Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Not our sinfulness, but God's holiness

Last spring, the UMJC website featured a drash on parashat Acharei Mot by Noel Rabinowitz which was all about Yom Kippur.  Since it's that time of the year, I thought I'd repost some excerpts here on the Gathering Sparks blog:
I knew very little about Yom Kippur growing up. Of course, when I became a new believer in Yeshua people assumed I knew a lot about the subject. I began to receive invitations from my Christian friends to speak about the holiday. Never being one to allow ignorance of a topic to stand in my way, I was more than happy to take them up on the offer!  After skimming through some Christian commentaries on the Leviticus, I was more than confidant that I understood the subject.  The focus on my devotional was, more or less, always the same-I'm a dirty rotten sinner and I need a sacrifice to atone for our sins.

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The purpose of this [Day of Atonement] ceremony-to state the obvious, was to make atonement for the people of Israel so that they could remain in fellowship with the Lord for another year. A holy God cannot remain in fellowship with an unclean and sinful people.  When I taught about Yom Kippur my focus was just that - the sacrifice wiped away sin so God forgave the Israelites. And that's what we tend to focus on - I'm a sinner. Woe is me! Coming to terms with my own sinfulness, made me feel deeply spiritual.  In the back of my mind, I was certain God was deeply impressed. Well, I was wrong. The focus of Yom Kippur is not my sinfulness, but rather God's holiness.

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How was an unclean person restored to fellowship? Here is how it worked: When a person became unclean or had sinned, their uncleanness or sin polluted and contaminated God's dwelling place.  In effect, human beings are like little factories whose smoke stacks pump out all kinds of pollution. That pollution drifts through the atmosphere until it reaches the Tabernacle and covers it.  Sin and uncleanness symbolically pollute and contaminate God's dwelling place.  If that situation is not remedied, God's wrath will break out against all those who have defiled his dwelling place.

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The Day of Atonement should definitely remind us that we are a sinful people in desperate and constant need of God's forgiveness. That's a good thing. However, if all we do is focus on ourselves and our sins-we're still coming up a bit short. We still don't understand the full significance of this holiday. The focus of Yom Kipper is not our sinfulness, but rather God's holiness.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You wrote "I'm a dirty rotten sinner and I need a sacrifice to atone for our sins."

That is an apt summation of Augustinian total depravity doctrine.

And while it's fine for gentiles to believe that if they want to, it's not okay for Jews to. Because the Jews have a Torah, an instruction manual for life written by G-d Himself and given to them via their forefathers. And in it, G-d told the Jews that they darn well can live up to His moral standards, and that they are eternally bound to do just that (Deut. 30:11). Most important for a Jew involved in Christianity to remember is that no sacrifice is competent to secure atonement for intentional sin (Num. 15:27-31).

Life is a challenging series of tests. For Jews, the main thing is to choose life instead of following Augustine's gentile way by defining and limiting our inherent potential for greatness as our worst failures.

Yahnatan Lasko said...

Anonymous: I take it you agree with Dr. Rabinowitz's point then that the Day of Atonement isn't all about how sinful we are. (The full article (linked above) goes into more detail on the significance of Yom Kippur vis-a-vis the Temple...)

As for intentional sins, the writings of Yeshua's apostles teach that teshuvah is necessary for a person to enter the kingdom of heaven. And I believe it was Resh Lakish who said "Great is teshuvah, for by it intentional sins are converted to unintentional sins."

Anonymous said...

Both Jesus and his apostles misinformed people that the only way to G-d is through Jesus.

Now, it could be that Jesus also believed that repentance was a necessary ingredient along the path to G-d. But, to the rabbis, or really any Jew who respects the Jewish Bible, the insertion of Jesus into the equation as an intermediary is a stumbling block explicitly forbidden by the First Commandment, itself necessitating repentance.

Thus, this essay was interesting in that it unintentionally (no pun intended!) highlighted one of the major axes of theological distinction between traditional, Bible-based Judaism and its religious opposite, Christianity.