There is a band of goats living in a pasture behind a fence, just off the road at one of my favorite locations to run. I have developed a bit of a relationship with these goats. Each time I run or walk by, they see me coming from a distance, I give my customary verbal greeting, and they come running excitedly to the edge of the fence. I always take a few minutes to interact with them and muse at their hysteria over my presence. I’m sure that much of the hysteria has to do with the prospects of food, which I never give, out of respect and care for their farmer and owner. But it’s still a fun and unexpected accord I’ve struck with my newfound friends in the pasture. The best part is seeing them run jubilantly up the hill when they see me coming and hear my voice. But strangely, each time I part with the goats, tears flood my eyes. Crying over goats!? Seriously!? Allow me to explain.
One of the primary functions for my newfound, friendly goats is to keep the grass in the pasture down for the farmer. He also just likes having them around. Of course, goats have many functions for varying farmers and peoples. In Old Testament times, goats provided maintenance of pastures, cheese, milk, and even meat in some cases. But they also provided another very distinct function that could be quite shocking and agonizing. This was for good reason. Goats were to be used for sacrifice for sin offerings for God’s people when they sinned. The Bible says in Leviticus 4:28-29, “When he is made aware of the sin he committed, he must bring as his offering for the sin he committed a female goat without defect. He is to lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and slaughter it at the place of the burnt offering.”
One had to lay their hand on the head of the goat to identify with their own personal sin and with the animal. This was a physical sign that the animal was becoming a substitute for the person and that their sin was being transferred onto the animal. God would then accept the offering as atonement for sin. Blood would be shed and a life taken. It was not pretty, nor was it intended to be. Sound harsh? Of course, but that is the effect and devastation of sin, and God wanted His people to know that. He wanted them to know the cost and seriousness of sin. He wanted them to know that sin costs and it is not to be taken lightly. He wanted them to pattern their lives after Him because of His love and care for them.
What if that goat was the only one they had who supplied milk for their family? That is the devastation of sin brought home. What if the goat was a primary supplier for what they needed on the farm? That is the disastrous effect of sin on our lives. I don’t even own any goats, much less the ones I have struck up an affiliation with in that pasture off the road where I run. I’m not their owner or their farmer. So to think, I would have to march out there and take one of those goats away from their own, walk her up the altar path, look her in the eye, place my hand on her head, then take her life and watch her blood flow, all because of the sin I committed. It’s probably pretty safe to say that the graphic display of this act would likely keep me from much of the personal sin with which I struggle at times.
But the Bible says that out of love for us, God offered His one and only Son, Jesus, on our behalf, for our sin. He did this to make atonement for us and pay the penalty, once and for all, for our sins…all of them. Hebrews 10:10 says, “…we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” It goes on to say in v.12 of the same chapter, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,” meaning, it is done, and thank God, there are no more sacrifices needed. Jesus paid it all. Hallelujah!
Romans 12:1 tells us that now, instead of bringing goats or lambs, we are to “…offer our lives as a living and holy sacrifice to God. This is truly the way to worship Him.” Basically, that means I deny my pursuit of this world and all its sinful trappings, and live my life for God. Of course, I will still struggle with sin and temptation. I may even fall at times. But I’m no longer a slave to sin. I’m free and can walk in the fullness of my relationship with God. When I do fall, I own my sin, confess it, and get back up and keep moving forward, while offering my life as worship for the Redeemer who gave His life for my life. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, I have the power not to give into sinful pursuits. I can experience victory over that which once held me captive. God’s pleasure is now my delight. That becomes my ultimate pursuit. That becomes my ultimate gratification. I’m no longer trying to find pleasure in the temporary things of this world, and that becomes my grateful response and sacrifice to Jesus, because of His sacrifice for me. All of this is preparing me for the glory that awaits in Heaven.
So now, each time I see the goats come joyfully running up the hill to greet me, I give pause to reflect on the display of love of Jesus for His own, on the cross. There are not enough goats on the planet to fill up that pasture to cover all my sin. But thank God there doesn’t have to be anymore. My debt is paid and my sins are forgiven because of the sacrifice of Jesus! I’m free, I’m loved, I’m valued, and never abandoned! So yes, that is why I’ve shed a few tears over goats.