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TEXT: Leviticus 16:20-26
SUBJECT: Yom Kippur #4: The Scapegoat
Yom Kippur is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, and if you remember what it is, you know why: It is the Day of Atonement. Observed in September or October, it was the day Israel's sins were atoned for-or not.
I must emphasize the words, 'or not', for God was under no obligation to make up with His people, to pardon their sins, or to bless them with His favor. He did these things because He wanted to, not because there was something good in Israel, but because there is something good in Him. As the hymn says, Israel and we are-
Debtors to mercy alone.
We must never forget this. The Day of Atonement was not made up by Israel and offered to God, it was made up by God and given to Israel. What was true of their atonement is doubly so of ours. We did not bring Christ down to us, but God-
Sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.
Wicked men crucified Jesus, of course, but God turned His cross into the Mercy Seat and made His death the Atonement for our sins. No man seeks after God-the Bible says-but thank God!-He seeks after us, and He finds us where we are.
Where was Israel on the first Day of Atonement? They were in the shadow of Mount Sinai, where, only a few days before, they had set up a Golden Calf and had an orgy in the name of the Lord.
I don't suppose anyone here worshiped an idol last night or attended an orgy, but maybe you wanted something more than you should have. Paul says that excessive desire for things is idolatry. Or maybe you looked at something on TV or the Internet you shouldn't have. The Lord calls that adultery. Maybe you've felt guilty for a long time, or maybe, you've gotten past feeling guilty, and now you feel nothing but a gnawing in your gut that one of these days you'll get busted. Things are not right between you and the Lord; your sins have separated you.
This is where Israel was! And it was here, in the depths of their sin and guilt and fear that God gave them the Day of Atonement and took their sins away. If the blood of bulls and goats could do this for them-
How much more shall the blood of Christ.
.do for you?
You don't have to live estranged from God. He wants your fellowship as much as you need His. He offers it to you-no matter what you've done or left undone. But the offer is good for today only. The Lord promises no one tomorrow, but tells everyone-
Now is the accepted time;
Now is the day of salvation.
If being pardoned required a certain number of tears, you might not be able to shed them today; if it took so many works, they would likely take more than a day to do. But read Leviticus 16 and you won't find anything about human tears and works. What you find is God's power and grace-the Lord doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and doing it in spite of who we are and what we've done.
The Day of Atonement is all of Grace. And so is the Gospel it points to.
Up to now, we have seen the Need for the Atonement. Israel needed the atonement for the same reason we do: we're all sinners and the wages of sin is death. Either the Sacrifice dies-or we do.
We saw the Priest who made the Atonement. On other days, he wore vestments fitting the dignity of his office. But this day, he stripped down to a linen hat, shirt, trousers, and belt-an outfit every man in Israel owned. He had to be made like his brethren.
We saw the Sacrifice, an innocent bull, without spot or blemish, died in the place of a guilty people, covered with spiritual leprosy.
Now we come to the Result of that Day, what the Atonement did for Israel.
The High Priest took two goats and cast lots for them. One was presented to the Lord and butchered as a sin offering, driving home the point we've already made-
The wages of sin is death.
And either sinners will die for their own sins, or one chosen by God will bear their sins and die in their place. This is what the goat did-died in the place of sinners.
But I said there were two goats, and only one died. What happened to the other one? Three things:
First, he was brought to the Lord, that is to the Tabernacle where everyone could see him including God.
Then, Aaron laid his hands on him, as if he were going to ordain him, as he had his sons to the priesthood not long before, and as pastors are ordained now, through the laying on of hands. Is that what he's doing? It is: the goat is being formally set aside for a high office.
The office of Sin Bearer. With his hands on the goat's head, Aaron confessed the sins of Israel-
All the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat.
The sins of Israel were being transferred to the goat, and underline the word, 'all'-all the iniquities, all the transgressions, all the sins.
Aaron was a mere man, how could he know every sin committed in a nation of two million or more? The Lord may have revealed the sins to him, but I suspect He didn't. The Law contains 613 rules, from how to worship God to how to bury your waste material. Every last one of them was broken, and so, in my opinion, Aaron charged every one of them to the goat. This must have taken a very long time, and as the hours passed with Aaron mumbling one thing after another, Israel began to feel the weight of their sins. They weren't good people who slipped up once or twice, they were Lawbreakers.
All the guilt of their lawbreaking was symbolically taken off them and put on an innocent goat. Aaron then led the goat away from the Tabernacle and handed it off to another priest. He walked him further away till he met a third priest, and he a fourth, then a fifth, sixth, and seventh. Finally, the goat was so far off in the wilderness nobody could see him any more-including God.
