How many of you used to watch the game show Family Feud? Maybe some of you still do. Steve Harvey has hosted it since 2010, but there have been six different hosts in the show’s history. Did you know it’s been on the air for 46 years? I remember when it first came on, and Richard Dawson (one of the stars of Hogan’s Heroes back in the 60’s) was the host.
Well, for a few moments, I’d like to play the host, and here’s the question for you:
What do you think are the three most important words in the world?
“I love you”?
“I was wrong”?
“Please forgive me”?
“Can I help?”
“I don’t know”?
“Drain the swamp”?
Actually, a very popular one is: “Yes, I can.”
Well, forget what the survey says. Let me just suggest that the three most important words ever spoken in the world were these:
“It is finished!”
Because with those words, Yeshua, Jesus the Righteous One, the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel, yielded up His life, and in so doing accomplished full and final atonement for the sins of all mankind; from the very first sin of Eve and Adam to the very last sin of the very last day of the present heavens and earth.
On this Day of Atonement, as has been the case for many centuries, the vast majority of Jewish people, failing to understand the nature of sin and atonement, are hoping that their good deeds of the past 10 days will outweigh the accumulated wrong of the rest of the year. Those Jewish people who take Yom Kippur seriously are wondering: “Will the scales tip in my favor?”
But having your name written in the Book of Life, and gaining entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, is virtually impossible by means of tzedakah – good deeds.
The Dilemma (The Bad News)
A. We are thoroughly and, despite our best efforts, incurably sinful
Sin isn’t just a matter of wrong actions, or selfish, cowardly inaction. It’s much more serious than that. It’s a congenital condition, as it were; a condition we were born with, having inherited it from our first ancestors on account of their rebellion in the Garden of Eden. Like a virus, it is invisible, yet the effect of sin is seen and felt everywhere.
How about this sampling of headlines from AOL news today, to give you an idea of the twisted kinds of things they anticipate people want to read about:
- Grisly discovery made inside partially burned home
- Man rips out woman’s eyeballs in horrific attack
- Video shows shark latch onto swimmer’s stomach
- Racial slurs scrawled on walls at Air Force Academy
- Bed bugs like the smell of your dirty laundry
And they do this to get people to click on the links, because every click draws advertising dollars. It’s all about the love of money. But it says something about our nature, doesn’t it?
So, how pervasive is sin?
Well, for starters, it’s why you lock your door when you leave the house, and lock the car when you go to the store. It’s why you need a password for every business you access on your computer, and a PIN number for the ATM, and an extra 3-digit security code on the back of your credit card. Sin is why people won’t stop to help someone whose car is broken down on the side of the road, but will slow down grotesquely so they can gawk at a terrible accident scene.
Because of sin, we have countless laws and regulations, all of which are necessary, as are the police and the courts and judges who enforce them. Because of sin we have full prisons, and they must be guarded 24/7 and surrounded by razor wire. Even traffic lights are essential in a world where sin manifests itself in self-interest.
Sin accounts for every act of selfishness; for every theft and form of fraud, for every expression of greed and every act of vandalism and destruction; for callous indifference to the plight of those who are suffering, and for every betrayal of vows and act of violence that has ever taken place on planet earth to this very hour!
Like a virus, it is impossible to contain, but spreads to every area of life. And, like a virus untreated, it is deadly; physically and spiritually. And this brings us to the next dilemma facing us.
B. Infinite holiness and sinful humanity cannot occupy the same space
God is described in Scripture as kadosh, kadosh, kadosh – holy, beyond holy, infinitely holy! The prophet Habakkuk declared, “Your eyes are too pure to look upon evil, and you will not tolerate iniquity…”
The prophet Isaiah, speaking to Israel, presented the dilemma in these terms:
Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.
For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment… There is no one who calls on Your name, who rouses himself to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and have delivered us into the power of our iniquities…
The truth of Scripture, which is being proven out daily before our eyes, is this:
C. Our very best efforts, our own righteousness, falls desperately, lethally short
Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here, and guess that nobody here is more righteous than was the Prophet Isaiah or the Apostle Paul. Isaiah, one of the most righteous men ever to walk this earth – do you remember what he said when he stood in the presence of Adonai? “Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips…!”
Rabbi Paul, also one of the greatest men who ever lived, when he contemplated his own sinfulness as against a holy and righteous God, said, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” It wasn’t false humility – Isaiah and Paul were just being honest in their self-assessment.
