The Scapegoat of the Gospel
By Erin Bird
This week in our Gospel Facets series, we are going to look at a small-but-important facet. This facet is rarely talked about directly, yet often when a Jesus-follower shares the gospel, this facet is front and center.
And to talk about this facet, I want to talk about goats.
The True G.O.A.T.
Goats are quite fashionable right now.
- There is goat yoga.
- Almost two billion TikTok videos tagged#goat have been viewed.
- And in sports, the word “Goat” means Greatest Of All Time.
But goats were also “fashionable” in biblical times, being used in a very important ceremony for the Jewish people.
In Leviticus 16, God gave instructions that after sacrificing a bull for the sins of himself and his family, Aaron, the brother of Moses and first high priest of Israel, was to take two male goats and “cast lots” over them. (Casting lots was an ancient version of a coin flip.) Based on the results of the cast lots, one of the goats would be sacrificed on the altar, but something unique happened to the other goat.
Here is what God instructed to happen with this second 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.” (Leviticus 16:21-22, ESV)
This “live goat” is called the “scapegoat.” You’ve probably heard this term before. The Oxford dictionary defines scapegoat as “a person who is blamed for the wrongdoings, mistakes, or faults of others.” The word is often used negatively, as in “she was made a scapegoat by her boss.”
But for Christians, this word should be seen in a positive light. Because the ancient Jewish ceremony where this word comes from points to Jesus.
If you are a Jesus-follower, you quickly realize the first goat pointed to Jesus, as the first goat was sacrificed for the sins of the people. But the live goat also pointed to Jesus. For when Jesus died on the cross for your sins, your sins were completely removed from you, much like the second goat bore the sins of the people and carried them away.
King David poetically describes this truth in Psalm 103:12:
“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”
I love that God’s Spirit had David write “as far as the east is from the west,” rather than “as far as the north is from the south.” Because if you stood on the North Pole, any step you take would be a step south, meaning north and south meet at the poles. But east and west? They never meet! There is no “East Pole” that would force your next step to be west.
That’s how far your sin has been removed through Jesus’ willing sacrifice. What an amazing thought! Jesus is the true scape-G.O.A.T., carrying our sins away from us, completely forgiving us of them.
So may you worship the greatest scapegoat of all time, who took the “blame for your wrongdoings, mistakes and faults” so that you might be free to be in union with a Perfect, Holy God.