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Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from Your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against Your holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done and we have not done those things and one those things which we ought not to have done. There is no health in us. But You, O Lord, have mercy upon us miserable offenders. Spare them, O God, which confess their faults. Restore those that are penitent according to Your promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus, our Lord, and grand, O most merciful Father, for His sake, that we may hereafter life a godly, righteous, and sober life to the glory of Your holy name. Amen.
That prayer which I just prayed, some of you may recognize, comes from The Book of Common Prayer. In 1958, C.S. Lewis, was an Anglican, wrote an essay on that phrase from the prayer book. I wonder if you were paying attention if this two-word phrase jumped out at you, miserable offenders. All the way back in 1958 there were many in the Church of England who were objecting to that phrase and Lewis was responding to those who felt like the prayer book should be changed because the language of miserable offenders was too heavy, too dour, too gloomy, too severe. It made people feel bad.
Lewis argued that if we would see the fatal flaw in each of us, we would not be so offended by calling ourselves miserable offenders. He argued the problem is we don’t know ourselves very well and we’re uncomfortable naming our sin because we don’t see our sin. Yes, forgiven, but in order to be forgiven, we need to see what needs to be forgiven.
Here’s what he wrote: “Does that sound gloomy? Does Christianity encourage morbid introspection? The alternative is much more morbid.” Listen to this, this is a great line, C.S. Lewis has such a way: “Those who do not think about their own sins make up for it by thinking incessantly about the sins of others. It is healthier to think of one’s own. It is the reverse of morbid. It is not even in the long run gloomy. A serious attempt to repent and really know one’s own sins is in the long run a lightening and relieving process. Of course, there is bound at first to be dismay and often terror and later great pain, yet that is much less in the long run than the anguish of a mass of unrepented and unexamined sins lurking in the background of our minds.”
I wonder if that describes some of us this morning – a mass of unrepented, unexamined sins just lurking in the background of your mind. Never dealt with, never examined, just a low to medium grade level of guilt.
Lewis concludes: “It is the difference between the pain of the tooth about which you should go to the dentist and the simple straightforward pain which you know is getting less and less every moment when you have already had the tooth pulled out.”
Lewis is very wise.
This is hard for us. I had a dear woman, she’s since gone to be with the Lord, a dear woman in my last church who was new to this sort of style of worship and liturgy and she found it very strange, and in fact off-putting, that we would have a confession of sin every week. She talked to me and she just said, “Kevin, I don’t want to dwell on my sin. I’m forgiven in the Lord and I want to walk in the joy of the Lord and my strength, and shouldn’t our focus be on our salvation in Christ and every week you have us come back. It’s like a dog, bad dog, again and needs to see what you’ve done.”
I tried to explain, well, of course, that’s not what we want to do, but I said to her, “We have sinned every week and every week where we come to worship we come as defiled sinners.”
You may have heard this saying, maybe you’ve said it before, that to be justified means that God never sees our sin any longer. If you’re a Christian, you’re justified and God never sees your sin anymore. It’s not really biblical.
Now what’s true is we can be assured that our sins will ultimately be forgiven and that God as our judge will acquit us and has already declared us innocent. Yes, we are justified, we cannot be unjustified, but remember, Christians, we relate to God not just as our judge but as our Father. As a father He sees our sins, and as any good father, He is not pleased with our sins. He does not want us to remain in our sins. That’s why repentance is not a one-time activity you do in becoming a Christian, but as Luther reminded us, repentance is a way of life.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1.
That’s what this sermon is about. Our ongoing need to examine our sin, confess our sin, and know that God forgives us for our sin.
Turn in your Bibles to Leviticus chapter 4, if you’re not there already. The third book in the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus. Chapter 4. This morning we come to the fourth of five sacrifices. This book begins with five sacrifices because sacrifice is the only way that an unholy people can dwell with a holy God, or a holy God can dwell in the midst of an unholy people.
