Yom Kippur and Graceland

Every Saturday The Commercial Appeal in Memphis publishes a “Faith in Memphis” section with a “Faith in Memphis Panel.”  The editor asks local religious leaders to respond to a current issue in the news.  That issue is usually about atonement when Yom Kippur rolls around each year.  Yom Kippur is the Jewish “day of atonement” and the holiest day of the Jewish year (Lev 23.27-28).  Since the holy day began last night (Friday, September 13) and continues through sundown tonight, the CA was true to form this morning.  This year various panelists were asked to briefly describe the “essential message of repentance and faith” in their religious traditions.

While you can read the selections yourself, I provide some excerpts below.  The responses are overwhelmingly Christless and ironically void of the very thing Yom Kippur celebrates: atonement.

Naturally, the primary voices are those of local rabbinical leaders:

“The essential idea of this Yom Kippur day—the holiest day in the Jewish calendar—is this: God loves us so much that God forgives us if we are truly sorry.”  (Micah Greenstein, Temple Israel)

“Whereas atonement can be achieved by mere confession before G-d, some prayers and making amends, purification requires deeper work on who we are and what kind of people we want to be. As I fast on Yom Kippur, I hope to be atoned for my sins. I hope G-d will erase whatever retribution I deserve for my wrongdoing. But most of all, I hope that my fasting leads me on a road to purification, to be cleansed of the defilement of wrongdoing. I hope that my repentance leads to my being a more spiritual, more sensitive, more caring person.” (Joel Finkelstein, Anshei Sphard Beth El Emeth)

“Now is a time for us to take stock of our lives and to discern how we may continue to grow on our spiritual journey.” (Ilan Glazer, Beth Shalom)

“In Judaism, the essential message is that we human beings are able to atone for our sins. Sin is something we do—an action—and not a condition.” (Harry Danzinger, Temple Israel)

With all due respect to these men, undoubtedly good and decent Memphians, they have not described anything worth celebrating.  They promote an empty, powerless atonement.  In fact, they have emptied their Torah of all Messianic significance.  If the Bible (and Torah) is about anything it is about the reality of sin as a condition (not just an action) and the impossibility for us to atone for it.  It is the burden of the New Testament authors (to a man, all Jewish!) to declare the impossibility “for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10.4).  If killing a living animal is not sufficient to atone for sin then how could token prayers, fasting and stock-taking do so?

Why insist on self-atonement when God has made Christ “to be sin on our behalf” (2 Cor 5.21).  If our local rabbis are representative, then the modern Jewish establishment remains blinded to God’s grace (2 Cor 4.4).  Jesus told their first century forefathers he was leaving their house desolate (Mt 23.38) and it remains so to this day despite modern Jewish tradition.

Yom Kippur has been fulfilled in Jesus and now every day is soaked in the blood-stained grace of God (2 Cor 6.2).  God does not demand from us some meaningless, feel-good effort at purification.  He promises and provides purification to all who stop trying to atone for their own sin and receive Christ’s “once for all” (Rom 6.10) sacrifice on behalf of sinners.  According to Scripture, Yom Kippur did not begin last night and will not end tonight.  It began when God ripped the temple curtain open (Mt 27.51) and sprinkled sinners clean with Christ’s blood (Heb 12.24).

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; (1 Pt 3.18)

I wish the various “Christian” responses were better.  You can read them for yourself.  With those entrusted with good news there is little of it to be found.  There were fifteen responses from non-Jewish men and women, including one Muslim.  Of the fourteen “Christian” responders, only two make atonement about Jesus (Ore Spragin, CME Church and Cole Huffman, First Evangelical Church).  If the atonement is not necessarily accomplished by Jesus then no amount of sorrow or repentance will suffice to fix our sin.  If we do not proclaim Christ crucified and risen then there is no atonement, much less Christian faith (1 Cor 15).

The church has good news.  God has done what it is necessary to cleanse us from sin’s condemnation.  God has never demanded we impress him with efforts of purification.  He has always demanded we be impressed by him and his world-shaking grace displayed in and given through faith Jesus.

Memphis indeed needs graceland where the King’s sweet songs reverberate from Mount Zion.

Man of Sorrows! what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
“Full atonement!” can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

Lifted up was He to die;
“It is finished!” was His cry;
Now in Heav’n exalted high.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew His song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!

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