Originally scheduled for July 10
Mention the word “scapegoat” today, and you conjure up a
picture of some unfortunate bureaucrat who is taking the blame for
some senior official’s wrongdoing. The person is usually an
underling that you’ve never heard of, just as high up in the
hierarchy as is needed for blame, but as low as possible — after
all, this person is expendable. Usually this scapegoat has some
complicity in whatever was going on, and for all practical purposes
knew that this might happen to him. If the scandal is high enough,
and the scapegoat is also high enough, he might escape with just
being fired. Otherwise, there is usually some jail time involved.
But the defining point is this: even if he was complicit in whatever
the scandal might be, he’s not really the person at fault. He’s just
the fall guy.
The word “scapegoat” comes to us by way of the King James
version of the Bible. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest would
obtain two goats. These goats each had a role to play; they got that
role by random chance — we would say, the role of the dice.
The first goat was sacrificed as an atonement. In the Old Testament
system, shedding the blood of animals was presumed to atone for the
sins of the people. This is only one of many such sacrifices
prescribed in the Old Testament. But it was done on that most sacred
day, the Day of Atonement, which came around only once a year.
The second goat became the scapegoat. The priest symbolically laid
all the sins of the people on the head of the scapegoat. Apparently
it was not sufficient to have an atonement sacrifice, you had to
haul those sins away from the view of God. The scapegoat, therefore,
was taken out into the wilderness a sufficient distance where it
would lose its way and never return.
Somehow, both of these goats were necessary.
These goats foreshadow the role of Christ in the New
Testament. The fact that this happened only once a year is a
foreshadowing of the one time atonement of Christ on the Cross.
Christ takes upon himself both functions of those goats:
He is, of course, our atonement sacrifice.
But he is also the one who takes away our sins, removing them from
the sight of God so that they may be seen no more.
psalmist put it,
As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our
transgressions from us.
(Psalms 103:12 NASB)
In communion we see the picture of this: we see the atonement, and
we see Christ carrying away our sins. As you partake this morning,
give thought to how he has removed your sins. If you are in faithful
communion with him he will help you keep them out in the wilderness.