The Expiation of Jesus ChristHome » Blog » General
A sermon that I was privileged to share with my former home church, Redeemer Bible Church. This sermon was also aired on national radio in April, 2013 on Wretched Radio.
The Expiation of Jesus ChristLeviticus 16:20-22
What do you think of when you hear the word scapegoat? Maybe you think of sports, where the term is used with some regularity. One of the most famous sports scapegoats was Gary Anderson, one of the best kickers in NFL history. In 1998 as a Minnesota Viking, he became the first player to ever have a perfect field goal record for the season. But at the NFC Championship game he missed an easy one, leading to overtime and a sudden death loss to the Falcons. The term may also remind you of great literature, like the novel the Scarlet Letter, where a woman named Hester is forced to wear the letter "A" on her clothes, marking and shaming her before the community as an adulterer while the father of her child remained anonymous yet eaten alive with guilt. We even make light of the term in humor; you can buy a t-shirt that says, "scapegoat for hire, experienced references available. Call today 1-800-BLAME-ME." The word scapegoat means a person or group of people who are made to bear the blame for others or to suffer in the place of others. It should conjure up feelings of shame, guilt, exile, exclusion, abandonment, and injustice.
Maybe some of you have been scapegoats before – unjustly bearing the blame for crimes you didn't commit, either willingly – to protect those you love – or unwillingly through false accusations. Whether or not you've been blamed for the crimes of someone else, you are familiar with guilt, shame, and feelings of exclusion or banishment. And even if you're not consciously aware of it, somewhere inside of you are wells of shame that you've never dealt with, but buried in order to function, sometimes so deeply that you've forgotten how they got there in the first place. Maybe you've committed crimes so vile that they would destroy your reputation and your relationships. Maybe you've been sexually or emotionally violated and now struggle with feelings of uncleanness. Maybe you have a physical or mental disability that makes you feel like an outcast. Or maybe you suffer from a complete and utter lack of clothing style, like me, that can at times leave you feeling like a clown. When I was about 13 I showed up to school one day with a pair of red and white shorts that literally looked like clown clothes. A pretty girl that I had a crush on made fun of me, abruptly initiating me into the club of the fellowship of the intensely self-conscious.
Whether we're aware that we're doing it or not, each of us has developed coping mechanisms to deal with guilt and shame. But deep down, we know that they don't really work – that they don't ultimately remove our guilt and replace it with unashamed joy. Sometimes we bury our shame, trying to forget it. Or we blame others in an attempt to explain our shame. Or we build elaborate justifications to convince ourselves that we don't really need to feel ashamed after all. And after years of trying to manage our shame in this way, some of us end up ruled and crippled by it, in regular counseling or therapy, and unable to live a normal life. The Bible is here today to encourage you that though your coping mechanisms won't work, God has provided you with one that does – a scapegoat who is willing, able, and even eager, to take all of your guilt and shame away if you will only trust Him. The origin of this term scapegoat actually comes from the Bible, from our text for this morning. As we walk through Leviticus 16 together, my hope for our time is that you will come to understand and treasure the term "expiation" and experience the cleansing power of the expiation of Jesus in a new way. Turn with me to Leviticus chapter 16.
Digging Into the Text
Leviticus 16 is describing the religious rituals that were to take place on the so-called Day of Atonement, or in Hebrew, Yom Kippur. It was a day in which sin – with all of its guilt and shame – was dealt with through sacrifices. Even though our sermon text is verses 20-22, we need to read verses 6-10 to really understand what's going on here.
Aaron shall offer the bull as a sin offering for himself and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.
And verses 20-22:
And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.
One thing you might notice immediately is that we didn't see the word "scapegoat." That's because the word was created by William Tyndale as he translated the phrase "for Azazel" in verse 8; scapegoat is still in the King James Version. We're going to focus on this second goat today, the goat that was banished, the scapegoat. But before walking through the text, I need to define a few theological terms for us.
The first word we need to understand is "atonement." Atonement summarizes the entire activity of offering both goats. It's something done to make amends, to make reparation, to restore a relationship. So the aim of the Day of Atonement was to restore the relationship and eternal condition of man as he stands before God. It involved a change on both sides – God's attitude and man's condition. That brings us to our second word, "propitiation." You might be more familiar with this word than expiation, because it's used in four places in the New Testament, for example in 1 John 4:10: "[God] loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." Propitiation is the turning away of wrath. A blood sacrifice is offered as payment to make reparations for the punishment of sin, death. In propitiation, wrath and justice are satisfied and God's disposition is changed from anger to favor. Isn't that an awesome word?!
