“The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present an offering made to the LORD by fire. Do no work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the LORD your God. Anyone who does not deny himself on that day must be cut off from his people. I will destroy from among his people anyone who does any work on that day. You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. It is a sabbath of rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath.” Lev. 23:27-32
In. Lev. 23:27-28, the Israelites were told to do no work on the annual Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). In fact, just in case they didn’t get it the first time it was stated that they shouldn’t work on this day, it was further explained in verse 29, and then a bit more in verse 30. Verse 31 has a little more explanation about the no-work thing, and then verse 32 says it one last time.
So the Lord was apparently really, really serious when He said that they should do no work on the Day of Atonement. It was a day set aside for solemn reflection, a day to “deny” or “afflict” themselves by taking time to consider their sinful state. It was the day, according to Lev. 16:30, that “atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins.”
According to Hebrews 7:27, this was the Old Covenant method of atoning for sins, but it was imperfect in that it had to be repeated each year; under the New Covenant, we have a perfect priest in Christ who has atoned for our sins, once for all, and it does not need to be repeated. However, as with all things in the Old Testament, there is a foreshadowing in the Old Covenant practices that we can apply under the New.
And in this case, I think the Lord made it pretty clear. We are to do no work on the Day of Atonement. We are to contribute nothing to our Atonement. We must let our High Priest do the work there, because we cannot do anything to help.
In other words, we can’t earn our way to heaven. We can’t save ourselves. The most we can do is to be honest about our sinful state, to take time to stop shrugging off our sins with “well, everyone does that” and “I’m better than most people about this” and “I’m a pretty good person overall, surely that counts for something.” Once we come face to face, in the quietness of reflection, with how awful we really can be, deep down inside where we let no one else see, and once we understand that no amount of goodness on our part stacked up next to it can actually remove the awfulness, then we can truly appreciate the amazing gift God has given us by sending His son to atone for those sins.
And then, all that is left for us to do is to accept the gift. We can’t earn it. We can’t impress God into giving it to us by doing good works. He has already accomplished our atonement and already offered it to us. And on the Day that we realize that and accept His Atonement, He wants us to do no work but rather, just accept it. And say thank you.