Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
11 March 2018
Sermon Text: Leviticus 16:1-10, 15, 20-22
Jesus is our Scapegoat
Fourth Sunday of Lent
A new series on the Atonement.
Atonement is notoriously difficult to define yet easy to describe. In this series we will try to do both. The foundational definition of atonement is covering. To make atonement is to cover.
Last week we saw that Jesus is the shelter and shield of God’s people. He is the true and better passover lamb who takes away our sins and turns away God’s wrath. His blood covers our families; under his precious blood we find safety and security from God’s holy wrath and judgment.
This week we want to focus on another facet of the atonement. Jesus is our sin-offering and scapegoat. The word ‘scapegoat’ was coined by William Tyndale, a priest who was the first to translate the Bible into English (c.1525). He used the word “scapegoat” to describe a ritual from Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement — which we will explore today.
Unfortunately, modern people tend to misunderstand the biblical notion of scapegoat and misapply it to all sorts of situations.
While preparing for this sermon I came across a book titled “Scapegoat: A History of Blaming Other People” [Overlook Press] by Charlie Campbell. According to stories from the book, many people seem to think a scapegoat is just an unfortunate fall guy, someone who gets set up unawares or against his will in order to take the blame for bad things other people do.
Also, while preparing for this sermon I saw a meme that read: “Scapegoat — The secret of success is knowing who to blame.”
As we will see today, Jesus is our scapegoat and sin-offering. But unlike these other scapegoats, he came freely and humbly to do his Father’s will.
Like I said, atonement is easier to describe than define, so let’s hear how God’s word describes the atoning work of Jesus our scapegoat.
Our sermon text comes from the book of Leviticus, chapter 16. The salient texts are printed in the worship order.
The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died,and the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come into the Holy Place inside the veil [whenever he wants], before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on.And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering. Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel…When he slaughters the male goat for the people’s sin offering and brings its blood inside the curtain, he is to sprinkle it and make atonement…When he has finished making atonement for the most holy place, the tent of meeting, and the altar, he is to present the live male goat. Aaron will lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the Israelites’ iniquities and rebellious acts—all their sins. He is to put them on the goat’s head and send it away into the wilderness by the man appointed for the task. The goat will carry all their iniquities into a desolate land, and the man will release it there.
The Word of the Lord.
CANONICAL READING – Leviticus 16
After the passover and exodus the people are instructed to build a tabernacle — a dwelling place — for the Lord. Some biblical scholars have noticed that this poses a problem. If the Book of Exodus asks How can a holy God dwell in the midst of an unclean people? the Book of Leviticus provides an answer: only by sacrifice and the shedding of blood.
The text we just read describes Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most holy day of the year for the Jewish people. To this day, Jewish people still try to celebrate Yom Kippur in spirit. Why? This is the day on which God has covenanted to assemble his people and deal with their sins, all at once, at-one-ment, for the whole year. (Note: There is no sacrifice for sins in their synagogues. Salvation is found in Christ alone.)
To say that a lot was riding on this festival and ritual would be an understatement.
Let’s try to put ourselves in the sandals of our forefathers. This might help us feel the gravity of the situation.
This was a day of actual fasting and prayer. This was no soft evangelical lenten fast from facebook or chocolate. No, they did not eat or drink at all on this day. They afflicted their souls, repented their sins, and held their breath as they drew near for worship.
They drew near with hopeful realism, knowing that their fate and destiny were riding on the ministry of the high priest. If he failed to discharge all the duties of his ministry, the whole community would suffer the consequences. So, his obedience of faith before the face of God was paramount.
Some of you might have heard the dramatic story about how the high priest wore jingle bells and tied a rope around his waist (or ankle) when he went into the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement. The jingle bells let the people know if he was still alive and moving around. If the bells stopped jingling, they figured he was dead and could use the rope to pull out his body. Now that makes for good theater, but it’s not all true. Turns out it’s just a story made-up by an imaginative Rabbi in the 13th century.
The only thing true about the story is the gravity of the situation.
The Lord made it clear that not just anyone and everyone was able to draw near to him, but only the High Priest. Not even the High Priest was welcome to enter into the Most Holy Place inside the veil whenever he wanted or however he wanted. But only when God called him to come.
Many Protestant Evangelicals have a hard time with things like this. We tend to imagine that anything we feel like doing in worship, in the presence of God, is right and good and acceptable to the Lord, as long as we like it.
Yet we are reminded in the text that the High Priest’s adult sons learned the hard way that our God is holy and that drawing near to worship him is a dangerous work.
Over the years, our congregation here has grown in the grace and knowledge of worshipping God in spirit and truth. (You’ve come a long way, baby.) But I want to take advantage of this moment to remind you that worship is not a casual, make-it-up-as-you-go, do-whatever-feels-right-to-you, choose-your-own-adventure, come as you are whenever you feel like it, kind of thing.
Our God is a consuming fire. Therefore, we must draw near to him on his terms and at the times he appoints and in the way he tells us — with reverence and awe, so that our sacrifice and service may be acceptable in his sight.
God requires his people to worship him, and his word regulates their worship of him. That means God tells us what he wants, when he wants it, who he wants, how he wants it, and why he wants it.
That’s what we see in this story.
The High Priest was required to dress a specific way, to bring specific animals, for specific sacrifices, at specific times, in specific ways.
The Day of Atonement was sabbath of solemn rest, a time of fasting and prayer, reminding the Israelites of (1) Yahweh’s holiness and (2) their own sinfulness (including the priestly ministers).
It was also bloody day — at least fifteen animal sacrifices were offered, not counting the scapegoat. (Lev. 16:5–29; Num. 29:7–11). [Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary]
There was nothing seeker-friendly, culturally relevant, or personally customized about this worship service.
