The Scapegoat of the Gospel

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.

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.

Wrath Relinquished through the Gospel

Hello there!

How are you doi…

What’s that? Oh… the title of this post.

Yea… I’m not surprised you’re opening this page with a question mark floating above your head. “Are we really going to talk about wrath?”

Yes, yes we are.

Talking about God’s wrath makes us uncomfortable. We like to think of God as a God of love (which He is!), and so to talk about His wrath makes Him sound cranky, vengeful, or even evil.

But let me point out an important truth about you that you might not realize at the moment. You don’t want a God who doesn’t show wrath.

Think about it: If God didn’t possess rage, then He wouldn’t be just. You wouldn’t like a God who was passive, allowing evil to permeate our world without consequence. If He did let evil go unpunished, He would either be impotent or uncaring. So you want Him to be a just God who shows wrath against the evil in our world.

Also, without wrath, God wouldn’t be able to fully reveal His love. If you are a parent and caught someone trying to kidnap your baby, you’d be extremely angry. Your love for your child would fill you with wrath. It’s the same (and even more so!) with God.

So whether or not you like the idea at first blush, God is a God of wrath.

The Recipient of God’s Wrath

But there is an important truth about God’s wrath you need to know. God’s wrath is first and foremost against sin, not people. The Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans,

” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18)

lightning stormNow, that verse could be translated “For the wrath of God is revealed in heaven against ungodly and unrighteous men…” making it seem that God’s wrath is against certain humans. But let me ask you: what is it that makes a man (or woman) ungodly and unrighteous? Their sin!

God’s wrath is therefore first against sin, not against humanity.

A parent might be disappointed when they witness their child wallop an innocent kid on the playground. But a healthy parent’s anger will be first against the action, then directed toward the child.

This is why 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that God made Jesus sin. I know, that sounds strange, but read it for yourself:

“For our sake, he made him  (aka Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

As you think that truth through, you realize that by Jesus becoming sin, God’s wrath could come against sin instead of directly at mankind.

This means that if you have placed your faith in Jesus, any wrath God may have had toward your sin has been relinquished through the cross. The righteous wrath of God was satisfied to see sin punished and defeated by Jesus’ sacrificial act on the cross.

So if you are living day to day fearing  God is angry with you because of past sins or repeated sinful behavior, know that His wrath toward your sin has been relinquished through the cross. God is like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, running down the road longing to embrace you, despite what you have done. He loves you and His wrath toward your sin has been relinquished through His selfless act.

Do Unto Others What God Did For You

by Erin Bird

I’m pretty sure you have heard the Golden Rule: “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” But if you think about it, that could be potentially selfish. “Hey, I’d really like someone to give me a present, so I’ll give some else a present so that they get the idea!”

In the Gospel Prayer found in J.D. Greear’s 2011 book Gospel, the sentiment isn’t “do unto others what you want them to do for you.” Rather it is “do unto others what God has done for you.” Here is how J.D. puts it (with slight “massaging” by me):

The Gospel Prayer

“Heavenly Father, in Christ, I know there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less. Help me realize Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy. Just as you have been to me, so I will be to others. And Heavenly Father, as I pray, help me measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.”

We’ve already looked at the first two sentences in this short series on The Gospel Prayer (here is sentence #1 and here is sentence #2). So let’s take a few moments together to consider that third thought: “As you have been to me, so I will be to others.”

Gospel-Motivated Relationships

Because we are looking at the Gospel Prayer, we need to take a quick second to remind ourselves of what is the gospel. At Riverwood, our definition of the gospel is…

“The ongoing story of God redeeming broken and imperfect people and restoring them into the perfect and complete image of Jesus.”

The tools God uses to accomplish this spiritual redemption and restoration of people are the cross and empty tomb of Christ. As we look at the cross, we see God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, justice, kindness, and so much more. Yet as we look at the empty tomb, we see God’s power, presence, sovereignty, faithfulness, and more.

But here’s the kicker: These attributes of God seen through the Gospel aren’t to just stop at changing our lives. Over and over in the Scripture, God instructs us to take the attributes He has shown us through the cross and empty grave, and display them towards others, changing their lives in the process.

For instance,

  • just as God has given us forgiveness, we are to forgive others. (Ephesians 4:32)
  • just as God has shown us love, we are to love one another. (1 John 4:7-12)
  • just as God put your needs first, put the needs of others before your own. (Philippians 2:4-7)
  • just as God showed us great mercy, we need to be merciful toward others. (Luke 6:36)
  • just as God generously gave Jesus for us, we need to be generous toward others as well. (2 Corinthians 9:13-15)

But why pray this?

So it’s clear the Bible instructs us to do toward others what God has done toward us through Christ, but why do we need to pray it? Aren’t these just actions we need to do?

Just as you have been to me, so I will be to others

Perhaps you are holier than I am, but I am a selfish person. If left to my own ways, I will often try to carve time to give to myself. But the gospel does not teach that God changed me so I could be absorbed in “me” more. The gospel says God is transforming me to be more like Jesus.

So I need to pray not to tell God something He doesn’t already know, but to invite God to remind me of what the Gospel leads me to do. Praying “Just as You have been to me, help me be to others,” invites God to continue to transform you into the likeness of His Son, to love like Jesus loved and live like Jesus lived.

