11 Feb 2024

Day Of Atonement [ Leviticus 16]


We celebrate the Lunar New Year here in Singapore. It is one of the most important days for Chinese people all around the world. But for the Jews, Yom Kippur is the most holy day of their calendar. This is when they seek forgiveness from God as a nation. And it has its roots all the way back in Moses' book of Leviticus. God has ordained an elaborate ritual for the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). It is, in light of Hebrews chapter 9, a pictorial instruction or even dramatization, of the atonement through Jesus Christ. It is an enactment that teaches the person and work of Jesus Christ in securing our eternal redemption. Find out how this is so, and what it all means in this sermon here. May you also soon come to your day of atonement!

Listen on Google Podcasts



Sermon Transcript

We are looking for sermon transcribers/transcript reviewers.

Email [email protected] to serve or to report transcription errors.


Now this is the second day of the Lunar New Year and this is a very important time for many Chinese people all around the world. I'm told that this is the season where there is the largest annual human migration in the world. In China, many people are going back to their hometowns to celebrate Chinese New Year. It's a very important season for Chinese people.

And in Chinese New Year, we all dress in a particular way. Many people dress in red and they give ang pows, red packets. And during Chinese New Year, many cities would have these firecrackers light up all over the place. So why do people wear red and why do people have firecrackers?

Well legend has it, Chinese legend has it, that there was this monster called the Nian who comes out once a year from the sea to terrorise the peoples. The, the Nian would eat the crops, eat the livestock and attack even people. So it is very difficult to, to get past the Nian, to guo this Nian. Until one day, someone, a, an old man, he turned out to be a celestial being later on, he told the villagers, the only way you can ward off the Nian is, if you wear red or if you use a lot of colour red and if you light the firecrackers to scare the Nian away. So this is why, I think people all around the world live on with the tradition of wearing red and having firecrackers.

But if you are a Jew, you're not a Chinese today, you are not very fascinated about the Lunar New Year. You're not bothered about the Chinese New Year. If you are a Jew, the most important day in your calendar is not this time in Jan or Feb but it's somewhere in September and October where you will remember the Yom Kippur, which is the Day of Atonement.

This is the most important day in the Jewish calendar. This is the most holy day in the Jewish calendar. The Yom Kippur is a day by which they seek forgiveness from God. And like the Chinese New Year, it's a public holiday in Israel. In Israel, on this day, traffic would come to stand still as it were, no one is going to take public transportation, it's not available. Airports are shut down, people tend not to drive, shops are closed, businesses are shut and there is no radio or TV broadcast.

This is a day they seek forgiveness from God. This is a day they kind of enter into asceticism or kind of self-discipline, self-affliction. So people during Yom Kippur in Israel, would have fasting, no food. They will not wear leather shoes. They will wear white as a symbol of the need for purity. They will not bathe. They will not put on perfume or cosmetics. They will not use much of an electronic device, laptops, hand phones. This is a day to afflict themselves.

People would gather in synagogues and people may gather in big numbers at the Western Wall, where it's nearest the former temple site in Jerusalem, to be closest to God physically speaking.

The Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, a day to seek forgiveness from God, the most important day in the Jewish calendar. But instead of fun and games and celebration, it's a time for affliction.

Where did the day of atonement come from? Where are its roots? Well, it's found exactly in the 34 verses Jonathan just read for us in Leviticus chapter 16. And Leviticus chapter 16 tells us in verse 30, "on this day shall atonement", the word atonement as I've explained, is the word to appease, to placate the wrath, the holy wrath of God, to cover up sin. "For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins" (Leviticus 16:30) And in verse 34, "atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in a year because of all their sins."

So today we're going to look at this, on this very interesting day, second day of the Chinese New Year, we're going to look at the day of atonement, the Yom Kippur.