It might seem all superfulous, laborious, tedious, even odious to us, but keep in mind that all this was first and foremost for the glory of God, and then for the good of his people.
And those people believed it and gathered for worship on this solemn day.
If you knew that God was going to cover you and cleanse you and commune with you for (at least) one more year, wouldn’t you show up for worship?
If only we had some kind of sacrifice, sign, and seal that God was going to cover us and cleanse us and commune with us. I bet we would make every effort to draw near to God in worship. (I say this tongue in cheek because all these things are offered to us every Lord’s day!)
Now, I want to draw our attention back to the two goats of the atonement.
Leviticus 16 says,
“The high priest shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And he shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. And he shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.”
The first goat was sacrificed and its blood was shed in order to deal with the penalty of sin. The wages of sin is death. So that goat was put to death and turned into smoke on the altar in order to show the people how God deals with sin and sinners. This sin-offering turned away God’s wrath. (Propitiation / vertical beam of the cross)
The other goat was set apart in order to deal with the presence of sin. The work of sin in us is to decay and debilitate. So that goat was sent away bearing the sins of the people in order to perish in an uninhabitable place. This was to show the people how God deals with the effects of their sin. The scapegoat took away the people’s sins. (Expiation / horizontal bean of the cross)
The first goat was burned up in fire on the altar; the second goat was banished to no-man’s-land.
Now, one of the most graphic details of the atonement ritual involves no blood-shed at all. It is just the high priest standing before the scapegoat, leaning down over it, and placing both his hands on its head, confessing all the sins, iniquities, and transgressions of the people, and symbolically transferring them from the people to the scapegoat.
In this part of the ritual act, the high priest is not representing the people to God, he is representing God to the people.
How do we know? Only God can take away sins.
So, as God’s representative only the high priest was authorized to take the sins from the people and put them on the scapegoat.
By sending away the live goat bearing the sins of his people year after year, God was signifying that his people may live and not die, and that all their sins would be dealt with at another time, in another place, by another sin-bearing scapegoat once and for all.
All these things happened only after the proper sacrifices were made, and the prayers were offered, and the blood was sprinkled in the right places. Only then could everyone breath a sigh of relief and rest in the Lord.
All of that just to make atonement for sins — and after all was said and done, that atonement only lasted one year. Why?
As the Spirit says (in Hebrews) that the blood of bulls and goats only secured a temporary redemption, and a superficial (surface level) sanctification.
At worst the sacrificial system covered one day at a time; at best it covered one year at a time.
That was better than covering none at all, but it was not good enough.
“In these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year, for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4)
Something truer and better than the blood of bulls and goats was needed to cover the people, cleanse their sins, cancel their debts, and connect God back to them.
But who or what could accomplish such a feat? Who could ever cover all the righteous requirements and demands of God’s Law?
Answer: Jesus Christ.
CHRISTOTELIC READING – Hebrews 9-10
According to the Book of Hebrews Jesus is the substance of all the shadows in Leviticus 16.
Jesus is the true and better high priest who sacrificed the sin offering for God, tore the veil apart, entered the Most Holy Place, sprinkled his blood on the mercy seat, and covered all the demands of the Law with his life and blood.
Jesus is the true and better goat who was sacrificed on the cross for the Lord as a sin offering, to take the place of his people in judgment, and to turn away God’s wrath.
Jesus is the true and better scapegoat who humbly, willingly, and obediently took all our sins upon himself, who was cut off outside the city gates, who carried our sins away from us, as far as the east is from the west.
Unlike the first scapegoat, the last Scapegoat takes away all our sins — past, present and future — retroactively and proactively.
Jesus is our sin-offering and scapegoat.
He became sin that we might become saints; he was condemned that we might be declared right; he was cursed that we might be blessed; he was driven away from God that we might draw near to God.
As the Spirit says that “since the children share in flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise partook of the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Heb. 2)
Jesus destroyed death through his death on the cross as the goat offered for sin once for all; and he delivered his people from the devil’s terrorism as the scapegoat who took away all our sins never to bring them back again.
As the Spirit says, “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make atonement for the sins of the people.”
Jesus is able to sympathize with us and deal gently with those of us who are wayward and weary. He knows by experience what we are going through and he is willing and able to help us.
But how does Jesus make atonement for our sins? [Answer: Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension]
As the Spirit says, “When Christ appeared in the flesh as a high priest of the good things that have come…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing [acquire, procure] an eternal redemption.” (Incarnation, Passion, and Crucifixion)
Only the blood of Jesus Christ is able to acquire and secure an eternal redemption, a holistic sanctification, and a permanent inheritance for the people of God, that is, for all sinners everywhere who turn from sin and trust Christ to save them.
His atoning work graciously covers the price of our redemption, cleanses us from our sins inside and out, cancels all our debts and charges, condemns our enemies, casts them away and cuts them off, clothes us in his righteousness, crushes the serpent, and connects God with us and us with God.
Jesus is our scapegoat. But he was not set up unawares — nor against his will — nor waylaid by surprise — nor victimized by the mob — in order to take the blame for all the bad things other people do.
No, Christ came willingly and obediently to do his Father’s will, to accomplish the redemptive work that his Father had arranged. He came to make atonement for all the people his Father had chosen (from eternity) and sent him to redeem.
After Christ had accomplished his mission and offered the once for all time sacrifice for sins, he ascended to heaven and sat down at the right hand of God; and now he waits until all his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. (Resurrection and Ascension)
Just as he came and was offered up once to bear the sins of many, so he will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Jesus is our scapegoat: The secret of salvation is knowing who to believe and who to bless (not knowing who to blame).
Pastoral Prayer — Psalm 103
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.