By Chuck Griffin
Few Christians think much about the Jewish Day of Atonement, when the ancient Israelites would fast and reflect on their sins as the priests worked to expunge those sins through animal sacrifices.
The season of Lent preceding Easter may be the closest similar experience Christians now have. (Many Jews, of course, still observe the Day of Atonement, or “Yom Kippur,” but without the associated animal sacrifices.) During Lent, and especially Holy Week, we are similarly called to reflect and repent so that we may better appreciate and accept the forgiveness offered to us by Jesus Christ via the cross.
One unusual aspect of the Day of Atonement is recorded in Leviticus 16:20-26. Here, the high priest symbolically placed the people’s sins on a live goat, which was then led into the wilderness and set loose.
This “scapegoat” was one of two goats involved in the ritual. The other goat was sacrificed.
The goats, of course, were a foreshadowing of Christ. Jesus is the one who came as the final sacrifice for our sins. He is the one who bears away our sins forever.
And yet, despite the coming of Christ, people continue to lay the burden of their sins on other creatures. In modern times, we seem to prefer to use people instead of goats.
For example, troubled families often feel better if they can single out one person to label as particularly “bad.” Focus on the scapegoat, and no one has to examine his or her own problems too closely.
Of course, the scapegoat suffers much damage in such a family, particularly if the scapegoat tag is attached in childhood. These people often grow up to be what some call “volunteer victims,” deliberately entering relationships where they wind up the recipients of abuse, the role to which they’ve grown accustomed.
The search for sin is primarily an inward search, and we all have sin from which we should repent. Fortunately, Jesus is big enough and strong enough to bear all our sins away. He’s a very different goat than what we were expecting, though. He’s the Greatest of All Time.
No other scapegoats are needed. In fact, even modern-day scapegoats can find peace through Christ.
Lord, thank you for relieving us of the burden of sin in an eternal way. Help us to surrender more and more of ourselves to you each day. Amen.