Thursday, September 27, 2012

Are you "afflicted in soul"?

   One might automatically answer our question "No, of course not!  I'm forgiven by Christ!", so some context might be handy;  once a year in Israel, the high priest would fastidiously prepare himself with prayer and external cleansings, and at the proper time appointed by God, this man would enter into the holiest place on earth, the Holy of Holies, to intercede for the nation and offer a sacrifice to atone for sin.  In Lev. 23:28-32, the priests are given instruction for this holy day to pass on to the people:
"Now on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. It shall be for you a time of holy convocation, and you shall afflict yourselves (or your souls; KJV) and present a food offering to the LORD. And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the LORD your God.  For whoever is not afflicted on that very day shall be cut off from his people.  And whoever does any work on that very day, that person I will destroy from among his people...  It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict yourselves."
     So it's readily apparent that being afflicted was not only good and proper, but commanded on the strongest punishment of death!  But Christ has saved us from our afflictions, right?  Maybe it would help if we equate the visible sign under the Old Covenant with the spiritual reality in the New:
                                  Affliction = Repentance 
The spiritual truth behind the Old Covenant ceremonies (which are fulfilled in Christ) is always applicable for God's people and just as importantly, God did not burden His people in ancient Israel (nor in America today) with ceremonies merely to amuse Himself.  So the best question we can ask is "What's the point here?"
     The Day of Atonement was unlike many of the feasts in Israel:  nobody gathered to the Tabernacle, there was no trumpets, no week-long party.  If Passover was the highlight of the Jewish calendar, this Day was the lowlight, in the same way that Calvary was dark:  the sin of a whole nation was placed on 2 animals, both of which died miserably.  Only by the intercession of the High Priest did this blood, these lives placate the wrath of a jealous God, justly enraged by our sin.  So, by their obedient affliction (thru fasting, to clear away any misunderstandings), Israel acknowledged their guilt before God, with weeping, fasting and mourning.  The external signs commanded in Lev. are, in themselves, worthless to God (Isa 58:3), but then and now, God's people are tutored by the Old Covenant to know our own sin, and our own hopeless inadequacy to satisfy God's demands.  So the connection to the divine requirement for repentance (or affliction), then and now, is that only God can provide us with what He requires.  Only He can change our heart of stone into flesh, and grant us the eyes to see our sin as it is, so we can mourn our crimes as we should.  Anything less would be crocodile tears.  John Calvin calls the crime in our text a "profane and intolerable carelessness to omit what was so necessary, and of still greater hardness of heart purposely... to despise it."
     One of the best examples of Gentile repentance in the Scriptures (I'm a Gentile... how about you?) is that infamous king of Nineveh...
"For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water:  But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.  Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?" (Jonah 3:6-9)
      So take the time, and think about your guilt, "be afflicted, and mourn, and weep..." (James 4:9), and think about what it cost God to redeem us.

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