The first sacrifice was the burnt offering, which focused on atonement and reconciliation. The second, the grain offering, focused on dedication and God’s covenant promise to us. The third, the peace offering, focused on fellowship with God and fellowship with each other. Now we come to the sin offering, sometimes called the purification offering.
It focuses, you might say, well, how is this different? We’ve already had the burnt offering, which was reconciliation and atonement. Well, this one, the sin offering, or the purification offering, focuses on our ongoing sin.
Do you see the pattern here? With these sacrifices.
First, we’re reconciled to God by the atoning sacrifice, a substitution, in the burnt offering. Then we dedicate ourselves to God with a thank offering, that’s the grain. Then we enjoy fellowship with Him and with each other, having received this atonement, but this fellowship can be interrupted. Our union with Christ is fixed and firm but our communion with Christ can admit to varying degrees.
You understand this. If you’re married, you have a union with your spouse. No matter how you felt waking up this morning, or going to bed last night, you cannot say, “You know what? I’m only 5/8 married.” No, you’re all the way married. That union is fixed until death do you part. That union is there. It does not admit to degrees. Yet communion with your spouse, you can feel closer, you can feel farther, you can have interruptions.
So it is with God and therefore we need this offering, the sin offering, for our ongoing sins.
Follow along. It’s a long passage. I’m not going to read the whole thing, but we’re going to stop along the way and summarize and then give some salient points.
Leviticus chapter 4, beginning at verse 1.
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally,” and you can see there’s a little footnote in the ESV, or by mistake, “unintentionally in any of the Lord’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them, if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the Lord for a sin offering. He shall bring the bull to the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord and lay his hand on the head of the bull and kill the bull before the Lord. And the anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull and bring it into the tent of meeting, and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle part of the blood seven times before the Lord in front of the veil of the sanctuary. And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense before the Lord that is in the tent of meeting, and all the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And all the fat of the bull of the sin offering he shall remove from it, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins and the long lobe of the liver that he shall remove with the kidneys (just as these are taken from the ox of the sacrifice of the peace offerings); and the priest shall burn them on the altar of burnt offering. But the skin of the bull and all its flesh, with its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung— all the rest of the bull—he shall carry outside the camp to a clean place, to the ash heap, and shall burn it up on a fire of wood. On the ash heap it shall be burned up.”
So pause here. This is a sacrifice for unintentional sins, sins by mistake. We’ll come back to what that means. But notice this is for the priests. You see in verse 3, “If it is the anointed priest who sins.” What we’re going to see in these paragraphs is a very similar process for different groups of people.
First is when the priest sins. So the priest must get a bull without blemish, bring it to the entrance of the tent, he lays hands on it, that is to identify with it, that my sin on his head. Kills it. Now notice a different priest performs this for the offending priest. This priest cannot be the means of atoning for his own sin. A different priest comes and performs this sacrifice. He takes the blood into the tent of meeting, so this time goes into the tabernacle, sprinkles seven times in front of the veil, puts blood on the horns of the altar of incense. The rest of the blood gets poured out at the base of the bronze altar, burn the fat on the altar. So there’s a bronze altar approaching and then there’s the altar of incense inside. Everything else of the animal must get brought outside the camp where it’s burned.
That’s the process when the priest sins.
Now look at verse 13:
““If the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionally and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly.”
So first we had if the priest sins unintentionally, now this next paragraph, which I’m not going to read. It’s a very similar process, “if the whole congregation sins.”
You might say, “Well, how did the whole people sin by mistake?” Well, for example, later in their history, they were deceived by the Gibeonites and they made a covenant with them when they weren’t supposed to because they dressed up and they looked like they were from a far distance and the whole congregation was deceived.
It’s the same process as it was for the priest except for one important difference. A couple, but here’s one. Look at verse 15. Whereas the priest, a different priest, performs the ritual for the priestly sin, here verse 15, “And the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands on the head of the bull before the Lord, and the bull shall be killed before the Lord.”
