We are very close to the end of Yom Kippur and the Days of Awe. In a few minutes, we will sound the Shofar a final time and then go and break our fasts. Hopefully, this has been a meaningful time for you of self-reflection through prayer and maybe even fasting. But it is possible for us to fast and pray all day today and for the Lord to never acknowledge it. This is because truly getting right with Adonai is more than fasting or praying for a day, it is about a lifelong serious commitment to following His will over our own.
To help us understand this truth we need only turn to part of our Haftorah portion for Yom Kippur, Isaiah 58:1-14.
The passage begins with the Lord speaking to the prophet Isaiah and saying He has heard the questions of our people. Why has He has not noticed our fasting or how we have humbled ourselves? The Lord responds with that on the day of our fasting we do as we want, harming and exploiting others. At the end of our fast we return to quarrelling and hurting others.
The Lord declares, “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.” We cannot expect the Lord to honor our fasts and our prayers today if we plan to go right back to our lives the same way as we were before we fasted. Or as the Lord rhetorically asks, “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves?
So if this is not the type of fasting the Lord wants from us, what is it he desires? It is a total change in our nature and behavior, a turning back to Him in repentance. He goes on in this chapter to describe it as a form of loving our neighbor as ourselves. We should desire to set captives free, end oppression of others, share our food with the hungry, and take care of those who have the least among us. These are things that cannot be accomplished one day a year but characterize a life lived throughout the year in service to our Great Creator.
Isaiah goes on to say that we have the promise that if we turn back to Adonai and live our lives according to His will then He will accept our fasts and our prayers. We will look for Him in our times of need and we will find Him.
Throughout this chapter in Isaiah there is a repeated phrase of us “doing as we please” and the consequences that it brings. This in my mind is the real heart of Yom Kippur, our fasts and liturgy are tools to help us focus on the Lord. To help us stop doing as we please and instead focus on doing what He wants us to do. This is not something we can do through our own power though. It requires us to not only encounter our sin, but to encounter the Lord Himself, through our savior and helper, Messiah Yeshua. Messiah Yeshua is the gate through which we may enter heaven and the keeper of the Book of Life.
Each of us before we leave this world needs to know that we are sealed in Messiah’s Book of Life through the perfect atonement He has provided. Prayer and fasting are very powerful, but they must be connected with repentance and a desire that Hashana – this year, our lives would be lived as the Lord desires and not our own. So as the Shofar is blown and our fasts come to an end, I pray that each one of us would be able through the Holy Spirit to truly continue the work we have begun today and throughout the days of awe, of getting close to the Lord and staying close to Him.
Hashana – this year- may He who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” make His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Messiah Yeshua.