heaven called "The Room of Fate." Marduk, who was the chief god, presided over the meeting. Nabu, the god of wisdom and literature, took notes, recording each man's fate on these tablets. Again, the "Book of Life" concept appears in tablets from the neo-Assyrian period, and there seems to be a hint of the same idea in an ancient Sumerian poem.

Because of these writings, some modern Jewish "scholars" believe that the Sefer Hayyim (Book of Life) was adopted into Jewish tradition as a result of the Babylonian influence. Who's to say, however, that the Babylonians weren't influenced by the ancient Jewish revelation before it was transcribed by the Bible writers?

Other theories have been put forth as to the origin of the Book of Life concept. Some say it corresponds to the civil list, or register, in ancient Judea which recorded all the names of the fully qualified citizens. The idea of a heavenly register, they say, might have been derived from this earthly system so that membership in the Book of Life would mean membership in the divine commonwealth. The Mishnah states that the Book of Life records man's deeds: "Know what is above thee—a seeing eye and a hearing ear, and thy deeds written in a book." (Avot 2.1) The Sayings of the Fathers also compares life to a shop with its open ledger of credit and debit. Following this concept to its conclusion, good deeds can cancel out bad deeds or vice versa. Or, as R. Simeon B. Yohai put it, "Even if he is perfectly righteous all of his life, but rebels at the end, he destroys his former good deeds, for it is said, '…The righteousness of a righteous man will not deliver him in the day of his transgression…' (Ezekiel 33:12.) And even if one is completely wicked all his life but repents at the end, he is not reproached with his wickedness, for it is said, '…and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he will not stumble because of it in the day when he turns from his wickedness… (ibid).'" (Kiddushin 40a-b.)

One of the most common interpretations on judgment and forgiveness is found in Rosh Hashanah 16b:

"Three books are opened on Rosh Hashanah: one for the wholly righteous, one for the wholly wicked, and one for the intermediates. The wholly righteous are at once inscribed in the Book of Life; the wholly wicked are at once inscribed in the book of death and the intermediates are held suspended from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur. If they are found worthy, they are inscribed for life; if found unworthy, they are inscribed for death."

Jewish liturgical writings also mention the Sefer Hayyim: Zakhrenu Le-Hayyim ("Remember us unto life") is a prayer that is said in the daily service from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It reads, "Remember us unto life, O King who delightest in life, and inscribe us in the Book of Life, for Thine own sake, O God of life."

U-Netanneh Tokef, a most poignant and stirring liturgical piece, describes what the Day of Judgment will be like: "Let us declare the mighty holiness of the day, for it is solemn and awesome." The prayer acknowledges, "True it is that Thou judgest and givest reproof, Thou discernest and bearest witness, Thou recordest and sealest, Thou recountest and measurest; Thou rememberest things forgotten. Thou unfoldest the book of remembrance, and it speaks for itself, for every man's seal is found therein." Up to that point, the prayer sounds very ominous, giving man little hope for a positive verdict. But then it concludes with three ways to alleviate the severity of the judgment. Teshuvah is one. It is usually translated "repentance," however a literal translation would render it more accurately, "return." One is not to become a new person, but to return to the "goodness" that is inherent in him according to rabbinical understanding. Tefillah is the second way to making things right. It is usually translated as "prayer" and connotes "attaching oneself." Man is to strengthen his attachment to God. Tzedakah, the last route to forgiveness, comes from the Hebrew word meaning "justice," and is translated "charity." Justice demands that man give to others.

According to rabbinic thought, it is these three: Teshuvah, Tefillah and Tzedakah, that will insure one an inscription in the Book of Life. In Hagigah 27a we read, "At the time when the Temple stood, the altar brought atonement for a person; now a person's table brings atonement for him (through the hospitality shown to a poor guest)." In other words, without Temple sacrifice for our sin, we can now rely on acts of charity to gain us entrance in God's Book of Life.

Yet the Bible paints somewhat of a different picture of this ledger, its origin and its contents.

Moses knew who originated the Book of Life. When he pleaded with God atop Mount Horeb after the children of Israel committed the great sin of the golden calf, he cried, "Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. But now, if Thou wilt, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Thy book which Thou hast written!" (Exodus 32:31, 32.) So God Himself is the author and keeper of the Book of Life.

 

What is recorded in the book? According to the Bible, everything! King David remarks that even his tears are entered in that heavenly journal. (Psalm 56:8.) The Psalmist also speaks of the fact that the days that were ordained him were written in God's book before he was even born. (Psalm 139:16.)

