The rituals of Old Testament sacrifice included symbolic placement of sin on a live goat. The priest laid his hands on the goat, confessing over it all Israel’s sins. They were “transferred” and the goat carried them to a distant and desolate solitary place in the desert. This would remove the contamination of sin from the sanctuary and from the people. The goat would not return to the camp and the sins would never be counted against the offenders.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
In the New Testament, sin is taken away by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. As with the goat, this transaction is one of substitution. That is, Jesus puts Himself in the place of sinners, substituting Himself, putting His soul in our souls’ place and having our guilt transferred to Him and laid on Him. He became answerable for sin as God laid on Him the iniquities of us all.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)
It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:10–12)
Christ, by bearing sin thus bears sin away. He is like the scapegoat that was lead out to bear the sin of Israel away — an image of the Lamb of God who now bears away the sin of the world.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace . . . (Ephesians 1:7)
Like the goat, He bears sin away, but His is no symbolic action. Jesus actually takes sin off the shoulders of sinners in the day of their regeneration, conversion, and justification. He bears, or takes away not just the guilt but also the actual sin.
For some horrible reason, I can think of Jesus as the forgiver of my sin without feeling deeply horrified of harming Him, but this thought, that He actually takes my sin on Himself, makes me far more aware of the cost to Him for my salvation, even the cost to Him each time that I go my own way in disobedience. He is carrying all that crud that I so glibly confess, carrying all that guilt and shame. If I had to carry it, I would collapse under its weight, but He takes it willingly. And He still loves me?
Today’s devotional reading ends with a theological statement: The direct purpose of his atonement, indeed, is expiation of the guilt of sin, but the result of expiation is consecration and obedience, by his sprinkled blood—the blood that, shed makes atonement to God, the same applied to sinners purges them and consecrates them to be a royal priesthood and a people belonging to God. Christ washes us from our sin in his own blood.
It reads too easily academic, shifting the impact from personal conviction to a creed or something that has less force on my heart. To put it more in line with its reality . . . every time I get angry without cause, gossip, think an unholy thought, say unkind or thoughtless words, act in envy, trust myself instead of God, or build an idol in my heart, Jesus takes that sin and the guilt of it and puts it under His blood, blood shed to cover it that I might be forgiven.
Nor only that, He bears the guilt of it, even feels the shame of it — that I can be forgiven and cleansed, that I can belong to God and even be used by God. While I confess and go joyfully on my way, He carries all that garbage to a place far away so that I can stay in God’s family and enjoy my fellowship with God. My response is supposed to be consecration and obedience, yet how often do I forget the cost and simply take Him and what He has done for granted?