One of the most profound ways to pass on a blessing in the Bible is by means of the laying on of hands. Healing hands. Commissioning hands. Anointing hands. Ordaining hands. Holy Spirit imparting hands.

Think, for example, of the time when the aging Jacob wanted to bless the sons of Joseph. "Bring them to me please, that I may bless them," he said (Genesis 48:9). We read a few verses later that the blind old man stretched out his hands and laid  them on the heads of the young men placed before him. "So he blessed them that day" (v.20).

Jesus did it too - laying his hands on young children and blessing them (Mark 10:16) and laying his hands on the sick and healing them (Mark 8:25). The disciples learned to do the same (Acts 9:17), and the action was always symbolic of spiritual blessing flowing from one person to another. As we think of this, we are reminded of what we read in Hebrews 7:7 about the act of blessing another: "And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater."

Yet the consistency of this theme makes the one exception to the rule all the more remarkable. One kind of 'laying on of hands' stands out as quite different from the rest. On the day of atonement Aaron laid his hands on the head of the goat that was to be sent off into the wilderness. This was not an act of blessing: what he did was to "confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel... all their sins, and he ...put them on the head of the goat" before sending it away (Leviticus 16:21). The relationship between the greater and lesser does not here provide a channel of blessing for the lesser: rather it is an impartation of the curse of death.

As we saw last time, there is no remission of sins apart from the shedding of blood. And in this arrangement, the greater creature, the powerful Aaron, takes advantage of the lesser creature, the poor goat; and in the transfer of the sins of the nation, consigns upon it the death penalty in the cruel world outside the camp. There is no thought of blessing here.

And into this picture steps the Lord Jesus, the one who knew no sin who was made, for our sake, to be sin for us (2Corinthians 5:21). Paul tells us that he "made himself nothing" (Philippians 2:7). The one who was God took the form of the a servant. The one who had always laid his hands on others, the one who blessed - he, the greater, became the lesser. In fact that greatest became the least. He was not merely found in human form: he went further as "he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" outside the camp (v.8). Not just a servant but the goat. The lesser one that we supposedly greater ones could lay our hands on - not hands of blessings but hands of cursing.

Think not only of what he has done: think too of what he became. The eternal layer-on-of-hands became the one whom men laid their hands on. And such cruel hands they were! Yet Paul rejoices that the greater who became the lesser has now become the greatest with the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9). Sanity is restored. The true order of reality is intact. And as the greatest, his nail-pierced hands are again the hands that bless. Hands that bless the lesser creatures like us, as he blessed the little children and the frail sick of old.