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;]


. said...

I really enjoyed this post. Understanding of the completeness of God forgiving our sins (after repentance) is important for us to understand because we need not experience guilt for our sins if forgiven.
I do have a minor note to inquire about. You mentioned that the Mercy Seat was the place where God "symbolically" was. I'm not sure that I agree, but I'm willing to discuss it. I believe the actual manifast presence of God was in the Holy of Holies, otherwise it would have been a symbol of God, thus an idol. What are your thoughts? Yes, God is omnipresent, but God was also in the Holy of Holies on the Mercy Seat. Maybe it's an antinomy that man shouldn't try to reconcile in his mind.

Dan Grubbs
The Portico Dialogue

AuthenticTruth said...

Thanks for pointing this out. After thinking about this a little more, I decided to change that statement. Yes, God's presence was indeed very real, but His presence was indicated or made known through the visible symbols. But perhaps using the term "dwelt symbolically" may have a tendency to minimize the reality of God's presence which I certainly do not want to convey. Thanks for your feedback.

. said...

I know it wasn't the main point you were making, which you did a great job doing.

Keep up the great posts, I enjoy reading them.

Dan Grubbs
The Portico Dialogue