And who will be blotted out of the book? God's response to Moses' plea for the children of Israel was "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book." (Exodus 32:33).

But everyone has sinned against the Almighty. Does this mean that according to the Bible all will be blotted out of the book of life? No. God is just, but he is also merciful. In His mercy, He has always provided a means of atonement, so that we could choose life.

The Day of Atonement (Yom ha-Kippurim) is first mentioned in the book of Leviticus. It is a solemn day, accented by fasting and praying to God for forgiveness of the sins committed against Him. In the Temple days, the High Priest was the key figure in mediating between the people and God. This one day of the year, he entered the Holy of Holies. This one day of the year, he took a live goat, laid his hands upon its head and confessed "all the iniquities of the Israelites and all their transgressions, and even all their sins." Thus he transferred, in symbol, the sins of the people onto the sacrifice animal. This scapegoat was made the victim, the substitute for the human sinner. In accepting the substitutionary sacrifice, God could inscribe His people into the Book of Life. Therefore, it makes sense that the liturgy for the Day of Atonement concludes with a prayer for inscription in the Book of Life, but with the plea that one be sealed in it.

With the Temple destroyed, the priesthood disbanded, and the cessation of the sacrifices, the rabbis felt they had to improvise. They rationalized, "Repentance and works of charity are man's intercessors before God's throne. " (Shab. 32a.) "Sincere repentance is equivalent to the rebuilding of the Temple, the restoration of the altar, and the offering of all sacrifices." (Pesik., ed. Buber 24.158; Lev. R. 7.; Sanh. 43b.) However, the Bible does not teach these as ways of being inscribed into the Book of Life, for there is no access to forgiveness without a mediator, an intercessor. Moses fulfilled that role when he pleaded with God not to blot the children of Israel out of His book. The High Priests did likewise.

Who can plead our case today? Only God Himself. And that He did, in the person of Jesus. When Jesus began His earthly ministry, the prophet John heralded Him as "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." Jesus served as the substitutionary sacrifice, the "scape-lamb" of God.

In the Machzor, the prayerbook for the Day of Atonement we read:

"Our righteous anointed is departed from us: horror hath seized us, and we have none to justify us. He hath borne the yoke of our iniquities and our transgression, and is wounded because of our transgression. He beareth our sins on his shoulder, that he may find pardon for our iniquities. We shall be healed by His wound, at the time that the Eternal will create Him (the Messiah) as a new creature."

Form of Prayers For Day of Atonement. Revised Ed. pp. 287-88. Rosenbaum & Werbelowsky, New York, 1890

With our sins upon Jesus, God's righteous anointed, He can look upon us as righteous and worthy to be entered into the Book of Life.

Jesus told those who believed He was God's anointed, "…rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven" (Luke 10:20.) Does it seem strange to link the idea of celebrating the inscription of one's name in the Book of Life to the person of Jesus? The Jewish New Year expression "Le shanah tova tikatev ve-tehatem" is more than a quaint custom. It is an expression of hope for God's acceptance and forgiveness.

At the time of Christ, the ancient Biblical tradition of atonement ceased. Was this merely coincidental? The Kapporah, or sacrifice animal, to accomplish atonement is nowhere apparent in modern Judaism—yet in original Judaism, sacrificial atonement is intrinsic and essential:

"For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement" (Leviticus 17:11.)

In order to fully comprehend the concept of God recording man's eternal destiny, one cannot stop reading the Bible at the Old Testament portion. Nor can one allow himself to be side tracked into the forest of contradictory statements which is the Talmud. For understanding, one must read the continuation of the Bible, in what is commonly called the New Testament, to see the true meaning of the Book of Life and to discover how a person is permanently inscribed for eternity:

"He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My father and before His angels."

Revelation 3:5

"And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God made ready as a bride adorned for her husband…and nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book life."

Revelation 21:1, 2, 27

Had Judaism not rationalized away God's system of sacrificial atonement, then it would not have come to regard the person and atoning work of Jesus as alien. Had it not substituted humanistic and humanitarian value for God's value structure, would not God's remedy of Jesus the "scape-lamb," have made sense?

 

What a paradox confronts the modern Jewish person! If he would be a faithful Jew according to the Bible and not merely according to the traditions of man; or if he would be God's kind of Jew, then he must be written in the Lamb's Book Life and thus be a follower of Jesus, the Messiah.

Bits from the Branches

Chicago

Lyn Bond says, I received the following message on my answering machine: 'Hello, this is Joyce, trying to call a nurse named Ann; please call me back. If you are not Ann please call me and let me know that I have the wrong number.'

