By Matt Hampton
Faculty, College of Theology
I recently watched a commercial by GEICO that showed a goat messing up a factory. The boss comes out and asks, “Who is responsible for this?” The team points to what looks like will be a person but is actually a goat. The goat screams as if to say, “What? This is not my fault!” It is hilarious to see the goat’s reaction. The team has pointed to a scapegoat for all of the problems.
The concept behind the scapegoat comes from a Jewish tradition called Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement.
This was a special celebration that only happened one time a year. There were very precise and very strict steps that were taken by a high priest to sacrifice animals to atone for the sins of the nation for the past year. Only the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies in the temple. The high priest had to do a special sacrifice to cleanse himself first.
This all took place on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. Once the high priest was cleansed, he would have two goats ready for sacrifice. One goat would be sacrificed and its blood would be shed or sprinkled on the top of the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant. This would cleanse the sins of the nation. God would reveal Himself in a very intimate way to the high priest in that moment and in that very special place.
The other goat would be outside of the temple and the high priest would later lay his hands on the goat as a symbol of all of the sins entering into that goat for the entire nation. The goat would be taken out of the town, where it would never be seen again. This symbolized the sins being removed from the nation.
Through these very important and precious acts, God revealed Himself and He extended His great mercy to the Jewish nation. This was not a celebration that was taken lightly and that is why it only happened once a year.
In Romans 3:23-25, we see Jesus being the sacrifice for our sins as He sheds His blood on the cross. The word “atonement” in Romans 3:25 refers to this sacrifice that took place on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. The Jewish people knew that Paul was referring to this great atonement and that Christ was now the actual sacrifice that atoned for our sins by the shedding of His blood on “the mercy seat.”
In Hebrews 9:1-15, we see this concept of the mercy seat explained again. The verses discuss how Christ is the ultimate sacrifice and the “high priest” that entered into the Holy of Holies for us to cleanse us from all of our sins. Hebrews 9:5 specifically refers to the mercy seat concept.
So what does this mean for Christians today? We know that we are cleansed and forgiven of our sins by the blood that Jesus shed on the cross. In Matthew 18:21-25, we find the parable of the unmerciful servant. This is where the servant is given great mercy by his master. When this same servant goes to collect on debts owed to him, he shows no mercy at all. The master hears about this and gets very upset at this servant for not showing the same mercy.
Because Christ has shown us His amazing mercy by sacrificing His life on the cross for our sins, we should always extend that wonderful mercy to others around us.
Do you have a friend, a colleague, a coworker, a boss, a family member, a spouse, a child or some other person that you have not extended this mercy to? How different would our world be today if all Christians extended Christ’s mercy to those that have offended us?
Who are we to not extend this same mercy to people that have offended us? Who are we to hold onto bitterness, strife and anger when Christ sacrificed His life for us?
If you do not extend this mercy, you are held captive and you are a prisoner to your own bitterness. Only you have the key to get out of jail and set yourself free by the power of Christ’s blood and forgiveness.
Who do you need to extend this great mercy to? Who do you need to forgive today that you have been unwilling to forgive? Who has been that “scapegoat” that you have blamed for so long?
I pray that you will have the power to use the key of Christ’s mercy and extend forgiveness to that person today!