In Luke 2, the twelve-year-old Jesus of Nazareth, probably with some degree of shyness, humility and perhaps awe, came, by Himself, into the glorious temple in Jerusalem. In my imagination, seeing some priests in their special robes talking with other apparently important people, Jesus inched His way closer and closer in order to hear what they were saying. And then at some point, probably during a lull in the conversation, I picture Him raising his hand or in some other fashion, indicating that He had a question or perhaps even a comment. That began what must have been one of the most interesting discussions in the history of that notable place. Three days later, after hours of frantic searching, Jesus’ parents “found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.”

Three days? Did someone take the boy home with him at night, or did He spend the night in the temple? Perhaps one night He went home with one scholar and the second night with someone else. Was one of those doctors of the law, the Apostle Paul’s mentor, Gamaliel? Or did Jesus go home with another notable teacher, like Hilllel? And what were the questions and discussions? After listening to a conversation about the Day of Atonement, did Jesus offer his own interpretations? If so, you can be sure that what He said was thoroughly accurate. This was no ordinary adolescent, but rather the infinite Son of God incarnate in the body of a youth. And if Jesus did make any comments, was His explanation complicated and on the level of the doctors, or did He keep it simple enough for an otherwise ordinary twelve-year-old to understand?

I may be older than twelve, but I need the Bible to be made simple. Pray that I can keep this lesson this morning simple enough for a child or an unbelieving adult to understand.

As commanded by God, the Jews offered a variety of sacrifices to deal with their sins.

The law of Moses made it clear that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Just as the people of Israel broke every one of the ten commandments, so have all the rest of us. Someone may argue the point, by saying they don’t have little statues of heathen gods around their house, and they have never committed murder. But to love anything more than to love God – is idolatry. So that can include children, the new car, the yearly vacation – nearly anything can become an idol. And it was the Lord Jesus who said that to hate or to wish harm to another person is to commit murder in the heart. The Bible tells us that “there is NONE righteous, no, NOT ONE: there is none that understandeth, there is NONE that seeketh after God.”

In the light of sin, God established a system of blood sacrifices to illustrate forgiveness by faith. I won’t bore you this morning with the great variety of those offerings. But that divine young man, sitting at the feet of the great doctors of the law, may have asked about each of them. What is the difference between a “burnt offering” and a “sin offering?” He might have been more interested in what the rabbis didn’t know than what He might learn from them. Since there is more blood, is there more expiatory power in the sacrifice of a bullock over a ram? Isn’t the lesson of the Passover Lamb thrilling and glorious? And why was a goat an acceptable Passover sacrifice when a young lamb was preferable?

Jesus may have induced those teachers to spend quite a bit of time talking about the Day of Atonement. Some argue that was the highlight of the religious year – surpassing even the Passover. Again, I won’t go into the details of that day. Let’s skip over how the High Priest alone could go into Holy of Holies behind the vail in the Holy Place. His preparations were important; the man’s clothing had to be of the right kind. There was the offering of incense, as the godly people of Israel were outside praying for acceptance. We could describe the Mercy Seat and talk about the various activities surrounding it.

Perhaps young Jesus talked and listened to the stories of the priests. I wonder how often He was tempted to correct some of their misconceptions and traditions. I have a hard time imagining two or three days full of those conversations. It wasn’t like a three day Bible conference with a variety of men preaching their forty-minute sermons. This was hour after hour of personal – conversation with the Lord Jesus right in the middle of the most learned group of men in the nation. Did members of the sanhedrin come by? Was the High Priest himself a part of the conversation?

At some point the subject of the two goats of the Atonement might have come up. On that great day, after the High Priest offered a massive bullock as a sin offering for himself… Leviticus tells us, “And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the LORD’S lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.”