So here the elders. You can’t have the whole congregation, there’s too many of them, but you have the elders. You see here already in the Old Testament the elders were to serve as both representatives of the people and those leaders responsible for the people. Representatives and then responsible. The elders. We have something similar today with elders in each church.
Go to verse 22. So first if a priest sins, then the congregation. Verse 22, “When a leader sin.” So this would be perhaps one of the elders, one of the family heads, someone in charge of a clan.
““When a leader sins, doing unintentionally any one of all the things that by the commandments of the Lord his God ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring as his offering a goat, a male without blemish, and shall lay his hand on the head of the goat and kill it in the place where they kill the burnt offering before the Lord; it is a sin offering. Then the priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out the rest of its blood at the base of the altar of burnt offering. And all its fat he shall burn on the altar, like the fat of the sacrifice of peace offerings. So the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin, and he shall be forgiven.”
Similar except here we have a goat, a male goat without blemish. Lay hands on it, kill it, put the blood on the bronze altar. So notice this time he doesn’t go inside to the incense altar which is inside the tabernacle, stays out in the courtyard with the bronze altar, pours the rest out, burns the fat up.
You look down at verse 27, “if anyone of the common people sins unintentionally.” You can see the sequence: Priest, whole congregation, leader, now one of the common people, one of the laity. And it’s the same process as for a leader except look at verse 28 – you can bring a female goat. Or down in verse 32 and following, you can bring a female lamb. You kill it, put the blood on the altar, pour out the rest, burn the fat.
Now notice nothing is said in these two offerings about taking the carcass out and burning it outside the camp. The first two offerings, that is when the priest sins and the whole congregation sins, the whole animal is taken outside the camp and burnt up. But here when a leader sins or a member of the laity sins, the animal is burnt up, and presumably it’s because the priest then gets to share in the meal, like we’ve seen with the grain offering and the peace offering.
Leviticus 6:26 – “The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it in a holy place. It shall be eaten in the court of the tent of meeting.”
So the priest gets to eat these two.
Now think about it. Why can the priest eat something of these two sin offerings but not the first two sin offerings? Well, it makes sense when you think about it, because the priest cannot benefit from his own sin. So the first two are when the priest sins – well, you don’t want the priest going and saying, “Man, I could really use a nice sirloin here. There’s one way to get a great meal and that’s I sin.” No, so he can’t benefit from his sin.
Likewise, the whole congregation, well, he’s included in that. So you can’t benefit from your sin. If I get everybody to sin, then I get a meal.
But if it’s the leader or if it’s a lay person, then the priest, not directly involved, can eat of this meal.
Turn the page to chapter 5. Here we have, in verses 1 through 6, some examples. I don’t think this is meant to be exhaustive, but this is illustrative. What might an unintentional sin look like? A sin by mistake?
Well, here are four. Verse 1:
“If anyone sins in that he hears a public adjuration to testify, and though he is a witness, whether he has seen or come to know the matter, yet he does not speak, he shall bear his iniquity; or if anyone touches an unclean thing, whether a carcass of an unclean wild animal or a carcass of unclean livestock or a carcass of unclean swarming things, and it is hidden from him and he has become unclean, and he realizes his guilt; or if he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort the uncleanness may be with which one becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and realizes his guilt; or if anyone utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that people swear, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and he realizes his guilt in any of these; when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he committed, he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.”
So here we have four examples which might have been common in ancient Israel of unintentional sins. The first is failure to testify at a trial. So some sort of town herald comes out and says, “Hear ye, hear ye. We’re having a trial. Everyone who is a witness to these things must come and testify in a court of law.” This man hears it and he has something to say and he was a witness but he doesn’t go. Now might it be that he doesn’t realize and he’s forgotten and it truly is unintentional? Or we might see here that unintentional is a little bigger category than just, “I didn’t realize I was doing it.” It’s rather a momentary lapse, a mistake. He hears it and he panics or he feels like he has more important things to do and he just doesn’t go.