If these two, quintessentially just, God-fearing and righteous men, whose Torah observance, whose good works – whose tzedakah far exceeded our own, recognized their desperate need of God’s mercy and forgiveness for sin, why would any of us imagine that our good deeds will do the trick? You see, the nearer you approach to an infinitely holy God, the less spiritual you’re going to feel.
And let me say that many Christians and Messianic Jews have a flaw in their thinking about sin. I’ve heard some people say that all sins are equal. They are not all equal. Rape, kidnapping or premeditated murder are obviously more serious than telling a lie or stealing a pair of sneakers. They are all sinful, but to dramatically different degrees. Now, if by saying that all sins are equal what you meant was that every sin, no matter how small, causes us to fall short of God’s glory and is sufficient to send us to hell, you are correct. But that doesn’t mean one sin is no worse than another. And we need to really think twice about how we communicate this to unbelievers.
D. We stand in desperate need of atonement
It is true that all sin, every sin, without atonement, condemns us eternally. And why is that? Because sin against another person is a sin against God Himself, since He made us in His own image.
The principle is this: the gravity of an offense is proportional to the stature of the one you’ve offended. If you show up 15 minutes late to lunch with a buddy, you should apologize; but let’s face it, the consequences wouldn’t be nearly as serious as if you showed up 15 minutes late to a meeting with your boss; and that wouldn’t be as serious as your showing up 15 minutes late to a meeting with a President or a Prime Minister.
If the weight of a sin is commensurate with the stature of the one offended, then even the smallest sin, multiplied by an infinitely holy God, carries infinite consequences. Imagine having to personally come up with sufficient atonement to pay for our offenses against an infinite, and infinitely righteous Being.
Even if, for argument’s sake, keeping the mitzvot, the commandments, made atonement (it doesn’t – it couldn’t – it’s a broken covenant), the Torah cannot be fulfilled without a Temple and without the sacrifices it demands. Furthermore, if the Torah could have done the job, there would have been no reason for God to announce, as He did through the prophet Jeremiah, a New Covenant that was to come, in which our sins would be forgiven forever. So there is virtually no way we can earn our way to forgiveness, or receive God’s favor by our own efforts.
So, what can be done? What hope is there for broken, sinful human beings? Is Yom Kippur an exercise in futility, or is there really a way that we can be forgiven, cleansed, and reconciled to God?
The Solution (The Good News)
What we could never do to atone for our sins or to be made acceptable before Adonai, He Himself did. Yes, that’s right – God Himself took the initiative; much like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal, who ran to greet his returning wayward son, embracing him in spite of the son’s filthiness, and restoring him to his rightful place. But it was a costly thing. The price was the life of His Son, Messiah Yeshua.
The Son of God came to earth in the Person of Yeshua; who flawlessly kept the demands of the Torah, lived a perfect life, imparted His Torah to mankind, shed His own blood, dying on a cross in our place, like the sacrificial goats that were put to death at Yom Kippur, thus exchanging His life for our lifelessness, His perfect righteousness for our utter sinfulness. And like the Azazel, the Scapegoat, He has removed our sins; they are never again to be remembered and brought against us.
And since Messiah is the Divine Son of God, of one and the same infinite nature as God the Father, His atonement is, likewise, infinite. There is nothing lacking in His atonement; nothing you can or even should attempt to add. What we were helpless to do, yet desperate for, Messiah Yeshua did for us. And to make sure there was no doubt about it, God the Father raised Him from the dead after 3 days – the ultimate ‘seal of approval’.
And now He reconciles us to God. And when we are joined to Him, our names are written, indelibly, in the Book of Life; more specifically, The Lamb’s Book of Life. Could there possibly be any better news than that?
Yom Kippur need not be an exercise in futility; merely reciting long prayers and fasting, and hoping that somehow it will be enough. For the person who commits his or her life to Messiah Yeshua, it can be a joyous reminder that what was impossible for us, God did Himself on our behalf; demonstrating His unfathomable and inexplicable love for us. Thank God for Messiah Yeshua’s willingness to go all the way to the Cross for us!
And so, when it comes to satisfying the demands of cosmic justice, Yeshua says to us: I Got This!
May you be inscribed for a good eternity! Through Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah, you will be!