But today we're focusing on expiation, and that's what we see in the second goat. Expiation is all about cleansing; it's the aspect of the atonement that affects man's condition and experience. Through the transfer of guilt from the people to the scapegoat, man's sin is expiated – forgiven, covered, and removed. Propitiation involves appeasing God and expiation involves cleansing our sins. The Lord's goat is slain, the people's goat is banished. God's wrath is satisfied and banishment is banished, welcoming outcasts back to a place of love and honor. Propitiation happened in God's domain – the holy place – and expiation happened in man's domain – the banished realm.
Propitiation Completed, v. 20
Well, look again to Leviticus 16:20 as we dig into the text. First, look to the phrase "made an end of atoning for the Holy Place and the tent of meeting and the altar". This signified that one aspect of atonement was completed - propitiation - by the sacrifice of the first goat. But though God's disposition had been changed, mankind was still unclean, full of guilt and brokenness. Then the Priest was to lay his hands on the live goat and confess the iniquity, transgression, and sin of the people – every category of human guilt – over the goat. This signified a transfer of guilt from the people onto the goat.
The Goat Banished, v. 21
Look to verse 21: the Priest was then to "send it away into the wilderness." It goes on to say that "The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness." Once loaded up with the people's guilt, the goat became an outcast, it was shunned as a vile thing that could not remain in the presence of the Lord. It became unclean and was sent into a barren desert to die in a remote mountain area far away from civilization. It was banished or "cut off." The goat's fate was not simply exclusion, but death. It's not like the goat was set free in a nice sunny pasture to live a long and happy life. It was set free on the cliffs of a treacherous mountain named Azazel, facing certain death. The scapegoat is here depicted as bearing the sin, guilt, and punishment of the people and being condemned to death in their place.
The Strange Mountain of Banishment
The last piece of the text we're going to look at is the location where the goat was taken. It's referred to in verse 10 as a place named "Azazel." It's also called a remote place and a wilderness. This term "Azazel" is really interesting and also really strange, and as I pointed out in the introduction, it's the origin of the word "scapegoat." The ESV translation, a more modern translation than the King James, leaves it as Azazel. Verse 8 says "one goat will be for the Lord, and the other for Azazel." According to Jewish tradition, Azazel is the name of a demon usually depicted as goat-like. The book of Enoch, part of the apocrypha, records God's instructions to bind Azazel and cast him under this mountain until the final judgment. It says, "the whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azazel: to him ascribe all sin." Azazel bore the blame for corrupting mankind. What's more, the Hebrew book called the Mishnah refers to the place where Azazel was cast as the "house of his piercing." So mentioning the name Azazel would have immediately reminded the Jews of the story of this demon and what happened at this particular mountain. Whether or not the story is true isn't important. What is important is that the place became associated with this demon; it was a place that represented the source and embodiment of all evil.
Three Ways We See Jesus in the Second Goat
Well, I've spent all of this time bringing you through the details of the scapegoat's journey so that you might have a new vantage point from which to see and appreciate the significance of Jesus' life and death. Now I want to show you three ways that we see Jesus symbolized in the second goat of Leviticus 16 – (1) the Biblical testimony that Jesus is the ultimate sin-bearer, (2) the way in which He lived His life, and (3) the manner of His death.
First, consider the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah that said He would come to bear the sins of His people. Let's turn to Isaiah 53. Look to verse 6: "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." And verse 12b: "He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors."
The New Testament portrays Jesus as this suffering servant, this sin-bearer. Just listen; John 1:29: "The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'" 2 Corinthians 5:21: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Galatians 3:13: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us." Hebrews 9:28: "Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him." And 1 Peter 2:24: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed."
Second, consider how Jesus' lived His life. We see echoes of Jesus' role as the banished goat well before His crucifixion. He seemed to avoid all of the holy places associated with Old Testament saints, acting as one who was "despised and rejected" of man. He never went into the inner courts of the temple. He was not of the family of Levi, but Judah, so he didn't have access to the holy places. He was like the multitudes, not the elite. He became a banished man: born in a Bethlehem stable, fleeing to Egypt, living in the low-brow town of Nazareth, going to remote mountains to pray instead of the temple, and ultimately being killed outside of the city. He seems to seek uncleanness and defilement out – touching lepers, the sick and dead, and associating with the scum of society. And as He headed to the cross, remember how He stood before the High Priest of Israel only to have accusations and blame heaped upon Him. Yet He remained silent, bearing the guilt for sin that was not His own.