The other three examples strike us more as strictly unintentional. So number two, if anyone touches an unclean thing, they didn’t know it was unclean. Number three, anyone touches human uncleanness and they didn’t know that that human was unclean, or four, they utter a rash oath and they didn’t know what they were doing but later they found their guilt.
The first one is in a little different category. Notice it says that he shall bear his iniquity, verse 1, where with the other three examples it’s not quite as absolute. It speaks of later realizing oops, I didn’t know that I touched this thing, that I said this thing. I didn’t realize I made a mistake. But there’s forgiveness and so you go and you offer your sin offering.
Here in the first paragraph we read of a female lamb or a goat, but if we continue, verse 7, if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring as his compensation for the sin that he has committed two turtledoves, or two pigeons. Presumably where we get the 12 days of Christmas, two turtledoves. A sin offering and another for a burnt offering.
And if you can’t afford a bird, then look at verse 11. If you can’t afford two turtledoves or two pigeons, he shall bring as his offering for the sin that he has committed a tenth of an ephah of fine flour. No oil or frankincense because this is not a grain offering.
Now just as an aside here, sometimes we read through the Old Testament and we think that’s so strange and it is for us, and you might be tempted to think, “Boy, God is a such a meanie in the Old Testament and He has all of these animals dying all the time and all of these sacrifices and it’s so confusing.” But think about it. For one animal your sins can be forgiven. If you don’t have that animal here, well, a couple birds. If you don’t have a couple birds, can you just bring some flour? Now that is a pretty good deal. Two liters of flour for your immortal soul.
You see what God is doing? Though it seems strange and confusing and maybe even severe to us, God is actually offering away for everyone to have their sins forgiven. Doesn’t matter if you’re rich, if you’re poor, if you’re male, if you’re female. God has made a way for everyone’s sins to be forgiven.
It continues with these instructions through chapter 5 verse 13.
So what do we make of this sin offering? What do we see about sin?
I want to give to you six statements about sin that we see in the sin offering. Easy for me to say with shells by seashore, six statements about sin in the sin offering.
Number one. I want you to see from God’s Word that sin is an objective category. Unintentional sins, errors, mistakes, things you didn’t know were sins, are still sins.
Sometimes we think with God that a sin is just measured by our sincerity, that sin is only measured by our subjective desire to do good or do evil. But, no. Sin is an objective category.
If you’re going 55 miles per hour and it’s 35, and the officer pulls you over. Now perhaps it helps if you can make a case and say, “Officer, I sincerely did not know.” Maybe that has some mitigating effect that you weren’t trying to do something reckless, but the fact of the matter is whatever your intention was, you were still objectively 20 miles over the speed limit and the officer at his discretion may give you a ticket for it, and quite justifiably because that infraction is objective, whether you meant to do it or not.
There was a former president who was asked, “What is sin?” He said to this reporter, “Sin is being out of alignment with my values.” The reporter said, “Well, what happens if you have sin in your life?” He said, “I think it’s the same thing as the question about heaven. In the same what that if I’m true to myself and my faith, that that is its own reward, and when I’m not true to it, it’s its own punishment.”
Unless you just think I’m picking on that president, another recent president from a different party, when asked whether he had ever asked God for forgiveness, said “I am not sure that I have.” He went on to say that he tries to be a very good person and when he sins, he tries to do better and he’s not sure that he really needs to bring God into the equation.
Sin is not simply being out of alignment with your own values. Sin is being out of alignment with God’s values. Whether you like them or now, whether you mean to be out of alignment with His laws or not, it is sin. You and I do not get to decide what is right and wrong. This strikes at the very heart of the human problem. We see it in our day and it’s been just masked in different ways at the heart of the human predicament for all time.
When the snake tempted Adam and Eve in the garden with this tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it wasn’t knowledge in the sense of intellectual understanding as it was moral choice. He was saying to them, “This is the tree of moral autonomy. This is the tree that represents your ability to choose for yourself what is right or wrong.” That was the first test in the garden and our parents failed it and we continue to fail it. We think as long as I’m sincere, as long as I don’t sense any punishment for myself, as long as I feel good about it, as long as it is meaningful in my own self-expression, how can it be sin?
