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Yom Kippur and the Cross

Judaism “light” for Christians, Part 1

Dr. RB McFee

(image public domain from

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 opportunities to learn from Him.

That said, sometimes I wish we didn’t distinguish between Testaments, and treated our Bible as a continuum – a conversation from God to His children through the life, times, and deeds of Jesus, as well as prophets, and chosen followers of the Almighty.

There’s a certain irony, that some Christians think Jesus was a Christian when in fact He was born into Judaism, lived as a devout Jew, and remained Jewish from the Cross to the Resurrection, and Ascension. Our Savior never disavowed His faith. He was and IS the Word of God, and therefore whatever Judaism was, it was above all else part of what Jesus, what God, what the Holy Spirit breathed life into. Thus Jesus came not to replace the law but to fulfill it, as written in the New Testament through His examples of how to live out Christ’s Great Commandments (love God, love each other)

The reason I bring up Judaism – something you heard me do if you have attended any of the Bible fellowship workshops I have been privileged to lead at CCUMC – I would suggest to fully experience Jesus in our life we should take a moment to experience His faith, and to think of our Savior as the embodiment of the Old Testament’s most noble truths.

But part of recognizing these truths, includes the responsibility to be acceptable to God, and that comes not only through good works, but atonement, Yom Kippur.

Consider Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. These represent in many ways the season of atonement in reverse….atonement/forgiveness followed by a period of thoughtfulness, followed by our cleansing, joyous new life, our ‘new year’ (Easter) in Christ.

26 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,27 Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord.28 And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the Lord your God.29 For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people.

Leviticus 23: 26 - 29

Being a Christian is to reborn. But to do that we must come clean with our Lord and with those we have harmed. We must, as God said ‘afflict’ ourselves, which is to say self sacrifice. In Judaism that means prayer, fasting, asking for forgiveness. And it means making it right with those who have been harmed.

To be sure Jesus cleansed us, and gave us a clean slate through the Cross. But this does not mean we get to hurt others without consequences.

“Repent and obey Me, and ye shall eat the good of the land; refuse and rebel, and ye shall be devoured by the sword.” Isaiah 1:18 – 20

Repentance generally speaking, from Hebrew, means to draw a deep breath, as in how one expresses relief or sorrow. As pertains to mankind’s sin, in the Biblical sense, repentance contains ones contrition and conviction, which leads to confessing sinful acts, and implicit is the commitment to not sin again.

According to Biblical scholar David Levy in his book “Joel – the day of the Lord,” true repentance involves “contrition of heart, confession with the mouth, and a change in the person’s conduct.”

”The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

Psalm 51:17

Levy continues with “the repenter must show sincere contrition over his sin which will affect him in three ways. “First contrition affects the intellect – to repent means to have a change of mind about one’s sin.” Levy then references the story of Pentecost in Acts 2:38. “Second, contrition affects the will….there must be the will to confess and forsake it (sin).” Levy references the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11 – 32 to describe how the younger child returns to his father, repentant and confessing. “Third, contrition affects emotions,” with Levy describing how contrition involves the heart.

Said differently, God wants you to put your heart into repentance, atonement, asking for forgiveness. In God’s calculus it would appear that asking for forgiveness is much more than remorse, it is about transformation.

How many fractured friendships were recovered by the simple, profound acts of atonement and forgiveness? Not to hold something over someone but to give and receive grace? As Christians, our entire faith is built upon forgiveness. The most profound utterance of Jesus Christ from the Cross, and one that too often is overlooked – “Forgive them Father….”

Is there someone you need to get right with? Is there someone you hurt who would be blessed by your atonement? Is there someone who hurt you who would be blessed by your forgiveness?

As a toxicologist I know a bit about poisons. Holding onto a hurt is a lot like drinking a poison; it is not healthy!

How transformative it is to be strong enough in the love of Christ to atone, and open enough in the love of Christ to accept the grace of forgiveness. If that isn’t transformation in the Holy Spirit, what is?

Yom Kippur - the holy day of atonement. Should we as Christians adopt this? Practice this in our personal and worship lives? Perhaps even try it some Sunday? It might be transformative.

“Forgive;” it is one of the most difficult tasks humans face. But without it, we can never become who our Savior envisioned us. Jesus forgave us. Did we deserve it? Do we now deserve it?

If we want to call ourselves Christians with authenticity and integrity, then we need to rise above our mortal nature, and aspire towards how God wants us to live.

And Jesus gave us the manual. Two very simple instructions – love God, love each other.

So maybe it is time we make it right with God and each other. Too often it is the petty little hurts that linger the most, or the misunderstanding that snowballs from a mole hill to mountain. It happens in families if you are blessed to have one, and in congregations of the faithful, and in the wider community.

Perhaps we should practice some Judaism, starting with Yom Kippur….

There are three separate atonements you and I have to make. First to God, second atone looking in the mirror, because we often overlook how we hurt ourselves, self critical of our mistakes, and then third to others.

Who have you or I hurt, or ignored when we could have helped or understood someone else better than we did? As soon as you put a face to that question, make it right. I offer my atonement here for starters.

There is no moral superiority in hating, or holding a grudge or a hurt, or even returning it with bad behavior. As Christians we are held to a higher standard. Put differently….

I don’t know about you, but I think I’d rather accept someone’s apology than have to explain to God why I didn’t. How about you?

And when we fulfill our Day of Atonement, our Yom Kippur, we, along with our Jewish brothers and sisters, get to celebrate, break the fast, and feast….not just in food, but in the joy of transformative grace, content knowing our God, our Heavenly Father saw we knew how to love in the truest sense.


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