Sometimes I need a goat. Not just any goat. A scapegoat — like the one described in Leviticus 16. On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Israel’s high priest, Aaron, brought two goats into the tabernacle courtyard and presented them to the Lord at the entrance of the tabernacle (v7). He sacrificed one of them on the bronze altar as a sin offering (v9). The other goat was “presented alive before the Lord and used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat” (v10).
After Aaron finished making atonement for himself and the people in the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle, he returned to the courtyard. He then laid both his hands on the head of the scapegoat and confessed over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the people, symbolically placing all their sins on the goat (vv. 20-21). Another priest led the scapegoat out into the wilderness and released it. The goat was never seen again (v22).
The Struggle to Live Forgiven
Here’s my dilemma: I know Christ died for my sins, and I realize his perfect sacrifice was the complete atonement for my sins. Hebrews 9 tells me, “But now [Jesus Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself….So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people” (vv. 26, 28).
I am forgiven.
But I struggle to live forgiven.
Too often I focus on all the ways I fail God — the fears that keep me from boldly proclaiming my faith in him, the insecurities that prevent me from taking risks, and the weaknesses that prompt me to repeat sins. Every day I struggle to love other people sincerely and to put their needs before my own. I battle worry, disappointment, envy, and anger.
Other times, sins I’ve already confessed sneer at me and say, “You think God really wants to use you? Don’t you remember how many times you’ve fallen short of his desires and his will for you?”
That’s when I need the goat.
On days when guilt haunts me or inadequacy halts me, I envision myself outside the tabernacle courtyard, watching the priest lead the scapegoat out into the wilderness. I wait until they’re no more than two dark smudges on the horizon. Then I walk back through the courtyard’s doorway. Near the bronze altar stands Aaron, his white linen tunic covered with blood — the blood of the goat slain to atone for my sins.
Next to him stands another priest, the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ. His tunic too is covered with blood — his blood that he shed for me at Calvary. He nods at me and mouths these words: “It is finished.” He tilts his head to the left, smiles, and motions for me to draw near. As I approach him, a familiar twinkle sparkles in his eye. He places his arm around me and whispers, “Don’t go looking for that goat.”
Once for all, Jesus, our High Priest, atoned for our sins — past, present, and future. Our forgiveness is complete. Our blood-covered goat of sin, along with our guilt, has been sent into the wilderness of Forgotten-by-God, never to be seen again.
The Struggle to Live Joyfully
To experience the joy of our salvation on a daily basis, we must release the guilt-laden, sin-stained goat.
The Bible teaches us that guilt and joy are incompatible. The night before Jesus was crucified, he said to his Father, “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they [the disciples] may have the full measure of my joy within them” (John 17:13).
Peter, James, and John could have nurtured guilt for deserting Jesus on the night he was betrayed. Peter could have wallowed in inadequacy after he denied Jesus. The apostle Paul could have allowed his past sins to prevent him from becoming a missionary. But these apostles didn’t do that. They released the guilt, and they allowed the full measure of their Savior’s joy to encourage and empower them.
Each of them wrote about joy in their letters. Paul told the Romans, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). James said that it was possible to maintain joy even in trials when we are servants of the Lord (James 1:2). Peter wrote that the anticipation of seeing Jesus again could fill us with “inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). And in his epistles, John wrote about the joy he experienced when he heard that others were faithfully following Jesus (2 John 1:4, 3 John 1:4).
The Savior who died for us, the Great High Priest who lives to intercede for us, longs for us to choose joy. In fact, he told the disciples that no one could take away their joy (John 16:22). But we can allow guilt to squash our joy when we focus on our failures and inadequacies instead of focusing on the completeness of our redemption and the power available to us through the indwelling Spirit.
The Goat Is Gone
Jesus bids of each of us to stand alongside him in the tabernacle courtyard, to gaze out the gate at the barren landscape, and to realize that the goat laden with our sins is forever gone. To each of us, Jesus says, “It is finished. Don’t go looking for that goat.”
Allow Jesus to fill you with the full measure of the joy of your salvation. Stop looking for the goat. Live like you’re forgiven.