But friends, sin is not measured by your feelings of shame. Sin is measured by our deviation from the law of God. This is why Christianity is and in its full 100% proof has always been a hard sell because it confronts us head on with our love of autonomy. We want to be the reference point. You want your feelings and your desires to be affirmed. If there is a god, happy for there to be a god who exists to help me feel better and to help me make my dreams come true, a god who conforms to me and confirms the way I already am.
But sin is not simply being untrue to yourself. You can be so true to yourself and at the same time be untrue to God.
Sin, we see here, is an objective category. They unintentionally, they didn’t know they were touching the carcass, they were touching the human. They were doing something they shouldn’t have done, they didn’t realize it, and yet it was sin.
Second statement. We see there are different kinds and categories of sin.
You sometimes hear people say, “Every sin is the same in God’s eyes.” Not true. Now, it is true and it’s half-true in this sense. James says whoever breaks one part of the law is accountable for all of it, so it is true that you break one part of God’s law it’s as if you’ve broken all of it. In that sense, one sin is enough for God to judge you.
But it is not true to say that God looks at every sin the same. The Westminster Larger Catechism 150 asks this question: “Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves and in the sight of God?” The Catechism says, “All transgressions of the law of God are not equally heinous, but some sins in themselves and by reason of several aggravations are more heinous in the sight of God than others.” It goes on, we don’t have time to unpack what the Catechism says, but it looks at four different categories of aggravation. Sins are worse by the persons offending, by the parties offended, by the nature and quality of the offense, and from the circumstance of time and place. So it’s right there in black and white in our own Presbyterian confessional standards, not every sin is the same in God’s eyes.
We see that here in the Old Testament law. There are, generally speaking, three main categories of sin in the Torah – unintentional, intentional, and high-handed sins. Here we have unintentional, or you might say inadvertent. Ah, I didn’t know that this honey I’m eating came from the carcass of a dead animal and therefore it’s unclean. I didn’t know that the bed on which I was sleeping had some sort of emission and was unclean. I didn’t know I was eating this meat and it was really a different kind of animal, which is unclean. Those are inadvertent sins.
Unintentional seems to be a broader category than simply, “Oops, I didn’t know it was wrong,” but rather it’s a failure in the moment to do what is right.
Shegagah is the Hebrew word. It refers to sins you might say committed in error. These are sins that lack premeditation. So even the example, the first one in chapter 5 of the public cry to come and testify in a court case, you can’t excuse that as just an “oops, I didn’t know,” but likely in that moment you chicken out or you don’t want to go through the trouble. It wasn’t a premeditated, but it was in that moment an error, and therefore an unintentional sin.
These are, we might say, the sorts of sins that you stumble into rather than that you run into. You trip along the path. These are lapses. Sometimes due to ignorance, other times just due to the weakness of the human heart. Unintentional.
Next category, intentional. These are more serious. They have a stiffer penalty, as we’ll see with the guilt offering. Now they can, in a way, be reduced down to unintentional sins. One modern Jewish commentator has argued that confession and repentance can turn any sin into an unintentional sin. I think that’s basically right. Once you confess and get back on the right track, your deliberate sin becomes something more of a lapse.
Then there is the high-handed sin. We don’t have time, but Numbers chapter 15, you can write that down, Numbers 15:27-31, talks about these high-handed sins. You get the imagery. It’s the shaking your fist at God, or we might say in our culture, the middle finger to God. It’s willful. It’s defiant. You know exactly what you’re doing, you know that it’s wrong, people have told you that it’s wrong, and you don’t care.
The penalty for these sins is to be put outside the camp, sometimes the persons are killed. This is the Old Testament precedence for excommunication from the Church. You know it, it’s premeditated, you’ve been warned, and you did it anyway. Hebrews 10 warns those “who go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth.”
