For over three years I’d been talking to a Russian Jewish man about Jesus. Arkady had been curious about the gospel ever since he read an evangelistic ad that Jews for Jesus published in a Russian language newspaper. We read through the Gospel of John twice, and had many discussions.
Last fall, Arkady told me that he believed Jesus was real. He understood the issue of sin. He understood that Jesus died for him to pay the penalty for his sin. He just didn’t understand how it was going to make any difference in his life.
With that in mind I began working on a message for our Yom Kippur service. I prepared the message especially for Arkady and was disappointed when he didn’t come to the Yom Kippur service. Here, in part, is what he would have heard.
A main theme of Yom Kippur is denying one’s self. Every Jew, even those whose Jewish identities are mainly cultural, knows that Yom Kippur is the day that our people come together and afflict our souls. We do this through prayer (tfila), charity or doing good (tzedaka) and repentance (tshuva). The last takes the form of fasting (no intake of food or water), as well as abstaining from bathing, sex, body lotions, perfumes or wearing leather clothing or shoes. This is how Judaism has traditionally defined the concept of denying self.”
In modern Jewish tradition, great emphasis is placed upon these personal sacrifices as though they somehow make penance for sin. However, the Scriptures tell us that was not God’s intent. That would put the emphasis of the Day of Atonement on our own ability to wipe away sin. That runs contrary to God’s Word, which tells us He provided the means of atonement, which was blood on the altar (Leviticus 17:11). The Temple is gone, so there is no sacrificial system to make the atonement. Jesus completed that system by giving up His own life as a sacrifice.
It is in the words of Jesus that we find a right understanding of what it means to deny ourselves. He said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). What did Jesus mean when He said that we should deny ourselves? It is the same concept that we find in Leviticus, in the description of the rites and practices associated with Yom Kippur.
Clearly, to deny ourselves means something other than to cause ourselves pain or displeasure for the sake of penance. To deny ourselves, even as Jesus did, means to put aside whatever we may think we need or deserve, to offer ourselves to God in humility, not based on our own strength or merit. When Jesus faced the cross He did not do so based on His glory as Messiah, or upon His rights as the Son of God. He simply said “Not my will but Yours be done.”
Like Jesus, we must be ready to offer our hearts to the Lord without any reference to our own strength or rights. He wants us to offer ourselves to Him simply, humbly as His blood-bought treasure.
That’s the message that I’ve wanted to tell Arkady. God is waiting for him to repent. He wants Arkady to come to Him without claiming any merit of his own—to approach the Throne of Grace with a humble heart.
In return, out of the wellspring of salvation God wants to give Arkady a heart filled with blessing and peace. A heart filled with Yeshua (Jesus), His grace, the power of the Holy Spirit—and the assurance of being with God forever. When you have a living relationship with God through Jesus there is no question of Him making a difference in your life.
As we approach this holiday season, Arkady still understands the gospel intellectually, but it has yet to penetrate his heart. Please pray with me for Arkady, that he might come to know the Lord personally.