By Ben W. Curtis
Pastor, First Baptist Church, Tracy City
Focal Passage: Leviticus 16:3-10, 29-30
The great day has arrived! Ever since the blowing of the trumpets 10 days earlier, Israel has been in a state of preparation and anticipation. They wake up on this morning knowing that it is the most holy day in their calendar. The high priest probably had trouble sleeping the night before. As thousands of Israelites stand near the tabernacle, one child asks his parents about the meaning of the two goats. Another is scared and asks whether Aaron is going to die like Nadab and Abihu. Ultimately, everything about the Day of Atonement points to a far greater reality in Christ.
Leviticus 16:3-4 reminds us that we have a glorious high priest. Aaron’s demeanor teaches that even the holiest of men must come before the holy Lord as humble sinners. If the high priest must wash and make atonement for his own sins, how much more are you and I defiled and in need of cleansing. We need a high priest who is holy, without sin, and unlike Aaron, who cannot die. According to Hebrews 7:23-28, this last qualification makes Jesus’ sacrifice eternal. He is our perfect high priest!
Leviticus 16:5-9 reminds us that Jesus is also our slain substitute. After introducing us to two goats, we read that the first one is slain as a sin offering for the people (vv. 15-16). The shedding of blood is the only way that sinners can be forgiven and atonement can be made (Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22). Just as this animal dies the death penalty for others, Christ “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26b). He shed His blood in our place, making atonement for our sins so that God himself might dwell among a sinful people.
Jesus Christ is not only our slain substitute, but also our scapegoat (Leviticus 16:10). A scapegoat is one who takes the blame for the actions of others. After confessing the sins of the people over the live goat, Aaron performs a very powerful, visual lesson by sending the goat away into the wilderness (vv. 21-22). It’s no surprise that our Savior suffered outside the camp at Golgotha, surrounded by darkness and filth, and alienated from God (Hebrews 13:11-12). He cried the cry of the condemned as our ultimate scapegoat: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus became unclean and was made sin so that we might become righteous of God and be made clean in His sight (II Corinthians 5:21). If the slain goat teaches that we are forgiven by God in Christ, the scapegoat teaches that our sin is forgotten by God in Christ (Isaiah 43:25; Psalm 103:10-12; Micah 7:19; Romans 8:1).
Finally, Jesus Christ is our purification. The washing that occurs throughout the Day of Atonement symbolizes that we need to be cleansed (Leviticus 16:24, 26, 28). We are unclean and need not only forgiveness of our sins but purification from our sins (Hebrews 1:3). There is no stain of sin too dark to be purified in Christ; his blood is sufficient to cleanse us of all unrighteousness (I John 1:7). Leviticus 16:30 summarizes it so perfectly: “You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins” (Hebrews 9:13-14; 10:21-22).
The hymn “Hallelujah! What A Savior” reminds us:
“Guilty, vile, and helpless we;
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
‘Full atonement!’ can it be?
Hallelujah! What a Savior.”