Now you can repent of high-handed sins, that’s the good news. However, you need to know the path is exceedingly dangerous. Jesus says in John 12, “God may eventually blind the eyes and harden the hearts.” You do not want to be on the path of high-handed sins, thinking to yourself, “Well, there will be some other time later in life when I can get serous with God.” Because with each new sin, it becomes harder for you to get off that path and it may just be as an act of God’s righteous judgment in your life, He blinds your eyes, He closes your ears, He hardens your heart, so that you no longer desire anything of His will or of His ways.
Now we pray for people, and we keep praying for people who seem to be on this path, but you need to hear the danger. None of these sins are good, but they are increasingly heinous and more dangerous in God’s eyes. The momentary weakness or the sin out of ignorance, or the sin that you meant to do but you quickly come to your senses and say, “O God, I’m sorry” versus the high-handed shake your fist at God.
Not every sin is the same in God’s eyes.
Here’s the third statement: Sins have different weight depending on who commits them.
Now we heard that in the Catechism and we see it here in this text. Now you may not have noticed because we went through chapter 4 and chapter 5 quickly and we didn’t read every verse, but you may have noticed there were different animals assigned for different offenders. A bull is required, so a male bovine, a bull is required for the priest or the congregation. A male goat is required for a leader, and a female goat or sheep for a common person. Now don’t think females are worth less than males, it’s just the strength of the animal and the sort of work that it could provide.
So a sin is different depending on who commits it.
Did you also notice that the instructions for the sin offering have different locations? Every sacrifice to this point in Leviticus has been at the entrance to the tent of meeting. So you picture the tent of the tabernacle and then there’s a lower tent that’s all around it in a rectangle that you enter into the courtyard. Before you get to the tabernacle proper, where the priests can go, there is this bronze altar. That’s where the sacrifices are happening. Makes sense, you’re not going to have all of these burnt offerings and these cows being slaughtered inside the tent, that’s going to be a messy. You do it outside the tent.
So far all of the sacrifices have been at this bronze altar outside the tent. That’s what we see again from the leader who sins and the common person who sins. But notice if the high priest sins, or it may just be any of the priests, or the whole congregation sins, now for the first time the priest has to go into the tabernacle. He actually sprinkles blood on the dividing curtain. This is the farthest the priest goes in except for the day of atonement. Why? Because the sin, the burden of sin is weightier if the whole congregation has done it or if the priest has done it, so it requires now for the first time, he must enter into the tabernacle itself.
This is why James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should be teachers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”
I tremble at that verse. So should every pastor and elder, tremble at that verse. We will be judged with greater strictness. It’s why it is such serious business when pastors sin. Now, of course, all the pastors sin and I sin, but when there’s egregious, flagrant sin, or high-handed sin, or particularly scandalous sin.
Luke 12:48: “To whom much is given, much will be required.”
Think about it. Whether you’re a pastor or an elder or not, do you have influence? Do you have some measure of prestige, either in the church or in the community? Do you have some authority over people? Do people look to you to learn more about God? Because you’re their Campus Outreach leader, because you’re the preacher, because you’re the women’s Bible study leader. Do people look to you to learn more about God? Spiritual leadership is a tremendous privilege and it is a grave responsibility.
The sin is weightier when all the people commit it and the sin is weightier when the priest commits it.
Number four. Even after we have been redeemed, our sin continues to be offensive to God. Continues to be offensive to God.
You sometimes hear statements like this: “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more or make Him you love you less.” If that was on a test, true or false, I’d want to circle both. Is there anything you can do as a Christian to make God love you more or love you less?
Well, in one sense, no. if you’re looking at you cannot be more or less justified, you cannot be more or less in union with Christ, you cannot be truly saved and unsaved, you cannot be a new creation and become an un-creation. No, God looks upon you with the righteousness of His Son. So in that sense, no.
But there is another sense, and perhaps if love there throws you off, just think, “Is God displeased? Is He displeased when His redeemed, born-again, justified people sin?” and the answer is yes.
Calvin has this phrase that he says even as God’s children, God can be “wondrously angry with us.” Wonderfully angry with us. I reckon that every parent here has had the experience of wonderfully angry, perhaps not as sinless in it as God is to be angry with us. Not in a judicial sense, but in a parental sense.
