From Atonement to Reconciliation


On Oct. 8 Some friends and members of Wascana Fellowship spent an evening celebrating an evening known to Jewish people as the beginning of yom kippur. We began our conversation by discussing what that day meant in the lives of ancient Israelites. It was the day that all their sins across the entire land of Israel were “covered” by the blood of the many sacrifices. This sacrifice extended geographically over all Israel and temporally over the entire year from the previous sacrifice. It even covered the sins of all resident non-Israelites in the land. This picture is inclusive of foreigners, rather than exclusive (as many imagine the Israelite laws were intended to be). It was a different sacrifice than Passover, which was a celebration of salvation from slavery in Egypt. This was about the restoration of right relationship with God through dealing with sin. It must have felt good to have God officially overlook the sins of the year. It would have perhaps felt like a renewal to a state like that initiated at the first Passover.

For Christians it would seem that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Passover was so full of significance that God set apart an extra Israelite holy day to look ahead other aspects of it. The author of the biblical book of Hebrews draws direct parallels between the sacrifices offered on that day (see Leviticus 16) and Jesus’ presentation of his own blood at the “heavenly temple” to literally “remove” sin (Hebrews 8:11-28). It parallels the ancient sacrifices, but goes way beyond by effectively dealing with sin once and for all. It also goes way beyond the temporal and geographical limits of the ancient Israelite sacrifices by being a once-for-all-time event. Jesus’ sacrifice removes the sins of all who believe in him, no matter what nationality [more about what it means to believe “in him” in a later post] and no matter when and where they have ocurred. This opens up the way for the complete reconciliation of the human race with the God who made them and with each other.

In Zechariah 8:19 there is an obscure prophecy about how various fasts, including the “fast of the seventh month” or Atonement, would become joyous feasts. Jesus’ death and resurrection have done precisely that by reconciling all people with God through Jesus. If Passover is symbolic of freedom and salvation in Christ, Atonement extends it into symbolism of joy and the universal reconciliation of believers. [At this point our discussion wandered through areas of predestination, the fate of the unsaved and whether God created evil, none of which were resolved by meeting’s end.]

If Jesus allowed himself to die in order to bring salvation and reconciliation to all, then setting up means of rejecting people from fellowship goes against the grain of Jesus’ ministry. Our ministry must be one that promotes forgiveness and reconciliation rather than condemnation and alienation.

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About John Valade

I facilitate and teach in Wascana Fellowship. I have been married to Wanda since 1984. M.Div. from Briercrest Seminary, SK in 2011 and B.R.E. Canadian Bible College (now Ambrose University College) in 2000.
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