Who is the GOAT? Is it Jordan or Lebron? Is it Messi or Ronaldo? Is it Tiger or the Golden Bear? Is it Ruth or Aaron or Mays? Does Tom Brady even have competition as the GOAT? No matter the sport, fans love to have this debate: who is the Greatest Of All Time, the GOAT?
This is what we think of when we talk about the GOAT, but it wasn’t always that way. Not long ago, if I asked you who the goat was, you might have said, “James Bradberry.” He was the Philadelphia defensive back who drew the big holding call in the Super Bowl which allowed Kansas City to kick the winning field goal with no time left. What about Noah Ruggles? He’s the Ohio State kicker who missed the field goal to beat Georgia and send Ohio State to the national championship game. The goat used to be the guy who takes the blame for the big loss. I’m a Minnesota fan; I have a whole list of goats, just among kickers.
That idea of a goat comes from Leviticus. In chapter 16, we find the Day of Atonement. This day was the only time the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies. He would do so to make atonement for the sins of the people. First, he had to prepare himself and make a sacrifice for his own sins. Only then he could atone for the sins of the people for the whole year.
What did that look like? The priest would take two goats from the people. Then a lot was cast over the goats: one would be for the Lord as a sin offering and the other would be the scapegoat. The goat of the sin offering would be sacrificed to the Lord, and the priest would carry its blood into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle it on the Ark of the Covenant.
Then the high priest would take the live goat. He would place his hands on the head of that animal and confess all the sins of the people. As he did so, the sins of the people were transferred to the scapegoat. This substitute would carry the sins of the people away from them as he was led into the wilderness. They would never see it again, and so their sin for that year would be gone.
I recently read something from Melito of Sardis. He was the bishop of Sardis in the middle of the second century. In writing on the connection between Easter and Passover, he says, “Nothing [God says or does]…is spoken or done without an analogy and a sketch; for everything which is done and spoken has its analogy, what is spoken an analogy, what is done a prototype, so that whatever is done may be seen through the prototype and whatever is spoken clarified by the illustration.” So what is the analogy, the prototype, the picture we should see here?
The needs of the people remain the same, but now the people are you and me. We still sin, and that sin causes so many challenges in our lives. It often impacts the lives of others as well. It taints the world around us. It separates us from a God who is perfect in righteousness. We have earned the blame by what we have done and left undone. Our sin should be piled on our own head, and we deserve whatever punishment that might bring.
But the Lord provides atonement for us just as he did for Israel. He sent Jesus to be the scapegoat. Jesus stands as our substitute. The blame for our sin will be placed on his head. “[That] Lamb goes uncomplaining forth, Our guilt and evil bearing; And laden with the sins of earth, None else the burden sharing!” (Paul Gerhardt, “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth”). He carries them away from us, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12).
But Jesus is no ordinary scapegoat! You could almost say he is the GOAT of goats. It wasn’t some roll of dice that picked him for this task; he chose it knowingly. It wasn’t some priest that transferred our sin onto his head; he took it on willingly. He didn’t just carry our sin away; he was also the one offered as the sin offering to the Lord. He didn’t have to be led to his fate; he set his face like flint and resolutely set out for Jerusalem to see it finished.
Jesus did all of this for you. He did it all so you can be certain it is done. He did it so you would not be separated from him, not here, not ever; he did it so you would join him in his heavenly kingdom forever. Amen.