Summary: The two goats of the Day of Atonement represent two aspects of a "reboot": Making atonement for sin, thus rebooting the relationship with God, and 2) the scapegoat, rebooting ourselves by removing our guilt. The two aspects of atonement are both needed.
THE SCAPEGOAT REBOOT—Leviticus 16
Your computer or phone is slow, or acting strangely. Is it a virus, or malware? Do you have a poor connection? What do you do? REBOOT. If that doesn’t work, recover or update, and then reboot.
(Note to preacher: Scott Adams has a book on the comic strip, Dilbert: “Try Rebooting Yourself.” The cover is pictured online. You might ask, “Can you reboot yourself?”)
If we use that as an analogy, the malware in us is SIN. It builds up like a toxin, in individuals and families and communities—even Christian communities. It poisons relationships, disrupts communication, destroys love, and causes chaos. It is like cancer; it eats away at the joy and peace and righteousness that should be present. Most seriously, it interrupts our life-giving connection with God, the Source of life.
How do we deal with sin? We can try to ignore it, but that doesn’t make it go away. We can deny or excuse it, compounding the sin, by lying, blaming others, or lowering expectations. We can try to live with it, until the guilt and shame become so overwhelming that they can’t be ignored any longer.
When sin is present, we need to reboot. We need to clear out the sin and guilt, and renew our connection with God, who gives us life.
The Bible has a word for rebooting: ATONEMENT. The root of the English word provides its meaning: at-one-ment. Literally in Hebrew, it means “to cover,” and it is connected to the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, where blood was sprinkled in God’s most holy place, to atone for sin.
Atonement has both aspects of a reboot: the malware is removed, and the connection is restored. The connection is personal, however, for atonement is a word of relationship. An offense must be dealt with, so that the relationship can be restored.
(Note to preacher: Perhaps you can find a contemporary illustration or quote of someone talking about the need to make atonement. I used Sean Penn on Larry King Live, which is too old.)
The Day of Atonement, which is Hebrew is Yom Kippur, was a yearly reboot. It involved animals and sacrifices, which were not for God’s benefit; God did not need sacrifices, incense, or a bloody mess! It was God’s provision for people whose sin had built up over a year’s time. It gave them a fresh start.
Read Leviticus 16:2-19.
When the Israelites camped in the wilderness of Sinai, God lived among them, with the visible focus of his presence being the tabernacle. The tabernacle was a holy space, and the most holy place in the tabernacle was behind a curtain, the Most Holy Place, or Holy of Holies. There God appeared in a cloud, above the Ark of the Covenant, which contained The Ten Commandments and Moses’ rod that budded.
Since God is holy, set apart from sin, it is dangerous for a sinner to come into the presence of God. The Prophet Isaiah had a vision of God, and he heard the words, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” His immediate response was, "Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." (Isaiah 6:5)
Yet God provided a way, once each year, for the high priest to enter the Most Holy Place on behalf of God’s people. The high priest must bathe, and be dressed in the holy garments God provides. He must sacrifice a bull for his own sins. The Most Holy Place must be filled with the smoke of holy incense, so that the high priest will not see the fullness of God’s glory. Then he goes in, and sprinkles blood from the bull before the “throne” of God.
With the way opened, and the sins of the high priest atoned for, the high priest can now make atonement for all of the people. The high priest takes two goats; goat #1 will be killed, and goat #2 will be the scapegoat.
Goat #1 is slaughtered, as a sin offering. People brought animals as sin offerings every day, but this sin offering is different; it is an offering to atone for the sins of ALL the people. The high priest goes into the Most Holy Place, and sprinkles the blood of the goat on the atonement cover, to “make atonement for the Most Holy Place, because of the rebellion of the Israelites.” Then he comes out and sprinkles blood on the altar where daily sacrifices are made, to “make atonement for it.” What is going on? The connection points—the tabernacle, the Ark and the altar—are cleansed and restored, rebooted for another year. Read 16:32-33.
Do we have to reboot our connection to God every year? Probably more often than that! Yet we don’t need to kill a goat, to atone for our sins and “fix” the way to a relationship with God. Jesus took care of that, once and for all. Colossians 2:17 says, “[OT religious festivals] are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.