It’s hard to talk about sin
For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honour for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;
as he says also in another place,
“You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:1-10 ESV)
It is hard to talk about sin. Actually, I probably should qualify that because it is pretty easy – and common – to talk about other people’s sins to other people – easy to do when everyone around you is in the wrong and it isn’t your fault! But to talk about our sin … to ourselves, to those we have wronged, to someone who will speak an absolution to us – now that can be hard. We think we have a handle on it, understand it, but we can also discover a mercurial quality to our sin and that what we see and what we’re prepared to talk about is actually only the tip of an iceberg and who wants to talk about the murky depths?
Then there are the sins of others. They are usually easier to spot – especially when inflicted on us – but talking about them to the one who is doing them is also hard. You’ve got to pick your time because it is easy to blast when you’re angry and hurt and it’s much harder if you actually want the other person to hear you, to understand, to see their sin from your perspective. No one likes having their sins presented before them but for relationships to grow and not fester the sins between people need dealing with – but it’s hard.
What makes it harder is that we might not even agree on sin. We don’t have a neat classification system or taxonomy for sins are found on both sides of the law. We’d probably agree that they’re deeds but then we’d want a context to help us classify whether a punch, gunshot, kiss, disobedience is sin or even the same sin. Do attitudes and motives play a part in sin? Now we’re delving inside people – hard to see sin inside a brain or psyche – but we know it can be there. Then there’s age, culpability, responsibility, circumstance – free choice, limited choice, no choice – culture, which all impact our understanding of sin and our response to it.
Will the real sin please stand up?
It’s hard to talk about sin but we know its existence in the pain and broken relationships, the evil done to others, and our own selfishness and pigheadedness. We know good and ideal behaviour and find ourselves doing the opposite. We can struggle not to hurt, to do better, and find ourselves failing again. In fact what people can do to each other can be so breathtakingly evil, that we are speechless. You just have to live and know some history to be aware of this sin. There is a pollution and smell to sin that left unchecked produce killing fields, fear and the stench of death. Life is shrivelled and cheap.
However it is not obvious – we need to hear this – and believe – that sin is also rebellion against God – it is a power that seeks our needs above all others. Of course we know that we are social beings – we need to interact with others – even if just to produce the next generation – and we know that goodness and kindness and service all help our society no matter how big or small it is but even so, we still can do wrong by the other, sometimes it’s more spontaneous but there are times when we know that it is deliberate, our choice, my needs must be met. If we can rebel here on Earth to promises, commitments, basic decency, of course it is possible we can rebel against God.
It’s hard to talk about sin. Sermons are not good places for detail. Who are you, Pastor, to stand up there and speak? But the watchman still needs to call out that sin crouches at the door, the lion is hungry, and the choices we make are not insignificant but more importantly that there is someone who has a speciality in sin in fact who became sin so that people – all people – might become the righteousness of God – who has and does deal with sin.
The writer to the Hebrews describes this person – Jesus – not as an angel but as the Son of God who is also one of us, a human being, and whose role was to be the great high priest who brings about the sacrifice that atones for the sins of the world – our sins included. This Jesus reveals sins to be so serious that right thinking or right behaviour will not assuage them, submission and obedience does not quell or squash them, enlightenment doesn’t diminish them, only blood ‘works’ for with this Jesus, blood is the detergent for sin.
Biblically, sins are classified as intentional and unintentional. The intentional are deliberate and hang the consequences. The unintentional are more weakness and ignorance. Deliberate involves decisiveness – come hell or high water – interesting phrase – and there is no change afterwards, no regret, no remorse, I will suffer the consequences whatever they are. Unintentional sees the damage to others, to self – maybe immediately or later but wants to go back in time … if only. The Old Testament sacrifices were for the unintentional while the deliberate don’t care and push God away and of course sin builds up. So to deal with the build up of sin in the community – so God was able to stay among his people in order to bless them – the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement and bring blood into this most holy place so that sins were covered just as they were also placed on the scapegoat that was sent into the wilderness. This annual event – appointed by God – who also appointed the priests – is fulfilled in Jesus the great high priest whom God declares as his Son – and a priest in the order of Melchizedek, that enigmatic character who met Abraham and received an offering from Abraham as he in turn blessed Abraham. This priest has no lineage, no mother or father, he appears and disappears. Jesus appears and disappears from sight having done his job of being the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But I am not just talking a history lesson here. I am talking about things today.
So if the Christian Church mentions sin – or rather speaks to sinners – then the message can’t go on too long before also mentioning this great high priest who has decisively paid the price for all sins. It is important to mention a person – someone who both understands sin from the inside and yet who has atoned for it. We know in ourselves that this is impossible – that we can’t repair the damage sin does – say sorry, make amends doesn’t fully do it, although not to be not done – but sin and guilt isolate us – no one truly understands and no one can truly help.
And then hopefully sinners hear the name Jesus – and meet him – the dead has risen, the Innocent One gives his innocence and willingly takes our guilt and sin – he who understands humanity – being us – understands the struggles and the weakness and the fear and the rebellion and he is gentle with us. Sin and harshness are so often the usual companions. But Jesus brings more than understanding to us – he also brings salvation with him – forgiveness and the strength to struggle and the desire to obey for with Jesus’ forgiveness comes a lifestyle. That is what his death – his life – his sacrifice – is all about – achieving forgiveness. And while the world might gag or mock the concept of blood as the detergent for sin, those who receive that forgiveness find in Jesus the source of life, hope, meaning – and hunger for Jesus through words, water, bread and wine where he continually serves us with this forgiveness and strength then to do likewise – forgive those who have trespassed against us. Jesus is also the only person who can break through the barrier that deliberate sins erect so that the sinner sees more than just themselves curved in on themselves and hopefully repents and sees that sin in a new light.
It might be hard to talk about sin. Lent gives us an opportunity to do so. Daily living however gives us a better one and for the sake of those around us, we should talk to them and always to Jesus. He understands, he doesn’t condone or excuse, and he tells us to go and sin no more but most importantly he absolves, forgives, and gives us strength to struggle one day at a time. Remember that Jesus dwells only with sinners – the healthy don’t need a physician – but that is not a mantra to give sin and ourselves free reign – rather it is both a comfort and a challenge that daily repentance is the only way to live.
- Hebrews 5:1 - 10