In the church we usually talk about the secular versus the church. Like some things are churchy and some things are secular. And we aren’t saying what is good or bad, just that some things belong to the domain of church life—like worship music—and other things belong to day-to-day life—like brushing our teeth and going to work. It’s as if our day-to-day lives are different than our Sunday morning lives.
But, the scriptures create a different contrast. There is what we call the secular, that is the stuff of this world, and there is the sacred, where God resides. The scriptures don’t precisely make a moral judgment about the secular, though. It’s not that something is immoral because it belongs to the secular world. But, things that are distinctly secular, including anything that is sinful, cannot abide in sacred space. In other words, sin does belong to the secular space, but everything secular is not necessarily sinful.
Knowing the boundaries of sacred space and secular space was important in the ancient world as it is for us today. This side of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the form of sacred and secular space will take a different form than it did in the Old Testament times, but there are rules that don’t not change.
The book of Leviticus speaks about sacred space on TheDay of Atonement. The Day of Atonement was Israel’s most sacred holy day. As people broke God’s law, which we call sin, the High Priest would offer sacrifices on behalf of the people to atone for the sin. Atonement is a word we use to describe the process of forgiveness and restoration with God. You break God’s law and it damages your relationship. Atonement—which you can remember as at-one-ment—is the process of being restored to God, being made one or whole with God.
The sacredness of The Day of Atonement is underscored by a bit of a mishap of sacred space. Moses wrote,
Leviticus 16:1–2 (ESV) — The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they drew near before the Lord and died, and the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.
This is a reference to the sons of Aaron the High Priest, named Nadab and Abihu. When the Lord established the sacrificial system for the atonement of humankind, Aarons oldest two sons went up on the alter and began to perform sacrifices that were not in order with God’s commands. And the consequences were tragic.
Leviticus 10:2 (ESV) — Fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.
The Israelites were warned not to even mourn for the loss of Nadab and Abihu, but to be careful to do exactly as the Lord has commanded. Nadab and Abihu had entered into sacred space without going through the proper cleansing rites and thus brought the secular in with them. And they died because of it.
Going on in Leviticus 16, Moses told us how the priest is supposed to come into Sacred Space so as not to die.
Leviticus 16:3–4 (ESV) — But in this way Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on.
The high priest would bathe and then put on white undergarments and a white tunic—that’s symbolic of his purification from the secular. He then offered a bull to atone for his own sins. This is significant. He needed to be atoned for before he could enter sacred space to offer sacrifices for the people. He then took a censer with burning coals and incense into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled some blood from the bull on the ark of the covenant. If he had done everything correctly and with reverence then God would accept His sacrifice, atone for his sins and allow him to live.
This is where it gets really interesting. The Priest then turns to the sins of the people.
Leviticus 16:5 (ESV) — And he shall take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering, and one ram for a burnt offering.
There are three animals here. None of them belong to the priest himself; they were provided by members of the congregation. One was a ram that was offered as a burnt offering. This was a general offering for sins. But then there are two male goats that are for the sin offerings of the people on the Day of Atonement.
This is what it says about the goats.
Leviticus 16:7–9 (ESV) — Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering.
The two goats were brought in. The priest cast lots to see which animal was going to be for which ceremony, because there were two coming up. Casting lots was kind of like throwing dice, but when the priest cast lots, God would communicate to them by producing the results. So, God was telling them through the casting of lots which goat to use for which purpose.
The first goat was to be used for Atonement for Sin.
Two weeks ago we talked about Cosmic Geography, which is the idea that every so-called god had it’s own geographic region in the ancient setting. But, if you remember, the Lord’s portion is not the land of Israel so much as it is the people of Israel. So, as we come to this idea of sacred space, what we see is that the priests are preparing sacred space. But, they are not preparing the location itself; they are preparing the people.
Sacred space in the Old Testament is, at the very least, as much about the people as it is about the geography.
So, if the people are to be the Lord’s portion, sacred space, they need to be prepared and that preparation is the atonement of their sins.