"I called Joyce and said, 'I am not a nurse, but I am a minister and I would like to pray for you,' which she gladly accepted. I ended my prayer 'in Jesus' name.' Joyce thanked me for the prayer, but added that she is Jewish and does not believe in Jesus. I replied with a smile I'm sure she could hear in my voice, 'I'm Jewish too, and I believe that Jesus is our Messiah.' Later, I used the reverse directory to write Joyce a letter, which began: 'It is no accident that you called me. . . .' I told her that I hoped she was seeking God and would contemplate whether or not Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah. I mentioned that I was going out of town and that I would call Joyce back as soon as I returned.

"Several days later, I was packing to leave when the phone rang. It was Joyce! She was touched by the letter and by the literature I sent, and asked me to call when I got back. When I did, she wasn't feeling well enough to get together, but asked me to call back in a few days to set up an appointment with her to read the Bible. She also asked me to pray for her sister's health. Please pray for my continued ministry to Joyce and that God will bring her to faith."

Johannesburg

Teresa Sischy reports, "Recently at a local church where I was speaking I met a man, Mike, who had converted to Judaism many years ago, but later recommitted his life to Jesus. He introduced me to his wife, Marissa, who is Jewish and was brought up in a traditional Jewish home. Three weeks before, she had received Jesus as her Messiah and Savior.

"She told me that she believed in Jesus without a shadow of a doubt, but needed assurance that she had done the right thing. We began meeting weekly to pray, read the Bible and rejoice in what the Lord is doing in her life. Her prayer is that the Lord will give her wisdom regarding her two teenagers who are coming to terms with her newfound faith.

"I have also been meeting with a Jewish woman named Laura who has been dating a new Christian. She has been much affected by his faith and that of his Christian parents. She earnestly wants to know if Jesus is the Messiah, but has many real fears and anxieties that make her search for the truth very difficult. Her two teenage daughters attend a Jewish day school and her relationship with her parents is tenuous. She is very worried about how her family would react if she professed faith in Jesus. Please pray for God to give her faith and courage."

Brooklyn

Karol Joseph reports, "In September, three of our staff (myself, Oded Cohen and Karl deSouza) placed scripture cards all around local Hasidic communities to be 'discovered' by those going by. We also sent a recorded phone message in Yiddish to some 20,000 plus ultra-Orthodox Jewish homes, inviting them to contact us for more information about Jesus.

"At first, our phones weren't nearly as busy as when we did this a year ago. One Hasidic woman did call and when I asked if she had received our phone message, she replied, 'I did, but why don't you just speak to us in English?' Then she hung up on me.

"While Yiddish is the mother tongue of Hasidic Jews, we took some time to pray and we decided to do a test run with the message recorded in English. By that night, we'd received 90 responses and had 24 conversations in which we were able to communicate the full gospel, with five people willing to hear more from us. Please pray for one of those contacts, Max, who was interested in receiving the 'Days of Moshiach' DVD as well as the New Testament in Yiddish. After he looks at those, perhaps we'll meet."

L’Dor v’dor: From Generation to Generation

My mother taught me to love the Jewish people; she always reminded me that the Jews are God's chosen. That is why I love Jews for Jesus and support what you guys are doing."

We hear this over and over from friends who speak, often with a note of wistful recollection, of a loved one who has since passed. Our visits to churches in particular present people with the opportunity to recall fondly those childhood lessons learned from those who loved the Lord and loved His chosen people. I deeply appreciate an entire generation of Bible-believers who so carefully taught their Sunday school classes and passed along to their family members this profound sense of love for the Jewish people and concern for their salvation. As missionaries, we can never take them for granted, or assume their legacy of love will automatically be transmitted to the next generation of Jesus' followers.

Loving the Jewish people seems far more complicated today than it was for previous generations of Christians. Certain clear convictions based on simple Bible passages that most Christians seemed to know and believe, are not always so clear today. For example, there was the basic conviction that Christians should love the Jews because God loves them and has promised to bless those who do likewise: "I will bless those who bless you" (Genesis 12:3). Or, the commitment to pray for the salvation of the Jewish people, so fervently expressed by the apostle whose primary ministry was to non-Jews: ". . . my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved" (Romans 10:1). Today it seems that many have either forgotten such simple convictions or have found them complicated by politics or disagreements over end-times theology. No doubt the founding of the modern State of Israel has led to some of the confusion I find among many Christians.

