Introduction from Leviticus
Today we are going to begin in a most unlikely place. We begin in the Old Testament and even stranger than beginning there, we will look at Leviticus 16. Leviticus? Are you sure? Yes. There we read that God told the children of Israel when and how to celebrate the Day of Atonement. You may have heard of it as Yom Kippur. We can’t go through all of it, but we will focus on one part of the celebration.
Two Goats Point Us to Jesus
Aaron, the High Priest, was to take two goats. One was the Lord’s and was sacrificed as a sin offering. The other goat was brought to Aaron to lay his hands on. This signified that the sins of Israel had been laid on this goat. The goat was led out into the wilderness to die signifying that the sins of Israel had been taken away forever. These two goats point us to Jesus. On the one hand, He was sacrificed on the cross to pay for sin. On the other hand, He took away our sin forever. The interesting part is that the goat taken to die in the wilderness is called the “scapegoat.”
Jesus: Our Scapegoat
We know what a scapegoat is. A scapegoat is someone who gets the blame and punishment for something they didn’t do. Isn’t that exactly what Peter is saying about Jesus?
“He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth… He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree…” (vv. 23-24)
Jesus was our scapegoat. He never sinned. He kept God’s whole law in thought, word, and deed. Yet, He was crucified for our sins. He took our sins in His body as if He had committed them all and died on the tree of the cross. He got the blame for our sins and the punishment for our sins. He was our scapegoat. Unfair! Unjust! Yes, by all human standards. Yet, God used Him as our scapegoat to conquer our sin, our suffering, our death so we would live forever. This is our faith and hope.
Looking at Our Suffering
However, let’s face it, when we suffer we don’t like it one bit. Why do I have to suffer? Why do I have to stay at home? Why do I have to live through this pandemic? We as sinful human beings believe deep down in our hearts that all suffering, my suffering, is always unfair, always unjust. I just don’t deserve this.
Our Hope Looks to God
Is this pandemic the wrath of God? The real facts we know are these. This is a sinful world-lots of sin. From the Fall there has been sickness and death. As sinful people, even though we are Christians, we are not immune from the sin and death of this world. This pandemic is the result of sin, and we sure are sinners. This is not the first pandemic nor the last. It touches our lives because we are sinful people living in a sinful world. The results of sin are in many ways the anger of God over sin. But we do not know the mind of God. Right now we are suffering. Right now, be assured God is working His will through this. Hard to grasp, but our faith and our hope look to God even in times like these. His promises are still true, and we can pray for strength, help, and mercy.
Jesus’ Suffering Serves Us
Here is the remarkable thing. Notice how even when Jesus was suffering the agony of the cross, He was actually serving us. Now think about that. He was whipped, beaten, crucified unjustly, unfairly as our scapegoat. Yet, all the while He was serving us. He served us as our scapegoat taking our sins upon Himself to shed His blood to pay for them. He was serving us as our substitute by dying to pay for the wages of sin. He was laid in a tomb just like we will be. He rose from death for us so that we will rise from death to life eternal. See, all the while He suffered, He was actually serving us. All the time He was suffering He had His eyes focused on His Father. His perfect faith was in His Father. Even in His suffering He was free to suffer for us. He chose to do just that.
Hope in Christ Frees Us to Serve Others
Now let’s face it, we don’t know why we suffer at times in our lives. We know we live in a sinful world and sin and suffering touch our lives. Why one not the other? Why this time? We can’t answer those questions in this life. We are simply told, “Christ also suffered for you leaving you an example so that you might follow in His steps.” Our faith and hope in Christ, worked by God Himself, frees us to serve others even when we suffer in this world. Christ is our example and our strength. He gives us His strength through His promises, in our baptism and in the Lord’s Supper.
The Remarkable Relationship of Suffering and Service
Let’s read Peter again,
“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live in righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (vv. 24-25)
Do you hear that? We were straying and God brought us back to our scapegoat, our Shepherd, our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Just as He suffered and served us at the same time. So, even in our suffering, we as the people of God filled with faith and hope in Christ can serve one another. Remarkable! Who knew there could be such a relationship between suffering and service.
Hope Focuses on God’s Work
Only God can work something like this. It seems so wrong to us, but this is God’s way. Just the opposite of what we think. So, today don’t focus on why you have to suffer, what you have to suffer, the reason for your suffering. Focus on your God who works such marvelous things, so unbelievable, topsy-turvy things from the world’s way of thinking. Take your eyes off your suffering and focus on the God who works all things for you. You saw it at the cross. Then ask the remarkable question: “Even in a time of suffering, ‘God, what can I do to serve others?’” He will work His remarkable ways through you. Amen.