The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons, who died after they entered the Lord’s presence and burned the wrong kind of fire before him. The Lord said to Moses, “Warn your brother, Aaron, not to enter the Most Holy Place behind the inner curtain whenever he chooses; if he does, he will die. For the Ark’s cover—the place of atonement—is there, and I myself am present in the cloud above the atonement cover.
“When Aaron enters the sanctuary area, he must follow these instructions fully. He must bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He must put on his linen tunic and the linen undergarments worn next to his body. He must tie the linen sash around his waist and put the linen turban on his head. These are sacred garments, so he must bathe himself in water before he puts them on. Aaron must take from the community of Israel two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.”
The Day of Atonement was the greatest day of the year for Israel. A number of events occurred on this day. The people confessed their sins as a nation, and the high priest went into the Most Holy Place to atone for them. Two goats were also prepared: one was sacrificed, the other was sent into the wilderness. The two goats represented the two ways God was dealing with the Israelites’ sin: (1) He was forgiving their sin through the first goat, which was sacrificed, and (2) he was removing their guilt through the second goat, the scapegoat that was sent into the desert.
The Hebrew word for atone means “to cover.” Old Testament sacrifices could not actually remove sins, only cover them. Thus, the same rituals had to be repeated year after year. Sacrifices were made and blood was shed so that the people’s sins could be “covered” until Christ’s sacrifice on the cross would give people the opportunity to have their sins removed forever. Jesus Christ’s death replaced this system once and for all. We can have our sins forgiven and guilt removed by placing our trust in Christ (Hebrews 10:1-18).
Aaron and the high priests after him had to spend hours preparing to enter God’s presence. But we can approach God anytime (Hebrews 4:16). What a privilege! We are offered direct access to God! Still, we must never forget that God is holy nor let this privilege cause us to approach God carelessly. The way to God has been opened to us by Christ. But direct access to God does not eliminate our need to prepare our hearts as we draw near in prayer.