An entire generation of Christians who have no memory of a world without a modern State of Israel is now coming into leadership in the church. Many never experienced the wonder and amazement so many Christians felt at the time Israel became a nation in 1948, or when Jerusalem was recaptured in 1967. Even Christians whose theology did not include belief in a God ordained restoration of Israel as a fulfillment of prophecy nevertheless held enormous respect and appreciation for this "modern day miracle." But today, many Christians' attitudes toward Israel and the Jewish people are more colored by the media's unfavorable portrayals of the Jewish state than they are by Scripture. With less Scripture-based love for Jewish people, there is less concern for Jewish people and Jewish evangelism.

Then too, many Christians who say they love Israel often find that love held hostage by a perverted form of "friendship" or a misguided standard of respect that prevents them from ever telling Jewish people about Jesus. Harsh as it sounds, I'll say it. This is a deficient and unbiblical love . . . and it is spreading.

So who will be the ones to teach a new generation that the greatest love Christians can share with Jewish people is the good news of Jesus Christ? Who will instill in the hearts of the church of the 21st century that God's chosen people are still deeply loved and precious in His sight? Dear Jews for Jesus friend, you who have cared enough to make the cause of Jewish evangelism close to your heart, there is no one more fit than you for the task. Not that we are looking to "dump" responsibility for the next generation on you alone; reaching Jewish people for Jesus is a challenge we must take up together.

The responsibility of transmitting God's truth to the next generation is entirely biblical. The Psalmist declares, "One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts" (Psalm 145:4). In the Jewish community, that responsibility is part of the Shema, the central confession of faith recited daily by observant Jews and in every synagogue service. That confession comes directly from the Bible, Deuteronomy 6:4-7a:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children . . . (emphasis added)

In Jews for Jesus we take this responsibility very seriously. For the last sixteen years we have been teaching the next generation of Jewish believers in Jesus through our Camp Gilgal program, summer and winter camps for children, as well as special children's programs during our annual family camps. More recently we have trained missionaries to serve full time as children and youth workers and young adult ministers, and we are seeing some encouraging and hopeful results.

Over the years hundreds of young people have come through our children's and young adult programs. Many are now participating on our short term missions programs, and some are even serving full time with Jews for Jesus and other ministries and congregations. As we continue to press forward with our mission to make Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide, one of our greatest challenges is our need for young Jewish believers in Jesus to share that mission, and to join us in doing the work. We need prayer to that end. But we are also praying for you, so that when God brings us these young missionaries, they will have the prayer and financial support needed.

This is not an appeal for money. It is an appeal for you to help the next generation of Christians and Christian leaders to care about Jewish people and Jewish evangelism. For some of you, that means transmitting your faithful love for Jewish people to your sons and daughters, your nieces or nephews, your grandchildren, or your Sunday school pupils. For those of you who are younger, it means helping your Christian peers understand your care for Jewish people, and why it motivates you to pray for and, when possible, support Jewish missions. I believe that raising up the next generation of Christians who care enough about Jewish people to support the cause of Jewish evangelism is one of the greatest challenges for the church today. Church camps and retreats are also great environments to teach the next generation a love for the Jewish people and a commitment to evangelism.

Here are some possible ways Jews for Jesus might be able to help as you influence the next generation for the cause of Christ among the Jewish people:

1. If you have family prayer times that include requests for the salvation of loved ones, consider adding a request for God to help Jews for Jesus win Jewish hearts to Jesus. If you regularly pray through our newsletter prayer prompters, you might include those in your family prayer time.

2. Help the next generation appreciate the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. We have an excellent tool for this called Walk with Y'shua through the Jewish Year.*

3. When you educate your children or Sunday school class about key events in Jewish history, such as the Holocaust and the rebirth of the nation of Israel, let the fact that Jewish people need Jesus be part of that education. Again, we have some good tools for this such as "Survivor Stories" (a DVD presenting testimonies of Holocaust survivors) or "Forbidden Peace" (which shows how Jews and Arabs who are reconciled to God through Jesus can also be reconciled to one another).

4. Read to them some of the stories of Jewish people who have come to faith in Jesus. (We have testimony books and booklets for sale, but we also offer many free downloads of testimonies at our website.)

5. Encourage them to send Jewish Holiday greeting cards to their Jewish friends for Hanukkah, Passover and Rosh Hashanah.

6. Invite a local Jewish believer or someone from Jews for Jesus to come to your church or home group to share their story and answer questions.

7. Adapt a portion of the Witnessing to Jews book, DVD and study guide for your Sunday school curriculum.

* The tools we've mentioned are available at http://store.jewsforjesus.org

No doubt some of you already have your own ways to transmit your concern for Jewish people and evangelism. We would love to hear your suggestions, and perhaps we can even print some of them in a future newsletter.