Each of the sacrifices which God had ordained for Israel were complete in themselves. Each of the daily morning and evening sacrifices told a complete story. And even though other elements were involved, such as the bitter herbs, the Passover was a single unit. On the Day of Atonement, the bullock did its job in satisfying God’s justice against the High Priest. But immediately on the heels of the bullock there was this PAIR of goats. Two animals were given to God and they each had different responsibilities.

If Jesus didn’t raise the question before those experts, I will raise it now. Why, when most Israel’s sacrifices were complete, why were two goats necessary in this case? I wonder if the question was left unanswered in Jesus’ day? I wonder if those proud teachers felt obligated to offer an explanation, when they really didn’t know what they were saying?

Slightly more than twenty years later, when Jesus, the Lamb of God, was offered on the cross… When Christ died replacing all those Passover lambs… When the final and perfect sacrifice of Atonement was made… And as Christ shared with His disciples and apostles the message of the gospel… The duel aspect of this sacrifice became more clear. I pray that I can explain it without creating unnecessary confusion.

In the two goats we see God’s justice satisfied as well as the removal of the individual’s sin. As Ephesians 5:2 says, “Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.” In the death of Christ there was a sacrifice made TO God – AND He gave himself an offering FOR us.

One goat was to be a sin offering, dying and being consumed by fire on the brazen altar.

Nothing is said about the qualifications of these goats. But the Jews may have applied some of the rules for other sacrifices to these sacrifices. These goats may have been the best that could be found, then kept separate from others for a while, like the Passover sacrifices. They may have been twin animals, both identical in height, weight and stature. But since the Bible doesn’t tell us, apparently it wasn’t important in this case.

Then the High Priest, without anyone to assist him brought the goats to the curtained door of the tabernacle. Probably one was on his right hand and the other on the left. And then: “Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord and other lot for the scapegoat.” Somehow Aaron “drew straws,” so to speak, determining which animal was to die and which was to be released.

The casting of lots may seem to be trivial or even silly to educated people like ourselves, but it is not so to God. We are reminded in this that there is nothing trivial to the God who controls every atom in the universe. Praise be to the Lord who directs every hailstone, every virus germ and every puff of wind. “The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord” – Proverbs 16:33. And perhaps we should also see in this casting of lots that the sufferings and death of Christ were according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. This is how so many of the details of Jesus’ sacrifice could be foretold in the Scriptures, and carried out according to God’s perfect appointments. The goat upon whom one lot fell, was then slain and offered to God for a sin offering. The death of that goat was an illustration and prophecy of the crucifixion and death of the Lord Jesus.

It is common for people when they hear the gospel, and even when some of them are saved, to think entirely about themselves. Obviously, salvation does concern them: they are sinners who need to be forgiven. They are slaves to sin who need to be set free. They are children of disobedience and children of their father the devil. They are going to hell. They want to spend eternity in heaven, so they are in need a divine passport. In some ways there is nothing wrong with this. But they need to consider the holy God in their thoughts of salvation. They need to realize how unfathomably offensive their sins are in Jehovah’s sight. They can’t smell the wretched stink their sins create, because they grew up in it. But remember Ephesians 5:2 – “Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.” Oh, how we need the Lord’s version of air freshener. One major aspect of salvation is directed toward God the Father.

So there is only one way for sinners to be reconciled to an offended, angry God – sacrificial blood. That is called “ATONING blood,” and this first goat shed its blood on Israel’s “Day of ATONEMENT.” In Leviticus’ next chapter we read, “the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon altar to make an atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” – 17:11. And earlier we read from Hebrews 9 – “How much more shall the BLOOD of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience…?” And later in that chapter we read, “without shedding of BLOOD is no remission” – Hebrews 9:22. Peter, in writing to Christians said, “forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as sliver and gold… but with the previous BLOOD of Christ, as a lamb without blemish and without spot.” And John added, “the BLOOD of Jesus Christ (God’s) Son cleanseth us from all sin.”

