Atonement“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” – Leviticus 16:34

Every year, on the 10th day of the 7th month, the Hebrews of the Old Testament participated in the Day of Atonement. The specific ritual is set forth in Leviticus 16. It is a complex ceremony, involving special linen clothing worn by the priest, ritual bathing, multiple sacrifices of specific animals, burning coals, smoking incense, the sprinkling of blood, and a “scapegoat” who runs away into the wilderness symbolically taking away the sins of the people.

Yet the writer of Hebrews acknowledges that this ceremony was only a foretaste and shadow of that which was to come:

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered?  (Hebrews 10:1-2)

The Day of Atonement needed to be observed every year because it could not fully take away the sins of the people in a permanent way. We needed Jesus for that. Only his self-sacrifice on the cross, which we remember on Good Friday, can take away the sins of the world:

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.  (Hebrews 10:11-14)

This Good Friday, let us remember together a sacrifice that doesn’t need to be reenacted, but one that was enacted once and for all eternity.