We don’t like hearing about “scapegoating”. It sounds like bullying. A group picks on a weakling, identifies all its maladies with this one individual and punishes the scapegoat for the sins of the community.
But it’s horrible because of the power relationship. The strong sacrifice the weak.
The original scapegoat was modelling something quite different.
One day a year Israel held the day of atonement. It was a multi-media presentation of how the Ultimate High Priest – Christ – would get into God’s presence carrying the people on His heart. The High Priest would enter into the inner sanctum where the throne of God was on the basis of blood. And here is the key blood sacrifice which opened the way:
And [the high priest] shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD’S lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.
One goat is treated as a scapegoat. The other goat is treated as the LORD! What a fearful thing! Between these two goats they tell us of the work of the LORD Christ on the cross.
On the one hand Christ is the scapegoat, taking our sins upons Himself and carrying them away from us. And how does Christ do this? By being the LORD sacrificed in our place.
So if you want to understand the atoning work of the cross according to the day of atonement, imagine this:
From the Most Holy Place – the inner sanctum – you hear the LORD’s own voice. “Get out!”
The priests hitch up their robes and start running, they usher you quickly away from the altar where you were just about to sacrifice your lamb. As you all run to a safe distance, the LORD climbs down from His throne, walks through the Holy Place and out into the courtyard. He lays down on the altar and is slain for your sins. As His blood runs down, you know that your sins are well and truly dealt with – removed from you as far as the east is from the west.
When the LORD takes on the role of Scapegoat it’s not the oppression of the weak. It’s the willing sacrifice of the Strong. The LORD Almighty has chosen out of love to become so meek. He stoops to identify with us on every level.
The Apostle Paul says that Jesus became sin for us on that cross, so low did He stoop. But this is what a sinful people need. Not simply the blood of animals. Everyone knew that animals never paid for sin. That’s why as they sacrificed this goat on the day of atonement they called it ‘the LORD’. They knew that our sins demand more than animal blood, more even than human blood. They demand the blood of the LORD Himself. But, wonder of wonders, He freely offers it!
And when we identify with His sacrifice, we can know our sins to be once and for all cleansed.
That was the experience of Charles Simeon. He became a wonderful preacher in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. But before this, he was wracked with guilt and weighed down by a heavy sense of sin. Where could he find relief for his soul and forgiveness with God? When he looked to Christ his Scapegoat and sacrifice he was born again!
“My distress of mind continued for about three months, and well might it have continued for years, since my sins were more in number than the hairs of my head; but God in infinite condescension began at last to smile upon me, and to give me a hope of acceptance with Him. . . . In Passion Week, as I was reading Bishop Wilson on the Lord’s Supper, I met with an expression to this effect—‘That the Jews knew what they did when they transferred their sin to the head of their offering’. The thought came into my mind, What, may I transfer all my guilt to another? Has God provided an offering for me, that I may lay my sins on His Head? Then, God willing, I will not bear them on my own soul one moment longer. Accordingly I sought to lay my sins upon the sacred head of Jesus; and on the Wednesday began to have a hope of mercy; on the Thursday that hope increased; on the Friday and Saturday it became more strong, and on the Sunday morning, Easter Day, April 4, I awoke early with those words upon my heart and lips: ‘Jesus Christ is risen to-day! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!’ From that hour peace flowed in rich abundance into my soul: and at the Lord’s Table in our Chapel I had the sweetest access to God through my blessed Saviour.”
Have you laid your sins on the sacred head of Jesus? He died to bear them. Don’t you carry them a moment longer. Call out to Jesus and give Him your sins. It is His glory to take them and to give you His righteousness in return.
For God hath made Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin for us; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)