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Yom Kippur and the Cross

Judaism “light” for Christians, Part 1

Dr. RB McFee

Email: drmcfee2020@gmail.com

(image public domain from quotesgram.com)

The other day I was listening to talk radio, and the show host was reading something about how people are increasingly short tempered with each other – in public, at home, all over. But when you think about contemporary challenges – from gas prices to product shortages, from pandemic to politics, have things really changed that much over these last 5782 years (start of Jewish calendar)?

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Matthew 6:12

How often have you and I uttered those words? How often have we recited The Lord’s Prayer in the course of our lives? And how often have we thought about those words in a personal way, as a true conversation between Jesus and us? Better said, as an instruction from Jesus to us?

I wonder how many of us race to the finish line. You know, the “surely goodness and mercy will follow us” part of the prayer? It is after all human nature to want the reward before, or in lieu of the responsibility. Been there, done that! Maybe you have, too?

It is hard to forgive. And yet without it we put barriers between us and our fellow coreligionists, coworkers, even friends and family. Often the trespass is minor, but we magnify it. And sometimes it is a good sized hurt. And in the hurt do we remember the promise we say every week to God (“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”)?

Do you think Jesus was ever hurt by others? How do you think He handled it?

In Matthew 18:22, Jesus teaches us that church members should forgive each other “seventy times seven times.” Although He didn’t give us a number for coworkers, and relatives, we can probably guess it is probably close in magnitude!

One could make the argument that the true purpose of Christ’s ministry was to teach forgiveness. After all, can love survive in an environment without forgiveness? Think of the Cross. It is the ultimate symbol of forgiveness.

What does this have to do with Judaism and Yom Kippur?

Although we often read the Jewish scriptures as means of inspiration for our lives, we sometimes overlook some of the sacred moments in Jesus’ native faith that relate to our beliefs, and in many ways help inform them.

One such sacred moment is Yom Kippur.

Not surprisingly we’re going to talk about forgiveness, well sort of. Today we’ll talk about “atonement.” And here’s where we can learn from the Jewish part of our Judeo-Christian heritage….

Enter Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement.

There’s a difference between forgiveness, and atonement although they are interconnected. If I hurt you, Jesus expects you to forgive me. But He also expects me to atone for the hurt I gave you. And vice versa since none of us goes through life without inadvertently hurting others, or being hurt.

Thankfully, in God’s Heavenly wisdom He has made a team out of the hurt recipient – hurt inflictor. We share joint responsibilities. Well sort of.

So let’s look at Yom Kippur, which is often referred to as the Sabbath of Sabbaths, being considered by many Jews and scholars of Judaism as among the holiest of holy days.

The words from Hebrew “Yom” and “Kippur” translated mean “day” and “atonement” respectively.

Yom Kippur fulfills God’s command….

“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves and present a food offering to the LORD. And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God.”

Leviticus 23:26-29

“Kippur” moreover is a derivation of sorts from “kapporet” which was a covering on the Ark of the Covenant. Some have interpreted Yom Kippur as covering with mercy. Since the Ark was placed in the holiest of holy places, you can start to see the interweaving of symbolism that, along with God’s command in Leviticus 23, help shape the significance of the day.

“And this shall be to you a law for all time: In the seventh month (Tisheri), on the tenth day of the month, you shall practice self-denial; and you shall do no manner of work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you. For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins; you shall be clean before the LORD.”

Leviticus 23: 27 - 32

Referring to Leviticus, the tenth of the Hebrew month of Tisheri was sunset 09/15/21 to sunset 09/16/21.

And, what is a sin? Jesus probably would say a sin is any behavior that our Savior had to wear on the Cross for us, some act against God, self, or another person, that would displease God, and ignores the Great Commandments of Christ – to love God and each other.

By now you are probably thinking Robin shouldn’t this have been written a month ago? Although Yom Kippur has past in the Jewish calendar, the question arises, has it past for us as Christians?

Let me pause here and talk a bit about the season of Yom Kippur before linking it to Christianity.

The first of Tisheri is Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year. It is a sunset to sunset period filled with celebration. But it is part of a ten day observance period where you try to make yourself holy and acceptable to God. On the tenth you fast, pray, and atone – to God and to others.

Do we think in those terms? Making ourselves holy and acceptable to God?

Here’s the cool part – something I think Christians ought to consider….and something my Jewish friends and I do every year….we say to each other “if I’ve hurt you in any way during the last year, I apologize, am truly sorry, and will you forgive me?”

It is as God envisioned – a true Lord’s Prayer partnership….forgive as we are forgiven. Maybe this is why I look forward to Yom Kippur – it provides a sense of washing clean and restoration. But then, isn’t that what the Cross, and our Baptism are all about, too?

On Yom Kippur I have yet to say “no,” nor have I had someone say “no” to me. But if that were to occur, the apology/atonement is repeated. If someone ultimately fails, and yes fails to forgive, if the one trying to atone is truly sincere, they are forgiven by God. Here’s the clincher; now the one who failed to forgive must take it up with God!

I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I would want to explain to the Almighty why I couldn’t forgive someone when He sent His only Son to die for my sins. Would you want to have that conversation with the Lord? And yet people go for long periods of time holding grudges, or giving the cold shoulder to people when forgiveness would be so much more productive, and Christian!

Maybe Yom Kippur is a good reminder of Who we belong to, and what we promised Him – to be loving, kind, forgiving, full of forbearance, hospitable.


As Christians we share a common heritage with our Savior. Yet too often we fail to touch the sacred moments of His life, which is to say the Jewish holidays and celebrations. And in the process, we miss great