Only God can create genuine love for Jewish people and for Jewish evangelism in the hearts of young followers of Jesus, but I have every confidence that as we are faithful to teach them the Scriptures and to "declare His works" from one generation to the next, He will take care of the rest.

Articles tagged

Yom Kippur

Shofar

The term "High Holidays" refers to Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur together. Literally "the Day of Atonement," Yom Kippur concludes the Ten Days of Awe. It is the holiest and most somber day of the year. (Leviticus 23:27-32)

In ancient times, one day of the year, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to put the blood of the sacrificed animal on the altar as a sin offering. Through faith, obedience to God's precise instructions resulted in atonement, or covering, for sin. Today, Yom Kippur is a day of fasting and reflecting upon one's sin.

Yom Kippur can be somewhat of a conundrum to Jewish believers in Y'shua. Do we fast and confess our sins like the rest of the Jewish community or do we rejoice in the knowledge that we're forgiven in Messiah? Many Jewish believers view Yom Kippur as a time for identification with our Jewish people, introspection for ourselves and intercession for loved ones, knowing all the while that Jesus is the One that makes us at one with God.

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Yom Kippur in 60 Seconds

A Jewish Believer and Atonement

I still remember vividly the Day of Atonement from my tenth year. Though I was not yet bar mitzvah, I insisted that I, too, would fast and take part in the synagogue services, despite my parents' objections. After all, I wanted my sins forgiven!

With childish zeal, I entered into all that made up the service of the day. I listened attentively to the reading of the Holy Scriptures, recited as I was able the ancient Hebrew prayers and was stirred to my depths by the cadence of the cantor's voice as he chanted the psalms. With my whole heart I sought the forgiveness of sins that I believed was to be gained by the observances of the day. A sense of God's approval of me, if it were to be gained by sincerity, was certainly assured.

But even as I returned home that night, walking with my father through the darkened streets, haunting questions remained: Has God really heard my prayers? What real assurance do I have that my sins have been forgiven? In the years to come, God would lead me to an answer to these questions, for I longed for peace of mind and the truth that would quiet these intruding thoughts.

The answers I received from my Jewish teachers from time to time in response to my questions proved not to be sufficient, for they did not assuage my doubts. Eventually, as I entered my teenage and young adult years, I stopped asking the questions that seemed to have no answers. I pursued studies in science, engineering and philosophy and participated in life's pleasures. My religious training kept me away from falling into the grosser sins, but I ended up as an agnostic since the various philosophers did not provide me with meaningful answers.

Yet, with all the searching, I still considered myself a Jew. Below the surface, ready to be aroused when the time of challenge would come, were the unanswered questions: Who am I? Can I know God? What follows death? Can I have the positive assurance that my sins are forgiven?

I completed my education in engineering, took a job and found myself working with a technical assistant who was an impassioned and vocal believer in Jesus. He lost no time in sharing his faith. I, in return, wasting no words, told him that such belief disgusted me. I was offended by his intrusion on my belief, acquired in earlier training, that Jesus was an imposter according to traditional Judaism. I suggested in no uncertain terms that religion was a taboo subject between us.

However, it proved impossible for me to avoid the daily encounter with the testimony of my technician, his radiant manner and the force of his convictions. He challenged me one day to give the Scriptures, including the writings called the New Testament, an honest reading. To a challenge like that I felt that my only real defense would come through a Jewish understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. Certainly that was the only background against which I could give a hearing to the New Testament and to this man Jesus whom I felt to be an imposter. I was piqued by my helper's insistence that he knew" that he had atonement for his sins, for it caused the old haunting question to return to me: How could I know that I had forgiveness of my sins? I really couldn't deny that if God were a reality, then sin also was a reality between God and myself.

As I began to read the Hebrew Scriptures, I discovered something that struck me forcefully concerning my ancestors. I found that they had an intimate and personal relationship with God. Abraham and Moses spoke with God; Jacob wrestled with him; David wrote of an assurance of his presence; Solomon sought and gained wisdom from him; Elijah heard him speak, even calling for signs and miracles. They saw the Almighty active in their lives—so why not I? Where was God in my life? Yet, Judaism places God so far away from the individual that one despairs as to where to find him. This was an area that had to be disentangled in my mind—what were the Holy Scriptures saying, and what were the rabbis' interpretive additions of tradition?