Pictorial Instruction

Now as a start, I'd like you to see the big picture. What is this all about? The summary, I think, the essence of Leviticus 16 is that the day of atonement is a pictorial instruction or representation of the atonement that's clear from verse 30 and verse 34, but not just the atonement, but the atonement by the Lord Jesus Christ. I'll explain why and you will understand why as we draw nearer the end. But this is the big summary statement, the day of atonement is really a dramatization, a pictorial instruction of the atonement by the Lord Jesus Christ. This chapter, though found in the Old Testament, is pointing us to Jesus Christ.

Now I say this is a dramatization. In a drama, you need a few things. You need a stage, huh, you need an actor, and you need some props, isn't it? That's how you have a drama. So we see in this dramatization, first of all, the stage.

The stage is what we call the tabernacle. The tabernacle is where the priests served and operated in. The tabernacle is where the sacrifices and rituals are performed for the nation of Israel. So in the tabernacle, you see a few significant pieces of furniture. You have, first of all, the altar of sacrifice. You see fire there? This is where the animals are burnt up.

Then you have this basin or the golden laver. This is where the priests would wash themselves. And then you will enter into what we will call the tabernacle proper. The tabernacle is divided into two parts. You have the outer part and the inner part, separated by a veil. This inner part is really exclusive. There's only one man in all of Israel who can enter it. And he cannot enter in suka suka, as you read earlier. He can only enter in once a year and with conditions. The great high priest is the only one who enters this place.

Now this outer tabernacle is where the other priests can also serve. You have the golden lampstand. You have the table of bread or the table of showbread. And then you have the altar of incense. Now in the most Holy Place, we call it the Holy of Holies, there is this box we call the Ark of the Covenant. In the Ark of the Covenant, there is the rod of Aaron that budded. And there is the manna, the pot of manna. And there are the Ten Commandments, the two tablets there.

Now in this Ark, you see these three things. And on this Ark, it's covered by a lid. It's called the mercy seat. And it is on this mercy seat that the presence of God is manifest.

So if you are not clear about the stage, don't worry, I give you another picture. Another picture that looks a little bit different but still the same. You have the tabernacle proper. You have this. Okay, you tell me, okay? What is this? The golden lampstand. Then you have the table of showbread. You have two stacks of twelve bread. And then you have this altar of incense. Very good. And this is the veil that keeps most people out except the great high priest who can enter in once a year. And when he enters in, he will see the Ark of the Covenant on which is the mercy seat. And this beam is supposed to symbolize the presence of God.

Now if you still don't get it, I give you the last picture. This one you cannot, then you jialat already. You ate too many pineapple tarts, alright? So this is a simple schematic. The altar of burnt offerings, the laver to wash. This is the Holy Place, first compartment where there are the three pieces of furniture. There's an inner compartment called the Holy of Holies in which is the Ark of the Covenant. So are you clear about our stage? You've seen our stage? Alright. Then we go to the main actor.

The main, there are some other calefares lah ah, there are some other supporting casts, but the main actor is none other than the great high priest himself. We're going to read a lot more about him. And besides the stage, the actor, we're going to have the props. I don't really like the word, don't really like the word props, but I hope you understand what it is. The main props we are going to see are the two goats.

Now I understand that there will be a bull and there are rams that are involved, but the main thing really is to focus on the two goats. I just don't want to lose you here.

So, the Day of Atonement is a pictorial instruction or dramatization, enactment of the atonement by the Lord Jesus Christ and it will involve, number one, a stage, an actor, and the props or some props. Ready? Show starts.

First of all, the setting. Is this bright light setting or is this something a bit darker? I think we have to dim the lights. I think we have to see this from a, from a quite a scary, solemn, somber point of view. Why? Because the chapter opens with this very solemn beginning. The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron.

