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The Tapestry of Atonement: Strength in Weakness

Today we’re continuing to look at “The Tapestry of Atonement.” As with last week’s post, and the series on Pentecost earlier this year, what I’d like to do today is to use God’s Word to weave together threads of knowledge that will paint a more complete picture of the real meaning of the Day of Atonement for all of us.

Thread Three: Weakness

Back in Leviticus 23:27 and 32, we see the word “afflict.” It is translated from the Hebrew word anah (H6031) which is an action word that means to be afflicted, oppressed, abased, and humbled. Specifically, to chasten or weaken one’s self. The accepted, and Biblical, means of doing this is through fasting from food and water.

Fasting for a full 24 hours – from sunset the day before to sunset the Day of Atonement – means no distractions. No meal preparation, no eating, no drinking. Adding the command to “rest,” there’s no work at all of any kind to distract us. We are commanded to observe the Day of Atonement this way under penalty of expulsion in verse 29 and destruction in verse 30. It is not with the idea of doing penance, but so we can give undivided attention to two things – reconciliation with God , and reconciliation with our fellow human beings because it pleases God. Voluntary fasting weakens us in the flesh to strengthen us in the spirit.

 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.(2 Cor. 12:7-9)

When God reveals marvelous truths to you, He usually gives you something to expose your humanity – to humble you and balance you out so you don’t get all swell-headed and full of pride. It doesn’t look like a blessing, but it really is, and Paul came to see that.

In these verses when Christ says “My strength is made perfect in weakness,” the word “strength” is the Greek word dunamis (G1411), which refers to God’s miracle-working power. Because of this assurance from Christ, Paul was actually able to say that he was able to “take pleasure in” enduring his weaknesses.

Another thing to notice here as we sort of pick apart this section of scripture is that “weakness” and “infirmity” are both the same Greek word, asthenia (G769). It means feebleness, malady, physical or moral frailty, disease, or infirmity. In the next chapter, Paul applies this word to the example of Jesus Christ.

since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you. For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you. Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. (2 Cor.13:3-5)

Christ was crucified in weakness, made alive again by the dunamis of God, and WE ALSO shall live WITH HIM by that same miracle-working power. Then verse 5 brings us brings us right back to the purpose of Atonement when it tells us to examine the state of our relationship with God.

There is a connection between our weakness and being made strong by God. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” When we add to this the reminder in 1 Corinthians 1:26 that, “not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called,” it indicates that the reverse of Philippians 4:13 is also true: I can do nothing without Christ.

And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. (Heb. 11:32-34)

The people given as examples of what true faith looks like were made strong OUT OF WEAKNESS. Worldly men make every effort to make themselves stronger somehow – bigger, better, more muscular, politically powerful, attractive, socially connected, wealthy, academically, educationally enhanced – but there’s only one way to dunamis. God’s miracle-working power is not going to flow into a bunch of people who think they’re already “practically perfect in every way” (if I may borrow the phrase from Mary Poppins). According to scripture, God’s strength and power – His dunamis – doesn’t flow toward human strengths and advantages. It flows to weakness and infirmity.

And He came down with them and stood on a level place with a crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear Him and be healed of their diseases, as well as those who were tormented with unclean spirits. And they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power (dunamis) went out from Him and healed them all. (Luke 6:17-19)

I know that every one of us has some thorn in the flesh, some weight on our shoulders that we beseech God daily to remove from our lives. On the Day of Atonement, the weakness of fasting give us a unique opportunity for drawing near to God,  to “touch the hem of His garments,” in a way, just as the multitude did so many times. After a multitude of miracles where dunamis flowed out from Him into the weak and infirm, look what He said next:

Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets. (Luke 6:20-26)

What made power flow out of Christ? Here, where He talks about the type of person who will be “blessed,” we get a partial picture. Let’s look at another specific healing where He answered this question Himself.

Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, came from behind and touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped.

And Jesus said, “Who touched Me?” When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, “Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” But Jesus said, “Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.”

Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately. And He said to her, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” (Luke 8:43-48)

In this account, power – dunamis – went out of Him like it was something He couldn’t even control. He tells the woman, “your faith has made you whole” to explain this phenomenon. So we see that it was FAITH in a weak, frail physical body that caused dunamis to flow out of Christ and into her. And this happened again and again during His earthly ministry. Won’t He do the same for those who reach out to Him now?

And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, ran through that whole surrounding region, and began to carry about on beds those who were sick to wherever they heard He was. Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment. And as many as touched Him were made well. (Mark 6:54-56)

Thread Four: High Priest

There’s one more thread I’d like to bring out regarding the Day of Atonement. Leviticus 16 has a lot of information for keeping this day, and there are many threads we could look at, but I’m only going to focus on one here. I’m not going to go through the whole discourse about the two goats, and the other sacrifices offered on the Day of Atonement, but in vs. 29

“This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you. For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It is a sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever. And the priest, who is anointed and consecrated to minister as priest in his father’s place, shall make atonement, and put on the linen clothes, the holy garments; then he shall make atonement for the Holy Sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tabernacle of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year.” And he did as the Lord commanded Moses. (Lev. 16:29-34)

The word used here for the priest making atonement is kafar (H3722). It’s the root word for kippurim, which we looked at last week. Kafar means to cover, to placate or cancel, to appease, dis-annul, forgive, be merciful, pacify, pardon, or purge. This isn’t something the people could do for themselves. It was done FOR them BY the High Priest.