Let’s talk about sin for a minute.
What exactly is sin?
We tend to look at sin as though it were simply the breaking of laws. God said ‘Don’t do this,’ you did it, therefore you sinned and God is mad.
But, sin is far more complex. Sin is a deeply rooted component of the nature of humankind. King David wrote,
Psalm 14:2–3 (ESV) — The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
David said that there is not one person who does good, because we have turned aside from seeking God. Corruption comes from a lack of recognition that God is our creator and worthy of our worship. In other words, sinful deeds are a product of a lack of loyalty in the heart towards God.
The vein of sinfulness of human beings runs far deeper than a selfish desire to please the flesh. Every sin is actually an expression of our loyalty to another king. In the ancient world that may have been disloyalty towards the Most High God and loyalty to another actual god. But, today the reality is, you have probably made yourself king. In other words, you don’t need a divine being to sit on the throne and rule over your life, because you are very content to rule on that throne yourself.
That’s functional-idolatry in God’s eyes; the worship of other so-called gods. It’s no different than the gods described in the Old Testament. If you reign as Lord of your life over Christ then Christ does not sit on the throne.
Atonement for sins is necessary because it confesses your idolotry and then offers forgiveness. It’s necessary. There is no sin allowed in sacred space. If sin is the product of disloyalty to God, then you can’t bring your disloyalty into God’s presence. It has to be dealt with first.
To enter sacred space with your sin would be like an adulterous husband bringing his girlfriend home to meet his wife. That’s not going to go well.
Or, it would be like an enemy spy working his way into the kings throne room. The moment he’s found out, he will be killed.
If you are a sinner, the sin has to be dealt with first before you can enter God’s presence; sacred space. And in the Old Testament that only happened once a year at the Day of Atonement.
And some of you are already wanting to raise your hand and say, ‘But, Jesus!’ and you would be right, but hold on because we’ll get there.
So, secular space is the space outside of the sacred—the day-to-day stuff of life.
But, just because its secular doesn’t mean it is irreligious. In God’s eyes, there is nothing we do that is irreligious if you define religion as who or what you worship. To worship simply means to give your attention to something. Everyone is basically worshipping something all the time. Anything that is not attributed to the worship of the one true God is secular. It belongs to the world. And anything that is attributed to God is the worship of God.
The sacred is characterized by moral purity, that is that your sins our covered. You have sinned, confessed the sin, and then been forgiven for the sins based on the goat that was sacrificed on the Day of Atonement. But, that’s not the end of sin for the Israelite. The thinking is that the sin also had to be removed from the camp. It needed to be forgiven and then also removed.
There’s some really interesting texts in Leviticus where we see that unclean things have to be taken outside the city walls and burned. A house get’s mold in it and the bricks must be removed and thrown outside the camp. Dead bodies were buried outside the city. Unclean clothing was burned outside the city, and so on. Unclean is sort of a synonym that the scriptures use for secular. It belongs to the world, not the follower of God.
That’s where the second goat comes into play. The first goat fixes the broken relationship with God; it is for atonement. But, in order to create a sacred space among the Jewish people, the sin still had to be take outside the camp.
Let’s say you had an adult child still living at home who was a compulsive liar. You love your kid and you want to help them and you want to see them do well in life, but you’ve told them they just have to stop with the lies. It goes on and on. You forgive over and over. But, the lies never stop. At some point the sin needs to be taken outside the camp so you tell your child, look, you’re out. You still love them. You still forgive the. But, the sin cannot stay in your house. It has to go. Either they can stop lying and send it off that way. Or they are going to have to leave to take the sin with them. That’s how it goes.
So, then, Moses wrote,
Leviticus 16:10 (ESV) — But the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.
This goat takes the sin outside the camp so that the people can remain in the presence of God.
