From the beginning of this Lenten season with Ash Wednesday, we have made a Lenten journey.
From sackcloth and ashes, we have come to the cross.
It is a tragic journey, a journey filled with foreboding and sorrow, a journey that leaves us emotionally drained.
Because, like Jesus, we knew all along where this journey was going.
For us New Testament people, we knew we would come to this day, this Good Friday—we knew we would come to the cross.
We have made this journey before; every year, we walk with our Lord to Calvary, step by agonizing step. There is no spring in our step, and we wonder every year why this day is called “good.”
To understand and to give meaning to our journey, we return to a time long ago in the Old Testament.
Long before Jesus became flesh, and even long before the words of our Old Testament text were spoken, the journey began. The journey began in the days of Moses and the wilderness wanderings of the people of Israel.
God promised to dwell with His people, and He gave Moses instructions for the construction of the tabernacle.
There, in the Most Holy Place, God made His throne room on earth so that He would be truly present with His people.
But God’s presence has had drawbacks, difficulties. How can the unholy, sinful people of Israel dwell in the presence of the Holy One of Israel? How can the unworthy be in the presence of the Righteous One? How can man be face-to-face with God?
And to add terror to this reality, fire came forth from the altar of the tabernacle and consumed the sons of Aaron. Nadab and Abihu offered unholy fire—fire they took from the wrong place, fire from the true presence of God—and they died.
How can anyone stand in the presence of the Holy One?
The people were terrified.
But God, who wishes to dwell with His people, established a way for the Holy to dwell among the unholy.
The Lord instituted the Day of Atonement. One day of the year, the high priest was to go into the Most Holy Place. One day of the year, the high priest took the blood of a goat behind the curtain and placed it on the Mercy Seat to atone for the sin of the people of God.
Thus, the people of God were cleansed of their sin, and they could dwell with God without fear.
However, on the Day of Atonement, there were two goats. One goat was sacrificed, and the blood was poured out in the Most Holy Place.
The other goat was the sin-bearer.
God instructed Moses to have the high priest place his hands on the head of the second goat, the live goat, and transfer the sins of the people to it.
Then, the high priest was to have the goat sent out, lead out into the wilderness, back to Azazel—back to Satan, the father of sin.
All the sins of the people were carried away by this sin-bearer. Two goats—one which was the sacrifice to wash away the sins of the people with its blood, and the other which bore the sins of all the people back to Satan.
In our journey to the cross, we learn that Jesus is the fulfillment of both goats! Jesus Christ is both the Sacrifice and the Sin-bearer.
Isaiah tells us that surely He has borne our sins and carried our sorrows. The Suffering Servant is the Sin-bearer: He who knew no sin became sin for us as He took upon Himself the sins of the whole world.
In His Baptism, Jesus took up all of the sins and carried them out into the wilderness to Satan. He did battle with this evil Azazel in the wilderness, but that was only the beginning of His sin-bearing journey.
Christ’s journey as our Sin-bearer continued throughout His earthly journey until today, on Good Friday, it has come to the cross.
Christ carried all of our sins to Calvary, and here we see Him lifted up. And when we look upon that tree what do we see?
We should see our sin, for He has carried them to this hill. We should see the One who became our sin and hangs naked, as our shame is uncovered. We should see our sin carried by our Sin-bearer.
But we also see that He is the other goat as well. We see the sacrifice as well. Jesus is the sacrificial goat who is stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted for us.
He is the one whose blood is shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sin. “Despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.
. . . But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.”
Isaiah shows us both goats. Isaiah shows us Jesus! And so the journey that began in the wilderness with the children of Israel, the journey that was more clearly defined by the Day of Atonement and the two goats, this journey is fulfilled in Christ Jesus for He is the fulfillment of the Day of Atonement.
Jesus is THE atonement! Our Lenten journey has brought us to Jesus, as we knew it would. Even now, as we look upon the tree, we see the two goats of the Day of Atonement fulfilled in the one Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
The Sin-bearer is raised high and lifted up upon the tree. The blood of the Sacrifice is sprinkled upon all the nations.
Christ Jesus pours out His blood to atone for the sins of mankind. The Lamb without blemish or spot cleanses us from every spot and stain.
It is our sin that has brought the precious Lamb of God to the cross, for where else could the Sin-bearer go?
It is our guilt and shame that Jesus reveals upon the tree of the cross; and then He atones, pays the price, and we are redeemed. “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.”
Jesus bore that sin. He shed His blood, and He declared, “IT IS FINISHED!”
When our Lord and Savior hung His head in death, an amazing thing happened…
…The sky went dark, and the earth shook. The rocks split, and curtain of the temple—the barrier to the Most Holy Place—tore in two from top to bottom.
The Most Holy Place was revealed. Jesus, the Sin-bearer and the Sacrifice, took His very own blood through the curtain into the Most Holy Place and poured it out upon the Mercy Seat.
Indeed, it is finished, and we are atoned for. The greatest and last High Priest has gone into the Most Holy Place—not with the blood of a goat, but with His own blood; and this blood cleanses and brings atonement to the world.
It is finished!
The journey that began so long ago has come to this place, and it is finished. The Lamb of God—Sin-bearer and Sacrifice—fulfills and gives meaning to our journey as we have traveled with Him from our exile in the wilderness of sin to the cross.
The instrument of torture and death has become a life-giving tree as Christ Jesus has paid the price. His death and His blood atone for His people. And so it is that this day, in its tragedy, is truly good!
In Jesus’ name. Amen.