The goat had carried the sins of Israel away, away from them, and away from the Lord. God would no longer remember all the evils they had done and the disappearing goat told Israel to move on, to not live in their guilt anymore, for the Lord has removed it!
Israel's guilt was not diminished and the people were not told to forgive themselves. Their guilt was removed and God had forgiven them! Now, they must live in the light of what He had done for them. And that means, with humility and gratitude.
THE RELIEF AND RESULT
To many, the words, 'ritual' and 'ceremony' have a hollow ring; they sound phony, people going through motions without a thought in their heads or a feeling in their hearts. This is sometimes true, of course, but it doesn't have to be. People who wave flags on the Fourth of July might be drunken rubes, but not all of them are: some are patriotic Americans, who wave Old Glory because they love their country and are thankful for what it's given them. Yes, they're going through motions, but they're not empty motions, they're full motions.
When you read the prophets you know the Feast Days of Israel were sometimes hollow religion. The problem, though, was not with the ceremonies, but with the people. For the Day of Atonement was brim full of meaning, and not least the Scapegoat.
Put yourself in the place of a Jew about 1500 BC. You'd gone to the party round the Golden Calf, and there, you had fallen down before the gods of Egypt, instead of the Lord who saved you from Egypt. You had also had too much to drink and the cute girl who lived next door looked really good compared to the middle-aged wife who has carried your dozen children. And, of course, when the girl's father saw you, you hit him over the head with a stick and killed him. You were an idolater, a drunkard, an adulterer, and a murderer. Each of these sins carried the death penalty in Israel, and threatened you with eternal damnation.
How can you get rid of them? You cried a bucket of tears, but that didn't get rid of them. You promised you'd never do them again, but you're not worried about the sins you might commit, but the ones you have already committed. Compensation? How to do give a girl back her virtue, or her dad his life? And how do you make it up to your own wife? Or unset the example you have set for your sons? And how do you take back all the praises you offered the Golden Calf or unsay the blasphemous things you said against the Lord?
You're stuck. And your sins are stuck to you. On the inside. What do you do? How do you live with yourself? And how you can die in a state of mortal sin?
There's nothing you can do.
But God can. He can take your idolatry and murder, adultery, drunkenness, and sacrilege, and lay them on a goat's head, and then drive the goat out of His sight, so He'll never see them again. This is what He did on the Day of Atonement.
I wonder how the man felt as the goat got smaller and smaller in the distance, and then disappeared? I don't have to wonder, do I? The man was torn between joy and rapture!
If the lesson sank home to him, he became a better man-not to win God's forgiveness-but because he had it.
Yom Kippur was a red letter day in Israel; it was the day their sins were carried off into the wilderness and lost to their knowledge and God's. But, as wonderful as the day was, there was something wrong with it. It had to be repeated every year.
This means, the forgiveness they got that day could be lost and the punishment their sins deserved might yet fall on them in full force. And so, the relief only lasted a short time, and then in crept the worry.
The Israelites were not being neurotic or paranoid; they were being realistic. The offerings to God were good, but not good enough. They needed Something Better.
THE TRUE SCAPEGOAT
What they needed, they got. The scapegoat was a real animal serving a real need. But it was more than this, it was also a prophecy; it pointed to something better than itself.
It points to Christ who not only dies for us (as the other goat did), but in dying, also carried our sins out of God's sight. The Bible says God forgets our sins. How can a God who knows everything forget something? He forgets it for the same reason a bank forgets you when you make the last mortgage payment. You're paid up, and the bank's got no claim on you any more. In going to the cross and tomb for us, Jesus paid our debt in full, and His justice is satisfied, and there is nothing to punish again, for all our punishment fell on Christ. In this way-
He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.
If the Lord has taken our sins away, we mustn't dwell on them ourselves. If He forgets them, why do we keep bringing them to mind? If He buries them in the sea, why do we keep digging them up? If He blots them out of His book, why do we keep re-writing them?
I'm telling no one to forgive himself, but something far better: believe that God has forgiven you, and live in the peace and joy and freedom of His forgiveness.
Remember, too, the scapegoat did not carry the sins of one man into the wilderness, but the sins of the whole people. This means: God has forgiven your brothers and sisters in Christ. This means, we're not allowed to dwell on all the wrongs they've done us, and to harp on all their faults. There's a place for calling people on their sins, but there's also a place for loving them, and love covers a multitude of sins.
Tell your friends about the Scapegoat. The world is crushed under the weight of its own guilt, and there's no treatment or recovery group, or pill that can take it away. Only Jesus can do that, and it is His message we carry to the world, or we have nothing to say at all. I'll close with my mother's favorite stanza-
My sin, O the bliss of that glorious thought:
My sin, not in part, but the whole;
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more-
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
O my soul.
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