Unintentional Sin. Intentional Solution.
Leviticus 3-4, Luke 3
If the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionally and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly, and they do any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done, and they realize their guilt,when the sin which they have committed becomes known, the assembly shall offer a bull from the herd for a sin offering and bring it in front of the tent of meeting. – Leviticus 4:13-14 ESV
“But I didn’t know!”
How many times has that pitiful plea graced the ears of the average parent? We’ve all been there. We’ve all had a child who we caught in an act of what appeared to be obvious disobedience and disregard for our authority, only to find out that their sin was inadvertent and unintentional. They didn’t know they were sinning. They didn’t mean to break the rules, but they did. And while we may have extended grace and diminished the degree of punishment meted out, their ignorance didn’t eliminate their guilt. How many speeding tickets have you ever talked your way out of using the excuse, “But I didn’t know!”?
In the case of the people of Israel, God had a predetermined plan for dealing with just such a case. He knew there were going to be times when the people sinned unintentionally. But their ignorance did not eliminate their guilt. God’s law was intended to reveal any and all sin in the lives of God’s people, whether intentional or not. Sins of commission and omission all had to be dealt with, because God is a holy God. He cannot tolerate sin. By placing of the hand on the head of the animal, the unintentional sins were transferred from the guilty party to the “substitute.” The unintentional sins of the people still required the shedding of blood as propitiation or payment for the sins committed, whether they were intentional or not. God had to be appeased. The penalty for sin was still death. But God provided a means by which His righteous requirements might be satisfied and forgiveness be given. Twice in chapter four we read, “And the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven” (Leviticus 4:31 ESV).
What does this passage reveal about God?
God’s grace is amazing. Whether their sins were intentional or not, He provided a way for them to find forgiveness. God left no stone unturned and no loose ends when it came to man’s sin and His provision for forgiveness. God knew that man was going to sin and that sometimes it would happen out of ignorance. But He also knew that sin was serious and the consequences were deadly, regardless of man’s intention. Payment still had to be made. Blood had to be shed. Everyone, rich or poor, had to satisfy God’s just demands – either with their own life or the life of an innocent substitute. And all of this pointed to a future day when God would send His Son as the ultimate and final sacrifice for the sins of man. Paul reminds us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). Elsewhere he writes, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10 ESV). He was simply echoing the sentiment of the prophet Isaiah who wrote, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NLT). Paul made it painfully clear that “the wages of sin is death,” but he also gave us the incredibly good news that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 ESV). God, in His infinite mercy and grace, provided a way for man to find forgiveness for sin, not imperfectly or temporarily, but permanently and completely.
What does this passage reveal about man?
When John the Baptist showed up on the scene, preparing for and heralding the arrival of Jesus, he was confronted by a people who were steeped in their sinfulness. There were the chosen people of God, but they had long since given up living as those set apart by God and for His glory. They had begun to see their worth as based on their heritage as descendants of Abraham. They viewed themselves as righteous because of their blood line, rather than because of the blood of the sacrifices they offered each year. Being descendents of Abraham was their get-out-of-jail-free card. They thought they were guaranteed a right standing with God because they were born into the right family tree. But John bluntly reminded them, “God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Luke 3:8 ESV). He warned them about God’s coming judgment. He told them that their lives needed to reflect a passion for the things that pleased God. “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11 ESV). He told the tax collectors to “collect no more than you are authorized to do” (Luke 3:13 ESV). He told the soldiers to “not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14 ESV).
John was demanding life change. He was letting them know that their lives were going to have to be distinctively different than what they had been. It wasn’t going to be business as usual. They were to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8 ESV). Things were about to heat up. Expectations were about to ratchet up. He warned them, “even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:9 ESV). God’s expectations for holiness hadn’t changed. His demands for a people who would live holy lives and act in accordance with His Word and in keeping with their character as one of His children, had not changed.
But only one man could do what would bring satisfaction to God. Only one man was going to be able to live up to God’s exacting standard, perfectly and completely. And at the baptism of Jesus, God said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22 ESV). Like no other man had ever been able to do before, Jesus pleased God. He met His standard and lived up to His holy requirements. And He would continue to do so throughout the days of His life on this planet.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
I am the recipient of God’s amazing grace. Rather than having to try and live up to God’s impossibly demanding standards, I have been offered forgiveness of sin through the death of His Son. I have had my debt paid in full by the sinless Son of God. Paul tells us, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). All of my sins, intentional and unintentional, have been taken care of by Jesus. But I must remind myself of this daily. Because not only is God pleased with His Son, He is pleased with me! I sometimes find that hard to comprehend, and sometimes even harder to believe. My sins have all been paid for. My debt has been settled. Jesus made atonement for me, and I am forgiven.
Father, Thank You for the remind of Your gracious provision for my sin through the death of Your Son. Never let me take it for granted. Don’t allow me to ever forget that I am now pleasing to You because the selfless, sacrificial death of Your Son brought pleasure to You. He satisfied Your righteous demands and allowed You to shower me with grace, rather than wrath. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men