The Perfect Scapegoat

The Perfect Scapegoat

By Michael K. Farrar, O.D.
Basic Information from a sermon by Rob Bell
© March 24, 2004
Scapegoat: Someone who bears the blame for another.

In the Jewish feast calendar there are seven major feasts. Four are in the spring and three are in the fall. The fall feasts begin with the Feast of Trumpets that is called Rosh Hashanah. This feast ushers in the ten days of soul searching and repentance. These ten days begin the New Year. Much like our New Year's resolutions, the Jews used this time to get right with God and to make new commitments of faith for the next year. During this time they fasted, denied themselves and sought to restore fellowship with their Lord.

The Day of Atonement follows which is spoken of in Leviticus 16. It's called Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur revolves around specific animals and the Jewish high priest. The Jewish religious system set up the high priest as one who would speak to God on behalf of the people. This man of God was given specific instructions in Leviticus how to prepare himself before approaching the Lord, even down to the underwear he was to wear.

He is told to bath himself thoroughly before putting on the sacred garments. He is instructed to put on a sacred linen tunic with linen undergarments next to his body. He is to tie a linen sash around himself and put a linen turban on his head. Over this he will put on the garment with the precious stones upon it in which he is vested. He is told to enter the sanctuary area with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He must offer a sacrifice for his sins before he can address the sins of the people he is to represent. To get an appropriate picture of what takes place we must also understand the layout of the temple and the people who have gathered here.

Some scholars believe that at this time you could fit 210,000 people on the temple mount. There is evidence that over 18,000 people were employed to build the temple and during the construction 2.3 million stones were used to form its walls. Some of these stones are ten by ten by eighty feet, weighing hundreds of tons. It is still a mystery how these stones were moved to the site. Even today we don't have any machinery that could moves stones of this size.

The historian Josephus tells us that the gold at the top of the holy of holies within the temple were in clusters the size of a grown man. So the spectacle of the this magnificent temple, the hundreds of thousands of people who have prepared themselves for ten days to have the high priest go before the presence of God on their behalf must have been a sight to see. This holy ground was ordained by God to be the special place where God would meet His people. He designed the temple and even the clothes of the priests. It was a place where earthly people were to meet their heavenly Lord.

At this point the high priest takes two goats and presents them before the Lord at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. Lots are cast for the two goats one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat.

The goat for the Lord will be sacrificed as a sin offering. The high priest will make atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar because of the rebellion of the Jews. Then the high priest will bring the scapegoat that will be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement. The high priest will lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the sin and rebellion of the people of Israel and thereby place them on the head of the live goat. Then the live goat will be sent away into the desert under the care of a man appointed for the task.

Tradition states that the man appointed to take the scapegoat into the desert is a Gentile. There is some tradition associated with this scapegoat and a red cord. The sources say that the Jews would take a red cord red being the symbol of blood, judgment, and punishment and it would be placed around the head of the goat. The red cord is symbolic of our sin. The man appointed to take the scapegoat into the desert would lead the goat away. The word for this scapegoat is "azazel." Azazel carries with it the idea of "taking away." The Gentile would "take away" the scapegoat and remove it from the presence of God's people.

If we turn now to John 19 we find Jesus before a man named Pilate. Jesus' own people have judged Him to be guilty of sin and that He must be killed. Pilate has Jesus flogged and during the process of torture, a crown of thorns is placed on His head. This crown of thorns causes bleeding and a red line forms around Jesus' head. When Jesus is brought before the people, they first shout "Take Him away," then "Crucify Him." Gentiles then lead Jesus out of the city of Jerusalem. Do you see the analogy here, the red line around Jesus' head, the shouting of "azazel, azazel" and the Gentiles leading him outside the community of Jewish people?

For the Jewish people the feast celebrations and the Day of Atonement happened this year, but it will also happen every year. There is always a need within the Jewish faith to participate in the ten days of repentance and soul-searching so that you can prepare to have your sins forgiven again and again each year. Hebrews 10:1-4 describes this endless task when it says, "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming, not the realities themselves.

For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." Jesus' sacrifice solves this endless practice of continual offering for sin. His love through the cross, removed the necessity of continual sin offerings.

A fascinating tradition recorded in the Mishnah, an extra biblical source recorded by the Jews, tells us that when the red cord that had been placed on the goat's head was taken off, it was hung on the front of the altar, or the doorway going into the temple. Legend has it that over the next year the red cord would mysteriously turn white. Witnesses interpreted that to mean God's supernatural ability to forgive their sins. Roughly forty years before the destruction of the temple it is said that the red cord stopped turning from red to white. This would place this occurrence near the time of Jesus' death.

Jesus is our scapegoat. He allowed Himself to be beaten, abused, scourged, tortured, led away and killed on the cross for our sins. He was taken away and crucified, carrying our sins on His head and in His body. His single act of sacrificing His perfect life paid for the sins of all of us. Unlike the Jewish people of Jesus' day, the single sacrifice of Jesus pays the debt for all our sins. We don't have to make an offering of any kind of animal because we already have a perfect sacrifice that has atoned for our sins.

We don't have to accept Jesus as our Savior over and over again. Yes, we do need to confess the sins we commit after we become a Christian to restore our relationship with our Lord, but these sins have been forgiven already because we are a child of God. Recognizing that we have been justified by the death of Christ, we strive to live according to God's word so that we can be sanctified and conformed to the image of Christ.

A true believer who has accepted this once-for-all sacrifice of Christ will seek to demonstrate love of their Lord by living a life pleasing to Jesus. When he or she stumbles spiritually, they can rest assured that the Lord awaits restoration of this relationship. The believer can know that their sins have been forgiven when they confess their transgressions to Christ. Jesus Christ testifies before the Father that the believer belongs to Him and their Savior denounces any accusations by the accuser, Satan. What a blessed faith to know our salvation rests in the sacrifice of our Savior, the perfect scapegoat.

Galatians 2:15-16
“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified