Why Don't Christians Celebrate Yom Kippur?

“If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” – John 2:1-2

This next Wednesday, September 23 is the Jewish Old Testament festival of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur in Hebrew). Here in Danbury all public schools will be taking the day off. This offers me a great opportunity to explain why Christians no longer keep the Old Testament covenant by celebrating festival days like Passover.

First off, a little background on Yom Kippur, which can be found in Leviticus 16:1-34. God commanded Israel to hold the festival once each year on the 10th day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, Tishri. It was the only day that the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Before entering the Temple, the high priest was to bathe and put on special robes, then sacrifice a bull for a sin offering for himself and his family. The blood of the bull was then sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant. The high priest also would bring two goats, one to be sacrificed “because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been”, and its blood was sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant. The second goat was called the scapegoat. The high priest placed his hands on its head, confessed over it the rebellion and wickedness of the Israelites, and sent the goat out with an appointed man who released it into the wilderness. The goat carried away all the sins of the people for that year. You can see how Jesus Christ is foreshadowed in this yearly rite. He is the one who is the sacrifice for sin and the scapegoat that takes away this sin of the world. If you think about it, the Jewish faith today doesn't observe the Day of Atonement according to the requirements of Leviticus 16 any way. 

Now, the reason Christians do not keep Yom Kippur and other major festivals of the Old Testament comes from the book of Hebrews, Romans, 1 John and the other apostolic writers. In Hebrews 7:27 the Bible tells us that Jesus is now the high priest who offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice on the Cross for the sins of the whole world, “once for all.” This means that there is no more need for sacrificing animals since Jesus Christ has come. If Christians were to observe the Old Testament festival days with their animal sacrifices, we would actually be taking a step back or even worse, denying the all sufficiency of Jesus Christ’ atonement on the Cross. Jesus Himself also made this idea clear when He said in John 19:30, “it is finished!” What is finished? The entire atonement system in the Law of Moses. Hebrews 10:1-4 also reminds us that all the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament actually didn’t forgive sins in and of themselves alone. They forgave sins only because of who they pointed to. The reason they were valid was because they pointed to the perfect sacrifice to come in Jesus. In fact, they are called “shadows of the good things to come”, because Jesus was and is the only sacrifice that counts before God. This is why Paul writes in Romans 3:25, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished!”

So why don’t Christians celebrate the Old Testament festival days with their animal sacrifices? Well, in a nutshell, the animal sacrifices were always inferior to Jesus' coming and now we have something greater that God has provided us with; salvation by faith alone and who would ever give that up!

God Bless,

Pastor Joel