Think of adoption. If you adopt a child, the child is yours. You would not dream of sending the child back. So in one sense, certainly, that adopted child can do nothing to make you love them more or less. You always want them to hear that. I will always love you. In fact, I will love you more than you can possibly know. Just of the truisms in life, that parents love children almost always more than children love parents, and you get to be a parent and you realize how that works.
Yet you have that child in your home. You can still be upset. You can still be offended. You can still be very pleased or displeased. You would not want to say to that child, “Now you need to obey mommy or daddy or you will not be my child anymore and I will not love you.” No. But neither would you say, “Listen, son, daughter, whatever you do, nothing ever displeases me. Nothing ever makes me smile or makes me frown.” What kind of parent is that?
You don’t want your kids to think on the one hand mommy doesn’t love me anymore, but neither do you want them singing mommy loves me as they steal your credit card. You’d want some sort of, this is not the way I ought to behave.
So God sees our sin. He disciplines us for our sin. He gives you, thankfully, a spank on your spiritual bottom from time to time because He loves you and you need to straighten up.
So we see here burnt offering has happened. Atonement, reconciliation, at one with God, you’re His treasured possession and yet you still have the sin offering because you still sin. That still mucks it up and puts sludge and mess down the tube and you need to be cleansed.
Number five. Unchecked, unrepentant sin strains our relationship with God because God will not dwell amidst impurity.
Unchecked, unrepentant sin strains our relationship, or clogs our relationship, with God because God will not dwell amidst impurity.
This sacrifice is called hatah, which means to miss the mark, or to sin, and that’s why his fourth sacrifice is usually translated as the sin offering. But sometimes it is called the purification offering. Why? Because we’re purified? Not exactly. But rather the tabernacle had to be purified. Did you notice that? When the priest had to enter, he had to sprinkle the dividing curtain in the tent because a holy God cannot dwell in the midst of an unholy people.
For the priest as it were to be bringing in the sins of the people, either the priest or the whole congregation, as he brings that sin into the tabernacle, God’s house is going to be defiled. So he must sprinkle it clean to make a way for a holy God to dwell in the midst of an unholy people. It needed to be cleansed. See, to have God in your midst is a blessing and a danger.
Sometimes say there is no more privileged place in all the planet than to be in a Gospel-preaching church on Sunday. You get to hear the Bible, I trust, from this pulpit every week. You get to hear the voice of God. You are uniquely favored of all people. You get to hear from God. And there’s a danger, because what will you do with the voice of God, week by week.
The presence of God brings blessing and favor, but it can bring wrath and anger if we are a defiled people. Hence, the sprinkling of the veil and the putting blood on the horns of the altar with these more serious sins to enter the holy place. Sin has polluted the sanctuary and it needs to be cleansed.
Does this help you make sense of Hebrews 9? And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood, both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law, almost everything is purified with blood and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
In God’s strange, wonderful, Gospel logic, blood makes you clean. Ask anyone here who does the laundry. They’ll tell you that’s about the hardest thing to get out. Blood. Think of the famous line from “MacBeth,” the PG version, “Out, darn spot!” You can’t get blood out. That’s the last stain you want, but in the Gospel logic, it’s just the reverse. Blood makes you clean. Blood purifies and blood there is the sprinkling by which God’s sanctuary is no longer defiled. So you can dwell with God and God can dwell with you, only by blood and sacrifice can the two live together.
Which leads to the final statement. God will be merciful to us if we confess our sin and turn to Him for forgiveness.
I really believe that confession is the missing ingredient in the life of so many Christians today. Some of us become Christians and we just go on our merry way, never thinking of sin. “Yep, yep, great, I did that once, whooo, don’t have to think about sin anymore.” Others just the opposite. You fixate on your sin, always feeling guilty, always loaded with despair. One person feels no conviction of sin, and the other person feels no relief from sin. This should not be so for the Christian, either that you never feel conviction of sin or that you never feel relief from sin.