It was a source of distress and frustration that my gentile friend, believing in Jesus, spoke as familiarly of God as had these people about whom I was reading. The old questions about God, forgiveness of sin and my relationship to the God of my fathers were raised again, this time not in a child who could set the problem aside, expecting an answer to be found later, but in me as an adult. I knew that this time I had to resolve my religious questions; more than that, I had to assert my integrity as a responsible being, able to study, able to reason, able to ask—able to choose.

Out of the religious lessons harking back to my childhood, I recalled the place to begin. A holy God could not countenance sin. I restudied the Scriptures dealing with atonement. In Vayikra (Leviticus) chapter 16, the Yom Kippur observance is described. The requirements of the holiest day in the Jewish calendar are set forth in detail by Moses. Briefly, the high priest first made an atonement for himself and his family through the sin offering sacrifice. Then the atonement for the sins of the people was made. For this, two goats were chosen and the high priest cast lots upon them, one for the Lord and the other for Azazel (scapegoat).

The priests slaughtered the goat chosen as the Lord's and sprinkled its blood on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies and also in front of the mercy seat. The main emphasis as to this goat was that inasmuch as it was representative of the people before the Lord, it bore the sins of the people on the Day of Atonement. When the high priest killed the goat, our people vividly saw that the penalty of sin is death. God, however, in loving kindness, provided a substitute who died in place of our people.

This was only half of the lesson, however. There was also the tremendous offer by the mercy of God that in the death of the Lord's goat, it gave its life to our people as a whole. This was then an "exchange of life," the very heart of atonement. The picture is vivid in that the sinful lives of our people had been placed on the goat, and this caused the death of the goat. But in the death of this goat, the life of the animal was given to the people. God then saw Israel as cleansed from sin and as having a new life.

The sacrifice was also intended to be made personal. As individuals personalized the "exchange of life" for themselves, their personal sins were forgiven.

The other aspect of the Day of Atonement sacrifice served to bring into sharper focus the personal forgiveness of sin. The high priest laid his hands upon the second goat, symbolically transferring to it the sins of the people. Then the goat was driven into the wilderness, thus making clear God's intent to remember no more the sins against his people. This illustrated that renewal, a new beginning, was possible and that the past did not cling to the community or individual forever. Those who grasped this for themselves were assured of forgiveness of sins and were brought into a personal relationship with God.

As I read and pondered God's instructions to Moses concerning atonement, I realized that I was face to face with the answer to the question I had asked myself as a boy. The barrier between myself and God was my sin, and only God could take away that sin—this I knew.

I knew what most Jewish people would say to this presentation by Moses. Some would reply, "We don't follow this procedure anymore because we no longer have a temple and besides, we need to be concerned with ethics and what is right, not with these ancient rituals." Many of our people would add that the rabbis have developed the ways and means by which we are to approach God in the time of Yom Kippur.

But here is where I had a major problem. When did God change the concept in Leviticus of the "exchange of life"? Did God ever say that this was to be turned into an atonement of repentance, prayers and good deeds only? Certainly this is never seen in the Written Law (the Hebrew Scriptures).

It is in the Oral Law, the Jewish traditions, where our rabbis accommodated a templeless Judaism (70-90 C.E.). The explanation given is that through the repentance of our sins, a life of prayer and doing mitzvah (good deeds), we hope to have the atonement for our sins. I know that the rabbis use halachah (development of new laws) to reinterpret the Written Law so as to make it livable from generation to generation. But did God ever sanction these decisions concerning the basic doctrine of atonement or give his stamp of approval on the change from the biblical principle of the "exchange of life"?

When my technician friend shared with me his faith in Y'shua (Jesus), he described the concept of a suffering, dying and resurrected Messiah. Obviously, this did not square with what I was taught as a boy. However, after studying closely Moses' description of atonement and checking closely Y'shua's claims of being the promised Messiah, I could see a relationship between what Moses was picturing and the ministry of Y'shua. The New Testament teaches that there was one called Y'shua who became the Lord's sacrifice and who alone can take our sins from us. In other words, he came to do exactly what is described in the Yom Kippur services in Leviticus.

Many Jewish people shy away from the name of Y'shua and claim that he started another religion for the gentiles. But listen to what Y'shua himself taught as he lived as a Jew among his generation of Jewish people: "I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10).

He also declared, "'Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself'" (Luke 24:26-27).

In his struggle with the symbolic cup of our sin before he died, he groaned in his prayer, "'Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done'…And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground" (Luke 22:42, 44).

When it comes to Paul, too many of my people want to shun him, claiming that he not only Hellenized Jewish beliefs but even took pagan beliefs and started a new religion as well. But notice how Paul's explanation of atonement is based squarely on what our teacher Moses had already taught. He saw the connection between why Y'shua died and the death of the animal substitute in the Day of Atonement picture.