Third, Jesus' death shows his role as the scapegoat perhaps even more clearly than His life. In Hebrews 13:12, Jesus is said to have suffered "outside the camp." In the words of one writer, this referred to "a place of defilement, uncleanness, impurity, corruption, dirtiness, filthiness, pollution, contamination, condemnation, punishment, rejection, castigation, and reproach. … Anyone who was banished to the outside of the camp was excluded, isolated, and ostracized." And consider the geography of Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified. The traditional location for this hill locates it in the middle of an ancient quarry, with man-made cliffs of quarried stone surrounding it. Thus, it's quite probable that it was extremely jagged and steep.
Diagnosing the Disconnect in Our Experience of Expiation
Now at this point, my hope is that your soul has been warmed with the truth of all that Jesus has accomplished for you, removing the guilt and shame of sin and all of your brokenness. But you still suffer from guilt, shame, and feelings of being an outcast in various areas of your life. Perhaps it's the abuse that you've never really gotten over. Perhaps it's the habitual sin that you keep going back to. There seems to be a giant disconnect: if Jesus has removed all of our shame, then why do we still feel ashamed? That's a valid question. Let me offer an explanation: the root of your ongoing struggle to experience the cleansing that Jesus has accomplished for you is a failure to believe and rest in the truth of your guilt and shame being removed. Let me say that again, the root of your ongoing struggle to experience the cleansing that Jesus has accomplished for you is a failure to believe and rest in the truth of your guilt and shame being removed. I don't mean you literally forget that Jesus has cleansed you, but I do mean that your attitudes and actions betray a deeper, subtler disbelief in Jesus' cleansing power in particular areas of your life. At some level, you think that your suffering, your shame, or your defilement is so great that even Jesus' banishment isn't enough to heal you. Maybe it's enough for others, but not for you.
Unbelief in Jesus' cleansing power can be really subtle. Sometimes it looks like our tireless efforts to become "insiders," to become accepted by certain circles of people, and ultimately by God Himself. Maybe you get angry, judgmental, jealous, or insecure when people seem to flaunt their friendships on Facebook. Or at other times, unbelief can manifest itself by punishing ourselves. Sometimes we load up the burdens of our own guilt, our own failures, and maybe even the guilt and failures of others, onto our own backs and start our own quest into the wilderness, believing the lie that we can get ourselves out of guilt by becoming our own scapegoats. Friends, let me encourage you to call that what it is – pride. Your depression may be functioning as a refusal to admit that you don't have the power to sufficiently punish yourself for your own sins. Let me encourage you to cast your burdens onto the back of the only true scapegoat, the only one who can release you from your self-made exile – Jesus.
The Role of Confession
So if Jesus' cleansing power is available to us through faith, by believing, then where do we start if we want freedom from particular struggles with guilt or shame? Start with confession, whether it be confessing your own sins, or admitting and sharing what's been done to you. Listen to what 1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Notice the two promises offered to us if we confess – forgiveness and cleansing. Confession begins the process of experiencing the cleansing already won for us in Jesus. So talk to the Lord about your struggles, and talk to someone who you can confide in, for we're commanded to confess our sins to one another as well in James 5:16. I know that it's scary to bring up these deep wells of shame that have been buried for so long. But one of the theological words we learned earlier is actually a great encouragement to entice you to self-disclosure. It's the word propitiation.
Remember that before the scapegoat was sent, God's wrath was propitiated, meaning that his only disposition towards you is love. His love is a powerful incentive to confess, to stop hiding. If you've trusted in Jesus as your savior, you don't need to fear provoking the Lord to anger. Even if other people have turned away from you or condemned you because of what you've shared or what you've done, He has nothing but pity and tenderness in His heart towards you, and wants to hear about your sins because He wants to heal you from their power. In fact, love was the motive for the expiation in the first place; there was no reason Jesus was obligated to become an outcast for you other than pure and powerful love. So in His arms is safety - assurance of acceptance and not rejection - no matter how unclean you think you are.