Remember Nadab and Abihu in chapter 10? They presumed upon themselves and offered strange or alien fire before the LORD and God struck them. So it is in that context, you see the lights dim, you hear..... the scary music, and we read in verse two, the LORD then said to Moses, "tell Aaron, your brother, not to come at any time." (Leviticus 16:2) Don't suka suka, he come. "Into the Holy Place inside the veil," remember, the Holy of Holies, "before the mercy seat," which is the lid on the Ark of the covenant, don't tell, tell him not to come at any time because otherwise he will die. Why? Because "I will appear in a cloud over the mercy seat." (Leviticus 16:2)

So this is the setting. Enter our main character, the great high priest. So he will be the main person driving the whole narrative here. And we see, however, this great high priest will not appear like that, first of all. This is what we learned about his dress code in Exodus 28 and also in Leviticus 8.

But the great high priest actually, on this special day, puts on a special set of clothes. He will look not like this, but more like this. Very simple, pure white linen clothing as you would see in verse 4. Linen coat, linen sash, linen turban. He would have to bathe his body in water and then put these clothes on.

Act One

So act one, is when the high priest comes in this simple linen clothing and offers an offering for his own sins. So he's going to take a bull. And the Bible says, he will "present the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make an atonement for himself and for his house" (Leviticus 16:11). So this, this will be for the priesthood. And besides the offering of the bull, he will now enter the Holy of Holies. This is the Ark of the Covenant, the box. This is the mercy seat on which there will be the two angels with wings spread across.

And he comes in with a "censer full of coals of fire from the altar" (Leviticus 16:12). So he takes the coal, from the altar of sacrifice and he also takes "two handfuls of sweet incense beaten small" (Leviticus 16:12) and now he "brings it inside the veil" (Leviticus 16:12). It's a scary thing, you know. I think it's scary, because he can only enter once a year and he knows that that is the manifest presence of God. And God says, if you any.., anyhow come, you may be struck dead, but he has to come.

He brings in the censer, he brings in the incense, he pours the incense over the coals and the Bible tells us, the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony so that he does not die. And after he has done that, he takes "the blood of the bull" that he had sacrificed outside and "sprinkles it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat" (Leviticus 16:14)

He does all this because he is sinful and atonement for his own sins and for his priesthood is necessary before anything else. So act one is about the atonement of the great high priest and his household. So the bull, the incense and the sprinkling of blood is necessary. Act one, done.

Act Two

Act two. Act two begins with these two goats. The Bible tells us, "he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering" (Leviticus 16:5) This is for Israel. I want you to note that the language is very precise. It's two male goats for a sin offering. So this sin offering involves two parts. The Bible says that a lot will be cast to determine the fate of these two goats, because one goat will die, the other goat would be released.

So a goat will be chosen by means of the lot. One will be for the LORD, in the sense of an atonement that will be made because it will be killed. The other is for Azazel. You read that just now. It's a difficult word to translate. Even up to today, nobody really knows exactly what it is. But Azazel, as tradition would have told us, probably represents the scapegoat. The one that will be released into the wilderness later on.

So a lot is cast. One of the goats will be chosen to be slain. And the Bible says, "he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. " (Leviticus 16:15) And in so doing, you "shall make an atonement for the Holy Place because of the uncleannesses" (Leviticus 16:16), uncleannesses and because of the transgressions and sins.

Now, he's going to apply the blood to the altar of sacrifice outside as well. But this is, I think, act two. Act one, cleanse himself via the bull offering. Act two is that atonement for Israel via goat number one.

Act Three

Act three, maybe the final act, is when this goat blood has been applied, he now goes back out into the courtyard and he gets goat number two, the live goat. And he places both hands on the head of the goat. "Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel and all their transgressions and all their sins." (Leviticus 16:21)

"And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness." (Leviticus 16:21) The goat shall bear all the iniquities on itself to a remote area and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness." (Leviticus 16:22) That's where we get the idea of the burnt offering, sin offering and pressing of the hands. It's the symbol of identification of the goat, the symbol of transferring your sins under the goat. And in this case, the scapegoat, the Azazel goat, the live goat will be set free so that the sins are borne and carried far away.