The blood of this goat was not presented to us, but to God upon the altar which He established. And the blood of the Lord Jesus wasn’t given to us to smear on our faces or to drink every Sunday in some cathedral somewhere. The blood of Christ was presented to God the father. The point I am trying to make is that salvation is not first and foremost about us, it is about satisfying the demands that God has against us as sinners. Goat number one was sacrificed to God on behalf of the sinner.

And that brings us to the scapegoat.

That word “scapegoat” is used only three times in the Bible, and they are all in this chapter and context. Some experts try to come up with dazzling explanations of the word, since the Bible doesn’t do it for them. Some say it was speaking of a certain place where this goat was to be released. Some say it refers to the name of a demon, but that idea would make it utterly foreign to the Bible. The Hebrew word is “azazel,” which is simply a combination of the words “goat” and “to go away.”

Our scripture doesn’t explicitly tell us, but we read of it so many times, I assume it may have been true here. When someone was presenting an offering to the Lord, he was to put his hands on the animal’s head. In doing so, he was symbolically, transferring his sins to the animal, and receiving the righteousness or innocence of the sacrifice to himself. Paul calls it “imputation” in the Book of Romans. I am reasonably sure that Aaron and his successors put their hands on the heads of these goats. And then, bearing the iniquity of the sinner, this goat was taken out into the wilderness where he ran off carrying those sins away.

Here we see a second aspect of salvation. Christ Jesus, not only died on the cross as a blood atonement which was presented to God, but He also carried away the effects of our sins. You could say that He carried off our sins. “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” – Psalm 103:12. There is no command, and there is no indication that anyone was supposed to follow and watch this goat. It was not to be recaptured, or hunted down and killed off-site. It was not to be used as food or bait. It was simply released. God has said, “I, even I, as he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins” – Isaiah 43:25. They are gone – “G, O, N, E” – gone. “I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” – Hebrews 8:12.

Christian, why can’t you let your sins go when the Lord already has? Why can’t you forget that horrible crime against God and man, when the Lord has forgotten it through the person of Christ? Of course, we should never forget that we have been sinners – and we are sinners. Those thoughts should keep us humble and worshipful. But to dwell upon past specifics should be forsaken for the glory of Christ who has redeemed us. God has provided a scapegoat for us, to carry those sins into the wilderness.

And there is something else: I didn’t write down where I read it, but in some reference of mine, the author mentioned that perhaps God ordered that goats be used for this offering in order to keep people from worshiping the offering itself. If we have been made saints of God, it is because of the sacrifice of Christ, not because of the cross itself. Christians have no business worshiping the cross, when we should be worshiping the Saviour. Looking to the cross to save us, is not much different from looking to a priest or an ordinance to save us. Our trust must be in the Saviour – nothing else.

Goats can be as cute as lambs – as cute as baby calves, or newborn puppies or kittens. But in the case of this sacrifice, we aren’t told that these animals were young or that they were even female. That author to whom I referred mentioned that these might have been male goats. And billy goats, especially in their prime, can stink more horrendously than angry skunks. They may smell good to one another, but to most human nostrils they are horrible. Let them go; let your sins go with the scapegoat; don’t follow them – they stink. Don’t try to bring them back or even bring them up again – they are putrid, fetid – horrible.

This morning, I present to you the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.

He is not only the Passover Lamb, He is the goats of the Atonement. He is the only Saviour available to sinners. “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among me whereby we must be saved.” He is a complete Saviour, meeting every need we have before God in all His holiness. There is nothing you can do to augment or add to the sacrifice Christ has made for us. Not only does His sacrificial blood satisfy the demands of the law. But in the Lord Jesus – all our sins – past and future – have been carried away into the wilderness of God’s forgiveness and forgetfulness.

I urge you to put your confidence in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Trust the Lamb of God, the bullock and the goat of the Atonement, along with the scapegoat. Is your faith in Christ this morning? The Saviour said in prophecy, “Look unto me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth.” Deliverance from sin is our first and foremost need as children of Adam. And in Christ Jesus there is perfect salvation, perfect deliverance; there is instant redemption. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”