A Failure to Understand
The Ten Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the most solemn time of the Jewish calendar year. If Jewish people ever think about the issue of sin and reconciliation to God, they will think about it during this season. Therefore, the few weeks before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a very good time to discuss these most important matters with Jewish people, when considering them is natural.
I recall one such conversation I had with a new contact. When the lady learned that I was with Jews for Jesus, she told me, If you had a real Jewish education, you would know that the concept of a mediator between us and God is totally foreign to Judaism.”
I read a few verses to her from Leviticus 16 about the Old Testament ritual for the Day of Atonement. From that chapter and a few verses of Leviticus 23 (verses 26-32), we can glean the following principles:
1. All of us have sinned. This can be inferred from the fact that all needed to participate in the Day of Atonement on penalty of being expurgated from the holy community.
2. God provided a substitute to bear the penalty of sin in order that he might be just in his judgment upon sin, yet merciful in providing justification and atonement for the sinner. The priest who offered the sacrifice was said to “make atonement” for the people. Nowhere were the people credited with making atonement for themselves, either by repentance, fasting, charity or any other good work.
3. Nevertheless, each Israelite was required to “humble” himself, to indicate that he or she recognized the need for atonement and accepted the atoning sacrifice offered on his or her behalf.
All of this precisely parallels the work of Yeshua on our behalf and the way we must come to receive him. Like the Old Testament goat sacrifice offered “for the Lord,” Yeshua bore the penalty for our sins, dying in our place. Like the scapegoat that was driven into the wilderness, he actually took our sins away from us. Yet, though the sacrifice has been offered, each of us must personally receive him, or it does not avail for us. It is just as the prophet Isaiah indicated when he wrote, “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin…by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:10, 11).
The only point I raised with that lady was directly in answer to her statement. I showed her from Scripture that God through Moses definitely seemed to be commanding a system of mediation through priests. To this, she responded, “Don’t you think anything has changed in 3,500 years?”
I said, “Our circumstances may have changed, but God’s nature has not changed. If the Torah (Pentateuch) can really tell us anything about God, we can assume that this passage still indicates his feelings about sin and his pattern of atonement.”
She replied, “I can’t stand fundamentalists of any religion!”
She found my position on atonement repugnant, even though I was obviously in harmony with the plain meaning of what Moses had said. It reminded me of the saying of Yeshua, “…had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46).
I am convinced that modern Judaism’s rejection of the need for a mediator is not merely a technical disagreement about how a person must atone for sin. The problem is a failure to understand the sinfulness of sin. If sin is merely an action, perhaps I might make up for my bad deeds by doing enough good deeds. But Scripture describes sin as a state of being, going so far as to say, “…the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither, indeed, can be. So, then, they that are in the flesh [the natural human state] cannot please God” (Romans 8:7, 8). Because sin is a state of hostility toward God, even our good deeds are not pleasing to him until we have been reconciled. If I kept seven of the Ten Commandments, I would not do well to argue before the judgment throne that my seven points of obedience should compensate for my three points of rebellion. Those three deeds of sin would testify sufficiently to the reality of my rebellious heart.
Because sin has corrupted all of humanity, none of us is even able to repent apart from God’s grace. If I stole, I might be able to repent of the act of stealing, or if I lied, I might be able to commit myself to honesty and keep that commitment. But as a sinner, I cannot completely repent of sinning so that I will never sin again. I cannot by good deeds take away my own sins. That is why our Heavenly Father not only sent Jesus to die for our sins, but by his Spirit has planted his life within us as well. That is why the Scripture says, “But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9).
God displayed his wisdom above all human systems for reconciling us to him. Recognizing our weakness and demonstrating his love, he sent Yeshua, not only to pay the penalty for our sins, but to give us new hearts when we were unable even to repent. Through receiving Yeshua, we come to know the grace that Moses pictured would come through the Messiah. God’s demand of us is that we do not offer him the “filthy rags” of our own so-called repentance (Isaiah 64:6), but that we receive the righteousness he offers us through Yeshua.
Like the lady in this account, many Jewish people will not be ready or willing to understand these things, but some will. And for those it’s worth the effort.