Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Scapegoat

The definition of a scapegoat is one who is made to take on the blame for the actions of others; actions that they were not responsible for. History has shown that this has been applied to both individuals and groups. One prominent example in history is that of the Jews.

But the greatest scapegoat in history is our Lord Jesus Christ. While the term scapegoat is a term not directly used In reference to Him in Scripture, the male goat that was used in the Old Testament sacrificial system is actually a picture of the ultimate sacrifice for sins that Jesus made through His death. [1]

Leviticus describes the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. In chapter 16, verses 6-10, two goats were cast lots over. One was chosen as a sin offering and the second was to be presented live before the Lord to make atonement, so that it would be sent into the wilderness as the scapegoat.

7"He shall take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the doorway of the tent of meeting. 8"Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. 9"Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the LORD fell, and make it a sin offering. 10"But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat. (Leviticus 16:7-10, NASB)

The first goat was killed and its blood was sprinkled over and before the mercy seat in the Holy Place. The Holy Place was where God manifest His presence, and this sacrifice was a picture of the propitiatory sacrifice Jesus made on the cross (the propitiation was discussed in a previous post).

But the second was used to symbolically take the sins of the people and carry them away, once and for all. The priest would lay hands on the head of the goat, confessing the sins of the people. The goat was then released where it would carry on itself the sins of the people to a solitary place, where it would never be seen again. This goat was referred to as the scapegoat, because it bore all the guilt and sins of the people, taking it away into the desert. [2]

20"And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. 22The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16:20-22, ESV)

Because the goats represented the work of Christ on our behalf, we say that Christ became our scapegoat, who bore all the guilt of our sins, removing them from the presence of God the Father. Our sins were placed on the Lord Jesus Christ and were carried away, literally, to be remembered no more. One of the verses of Scripture that beautifully expresses this reality is Psalm 103:12.

12as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
(Psalm 103:12, ESV)

This expression signifies a distance as far reaching as we can express through our human vocabulary. This is an infinite distance that describes what God did with our sin. All our sin was removed from God’s presence forever. Jesus literally accomplished what the goat could only do symbolically. Now that our sins are removed, we can enter into the presence of God boldly (Hebrews 10:19, KJV). [3]

But there is more from Scripture that describes what God has done in terms of taking away our sin, taking it out of sight.

Isaiah 38:17
Isaiah 43:25
Hebrews 8:12
Hebrews 10:17-18

This great truth should comfort and inspire us. We should find comfort in the fact that we are completely forgiven in Christ. We, who were previously stained with the guilt of sin through Adam, are now cleansed and completely forgiven. Our sin inherited through Adam, has been taken out of God’s sight to be remembered no more. As a result of the removal of those sins, we should be motivated to deal with those that we commit in our daily lives. In the Old Testament, the sins were carried away only symbolically, but through Jesus Christ, it has become a reality for us.

It is imperative that we believe the testimony of God given to us through Scripture in order for us to live out the implications of the gospel in our lives. We receive such incredible benefit in our lives as a result of the work of Christ on our behalf. One profound benefit is with our conscience. Our conscience was given t us by God to serve as a moral compass. This conscience bears witness of God’s Law. However, as a result of our sin, our conscience has a tendency to become hardened, resulting in insensitivity to our violation of God’s Laws. But as we commit to grow in Christ, our conscience becomes more sensitive to sin as we become more convicted of our violation of God’s Law. As we face the reality of our sinfulness, we need to cling to the fact that Jesus has already removed our sin and carried it away forever, permanently taken away from the presence of God, and is no longer remembered by Him. Our guilt has been removed! [4]

Hebrews 9:14 expresses this cleansing of our conscience from the guilt of sin.

14how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
(Hebrews 9:14, ESV)

But to subjectively experience this cleansing, we must first acknowledge what our conscience tells us concerning our sin, respond with an attitude of repentance, and by faith trust in the cleansing blood of Christ. Romans 4:8 tells us that our sin will never be counted against us. We have been freed from a guilty conscience, enabling us to engage our lives in service to God.[5]

At this point it is profitable to discuss another theological term called expiation that you may not hear very often. This term may sometimes be confused with propitiation; however it has a different meaning. Propitiation, if you recall, refers to the work of Christ in absorbing God’s wrath as our substitute. Expiation, on the other hand, refers to the removal or putting away of our sin through Christ. Both of these acts accompany each other in the work of Christ, as symbolized through the two goats on the Day of Atonement. The first goat being killed and its blood sprinkled on the mercy seat represents the propitiation through Christ’s work. The second goat, through symbolically removing our sin, represented the work of expiation through Christ.[6]Both propitiation and expiation are terms that are vital in our understanding of Christ’s sacrificial work.

It is particularly important to reflect on the work of Christ and understand the concept of expiation, realizing that our sins have been completely removed, understanding we have been freed from guilt, allowing us to effectively serve God. The work of Christ was final, everything was accomplished on our behalf and we need to build a deep appreciation for it in our everyday lives. That we would exclaim as Charles Spurgeon did in his sermon “Expiation”.

