Jesus as the Scapegoat in Leviticus

30 Mar

What exactly happened there, on that Roman cross two millennia ago?

In 2 Corinthians 6:2, Paul says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Paul here summarizes the gospel message for us, bringing in the idea of imputation.

Imputation simply means that something is accounted to someone else. In this case, our sins are laid on Christ.

But there’s more. We get something too. Not only do our sins become covered by the blood of Christ, but we are seen as righteous in God’s sight. We are justified, another theological term, which means to be declared righteous in the Supreme Court of the Universe.

In the Old Testament, in Leviticus 16, we see an example of this idea. Two goats were presented at the front of the tabernacle; the High Priest would lay his hands on the head of the goat, and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the children of Israel, putting their sins (ceremonially) on the head of the goat. In this case, the sins of the people were imputed to the goat. One goat was killed, and its blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat.

The other goat, the scapegoat, which is where we get that word, was left alive, and led out into the wilderness, never to be seen again.

It’s a beautiful picture. But as a type, it’s imperfect. Ideally you’d have only one goat. But you can’t kill a goat and then still have a live one to send out.

However, in Christ, you have One who is killed as an atoning sacrifice, and yet as a living Saviour He removes our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. Just a point of geography, but you know that if you go north, eventually you’ll be going south again. But if you go east, you keep going east, or if you go west, you keep going west and you will never go east in that direction. It’s a beautiful way to show that we will never meet up with our sins again once they have been laid on our scapegoat, Jesus.

At the cross, an exchange takes place; our sins on Christ, His righteousness on us. It’s like being poor and indebted, to the point that you can never repay it even if you lived fifteen lifetimes, and then a rich benefactor places billions of dollars into your account. He imputes it to your account. This not only pays off your debt and provides for your care, but you are rich beyond your dreams.

Similarly we are indebted to God, and we owe a debt we can never pay, and suddenly, we find we are not only forgiven, but we have now become joint-heirs with Christ, who owns all things. We are promised His presence with us in this life, and eternity with Him in Heaven. Chrysostom said, “O Sweet Exchange!”

So now that we see what happened on the cross, you may say, “How can a few hours on a cross, even as horrible a death as that, possibly atone for a lifetime of sin?”

It has to do with the value or worth of the One who was crucified. Because He is infinite, He paid an infinite price. He was separated from His Father. That is the greatest agony He suffered on the cross.

“To see sin as it really is, contemplate what it cost to remove it. If we had fallen into a deep pit, we could tell how deep we had fallen by the length of rope let down to save us. In the same way, we can only understand the depths of depravity into which sin has brought us by the lengths to which God must go to redeem us.” Robert Morey

If forever in hell, seems too harsh a punishment for only a lifetime of sin, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach; you don’t know your own heart, or the value of the One you’ve offended. A threat against a person has a certain penalty, but a threat or assault against the Prime Minister has greater consequences because of the position of the one who has been so mistreated.

By extension, we could argue that an eternity in Heaven is too great a reward for only a lifetime of service. How can the J.W.’s believe in annihilation but still hold they will be rewarded for eternity? The most they should get is a week in the Caribbean!
You can’t have both. But that would assume we obtain Heaven by works. We do not. It’s not of works. It’s grace. Amazing Grace!

Here is a beautiful quote by R.C. Sproul in his book, Reason to Believe, on Grace:

“Nothing requires that God be gracious, not even His love. If grace is ever required, it is no longer grace. Grace cannot be required. If we merit it then it is no longer grace; if God is obliged to give it then it is no longer grace. When we think that God must be gracious, we confuse grace with justice. Once I rebel against God, He owes me nothing… If God deals with us ultimately on the basis of justice alone, we will perish.”

Prayer: “Thank you, God for Jesus, Who was the perfect scapegoat, Who could atone for our sins by dying as a Sacrifice, and also bear our sins away, never to be brought up against us again. Thank You for saving us by grace instead of dealing with us on the basis of justice.”


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