Why I Preached With Two Goats and Not One

Last month, I preached with live animals for the first time in my life. We were in a teaching series on anger and we began with God’s anger—as many Christians wrestle with thinking that God is constantly mad at them. The Scripture is clear that God is angered, but His anger flows from His love; it is not a contradiction to His love. As our gracious Father, because He loves us, He is angered by what can destroy us.

To help people see how God has dealt with His anger, we looked at the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16—which is where the goats came in. There is the goat who was sacrificed to absorb God’s anger instead of the people absorbing God’s anger (Leviticus 16:15), and the goat who was sent away into the wilderness after the priest symbolically placed the sins of the people on the goat’s head (Leviticus 16:21).

We had two goats on stage because both goats are important. Several asked me, “Why both goats?” I’ve seen sermons where one of the goats was mentioned, sermons where the depth of one of the goats was explored. Everything the teacher communicated was beautiful and true, but it was incomplete. We need both goats to get the whole picture. If we only look at the goat who was sacrificed in the place of the people, we can fail to see that our sins were also sent away from us. If we only look at the goat who was sent away, we can fail to see that God is indeed angry at our sin (He is just), but that He planned a sacrifice to absorb His wrath (He is the justifier).

All the elements surrounding the Day of Atonement point us to Christ. Jesus is so amazing that it takes all the pictures surrounding the Day of Atonement to help us understand what He has done for us. Like the first goat, Jesus is the sacrifice who absorbs God’s anger. Like the second goat, Jesus is the One who carries our sin and shame away—as far as the east from the west. Jesus is also the mercy seat—the place where we meet with God, the One whose mercy for us triumphs over the judgment we deserve. The Ten Commandments kept in the ark beneath the mercy seat speak against us because we have not and cannot keep them. But Jesus, our mercy seat, covers us. Jesus is also the high priest who sits down, while all the other priests constantly stood because their sacrifices were imperfect and more had to be offered. Jesus offered one sacrifice and sat down because “it is finished.”

Both goats are important. If we only see the goat that is sent away, we may wonder what God has done with His anger. The good news is that God’s anger toward my sin has been absorbed in Him. There is no more anger left for the children of God because Jesus has absorbed it all.

Some have insisted, “I don’t want an angry God,” but that would make Him indifferent or apathetic towards us. God being angry is good for us. We have the cross because of His love for us and His anger toward sin. And one day, we will have a world He makes right, new, and perfect because He is unsatisfied with a world filled with injustices, oppression, and suffering. Some have thought, “I don’t like that Jesus was punished for my sin.” But unlike the goat who was led unknowingly to the slaughter, Jesus willingly laid down His life. If He is just, He is angry towards sin. Thankfully He is also the justifier, so His anger has been absorbed in Him.