The Christian feels conviction, confesses, and gets cleansed. That should be the normal pattern in your life, whether you are 8 years old, we got some 8-year-olds here, or your 88 years old. That’s the normal daily pattern.
Didn’t Jesus teach us to pray, “forgive us our debts.” And daily. Just as you’re going to pray for your daily bread, daily you’re going to pray, “forgive us our debts” because another day has gone and you’ve accumulated more debts.
But here’s the good news – you’re not meant to live and walk through life crushed by that load. Now you say, well, “I know that, that’s why I’m a Christian.” But you have to deal with it day by day, to come before God, I feel conviction, deal with it right in the moment. “I shouldn’t have said that, I shouldn’t have looked there, I shouldn’t have acted that way. God, I’m sorry,” and come to Him and confess your sin and then have a clean conscience.
This is why almost every week we have a confession of sin. Have you ever thought about what an amazing thing it is with, I don’t know, all of these 13, 1400 people in this room and we all publicly… Sometimes like today we read something together, other times a pastor leads us and we assent in our hearts, but publicly we’re stating this. Just like in the Old Testament they had to publicly bring their animals. Can you imagine that? You say, well, “I don’t like, these people had to live with such shame and this wasn’t very healthy for their self-esteem.” No, they had to come, everyone, even the priest when he sinned. “Oh, look, the priest sinned again. Wow, did everyone see that?” Well, yeah, because everyone’s sinning.
You can look around this room and you see people who are just starting out in their Christian life, people who have been doing this forever, and you’ve got people who have all manner of degrees or no degrees, or work uptown and make lots of money or make just a little bit of money, and wearing the best thing you could possibly find, or everywhere in between. All sorts of different kinds of people. We all have sins and we all need to confess and we all need God’s forgiveness, again and again.
Did you notice this refrain?
Look at chapter 4, verse 20: “And the priest shall make atonement for them and they shall be forgiven.”
Verse 26: “So the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin and he shall be forgiven.”
End of verse 31: “And the priest shall make atonement for him and he shall be forgiven.”
Verse 35: “And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed and he shall be forgiven.”
Chapter 5, verse 10: “And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin that he has committed and he shall be forgiven.”
That is the routine and the rhythm of a healthy Christian. I confess my sin, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my sin has been forgiven.
Brothers and sisters, sin is always offensive to God. Whether you’re a Christian or not a Christian, young or old, intentional, unintentional, high-handed, every sin is offensive to God.
But here’s the good news – every sin is offensive to God, but we can always be forgiven of our sin if we confess and turn to Christ.
I leave you with these two questions.
Number one – Have you treated your sins too lightly?
Number two – Have you thought of God’s forgiveness too little?
Have you treated your sins too lightly? When is the last time you’ve felt contrition? That means pulverized in your heart, “O God, I’m a sinner. I did it again. I’m sorry.” Have you thought of your sins too little?
Have you thought of God’s forgiveness too lightly? Have you gone on just thinking that in order to be a real spiritual Christian you must be miserable all the time?
No, you come. The reason why you say “miserable offender” is that you can leave knowing that God loves you. Some of you have thought that if I’m a true Christian, especially a Presbyterian, I should feel really bad all the time. If I started to feel happy, then I might have to look for a different kind of church. That’s not what we do here.
No, you ought to be a joyful Christian, put your head on the pillow each night with a clean conscience, knowing you’ve come before the Lord, you haven’t named everything, but you’ve said, “God, cover it, forgive it,” and you know that you’re forgiven in Christ.
Have you treated your sin too lightly? Have you thought of God’s forgiveness in Christ too little.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, would You do by Your Spirit, work in our hearts, work in my heart, and the pastors, the elders, the deacons, the women’s Bible study leaders, the campus ministry leaders, all of us, do work in our hearts that we may cry out to You for our sin and we may know that whatever our sin, whatever wrongs we have done, that Your mercy is more. In Jesus we pray. Amen.