"God made him [Y'shua as the Lord's sacrifice] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The basic question that confronted me when I examined the New Testament and the history of our people in the first century was whether Paul and thousands of other Jewish people in that day changed the concept of the "exchange of life" in the Hebrew Scriptures. Did the Jewish writers of the New Testament do this? No, they did not! Rather, they continued on with just what the Hebrew Scriptures had precisely lain out. The only difference was that instead of a goat sacrifice and a scapegoat, it was the Messiah himself who (1) died as the substitute by taking our sins upon himself, (2) in his death gives us a new life if we will receive it and (3) takes away our sins from us so that we never have to be charged with them again.

This is an atonement by which we know that our sins have been forgiven. It is a redemption by which we have the assurance that our names are recorded in the Book of Life, not for just one more year, but for all eternity. My study led me to these conclusions. The forgiveness of sins that I had begun to seek as a child was accomplished through Y'shua.

I found that in receiving this "exchange of life," I now have the Shechinah, or Holy Spirit, living in me and enabling me with a dynamic to live to the moral code. In walking with the Lord for many years, I have come to appreciate all the more this dynamic that makes life a triumphant experience. It is not God's will that life be nothing more than a legalistic drudgery. Neither does he expect us to search for some mystical experience that only continues to raise the haunting and vexing question of whether a relationship with God is truly possible.

People who are lonely, despondent, with no hope and feeling guilty will never find meaning in this world apart from a living personalized relationship with God who is, in fact, personal. In realizing atonement for sin we can experience what is not possible in this world's philosophies. We can also have a hope that someday we will be with God when we leave this life. God intended for us to have this experience, and it is ours merely for the asking.

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Dan Brown’s Ghost?

A Thought for the High Holy Days

Everyone's going to be talking about it, so we might as well jump in here at Jews for Jesus.

Over the past few days, the Internet has been ablaze in virtual neon over a discovery made by Harvard professor Karen King.

Professor King has acquired a fragment of papyrus - the ancient equivalent of paper - that dates from about the fourth century after Jesus, in which Jesus is quoted as saying, "my wife."*

Well. Shades of Dan Brown and The DaVinci Code.

Some headlines have soberly and accurately said no more than that someone in the fourth century believed that Jesus had a wife.

Less cautious headline editors have trumpeted the discovery as a "suggestion" or "clue" to Jesus' marital state.

And then there is the whole question of whether the papyrus is a forgery. Not forged by Professor King, mind you - she is merely translating the papyrus that came into her hands. But perhaps by someone else. The jury is still out - very, very far out at this point. But respected biblical blogger James Davila has this to say:

This fragment is exactly, exactly, what the Zeitgeist [the contemporary mindset] of 2012 would want us to find in an ancient gospel. To my mind that weighs heavily against its authenticity. Of course I hope I'm wrong and that it is genuine, and that is certainly a possibility, but this is equivalent to winning big in the lottery and that should make us nervous. It is too perfect. As Larry Schiffman put it, "The most exciting things are the things most likely to be forged." My working hypothesis at the moment is that someone who knew what they were doing went to a lot of effort using a piece of ancient papyrus to create a remarkable forgery.

And:

We must always be especially wary of both interpretations and discoveries that tell us what we want to hear.

Davila's coverage of the media and his evaluation of the whole affair is excellent and can be found here.

The warning against hearing what we want to hear is one that can't be sounded enough. This is especially true when it comes to opinions about Jesus. Every era, it seems, has managed to find a Jesus in tune with its own desires. We have had the liberal Jesus who mouths ethical platitudes. We have had the Jesus who is a rabbi like any other rabbi. There has been Jesus the martyr, Jesus the good teacher, Jesus the mushroom (yes - there was a theory by John Allegro that "Jesus" was the result of the disciples' smoking one too many hallucinogenic fungi). There is Jesus the avatar, Jesus the guru, Jesus the deceiver, Jesus the nice guy, Jesus the bad guy, Jesus the figment of someone's imagination, Jesus the magician. Oh, and Jesus the Messiah, too.

Of course followers of Jesus are not exempt from making Jesus into their own image either. The point is we all need to be aware of our biases and adjust our thinking accordingly.

Shofar Rosh Hashana is over, but the shofar will be sounded yet again before Yom Kippur has ended. The shofar's blast is meant to awaken us to repentance. I think there should be another use for it: to put us on our guard against seeing what we want to see and hearing what we want to hear.

