Thursday, February 23, 2017

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Yom Kippur - Relevance of the Parsha

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is perhaps the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. The traditional two Torah parsha selections tell us some important things about Yom Kippur. One parsha selection is Leviticus 16:1-34, which provides a very detailed description of the festival. The Jewish sages picked a clear example of festival instructions that outlines the important role of the high priest. Fortunately, today we have a better and eternal high priest in Yeshua (Hebrews 8:1-6).

Now the afternoon Torah potion is Leviticus 18, which at first glance seems to have little to do with Atonement, let alone Yom Kippur. What gives? More than you may know.

Leviticus 18:1-5 starts off with a reminder that Israel was not to engage in the practices they would encounter in the Promised Land.

Leviticus 18:6-18 provides a massive list of people with whom Israelites were not to “uncover the nakedness.” The phrase “uncover the nakedness” means sexual intercourse. This list informs Israelite men whom they cannot marry and thus with whom they cannot have sexual intercourse. The basic theme is that one cannot marry/have sex with any “close relatives.” Sexual union was confined to husband and wife.

Leviticus 18:19-23 forbids some other sexual practices: sexual intercourse with a menstruating woman, adultery, bestiality, and homosexuality. All are forbidden. I find it curious that some disparage homosexuals (and make no mistake-homosexuality is indeed a sin), but somehow adulterers are placed in a “lesser class” of sins. Not here: there is no distinction in Scripture between a man cheating on his wife and a homosexual sexual encounter.

Leviticus 16:24-30 is somewhat of a repeat of the first section with a clarification: these sexual activities were practices by the inhabitants of the Promised Land. Hence, G-d reminds the people not to repeat what they see.

What is the point of all this? Israel’s atonement came by the grace of G-d, and it came at great cost. The priest had to prepare. The temple had to be prepared. The animals lost their lives. It was a national ordeal. And all of this was for naught unless G-d himself appeared in the “cloud over the mercy seat” – the glory (kavod) of the L-rd. Atonement did not come cheap.

Why would Israel cheapen the grace they have been shown by engaging in forbidden sexual practices? Why engage in fornication or adultery – after all G-d used these images to describe His relationship with Israel. Engaging in idolatry was disastrous to Israel’s relationship with G-d just like sexual immorality was disastrous to the relationship between husband and wife. God and Israel were in a covenant – man and wife were in a covenant – and fornication/adultery in either case (natural or spiritual) broke the covenant. Thus engaging in sexual morality mocked G-d’s creation (the family) and it mocked His covenant (to be holy). Not good, considering the price of the Atonement.

Fast forward now to the early Messianic Jews who had just witnessed the most expensive atonement ever provided – Yeshua. Paul demonstrates that sexual immorality had a similar effect amongst the people of G-d.

You see, when the Gentiles were ushered into the kingdom of G-d, there was a natural concern that pagan sexual practices would creep into the family of G-d. Thus, Gentiles were welcomed into fellowship with Messianic Jews but were warned to abstain from sexual immorality (Acts 15:20). Paul chastised the Corinthians for their overt sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:12-20) and counseled them to expel from fellowship those who would not repent of it (1 Corinthians 5:1-2, 9-11). Pergamum was warned about their following of the sin of Balaam – which included sexual immorality too (Revelation 2:14).

Thus, Paul recognized knew that the prevalence of sexual immorality in the body of Messiah had the same effect – it not only devastated something G-d loved (the family), but also to the people he loved (Israel). This is why Paul urged Messianic communities to expel the unrepentant person engaged in sexual morality – church discipline.

During these Days of Awe, let us heed the words of Paul: Flee from sexual impurity (1 Corinthians 6:18). By the eternal Atonement provided by Yeshua, we are brought into the family of G-d – we are joined with G-d, as it were, like a husband and a wife are joined together. While abstaining from sexual immorality cannot atone for your sins, engaging in sexual immorality will cheapen the grace G-d has so graciously given to us.

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