Harry Houdini was amazing as a preeminent escape artist. But have you ever considered an “entry artist?”
There are all sorts of them. Some are in prison. Many aren’t. Why? Because they’re not criminals. Many of them are kids. Let me explain.
When I was a kid, we had a household rule. ALWAYS CARRY YOUR HOUSE KEY WITH YOU. Why? Because I may arrive home from school and find myself locked out. Dad was at work and mom was at her part-time job or running errands. So, the rule was, “Always carry your house key!”
Did my brother, sister, and I always do that? Pssh, no! We were teenagers with limited memory capabilities and a penchant for chasing shiny objects, not necessarily house keys, mind you.
So what would we do if we found ourselves in the unenviable state of being “locked-out” and standing in the crisp thirty below zero Minnesota winter with a gazillion below wind chill in which you could break off your breath?
We plied our skills as entry artists.
We came up with a plethora of ways to get past a locked door! We could jigger windows, pop screens (not winter), remove patio doors from their track, and shinny down the chimney (okay, I was kidding about that last one). But you get my point. I also had to do it if one of my siblings grabbed my key and locked me out. Delightful.
It was kind of fun, but it didn’t please our parents too much when they found out because “Always carry your house key! You know the rule. You didn’t follow the rule? Then sit outside.” And wait…
While we’re on the subject of getting past locked doors, I’d like to use this personal experience to make a point.
At the time I’m writing this, we’re in the High Holy Days, rapidly approaching Yom Kippur. Some of you are confused about what this is, although most of you see it on your calendars in late September or early October.
Yom Kippur is known as the Day (Yom) of Atonement (Kippur, “to cover”). No, it’s not the Day of Small Fishes (Kippers). That’s another holiday for someone… somewhere… who knows?
In brief, it’s a very serious time for the Jewish community. It’s one of the Feasts of the Lord, like Passover. And like Passover, many Christians are discovering Yom Kippur and joining in the observance because of its great spiritual importance.
We all sin. Period. What that means is every person fails to live up to God’s standard of right and wrong. It’s because we’re all spiritually broken inside (Romans 3:23). We tend to want to live our way even if that means breaking our Father’s house rules.
The hard, cold reality is our Father rules the house. And one of His house rules is “break a rule (sin), get punished.” To be blunt, the punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23).
Now, if God opened up a can of judgment on everybody every time they broke a rule/sinned, nobody would be left alive. But He loves His kids and wants them to be with Him. So, He has graciously allowed a substitute to take the punishment for us. For the uninitiated, that means Jesus’ death instead of ours. And our Heavenly Father is okay with that. After all, He came up with the idea (Revelation 13:8 New King James Version).
The practice of this whole “substitute punishment” thing is about 3,400 years old. It started with the sacrificial system God gave to Israel after they left Egypt and became “one nation under God” at Mount Sinai. But the idea goes back to Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22).
Long story short, in the Torah, God revealed a special day when He would deal with Israel’s national sin grandly. You can find it in Leviticus 16. All the people would assemble for a ritual where the High Priest (and him alone) would atone, cover over, the sins of the nation and individuals thereof, and remove sin from between Him and His people. Long story even shorter, one sacrificial goat would die for sin and another goat (the scapegoat) would take the sins and carry them away into the Wilderness, never to return.
It’s a very serious thing!
Afterward, the people would rejoice before their God and King having been freed from the weight of sin and its side-kick, guilt. Got it? This has been part of God’s house rules from then up to now.
Today, the practices of Yom Kippur have expanded, but the purpose is still the same – to cover over and remove sin so people can rejoice in God’s presence released from sin and guilt. Not only that, it’s done to help make things right between people. It’s still a very serious thing!
It’s so serious a preceding forty-day period of self-examination leading up to Yom Kippur has been created. Yes! A 40-day ramp-up to the Big Day!
People are encouraged to make serious efforts to turn from moral wrong, reset their lives to morally right, and make amends to anyone they have sinned against. Why? Yom Kippur is Judgment Day, an annual Judgment Day, so to speak.
Even then, there remains a burning question – Will I be forgiven?
Over time a teaching and a tradition have emerged called the Closing of Heaven’s Gates. Judaism teaches Heaven’s gates are always open to the repentant. Read article here. But there is a time when Heaven’s Gates will be closed to the unrepentant. The idea is simple. Will my unresolved sins prevent me from being blessed by God for a good year when Heaven’s gates close at the end of Yom Kippur?
God and God alone is the Gatekeeper but a Key Master also has a role to play.
Jesus is ALL over the biblical Yom Kippur service in pictures. It was always our Heavenly Father’s plan for Jesus to offer Himself as our substitute sacrifice to pay for our sins and carry them away, just like the two goats of Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16:7-10). This opens the gate to our eternal home with our Heavenly Father when we die.
When Jesus became our sacrifice on the Cross, He also became the Key Master. Here is a revelation about Jesus his disciple John received, “Don’t be afraid. I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I was dead, but look—I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18). Jesus also revealed to John, “…Thus says the Holy One, the true one, the one who has the key of David, who opens and no one will close, and who closes and no one opens…” (Revelation 3:7).
Did you catch that? There is no “breaking and entering” into God’s house. There are no windows to jigger, screens to pop, patio doors to de-track, and certainly no chimneys.
Rules are rules. To get into God’s house, there is only one key (Jesus’ atonement) and we must always have our key with us. That’s God’s unbreakable house rule. Don’t like it? Go ahead and arm-wrestle God. I’ll wait outside.
Person: “But I can live a moral life.”
God: “Nope. Not according to My standards.”
Person: “But, Lord, what if I do good things?”
Person: “But what if I do them for you?”
Person: “Is there another way around your house rule?”
Person: (pause) “Is anyone else up there?”
There is only one key to eternal life and Jesus holds it (Revelation 3:7). There is only one way through Heaven’s gate and Jesus is that Way (John 14:6). He alone has the authority to open and close the gates, to allow or prevent passage. Not only that, Jesus declared He IS Heaven’s gate (John 10:7, 9).
Yom Kippur is a vivid reminder to all of the “Burning” question – will you be let in or locked out (Matthew 13:40-42)?
Heaven’s open gate through Jesus is our Father’s invitation. The Closing of the Gates idea reminds us we need to respond to that invitation.
“That’s great for the future, Jay, but how does this affect us now?”
As long as we’re not dead, Yom Kippur is our invitation to make things right not only with our Father but also with our siblings. It’s an opportunity to keep it that way through the next year. It’s like the New Year resolutions we make to live better in the new year.
And like typical New Year’s resolutions we blow it. The Good News is if we fall short, God has that covered (kippur) as well (1 John 1:8-9). In truth, for believers, every day is the Day of Atonement.
For those who reject God, the door is locked “and no one opens.” But a simple and sincere call-out right now to the Key Master opens the door “and no one will close.”
There’s the invitation. What’s your response?