Though we can obey God and come before Him with a proper attitude for reconciliation, we aren’t the ones who “make” Atonement happen. That is provided by one person … the High Priest of God. In the Old Testament, the High Priest with all his ornate robes, vestments and clothing was a busy, busy man who had a very bloody job. All that work, and all of those thousands of animal sacrifices pointed to one thing: the need for the true High Priest.

But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. (Heb 9:11-15)

The Old Testament high priest had to enter the Holy of Holies once every year with the blood of an animal to atone for the sins of one nation. This great High Priest entered with His own blood ONE TIME, to atone for the sins of the whole world for ALL time.

By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them,” then He adds, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb. 10:10-22)
This great High Priest’s one sacrifice, and His one offering, created a way for all of us to enter the Holiest, to approach the very throne of God in heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit, in prayer in His name. Fasting on Atonement is like an open invitation to that High Priest to escort us there to the very presence of His Father. That’s what Atonement does for you and me, and it is an ongoing promise, pictured by this high holy day and relevant all year long.


The Tapestry of Atonement: Our Reconciliation

The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) was observed on this past Saturday. Though this holy day has passed for this year, there are still lessons we as Christians can learn from that day. Earlier this year, I wrote a series of blog posts titled “The Tapestry of Pentecost,” which was basically a description of the many “threads of truth” that God has woven together into His Holy Word that produce a wonderful and meaningful picture of that particular Day in the great plan of God. I’d like to do the same thing with Atonement today, and in a post next week as well.

As is our custom when discussing the holy days, let’s begin in Leviticus 23.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath.”(Lev. 23:26-32)

Thread one: Return to God

The Hebrew word for “day” is yom (H3117) and “atonement” is kippurim, (H3725). Thus, the Jews call this day Yom Kippur. Kippurim is a masculine plural noun, referring to the act of reconciliation. Webster’s defines “reconciliation” this way: “The process of making consistent or compatible.” To reconcile is a process by which two people are caused to become friendly or peaceable again. It also means to compose, or settle a quarrel; to bring into agreement or harmony, make compatible or consistent, and to restore.

So, Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement – is first and foremost a day of reconciliation and restoration to peace, friendship, and harmony FROM a state of enmity, or estrangement. The overall principle behind the need for Atonement can be seen in Romans 7 and 8, as Paul describes his own nature (and the nature of all mankind), and where that nature took him. Knowing as we do the history of Paul as it is described in the book of Acts, and his conversion from Saul, the fire-breathing, hate-filled Pharisee into Paul the Apostle, no one could argue that Paul was not a completely “converted man.” And yet, in Romans 7, Paul says this about himself, more than 20 years after his conversion in Acts 9 …

 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. (Rom. 7:14-25)

These words, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” are where the process of Atonement really begins. It is the realization that we need someone outside of ourselves, someone bigger, more powerful, and more competent, – an ever-present “big brother” – to intercede and to cover for us. Someone to pay the ransom price for our lives and wash away all our failures.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom. 8:1-8)

Our natural minds are at odds with God, and we have need of Atonement – a reconciliation with the mind of God.

Thread Two: Focus on What’s Important

Let’s hearken back to Leviticus 23 and pick up another thread. The first thing that comes through to me is how important this day is to the Godhead. If you just compare the amount of Biblical space here devoted to the Feast of Trumpets (3 verses) to the space devoted to Atonement (7 verses,) and look at the warnings in verses 29 and 30, the message is clear. This Day is intended to be taken seriously!

For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. (Lev. 23:29-30)

It is of the utmost importance that we don’t let our busy, and very blessed, lives overshadow the Day of Atonement. This is what we talked about last week, when discussing The Days of Awe that fall between The Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement.

When God brought Israel into the promised land in Deuteronomy 8:7-14, He warned them against letting the good things in their lives distract them from what was really important – a relationship with Him. We are as richly blessed as they were, and fasting on the Day of Atonement can seem like an inconvenience compared to all the good things we usually have. We might even get irritated at having to stop for this solemn day before taking off to celebrate the next holy day, the Feast of Tabernacles. But it seems very important to God that we approach the Day of Atonement with due respect, and set it aside for nothing but its intended purpose.

Leading up to the Days of Atonement, it is Jewish tradition to pause for self-reflection, repentance, and penitence for sins committed during the previous year. The Days of Awe are used to apologize to family and friends for any offenses committed against them, and to forgive any and all transgressions. This year, I decided to adopt that approach, because in the past, I’ve tended to overlook the Day of Atonement during the harried days preceding Tabernacles. And it has helped my focus on Atonement tremendously.

Next post, we’ll take a look at why God wants us to fast on the day of Atonement, and what spiritual effect fasting is supposed to have on us.