So I invite you to join me in asking God to help us do unto others what He has done for us through Christ.

God’s Presence Brings True Joy

by Erin Bird

Well, it’s here – the last gasp before the school year begins. Teachers reported back to the classroom this past Monday here in the Waverly-Shell Rock district and students show up tomorrow. Surrounding districts are starting around this same time as well. If you are a Jesus-follower, would you just take a moment to pray for the students, teachers, staff, and administrators of your local school system?

Also, Wartburg students are starting to show up. Many fall athletes are already on campus, freshmen and transfer students show up next week with returning students not far behind. Their classes begin on Wednesday, Sept 4. Would you join me in praying for the students, staff, and faculty? Also, pray God would give Riverwood the joy of loving on and investing in some Wartburg students this year.

Continuing Our Series

Last week, I began a new blog series based on a prayer found in the book Gospel by J.D. Greear. If you need a refresher, here is the prayer:

“Heavenly Father, in Christ, I know there is nothing I can do that would make You love me more, and nothing I have done that makes You love me less. Help me realize Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy. Just as you have been to me, so I will be to others. And Heavenly Father, as I pray, help me measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection.”

Last week, we looked at the first phrase, which means this week I want to take a few moments to look at that second sentence: “Your presence and approval are all I need for everlasting joy.”

Finding Joy, Fading Joy

If you have ever been infatuated with a boyfriend or girlfriend, you know the joy you found just by being with that special person. You didn’t have to have big plans to go do something in order to have fun. Simply hanging out, eating food, and even watching stupid movies was enough to make you happy.

But even if you marry that special person, more times than not, the feeling fades. There’s a house that needs cleaned, bills that need paid, and careers that need attention. No longer is the simple presence of the other person enough. The joy you felt during the early days of dating has faded.

This leads many people to search for joy in other places. Some look for it in a hobby, others in a sports team, some through vacations, some through their career, and unfortunately some look for joy in the arms of another person.

This sad story parallels what happens in many spiritual lives. Some people, when they believe the gospel, find such joy just being in God’s presence. If you follow Jesus, perhaps that was your experience. Do you remember it? Singing to Jesus, talking to Him in prayer, even reading the Scripture were such effortless tasks because it was more about God’s presence than anything else.

But then life happened. You got asked to do nursery duty at church, or recruited to serve at the Food Bank, or your co-worker dumped their emotional burdens on you, or the kids got sick, or the bill collectors kept calling, or you got extremely tired of that one song being played over and over on the radio, and eventually the joy you felt in God’s presence waned.

For many people, when their joy in Jesus fades, they turn to other things: Netflix, shopping, dating relationships, work, substances… anything that might give them some spark of happiness. But as we all know, the joy of these “idols” wanes even more.

So what is Jesus-follower to do?

Keep Going with the Gospel

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Jesus-followers in Colassae, writes “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” (Colossians 2:6)

Now, if you follow Jesus, re-read that verse, and as you do, ask yourself: How did you receive Jesus? The answer is “Through the Gospel!” So next ask: how are you to “walk in him” (i.e. follow Jesus)? Again, the answer is “Through the Gospel!”

In other words, as you keep peering into the Gospel, studying it, contemplating it, treasuring it, and thanking God for it, you realize the significant sacrifice Jesus made for you through the cross shows how much He loves you. And when you realize just how much He loves you, you find you WANT to be in His presence, for it alone gives you everlasting joy.

Getting Off the Approval Treadmill

But J.D.’s prayer doesn’t just say that God’s presence is all we need for everlasting joy. It says that God’s presence and approval are what we need.

You know, it’s funny: us humans spend so much time chasing joy in anything but God, yet we feel shackled by some sort of internal religiosity. We screw up – we drink too much, or blurt out Jesus’ name in vain, or think really evil thoughts against someone, or spread some unfounded gossip or watch some videos we know we shouldn’t view – so we try to make it up with God by going to church, or posting a Bible verse on social media, or spending some time reading the Bible, or even donating some money to the poor widow down the street. It makes us feel a little better about ourselves (which means God must be feeling a little better about us as well, right?). But then we screw up again, and the cycle continues.

It’s like we are caught on an approval treadmill – trying to get closer to God by earning His approval, but due to our sinful screw ups, we don’t seem to be making any progress.

If this is you, listen up: There is nothing you can do to earn more of God’s approval. God’s approval of you isn’t based on anything you do, rather it is based upon what Jesus has done. This is the scandal of grace.

Our spiritual enemy tries to whisper to us that God isn’t happy with us, and that we have to somehow re-earn His trust and affection. “If I am going to please God, I have to do more religious things,” we think to ourselves. But the doctrine of atonement corrects this lie by teaching us that when God looks at those who believe in Jesus, He doesn’t see their sin, He sees the righteousness of Christ. This is what the Apostle Paul expressed in Philippians 3:8-9:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

Paul knew his religious efforts to please God fell completely short of simply knowing Jesus. Instead, he needed to accept Christ’s death on the cross for him, and allow the righteousness of Jesus be counted as his righteousness. Because of what Christ did, Paul knew he had God’s approval, and so therefore he could experience full joy.

So if you are a Jesus-follower, may you this week pray to God, thanking Him that His presence and approval is all you need for everlasting joy!

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