The Day of Atonement
Open Your Bible
Leviticus 16:1-34, Leviticus 17:1-16, John 1:29, Mark 15:33-39, Romans 3:25-26
BY Patti Sauls
“Vasovagal syncope” is typed at the top of my friend’s chart. This tongue-twisting term warns medical personnel that she faints at the sight of blood. If she gets a blood draw or even a finger prick, her vision fades and she breaks into a cold, clammy sweat. You know where this is going. Loss of consciousness and collapse. How curious that the sight of blood causes such intense, visceral reactions.
Let’s follow this curiosity into the center of the book of Leviticus where we find God’s plan for the Day of Atonement. To understand this annual holy day, we remember that Israel had a big problem—sin. Ever since humans rejected attachment and relationship with God by disobeying Him (Genesis 3), there had to be separation between God and His people. As darkness is destroyed by light, so sinful people cannot survive in the presence of a perfect God. Sin had to be dealt with—atoned for—if God was going to dwell among His people in the tented temple.
Here’s the good news that weaves through the Bible: God had a plan to conquer sin. He knew it was impossible for the Israelites to overcome this deadly dilemma on their own. But God made the way. “Atonement will be made for you on this day to cleanse you, and you will be clean from all your sins before the LORD” (Leviticus 16:30). God established the annual Day of Atonement to heal His people’s sin sickness so they could abide with Him.
The Day of Atonement was full of grace, but it was also full of blood. God instructed the high priest to perform specific rituals: multiple animal deaths, blood drained, blood sprinkled, blood-smeared. The stark reality could not be missed: reckoning with sin required bloodshed and death.
I may not faint at the sight of blood, but I recoil at the thought of these bloody rituals. But we dare not gloss over the gruesome scene. We’re meant to experience a visceral reaction; we’re meant to feel the horrific truth about the effects of sin. There is nothing small or subtle about it. Conquering sin calls for an all-out assault. “For the life of a creature is in the blood…it is the lifeblood that makes atonement” (Leviticus 17:11). Do I realize what sin causes and costs? What a bloody mess.
You know where this is going. The bloody sacrifices performed every year on the Day of Atonement culminate in Jesus offering Himself and pouring out His own lifeblood to cleanse us from our sins. His sacrifice did not need to be an annual endeavor. Jesus, the perfect sacrifice who rose to life despite suffering a bloody death, was the only One who could destroy sin and say, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Jesus’s gruesome crucifixion transformed into His glorious resurrection and leads us to grateful praise as we declare, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).