Applying Expiation to Worship
Well I can't leave you without some reference to worship – after all, I am your worship leader! So let's apply what we've learned about freedom from guilt and shame to this specific time – the time when we gather as a church to worship. How does the expiation of Jesus Christ speak to us as worshipers? It calls us to come before God unashamed, as children whom God has been waiting for, not with guilty suspicion or shameful distance in our hearts. I know that for me, what often presents as distraction is actually doubt - since God really knows how my week has gone, since He really sees how bad I've been, He'll see my participation in worship for what it really is – hypocrisy – so why bother? It's easier to think about lunch than to deal with these feelings of unworthiness. Being stuck in this kind of thinking can sometimes manifest itself in a very reserved demeanor or a lack of participation – having a rigid body, barely moving our mouths to sing (or not singing at all), reading God's Word in a lifeless monotone, or mentally checking out during the sermon. On the other hand, maybe your shame presents itself as self-righteous judgmentalism towards others who appear to be enjoying worship. You hide your own hollowness of soul by looking down on others who seem shallow or overly emotional, casting suspicion on such simple things as raising a hand while singing. Maybe you've let your judgmentalism go so far that you actually begin to resent public worship – whether it be the songs we sing, the styles of music, the way that I lead, the way the musicians stand, or the way our service flows.
Brothers and sisters, God wants more for us in public worship. He wants us to be so convinced of our cleansing and acceptance and the acceptance of others around us that we regularly "lose ourselves" in worship. So let's anchor our hearts in the expiation of Jesus. As we hear from God's Word, as we sing God's truth, as we listen to God's Word preached, we'll read less into the motives of others and more into the motives of God in redeeming us. We'll think less about whether to raise our hands and more about the hands of Jesus stretched out on the cross for us. We'll think less about how we dislike a certain instrument and more about what the lyrics of our songs say and the many voices around us giving credence to their truthfulness. We'll think less about our sin and coldness and more about the overwhelming grace of God. We'll think less about how others around us behave, or what they think about us, and we'll think more about what God thinks of us in Jesus. And in the process we might even find ourselves raising a hand or two… or, dare I say to this Midwestern crowd, shouting out in an overflow of gratitude and praise.
The View from the Cross
Let me close by painting a mental picture for you, one that I hope will be as powerful a picture of God's love for you as it was for me. As I studied the location of the mountain where the scapegoat was sent to perish, the geography of ancient Jerusalem and the surrounding mountains, and the various ways that the second goat pointed to the ultimate scapegoat of Jesus, I ended up imagining what Jesus must have seen from the vantage point of Golgotha, while He was on the cross. Golgotha was likely located just northwest of the Temple Mount at about the same elevation as the temple. From this point, Jesus must have had a panoramic view of some of the most significant places in the history of His people. As he hung on the cross, his head caught in thorn branches, bearing the burden of His people and banished to die as an outcast, He could see Mt. Moriah just in front of Him, the site where God provided Abraham with a ram caught in branches by its horns to sacrifice in place of His son Isaac. This was the same ridge on which the Temple was built, the place where God had come to dwell with His people. He could probably see the pinnacle of the Temple at its southwest corner, where Satan urged Him to throw Himself down. While that was not the time for the second goat to be cast down to die from a pinnacle, now was. To His left stood the Mount of Olives, the so-called mountain of the messiah, the place where Jesus liked to rest and be alone, where He wept over the plight of the city, and where He had triumphantly entered as the Messiah just one week earlier. And in the distance, in front of Him and slightly to the left, He could probably see the mountain ridge of Azazel. Perhaps it was this sight, as He took in the weight of all that He was accomplishing, all that He was fulfilling, that formed His last view before being symbolically cast off of the cliff to die as He proclaimed "It is finished."
Would you put your trust in Jesus as your scapegoat today? He's the only one who can remove your guilt and shame; He's the only one who can heal you of your brokenness and uncleanness. Stop trying to deal with your shame by burying it, by justifying yourself, blaming others, positive thinking, or any other man-made device. Confess your sins, cry out for healing for the sins committed against you, and believe that they were transferred to Jesus as He stood before the High Priest, banished back to the source of wickedness, and that they were finally and fully defeated. You don't need to live in shame anymore. By drawing near to God in faith through Jesus as your substitute, you have been set free from shame; so live as you really are. But if you're not in Christ, your fate will be far worse than dealing with shame and guilt in this life. You'll end up walking the scapegoat's road, perishing in the desert wilderness, buried beneath the mountain of your condemnation and utterly cut off from all goodness forever. So what are you waiting for! Run to Jesus as your substitute. He's your only hope.