Professor King correctly says that this discovery doesn't prove that Dan Brown was right. But his ghost, so to speak, wanders the halls of the modern mindset. So maybe give yourself a nice High Holy Days present. Instead of the book of Dan, crack open the book of Daniel, and the rest of the Bible too. You might not hear what you want to hear. But that is often not a bad thing at all.

L'shana tova.


Who do *you* think Jesus is? A mushroom, a miracle-worker, a messiah? Use the comments box to let us know.

End Notes:

*The papyrus fragment of Jesus having a wife first came to my attention from this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/us/historian-says-piece-of-papyrus-refers-to-jesus-wife.html

What Will You Be Wearing this Yom Kippur?

Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is a Jewish holy day that is supposed to deal with our shortcomings and get us right with God and each other. Kippur is literally "covering." Which is interesting b/c apparently, the first thing people wanted to do about sin was cover up. Adam and Eve tried to design their own covering in what Tim Gunn would describe as a "make it work" moment.

But the fig leaf design that Adam and Eve came up with didn't work. I don't know what it looked like, but even if it was fashion forward it missed the point of what a covering was supposed to be. Their second attempt to cover up was to blame each other and blame God. Sound familiar? That didn't work either.

So God, the original designer, clothed the first two people on what was really the first day of atonement. The animal skins God used showed the tragedy of sin ... innocent animals had to give their lives in order for human beings to have our sin properly covered.

Today people don't think much about sin. Many of us figure that we've got ourselves covered, that we've got our own spirituality, our own religion, our own whatever - and it "works" for us.

But as Yom Kippur approaches, we are reminded that our own philosophy and our own religion and our own whatever just can't cover us in a "make it work moment" with God. Because if we want peace with God, we need to care about what works for him.

Yom Kippur helps us see what works for God: for us to admit that we wronged him (often by wronging others) and to admit that our wrongs are destructive and alienate us from each other as well as from him. And after admitting that, we can receive the forgiveness and righteousness he offers us—on his terms, not ours.

In Bible times, his terms were the animal sacrifices that reenacted the tragic story of sin over and over, helping each generation understand our need to repent and receive God's forgiveness. But God had a permanent solution in mind. Someone who had no sin would willingly sacrifice himself once and for all. Since there was no such person, God did it himself, through Y'shua (Jesus).

It may not be fashionable to believe in Jesus as our kippur or covering. But have you noticed, fashion is always changing and redirecting its followers. That doesn't only go for clothing, but for many ideas people claim will solve our problems and bring us peace.

God has an eternal, unchanging beauty and style that is always full of grace. He offers us a timeless covering for our sin. So what will you be wearing this Yom Kippur? Receive Y'shua as your kippur, and he will not only change your life here and now, but when you leave this world to face your maker, you'll definitely be covered.

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The Shocking Truth About Yom Kippur

In Judaism we take on the issue of sin once a year at Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

We break away from the busyness of life and take a hard look at our transgressions and mistakes which we’ve committed throughout the year. 

We fast and go to synagogue and repent of our sins and do acts of charity.

We do this because we believe God keeps a Book of Life, and we hope that our names will be entered into it for another “good year.”

And when it’s over, we resume our lives again.

And head out to our favorite restaurant for some good food.

Not so fast.

Isn’t it time we stopped and really thought about this?

Traditional Judaism tells us we are born with two inclinations – an evil and a good one, and our job is to choose the good over the evil.

How are you doing with that?

If you’re like me, you lose that battle every day.

And I’m just one person. Multiply these tendencies by all the people in the world and we witness the atrocities that afflict the human race every day.

The fact is despite our best intentions we choose evil over good all the time. We are inclined to it, like a moth to a flame.

“The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?”  - Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV

Scripture states that sin is like a cancer that infects the entire human race.

It’s lethal, so the cure had to be radical, too.

That’s why God intervened.

Y’shua came to earth and died on the cross to be our “ kippur” covering for our sins, so we could be forgiven and have eternal life.

“And being found in appearance as a man,
He (Y’shua) humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
- Philippians 2:8 NKJV

So this Day of Atonement be a radical thinker!

Bring your sins to Y’shua, confess them to him, and let him be your atonement now and forever.

If you have taken that step, would you leave us a comment or contact us? We’d like to know!
Want to know more about what it means to be a follower of Y'shua?

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The teachings of Judaism contain a variety of viewpoints and cannot be looked upon as a monolithic explanation of what Jews believe.

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A Crime of Passion: Why Does the Death of Y'shua Matter?

What makes the crucifixion one of the most prominent events in history?

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