Have you ever thought about how Jewish holidays can bring you closer to your Savior? These special days can change your understanding of God in a way that enriches your spirit and pleases Him.
This Wednesday evening marks the beginning of Yom Kippur, also called the Day of Atonement. For the Jewish people, it is a solemn day of repentance. God established this day as the 10th day of the seventh month, saying in Leviticus 23:27–28 that it “shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lᴏʀᴅ. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lᴏʀᴅ your God.” Those who observe it reflect on their sins from the past year with a heart of true sorrow for their trespasses against God. The observance entails a service of corporate confession of sins while worshipers spend all day in the synagogue praying, fasting, and giving charity.
The Jewish people revere Yom Kippur more than any other day. As believers in Jesus, we may not recognize this holy day but we can certainly emulate its customs in our daily lives. So how can we use the three aspects of Yom Kippur and incorporate them into our spiritual disciplines on a daily basis as we pursue God?
Praying in sorrowful repentance is the main focus of this day. Jewish observers bring a contrite heart of prayer to the Lord in the synagogue much like believers do in churches when they partake in communion. Rather than taking this time just once a year, local churches typically offer communion much more often, perhaps once a quarter, month, or week. The Day of Atonement is a perfect time for us to acknowledge our sins before God and ask for His forgiveness, which He graciously offers us. Even outside of corporate communion, we should make a habit of spending time with God in repentance.
On Yom Kippur, Jewish observers fast for 25 hours. This is a tremendous undertaking. Fasting is a practice that believers in Jesus do not follow nearly as much as Jewish people do corporately. The intention behind the fast is admirable: By denying physical needs, a person can spend more time, effort, and energy praying to the Lord. While the Jewish people use this period to confess sins, believers can do the same while adding to the practice. We can take this uninterrupted time to praise God for who He is, thank Him for what He’s done, and ask Him to supply our needs, in addition to confessing our sins in an act of repentance toward Him. Our ability to enjoy fellowship with the Lord of all creation is a privilege that should not be taken lightly and should be used with a joyful heart to strengthen our relationship with Him.
Giving charity to others sometimes gets a bad name now. Some would-be recipients view free gifts as a blow to their self-respect and feel humiliated by such an offer. Some see it as an enabling act of entitlement. Other times people are discouraged from giving charity because gifts (particularly money) can be used and abused for worthless purposes. But Yom Kippur is an excellent reminder to believers to love our neighbors as ourselves, as God commanded in Leviticus 19:18 and Jesus repeated in Matthew 22:39. Let this be a time of giving to those in need, whether it be money, food, clothing, or anything else that would be of tangible help while demonstrating the love of Christ in action.
At the heart of this day, a repentant attitude ties together each aspect of the observance. The Jewish people faithfully commit to lowering themselves in humility, bowing before God, overwhelmed by the magnitude of personal sin. Reflecting on his own sin, David wrote in Psalm 51:16–17, “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.” All who take an honest look at their hearts compared to God’s righteousness should be brought to their knees in the same way by the weight of their sin. It’s amazing how sinful we are! Even in our best efforts, we fall so short of the glory of God.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” -1 John 1:9
Yet hope remains. Our sin isn’t the end of the story when we have redemption through Christ! John explained it best in 1 John 1:9, saying, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” While we should be repentant at all times, we have this glorious promise that our sin no longer condemns us. Our Father is faithful to us and pardons us. It’s our duty and joy to draw near to Him as we experience the rich blessing of the forgiveness of our sins. May our repentance drive us to worship and praise God for who He is.
Don’t let Yom Kippur pass this year without gleaning some important lessons from it. The fundamentals of this cherished day can impact your day-to-day walk with Christ more than you realize. Let’s all strive for the humility and penitent heart that characterizes Yom Kippur on a daily basis as we pursue our God.