Shabbat Shalom. We come to Rosh HaShanah after a year filled with deep darkness, profound brokenness, and what seems to me at least like chaos run amuck. I do not think many of you would disagree with me in feeling that we live in very uncertain times. I could recite an endless list of reasons why it seems this way, but the bombardment of negative news all around us I think makes the case for itself. Many of us come to Rosh HaShanah this year physically and emotionally exhausted. However, Rosh HaShanah and the High Holidays are a perfect time to refresh and renew our minds, hearts, and bodies. The darkness and uncertainty we see in our lives around us speaks to a desperate need to embrace genuine repentance, the only source of forgiveness, and then strive for reconciliation between one another.
Now on Rosh HaShanah we say to each other “L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu”, which means “May you be inscribed for a good year.” The idea behind this phrase is to hope that we all are written in the book of life for the coming year.
This tradition comes from the Talmud which talks about how during the time between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur the Lord will write in the book of life those who will live through the next year.
So the time from the beginning of Rosh Hashanah to the end of Yom Kippur is known as the Ten Days of Repentance. But what does it mean to repent? How can we be sealed in the Book of Life?
To answer the first question Rosh Hashanah is about genuine repentance. Now the Hebrew word for repentance is T’Shuvah which means literally, “to turn”. In it is the idea that we turn away from our sins and return to the Lord.
Repentance is a breaking of a cycle of thinking and living that has characterized the previous year and maybe even our entire lives up until this point. It is turning away from the materialistic selfishness of life in this world and returning to the standard of living the Lord has made clear to each of us through His Word. A life characterized by genuine humility, not self-centered pride.
A life focused on pleasing the Creator of All Things and also by caring about the vulnerable around us and not just ourselves. It is the real genuine acknowledgement that we have fallen short of the standard Adonai has set for us and a genuine desire to see ourselves changed through His help. Genuine T’Shuvah, is not limited to single act on a single day, it is something done continuously every single day through the illumination of Adonai.
When we genuinely repent there is a need for genuine forgiveness of sins. During the time when the Temple still stood our repentance was accompanied with sacrifices to atone, or satisfy the penalty of our sins. To be inscribed in the Book of Life required the shedding of the blood of innocent animals. The reason for atonement through sacrifice is found in Leviticus 17:11, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” It is only through the shedding of blood atonement can be made possible.
But this was only a temporary solution, temporary because it had to be repeated day after day, year after year, as we repented and sought forgiveness for our sins from the Lord.
Today the Temple does not stand and so Jewish tradition has changed to say that our need for genuine forgiveness can be obtained through things like prayer and through Tzedakah or charity. But while all these are good and important duties they still do not satisfy the requirements of God revealed in His Word. To receive forgiveness after genuine repentance there must be atonement through sacrifice. The Lord knew that the atonement provided under the Mosaic Covenant was only temporary and chose in His love to make permanent forgiveness and atonement available through the sinless son of God, Messiah Yeshua. Because of Messiah’s perfect life and sacrificial death, we have amazing access to the Lord and the promise of permanent forgiveness of sins if we accept the atonement He has provided.
Through Messiah Yeshua we have the assurance that we are permanently sealed in the Book of Life and our names will never be blotted out. We also have confidence in living forever with Him.
For many of us here today we have experienced the forgiveness that comes through Messiah Yeshua. But connected with the Lord’s forgiveness of us is our willingness to forgive others. In His prayer that He gave to us as an example, Messiah Yeshua said that when we ask for forgiveness of our day-to-day sins that we must be willing to forgive those who have sinned against us. There are many examples of the power that comes from forgiving others in Scripture, but the first example comes to mind is from the Charleston, South Carolina Church shooting back in 2015. Nine people were killed during a Bible study in which the perpetrator was invited into the church to join them. He hoped to start a race war with an act of terrorism. A few days later when the person who committed this heinous act was brought into court, a relative of one of the victims powerfully said that they had forgiven him.
This did not mean that there would be no trial and no punishment but that this woman of God showed this man the power of God through forgiveness.
I cannot comprehend what it would be like to begin to forgive someone who murdered in cold blood someone I loved, that takes nothing short of a powerful act of God to be able to do such a thing. Yet, how often are we unwilling to forgive those who have committed offenses against us that are far less? How often have we let hurt feelings and grudges fester and grow in our lives while ignoring them? How many people have we cut out of lives instead of being willing to reconcile with them?
In God’s Word sin is compared to leaven or yeast, the idea being that just like yeast sin can easily grow, spread and multiply. While we talk about sin in the abstract with this analogy it is very true when it comes to our specific sins of holding grudges and being unwilling to forgive. What initially may have started as a small disagreement or a single hurt is allowed to fester and grow malignant, poisoning our lives with anger and our relationships with others.
But the Lord requires us to be willing to forgive others, especially brothers and sisters in the Lord, and while that does not mean we necessarily forget what has happened, it does mean we cannot have bitterness or rage in our hearts.
We have talked about how we are in the Days of Repentance and how repentance should lead to us forgiveness. This forgiveness that the Lord has made available to us through His Son, and our need to forgive others. These truths are brought together in my last topic for this morning, our need for reconciliation.
Reconciliation is when a relationship between people which was been previously broken has now been restored. During the High Holidays we are called to be reconciled to our Creator. To wake up from the sleep of our day-to-day lives and to remember the Lord and our First Love. Through Repentance, forgiveness, and atonement in Messiah Yeshua our relationship with the Lord that has been broken because of our sin can be completely restored.
It is because of this reconciliation, this restoration of our relationship with our Creator that we are inscribed forever in His book of life.
However, there is also a call during these Days of Repentance to be reconciled with one another, especially brothers and sisters in the Lord. In the Rabbinic tradition it is stated that Yom Kippur is for being reconciled with God only. So during these days leading up to Yom Kippur we must be seek out one another and right the wrongs when possible in the previous year. Our Messiah stresses even more the need to be in harmony with one another before confessing our sins to the Lord. We read in Matthew 5:23-25:
“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca (a term of insult),’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.“
While we do not bring our sacrifices to the altar today, the principle of being reconciled to one another before seeking the Lord still stands. So it is very clear in these verses that restoring our relationships is incredibly important to the Lord and we are commanded to take this very seriously.
Now as I reach the end of our time together I need to say a very important word of caution. Much of the reconciliation between others talked about in Scripture involves relationships that can be safely worked out. Even in the verses I just read it seems that the disputes involved can be resolved quickly enough that the gift can be left in front of the altar. However, we live in a very fallen world that is full of dangerous, abusive, and emotionally manipulative people. It is not always safe to approach others that have wronged us and seek to restore that relationship. I believe we do not have to put ourselves in danger and there are many times where it is appropriate to have a mature friend or family member advise and help us in our relationships with others.
But even in the darkest and most painful of situations, such as the shooting I mentioned earlier, with the Lord’s help we can come to a place of peace and forgiveness with those who have deeply hurt us, whether we speak to them or not and whether or not they are still alive. However, when situations are not incredibly severe and dangerous, when our willingness to reconcile has to do with our pride or the fact we feel we are in the right we need to be willing to seek out our brothers and sisters and not cut them out of our lives.
So as we enter into these Ten Days of Repentance during these dark times let us take this opportunity to examine ourselves and our need for repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. I pray that each on us may be inscribed once and for all time in the Book of Life through Messiah Yeshua. I also pray that each of us will do the hard prayerful work of forgiving and being reconciled to one another.