There’s a lot of symbolism here, by the way. Our sins were placed on Jesus at the cross and he was crucified outside the city walls. Peter said,
1 Peter 2:24 (ESV) — He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
We don’t have to place our sin on goats, because Jesus was like the goat that was sent outside the camp into the wilderness. He bore our sin and removed our sin from the presence of God.
The Psalmist wrote,
Psalm 103:12 (ESV) — As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
The sins of God’s people are taken away from sacred space. They are removed from our midst. They were cast as far as the East is from the West when Jesus died on the cross. Jesus died for our atonement—we often talk about that. He died so that we could be forgiven and made one with God, but he also died for the very real, very practical removal of our sins from our bodies so that we ourselves can be sacred space.
But, let’s go back a but, because Moses said the goat that was sent to the wilderness was for Azazel and that’s just plain weird if you know who Azazel is. If you remember, in week one we said if it’s weird it’s important and this is important.
Who is Azazel? And, furthermore, what does Azazel want with your sins?
Jewish traditions from the dead sea scrolls and other ancient texts hold that Azazel is a demon who lived in the desert. One of the Dead Sea Scrolls depicts Azazel as the leader of the rebellion of Genesis 6. He came down with the sons of God and quote, “cause[d] them all to inherit wickedness” (4Q180).
But, it seems that just like the serpent in Genesis 3, in the story of Azazel, Azazel did not sin himself, but instigated the others to sin. That is why the Watchers of Genesis 6, as Jude tells us, were imprisoned in the pit until the day of judgment. But, Azazel is somehow living on earth out in the wilderness.
Many have actually conflated the character Azazel with the serpent of Genesis 3. Remember the serpent did not sin but tempted Eve to sin. In the same way, Azazel did not sin himself but tempted the Watchers to sin. At least that appears to be the story the Jews believed.
And maybe Jesus understood it this way too. After all, he did go out to the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. The Jewish folklore tells us that the Jews believed the demon Azazel lived in the dessert and Leviticus 16 says that they sent the goat to Azazel.
But, why would they send a goat to him? Were they offering the goat as a sacrifice? Did Azazel need gifts for some reason?
The answer to those questions is ‘no.’ Azazel did not need appeased as the Jews were under the protection of the Most High God. They had no concern for Azazel. But, Azazel is the tempter of sin. In many ways sin belongs to Azazel. Or to say it another way, the domain of sin is the wilderness where Azazel lives. The goat for Azazel was about taking the sin out of Israel that was sacred and taking it to the secular, the world, the wilderness with Azazel, where sin belongs.
Dr. Heiser wrote,
Michael S. Heiser (The Unseen Realm) —The point of the goat for Azazel was not that something was owed to the demonic realm, as though a ransom was being paid. The goat for Azazel banished the sins of the Israelites to the realm outside Israel. Why? Because the ground on which Yahweh [the LORD] had his dwelling was holy. Sin had to be “transported” to where evil belonged—the territory outside Israel, under the control of gods set over the pagan nations. The high priest was not sacrificing to Azazel. Rather, Azazel was getting what belonged to him: sin.
This is cosmic geography. The priest was sending the sin outside of the sacred space to the place where it belonged, in the wilderness with Azazel. Sin belongs to the secular world, not the Kingdom of God and so it could be forgiven—first goat—but also had to be sent outside the camp—second goat.
And again, that’s what Jesus did. He died so that we could be forgiven for our sins like the first goat. But, he also bore our sins to the grave, outside the camp so that in a very real way we can be free from the power of sin like the second goat.
This idea shows up again in the book of 1 Corinthians where the Apostle Paul wrote,
1 Corinthians 5:1–5 (ESV) — It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
This is what is called excommunication and it demonstrates how the sin-outside-the-camp motif plays out in the church today. Remember the people of God are sacred space. So, Paul says, when you assemble, when you gather, send this unrepentant sinner out of your midst. Send him out of the sacred and into the secular where his sin belongs. He doesn’t precisely say to send him to Azazel, but he says to send him to Satan.