So the two male goats for a sin offering represent the two dynamics of how the sins of the people will be removed. Blood must be spilled, a life must be sacrificed and it will be sent far away.

Now all this is done, this is are the three acts, now all this is done when the high priest looked like this. But after this is done, the Bible says, Aaron shall come back into the tent of meeting after setting the live goat free. He will go back to the tent and he "shall take off the linen garments." (Leviticus 16:23) He will have a change parade, okay? He will change to look to be what he is usually dressed with. "He shall bathe his body in water in a holy place and put on his garments and come out." (Leviticus 16:24)

In a sense, that completes the three main acts. Some final details. Number one, the great high priest now with these glorious garments will present burnt offerings, rams as burnt offerings for the nation of Israel and for himself. Number two, there will be those who will need to carry the carcasses of the sin offering to a place far away so that it may be burnt up, the flesh, the skin and the dung, it will all be burnt up. Number three, all those who had a hand in carrying the carcasses will need to be bathed. So when all these things are done, the day of atonement, enactment of the atoning work by Jesus Christ is then complete.

And God says, this therefore "shall be a statute to you forever." (Leviticus 16:29) Now the word forever will occur three times in the next few verses. But this is what you have to do, nation of Israel, forever. And this is the day you afflict yourselves, so that's why the asceticisms and the afflictions and the fastings that you see and hear about in Israel today, and you shall do no work.

This is a "Sabbath of solemn rest to you" (Leviticus 16:31), that's why airports are closed. No public transportation, businesses are shut. This is a statute forever. And then in verse 34, "this shall be a statute forever" and this is what has to be done once a year. So this explains what you see in Israel and this is what the Day of Atonement is all about.

Let me remind you, it is a pictorial instruction, a dramatization and enactment of the atonement, and let me say this, it's not the atonement by the great high priest during Moses' time, but the atonement by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now you may ask, why are you so sure this is about Jesus and not just what the priest like Aaron could do? The reason why I am sure, is because of the Hebrews author and what he said in Hebrews chapter 10. He said that all these animal sacrifices, all these statutes that are written in Leviticus 16, these instructions found in the law, in the Torah, in Leviticus, they are a shadow.

In other words, they're not the real substance, they are just "a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities." (Hebrews 10:1) So these animals, these sacrifices, this live goat, they really can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.

The Hebrews author is very categorical in saying, you know, all these things that our ancestors have been doing for all these years, they are really just a picture. They are really just a shadow. They are really just a lesson. Because animals can't save, Aaron can't save, they cannot save you, they are just pointing you to Someone who can.

And in verse 4 of chapter 10, it is impossible, he makes it even clearer here, "it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away" your "sins." (Hebrews 10:4) So all these dramatization, enactments, instructions, are to point us to Jesus Christ. The Hebrews author says, now Christ is the ultimate High Priest. Aaron and his descendants are just pictures, shadows, not the true form of realities. But Jesus is our Great High Priest. And He is the "High Priest of the good things" (Hebrews 9:11). What is the good things? The good things that are able to secure your eternal redemption. Jesus is the High Priest of the good things that have come. He is the One. He is the One who "entered once for all into the holy places," (Hebrews 9:12) not the earthly holy places, but the heavenly holy places, by means not of animals' blood, but His own blood.

You see, Hebrews is dripping with Leviticus language, except that it is pointing you to the ultimate reality. So, all I'm saying here, I think what the Scriptures are saying here, is that the Day of Atonement points us to Jesus. The only way your sins, this is not a history lesson folks, this is not about someone who lived thousands of years ago, this is saying, the only way your sins, today, your very own sins can be forgiven, is through Jesus Christ. Not through some bulls or goats or human priests. Jesus alone.

This is the most important lesson in Leviticus. Now I, remind you that the book of Leviticus in all its 27 chapters can be divided into seven sections. As you can see, they have a kind of symmetry to it, but we have been going through in a sequential way, chapters 1 to 7 are about the rituals, the offerings, the sacrifices. It's saying that in order to draw near to God, I need to learn to say sorry and thank you. That's what the offerings meant.


