The Scapegoat

May 2-8

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For this week, I’m hoping to talk about “The Day of Atonement.” This day, also known as Yom Kippur, was the holiest of festivals for the Israelites. The details of this festival are laid out in Leviticus 16, but I’ll give you a quick run down of the details right here.

  1. The high priest (Aaron at the time) would sacrifice a young bullock for himself and his household to be cleansed from sin.The high priest would then bring two goats forward and cast lots to determine which goat would play which role. 
  2. The first goat would be sacrificed to cleanse the rest of the Israelites from sin. 
  3. The high priest would then lay his hands upon the second goat, confess Israel’s sins upon that goat, and then the goat would be pushed off into the wilderness far away from the Israelites.

Now there are a couple more details in there about blood and sprinkling and what not, and there is an immense amount of symbolism found in every single detail. However, I wanted to highlight these three events that stuck out to me, namely the high priest sacrificing the bullock, the first goat being sacrificed for the sins of the people, and the second goat taking the sins of Israel and being pushed out into the wilderness. 

Symbolism

Normally when I read a parable or ritual, I find that different animals, objects, and people represent different things. While I’m sure there are a million layers to this Day of Atonement, I found it interesting that the different animals, objects, and people all represent Christ. Let me explain.

The high priest represents Christ. That’s why Aaron had to give a sin offering before helping Israel with their sin offering; Aaron needed to be clean like Christ in order to represent Christ. 

The first goat also represents Christ. The first goat laid down its life as a sin offering for Israel. This is really interesting because both the high priest and the goat represent Christ. The high priest (a symbol of Christ) sacrificed the goat (another symbol of Christ). In other words, Christ chose to be the sacrifice. He brought death upon Himself in order to save the people. He sacrificed Himself; no one forced it upon Him.

Now here is where it gets wild. 

The second goat also represents Christ. The sins of Israel are confessed upon this goat, and the goat takes the sins away. 

But wait a second…didn’t the first goat already pay for the sins of the people? Why did the second goat have to take the sins away if they had been paid for by the first goat? The atonement occurred once. What was the significance of having the sins removed twice, and why were the sins removed twice in different ways?

The purpose of the two goats

The first goat is very easy to understand. Christ performed the atonement. He suffered and died to pay the price of sin for all of us. No exceptions. He paid for every sin that occurred here on earth. He laid down His life for every single individual regardless of whether they accepted His sacrifice or not.

And that is precisely why the second goat makes sense as well. 

Christ paid for every sin and every person, but not every person lets go of their sins.

The second goat had all the sins confessed upon it and was released. In my perspective, the second goat does not represent the atonement of Jesus Christ (though it is powered by the atonement of Jesus Christ). The second goat specifically represents repentance. 

The Day of Atonement beautifully teaches our belief in “being saved by grace” as well as our belief in the mandatory nature of commandments.

In our faith, we believe that we are saved by grace. The first goat died. Christ paid for every sin regardless of whether the sinner repented of the sin. There is no debt for any of us. Nada. Nothing. The sin you committed in your mind just now? It was paid for a long time ago. The sins you will commit tomorrow? Christ took care of it. There is NO debt hanging over your head. Even if you don’t repent of your sins, they were still paid for! 

Does that mean you automatically go to heaven? Not necessarily; that’s where repentance comes in. However, even if you go into outer darkness, the price of the sins was paid off. 

Keeping the commandments and repenting are a requirement to live in the presence of God, but that repentance didn’t pay the price. It was already paid. 

Let me explain it in a silly way. Your dad buys you a ticket to the carnival and tells you that you have to finish your chores if you want to go. Dad paid the price. Even if you don’t do your chores, the ticket was still already bought and there are no refunds in this parable. Doing your chores doesn’t pay for the ticket (that’s already been done!); doing your chores does not pay dad back for buying the ticket. That was just the requirement dad gave you in order to go to the carnival.

The Day of Atonement shows this beautifully. The first goat was sacrificed for the sins of Israel, and they were forgiven and clean. So if their sins were already paid for, why did they need the second goat? It’s because repentance is essential to going into the presence of God even if it doesn’t pay for the privilege. The Israelites needed to give up their sins on their own.

Missing the symbolism

I want you to imagine for a second that the Israelites completely missed the memo that this day was all about Christ. They truly look at that first goat on the altar, and they think, “Yup. My sins are gone.” Then they confess their sins upon the second goat, and they think, “Awesome. That goat just took care of my sins.” 

It seems very silly and idolatrous to believe that the goat paid the price, right? That’s something other religions would do. Other religions do animal sacrifice and believe that it can appease their gods. The Israelites wouldn’t do that…would they? To be honest, I can’t speak for the Israelites. They seem to have missed a couple of the other memos, but I’m not going to be definitive on whether they caught the symbolism for this day.

But I do want to ask this question. We know that Christ is the one who paid for our sins, right? We know that eating bread and water on Sundays isn’t what pays for our sins. We know that being baptized doesn’t pay for our sins. We know that keeping the commandments doesn’t pay for our sins…right?

If you take the sacrament with an unrepentant heart, does it do anything for you? If you get baptized because you feel pressured, does it really count? If you keep the commandments so that other people are impressed with you, will they take you to heaven?

Heck no.

The goats were meant to point the Israelites to Christ so that their faith in Christ could save them. Our commandments and standards are meant to point us to Christ so our faith in Him can save us, so that His love for us can change us to become people who belong in heaven.

I think that many of us believe that in our heads but don’t always let it sink into our hearts. On one side of the spectrum, we’re patting ourselves on the back, believing we’re good to go because we don’t drink or dress immodestly. On the other side of the spectrum, we let our sins hold us back so completely that their effects are not being taken from us by Christ. 

No matter which side of that spectrum you’re on, you’re placing your faith on dead works, the commandments, the goat. You are placing your faith on an idol. 

It is only when we gain a deep and abiding testimony that Christ bought our ticket to heaven, that we find heaven. 

Keeping the commandments and avoiding sin will not bring you heaven. That’s why there are plenty of people who are utterly depressed even while they’re keeping the commandments. No, only Christ can give us heaven. So we follow Him AND we recognize that He has already paid. That is the sweet spot where you start living in heaven now.

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