Really interesting. Sin has no business in the midst of the people of God because we are sacred space—not the church building, but the church body; the people. As Christians, we don’t revel in sinful ways, because we are sacred space and sin ought not to dwell in us. Instead, we repent of sins and pledge loyalty to Christ. We live in His Kingdom by His rules. That is precisely why the Apostle Paul said,
Romans 6:12 (ESV) —Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.
Intentionally keeping sin around means you are obeying it instead of God. Just like in the Old Testament, sin today is a loyalty issue.
Now, sacred space is sacred space. Whether we are talking about before Jesus, in the Old Testament times or after Jesus, in the New Testament times, sacred space has the same rules. What are the rules?
No guilt for sin means you are forgiven. No presence of sin means, well, you don’t let sin reign in your life. You send it away.
But there is a difference in how sacred space is playing out in the Old and New Testaments.
Notice this passage from the book of John. Jesus was being questioned by Pilate. The Jews had handed Jesus over to Pilate to be punished, but Pilate didn’t know what the charges were so he asked Jesus, “What have you done?”
John 18:36–37 (ESV) — Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
Jesus clearly laid claim to the title King, but he said that he is king of a Kingdom that is not of this world. He didn’t want Caesar’s throne. He had a heavenly throne. And everyone who listens to the truth and obeys Jesus’s voice is a part of that Kingdom. But, then there is another Kingdom, the Kingdom that is of this world.
The Apostle John said,
1 John 5:19 (ESV) —We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
We are from God. We belong to God’s Kingdom, but the world lies in the power of the evil one. That is the devil or Satan, maybe also the same character as Azazel. The author of Hebrews calls him…
Hebrews 2:14 (ESV) — …the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.
Remember Satan or the devil is the tempter. He tempted Adam and Eve to sin and they did. And because of the devil’s work, all humankind is under the curse of death. Satan had the power of death in his voice.
So, there is this contrast between the evil one who has power in the Kingdom of this world and Jesus who has all authority in His Kingdom, in heaven.
There is the sacred space that is the church—the assembly of God’s people—and then there is the secular space that is the world. Remember, Jesus said,
Matthew 18:20 (ESV) — For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.
Our King is with us when we gather. We are in His presence. When believers gather to exalt the name of Jesus we occupy sacred space.
But, in the world among unbelievers, even if we are present, if we are not gathered in the name of Jesus we occupy secular space.
There are two Kingdoms. Jesus’s Kingdom and the Kingdom of this world. The sacred and the secular.
And the question is, Which Kingdom has your loyalty? Are you loyal to King Jesus or are you loyal to this world? Which would you die for?
Would you die for Jesus? If you won’t then you will most certainly die for this world.
Have you ever heard someone say, Be in the world, but not of the world?
That comes from John 17 where Jesus said,
John 17:14–19 (ESV) —I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
Jesus has sent us into the world just as the Father had sent him into the world, but Jesus says we are not of this world. We have a different home. We are here on this planet called earth, but we are resident aliens if we are in Christ. We are not US citizens, we are not even earthlings, we are citizens of the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ.
Because we live here in this world, there are things about our lives that look like this world. We dress like the world, we eat like the world, and so on. But, our allegiance is not to this world. We have a different King. And so, when we approach moral issues in this life, we do not tackle those moral issues like the world does. We tackle them like Jesus does.
But, as Christians sometimes we don’t. We don’t side with Jesus. We actually model the world. I’ll give you an example.
According to the 2018 State of Theology survey,
State of Theology Survey (2018) — 54% of participants between the ages of 18 and 34 believe that sex outside of a traditional marriage is not a sin.
We are talking about an issue that the Bible could not be clearer about. Sex is reserved for monogamous marriages established before God between a man and a woman. But, because we live in a sexually fluid and gender undefined world, too many Christians say that it is impossible to follow the biblical teaching and so they openly reject it.
They are in the world—which we can’t help—and they willfully choose to be of the world.
But, God’s Kingdom is not of this world. It’s otherworldly. It may seem impossible to keep the biblical standard, but Jesus rose from the dead. He’s the God of impossible!