And if you learn to say sorry and thank you, you may then draw near to God. The whole book of Leviticus in all its 27 chapters has this one theme, drawing near to God. First part, you need to learn, lesson number one, I need to learn to say sorry and thank you.


Lesson number two, this is about the priest. I learn that I'm so sinful, I cannot come to God by myself. I need a mediator, I need a priest, and that's Jesus.


Lesson number three, we learn about leprosy and bodily discharge and so on and so forth. They are lessons about the need for cleanse, cleanliness or purification, because only the clean can come near to God.

Day of Atonement

And then in chapter 16, the central chapter, it's about that pictorial enactment of what Jesus has done to save us from our sins. And you would see that there's a kind of symmetry, because we are going to go back to cleaness, cleanliness, we are going to go back to priesthood, we are going to go back to some rituals. And all that is to show, it's a linguistic device to show that the central focus is the Day of Atonement.

And if Leviticus is the central book of the Torah, the first five books of Moses, then the Day of Atonement is the central focus of the first five books of Moses.

I started teaching, or I started trying Bible studies, giving Bible studies, close to 30 years ago. That's a long time ago. I wonder if there's anyone here who was with, who were with me when I was starting it 30 years ago. From where I can see, only one. And that's my wife. Winnie, do you remember the first Bible study I did? She can't. I should have told her beforehand first. Well, she can't, because it was 30 years ago, but I remember distinctly.

The first Bible study I, I, I decided to kind of do and wanted to explore more was Leviticus 16. And I remembered the, the commentary I used was by Andrew Bonar, this Geneva series. By the way, this picture doesn't do it justice, it's a super thick book. Very cheong hei, lor sor. But that was the only resource I had, so I, I read up on it, I studied big time on the Day of Atonement. I remember we were worshipping in RELC in those days, Regional English Language Centre at Orange Grave, Orange Great, Grove Road, that's right, near Shang Hotel.

And we were having our youth service, or youth Bible study, and I kind of took the chairs and tables and lined it up to be like the tabernacle and so on. It was a really fun study for me, but the reason why I wanted to date, do the Day of Atonement is because I understood at that point of time, I kind of, kind of knew at that point of time, that the Day of Atonement is all about Jesus, in a very interesting way.

So I end with this. If Leviticus is about the Lord Jesus Christ, or Leviticus 16, the Day of Atonement is a pictorial instruction of the atoning work by Jesus Christ, then what can we learn about Jesus today? We're not here to learn about history, we're learn to, here to learn about Jesus.

1. Servant

Well number one, I learned that the Lord Jesus Christ came as a servant, as I think depicted in His dress code. He did not come in His full glory, but He came veiled in human flesh. The Bible tells us He emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant. He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. The Lord Jesus Christ came and humbled Himself. He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

I think that is depicted in the way He sheds the, great high priest sheds off his clothing of beauty and glory, but just that simple linen clothes. The greatness of the Christian message is not that our God is so great and you cower in His presence only, but that He is so great that He would allow His Son to come and serve us and die for us.

2. Sacrifice

The second thing I learned about our Lord Jesus Christ is that He came to be our sacrifice. I think that is very clear from goat number one that was slain. We read in the New Testament that Jesus entered into the Holy Place by means of His own blood. That is to say, Jesus in that great enactment is not just a priest, but He's also the goat. Goat number one who was slain, and He is the One who gives us propitiation. The word propitiation means the appeasement of God's wrath.

We are sinful, and God is holy, and a Holy God will judge sinful men. So in order for us to be reconciled with God, there must be a propitiation. There must be an appeasement of His holy wrath, and the only way His wrath is appeased is when Jesus sheds His blood to appease His wrath. So Jesus is our Sacrifice, like goat number one.

