The Day of Atonement shows us reality: God is holy; we are unholy; our unholiness must be dealt with if a holy God is to remain dwelling with his unholy people. But the Day of Atonement didn’t actually deal with the problem of sin. It looked ahead to the day when sin would be dealt with once and for all – the day Jesus died on the cross.
Jesus entered the real Tabernacle, of which the one on earth was only a shadow and copy (Heb 9:11). As our perfect high priest he offered a perfect sacrifice that atoned for sin once and for all (Heb 9:12, 25-26). His death is The Day of Atonement, that atones for our sins.
What does Jesus death show us then in regard to the Old Testament Day of Atonement ceremonies? It’s not only that his death fulfils that day by atoning for our sins. Think of what his death achieves. With our sin dealt with once and for all, there is no longer any need for a barrier or curtain. When Jesus died the curtain was torn in two from top to bottom (Mark 15:38). The barrier separating us from God was removed. With our sin dealt with we now have full, free access to God. No longer is it only a high priest of Israel who can approach God, and only once a year with a cloud of incense smoke, lest he see God and die. Now anyone, Jew and Gentile, who trusts in Jesus is forgiven their sin, cleansed of sin, and can approach God. Look at how Hebrews puts it (Heb 10:19-22):
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.”
We have confidence now to approach God in full, free access, just as we are, without the curtain and barrier, without a smoke screen. We have full access to God – an unholy, sinful people who have been forgiven our sins through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross in our place.
If we take this access to God for granted we are missing a huge point. The Old Testament shows that we cannot just rock up before God whenever we like. Those who did so died in their sins. But now that we are forgiven our sins by Jesus’ death in our place we can come before God at any time. We are in relationship with God. We are his ‘mates’! What the Old Testament people longed for and looked ahead to is now ours in Christ. And so we can approach the throne of grace with confidence in our time of need (Heb 4:14-16):
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession… Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Prayer is an immense privilege. I’m sure that most folk who aren’t Christian assume that they can approach God when they are in trouble and, hopefully, he will hear and answer their prayers. But would he? Can a holy God be approached by a person in their sins? But now for all whose sins are forgiven by Jesus, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence. God can and will hear and answer our prayers.
What’s the most spectacular, amazing thing about prayer? The fact that we can come before God in prayer. The ‘trick’ to prayer has nothing to do with us and everything to do with Jesus. It is because of Jesus’ death on the cross that we have full, free, access to God. We can come before him anytime in prayer.
What an immense privilege!
Let’s not take it for granted.