"May we put our hand upon the head of Christ Jesus; as we see him offered up upon the cross for guilty men, may we know that our sins are transferred to him, and may we be able to cry, in the ecstasy of faith, "Great God, I am clean; through Jesus' blood I am clean.""[7]

[1] Jerry Bridges, “The Gospel for Real Life” [NavPress, 2003], pg. 57-58.
[2] Ibid., 58
[3] Jerry Bridges, “The Gospel for Real Life” [NavPress, 2003], pg. 59.
[4] Ibid., 65-66
[5] Ibid., 66
[6] Ibid., 67
[7] Charles Spurgeon, “Expiation” [The Spurgeon Archive;]

Monday, December 08, 2008

Plagiarizing Sermons

17Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. (1 Timothy 5:17, ESV)

It is becoming alarmingly prevalent for many pastors to get their sermons from sources over the Internet or popular books and materials. It is feasible today for a pastor to go to sources on the Internet and download a sermon to be preached from his pulpit on any given Sunday. No prayer or laboring over the Word of God, just click “download” and you have an instant sermon for the upcoming Sunday service. Worse yet, these sermons are being passed off as if it were their own work.

But the Bible gives clear direction concerning the obligation of those in pastoral leadership. And key to the role of the pastor-teacher is just that – to teach. And before the pastor has anything to give to the congregation, he must first be taught and receive instruction from Scripture. The only way to achieve this is for him to be challenged through laboring in God’s truth, pouring himself out over Scripture, allowing it to penetrate his heart and mind. The phrase “labor in preaching and teaching” means to literally work to the point of exhaustion. Should we expect anything less? It amazes me that in many leadership positions in the secular world, how many are willing to wear themselves out for material gain or fame and fortune. This includes those who aspire to be in political office. All this is to achieve and earthly “crown”. It should not be out of the ordinary to expect that someone in spiritual leadership in pastoral ministry should seek to labor with at least as much intensity for spiritual gain and a heavenly crown.

All elders are to be able to teach, but this passage of Scripture points to a particular group of elders who are particularly gifted and driven to preach and teach. The man who stands in the pulpit as the so-called senior pastor week after week, since he is the key teaching pastor, needs to be this type of man. If he shows no inclination to do so, he is unfit for this position. To take the lazy way out cheats himself out of the life changing experiencing of digging into God’s truth, and subsequently deprives his congregation of keen insights that would be normally gained by laboring in the Word of God.

I remember visiting one church close to us some time ago and discovering that the pastor got his whole sermon series from a popular author’s book – practically word for word! Needless to say, I never felt compelled to go back.

It is no wonder that the evangelical church is in such a mess today, when the pulpits are overrun with lazy shepherds who are unwilling to engage in the necessary work of expositional teaching and preaching of Scripture.

Tim Challies published an article entitled “Plagiarism in the Pulpit” a couple of years ago. Challies sites an article published by Suzanne Sataline in the Wall Street Journal discussing this issue. In the article she discusses how this issue has created quite a stir over ethics. Quite frankly, I find the issue of taking another’s work and using it as one’s own blatantly unethical, not to mention patently unbiblical. Apparently Sataline quotes from several Christians who are in favor of this practice. Perhaps it should not come as any surprise that Rick Warren is among those who are in favor of using other people’s sermons without giving credit for the source of the material.

Tim Challies reflected on a couple of reasons as to why this is taking place. One is the laziness on the part of the pastors who are looking for a way to avoid the arduous task of sermon preparation. This, I believe, is the primary cause of the problem. But Tim offers the other side of the coin, which is the pressure that congregations place on the pastor as a result of the on-going “spirit of pragmatism” that has become so prevalent today. Pastors have succumbed to the pressure to be witty and entertaining. The expectations of far too many congregations is that the pastor be some charismatic leader similar to what the secular culture looks for in corporate America. While endeavoring to meet the demands of the congregation in light of this expectation, many pastors simply do not have the time for adequate sermon preparation. I agree that there is certainly quite a bit of pressure from churches to fit this expectation, however, it is the pastor's duty to give the congregation what they actually need biblically, rather than what they want. Perhaps it is time for more pastors to put a stop to the whims of man-made expectations and follow their Scriptural mandate for pastoral ministry. If they cannot fulfill it there, perhaps it is time to move on elsewhere, where they can fulfill their role biblically. I feel that the pastor’s study of the Word of God should be central to what he does. I wholeheartedly agree with this quote from Tim’s article:

“The pastor must lead the way in studying the Word. This must be his primary occupation and must take precedence over other tasks, and even important tasks, such as pastoral counseling or providing leadership.”

I believe that one of the primary problems being faced in the church today is a crisis concerning the lack of recognition of the biblical role for the pastor-teacher. When you think of it, the pastoral leadership is to provide the biblical vision and direction for the ministry of the church. This direction must be gleaned from the careful study of Scripture. And if the leadership fails to provide this, then it should be no surprise that the congregation will fail to function in a biblical manner and its spiritual growth will be severely diminished.