The Ultimate Scapegoat
How believers become blameless and beautiful in the Father’s eyes.
“The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.” — Leviticus 16:22
Did you know the concept of placing blame upon a scapegoat comes from the Old Testament? The practice is described in Leviticus 16:20-22.
20 When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.
What would happen to a goat in the Judean wilderness? We are not told explicitly but can imagine how a domestic animal would fare in a region where lions, bears, hyenas, and jackals roamed freely. The goat either would die of exposure, thirst, starvation or would be torn to pieces.
The New Testament speaks with unmistakable clarity concerning the fulfillment of the Old Testament scapegoat.1 He is Jesus, the one presented by the Father as the lamb of God who was cast outside the gates of the city—to a solitary, desolate place—to be ripped by lashes, suffer thirst, and finally, be nailed unto suffocation.
Jesus is the scapegoat led out of the camp to die in the wilderness.
The most important detail in the Leviticus text may be found in these three words: all their sins. Every single offense was imputed (transferred) from the sinner to the substitute. And in the gospel, not only is the sin imputed to the goat, but every obedience of the substitute is transferred to the sinner. As Paul says so emphatically, “Jesus became sin so that we could become the righteousness of God.”
I wonder what it would have felt like for the congregation of Israel to watch the goat be led away. Then left alone to wander alone. A feast for beasts. Knowing that it should have been the sinners who perished. Not the goat.
As the scapegoat began to fade away in the distance, when would it dawn on them? The unmerited mercy. The limitless grace. The unfailing love.
When would they finally get it?
When will I finally get it?
When will I be convinced, without reservation, that I will not be cast away because Jesus was cast away for me? That the blemish free Savior was blemished for me.
Not a single blemish remains on my record.
Rather, my record is filled with the perfect righteousness of Jesus. I’m not merely tolerated. I am treasured in Christ Jesus, who not only is the lamb of God, but the scapegoat, who has taken away the sin of his people so that we may be blameless and beautiful in the eyes of the Father.
All to the praise of his glorious grace!
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Hebrews 13:11-12 makes the parallel explicit. “11 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.”