3. Scapegoat

And Jesus is also our Scapegoat. In Chinese, we call this the 代罪羔羊. He bore our sins. As the high priest presses on the head of the goat, he's symbolically transferring the sins of the people upon this goat. And Jesus will be our Scapegoat. We are told in Isaiah 53 that "the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all"(Isaiah 53:6). And Psalm 103 tells us the dynamic of how in forgiveness our sins are sent far away, "as far as the east is from the west" (Psalm 103:12). Can you tell me how far is the east from the west? It's infinite. But that's the picture, that the goat, the Azazel goat sent far away is a picture of how our sins are removed far from us.

4. Saviour

And finally, Jesus is also our only Saviour. He's the only One. You know, throughout this enactment in Leviticus 16, there's only one star. There's no one else. No one may enter the Holy Place, isn't it? It tells us that there is only One who can bring us back to God. "There is one God and there is one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. He is the One who leads us into the Holy of Holies, the very presence of God.

We know that because on the day Jesus died, the very moment Jesus died, the Bible says the temple curtain was torn in two. Now, the temple curtain is a bigger fabric than the one in the tabernacle. Temple is a bigger structure. It's thick. It's big. But the Bible says when Jesus died, it was torn from the top to the bottom. Usually when you want to tear something so big, it's from the bottom up. But this is from the top to the bottom because God is the One who does it. And God is symbolizing, saying, with the death and sacrifice of My Son, you may now enter My presence. Jesus is our Saviour, you see.

So today is Chinese New Year, day two. You will go around wearing red. You have dong dong jiang everywhere. It is all a throwback to the legend of Nian. But as you go dong dong jiang and as you go eat your pineapple tarts, I hope today you will remember Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, where Jesus is pictured in the form of the great high priest who will enter the presence of God on our behalf. The only thing is that Jesus didn't need to have a bull offering for His own sins, He had none. He didn't need act, act one.

But in the Day of Atonement, we have goat number one, a picture of sacrifice, and goat number two, a picture of how our sins are sent far away. This is what the Day of Atonement is all about. The Day of Atonement points us back to Jesus. And on this special day, let us remember our Saviour who gave His life for us. Let's bow for a word of prayer together.

As we conclude, I'd just like you to think about a few things. If Leviticus 16, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, is meant to be a pictorial instruction of our atonement found in Jesus Christ, then I say to you, my friends, if you're not yet a Christian, all this instruction is meant to help us see more clearly there is forgiveness, there is salvation, there is propitiation through Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

I hope today you will repent of your sin, you would say sorry to God, and you will rely on the finished work of Jesus Christ. Your heart is filthy and stinky, but this Holy God is so gracious and merciful, He sacrificed His own Son to save you. May this be the Day of Atonement for your life as you turn from sin and believe in Jesus Christ. Will you humble yourself and bow before Him?

I pray today as a church, we will rejoice in the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are such an undeserving people, we are such a ruined, damn worthy people, but today we are saved, we are forgiven, we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

Will you today thank God and worship Him with your lives? Will you today go and tell the world about Jesus? For thousands of years, people long to find out who the Saviour is. And for 2,000 years now, we can look back and say it is all about Jesus. The world needs to hear about Christ. The world needs to be saved from their sins. The world needs to know about this Day of Atonement. Oh, Jesus came the first time in humble settings. He's a poor carpenter's son, just like the man, the high priest, dressed in linen.

But one day, our Saviour will come back in glory and splendor and honor and beauty. But He will also come in judgment. I pray today we'll be ready for that judgment, and we'll help others to be ready too.

So Father, thank You for this morning. We can hear Your Word. We pray on this solemn chapter, we will always reflect upon what it took for our sins to be forgiven. So may men and women today turn from sin and believe in Your Son, and may Your church be emboldened and encouraged to worship You with our lives. Thank You. We pray all this in Jesus' Name.


We are looking for sermon transcribers/transcript reviewers.
Email [email protected] to serve or to report transcription errors.