When you compromise God’s standard of morality, you can claim that you believe in God all you want, but it’s clear you have no loyalty to him. And it doesn’t have to be sex. It can be anything. When you compromise God’s standards, you slander His character before the rest of the world. You are dragging your sin before the throne of God and boasting in your filth. And that’s just not how sacred space works.
Sacred space requires loyalty to Christ.
And I believe in John 3:16,
John 3:16 (ESV) — For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Belief does result in eternal life. It is necessary for the forgiveness of sins. But, there were two goats. One that represented atonement and one that represented the banishment of sins from the camp. John 3:16 is about forgiveness, the first goat. If you believe in Jesus, that’s great. But, you can’t be like the compulsive liar who continues to lie to his parents. The sin has to leave the camp. It cannot reside in sacred space.
But, here’s the good news. You don’t have to send a goat out to Azazel like in the Old Testament. Why? Because Jesus has already carried your sin away. It already happened.
1 Peter 3:18–20 (ESV) — For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.
Remember a few weeks back. These are the spirits of the rebellious gods of the nations that were imprisoned until the day of judgment. Jesus already bore your sins and carried your sins back to the place they belong. He took your sin to the ultimate wilderness where the angels are in prison. In other words, you are already free from sin if you believe in Jesus. And like, really free.
And I realize that there is much New Testament teaching about the refining of our character and the removal of habits of sin from the body and all that. I know we will still struggle with sin. It’s part of the process of the Christian life.
But, if you are consciously continuing in obvious sin I have one thought for you. Why would you go get the sin that Jesus carried away so that you could be free from it and bring it back into God’s presence? The very sin you were fleeing from when you committed your life to Jesus, why would you go get it back? Wouldn’t you rather be free from it? Isn’t that why you came to Jesus in the first place?
I’m afraid we think sin is like alcohol. In moderation it’s okay. It’s not sinful. Jesus drank wine, right?
That is very, very true. If you want to drink in moderation without breaking the laws of the land, and not until drunkenness, then give thanks to God for it and be blessed.
But, sin isn’t that way. Sin isn’t like alcohol. It’s not a good thing in moderation.
Sin is actually more like heroin. Just a little teeny bit is destructive. And it’s massively addictive. It changes your body chemistry and it controls your mind. You don’t have it under control. It controls you.
And sin controls you. You can’t keep it under control. I’ll give you an example of how that works.
The average age for males to be exposed to pornography is age 11. That’s bad news on its own. But, here’s how the destructive nature of sin works. Multiple studies have demonstrated that there is a direct correlation between the age a male is exposed to pornography and the likelihood that he will violently assault a woman as a young adult. A direct correlation. Lust gives way to more destructive sexual activities and every researcher agrees.
But pick your sin. If you feed it, it’s like Little Shop of Horrors. It will get bigger and bigger until it eats you alive. And it will probably eat your friends and family too.
So as we move to the Lord’s Supper today, let’s remember that Jesus has carried sin outside the camp and it has no place here.
In the Lord’s supper, we actually have a picture of the two goats from the Day of Atonement. Luke recorded that,
Luke 22:19–20 (ESV) — He [Jesus] took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise, the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
The cup is a reference to the atonement. The shedding of blood is for the forgiveness of sins. It’s the first goat. Jesus’s blood was shed just like the goat’s blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus bore the wrath of sin when He died for us.
But, Jesus also broke the bread, which represented his body. Jesus’s body went into the grave, or in Hebrew, into Sheol. By the breaking of His body, he took our sins to the grave just like the second goat took our sins to the wilderness, to Azazel, the demon of death. Jesus didn’t just die for our forgiveness, but in the Lord’s supper, we celebrate the very real freedom we experience from sin according to Jesus sacrifice.
Let’s give thanks to God for the opportunity to freed from sin. We will pray and the worship team will play while we pass the bread and cup. And then we’ll take together as the people of God in a few moments.