Hebrews 4:12-16 English Standard Version (ESV)
12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Jesus the Great High Priest
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Why is confession important? Church reformer, Martin Luther writes, “The Christian way essentially consists of acknowledging ourselves to be sinners and in praying for grace.” Confession is owning our mistakes and asking for God’s grace in our lives. During our worship each Sunday, we come before God and our neighbors and confess our sins together in a unison prayer of confession and then individually during a time of silence. Children have a wonderful way of helping us understand worship because they are experiencing church through lenses of questioning- they always ask “why?” when it comes to reasons we do things. While serving a previous congregation, I was teaching a children’s class on the various parts of our worship service and why we have each piece of the service. We were talking about the importance of the prayer of confession and how during the moment of silence everyone silently confesses things they are sorry about to God. A curious student asked a very good question, “Why are the pauses so long sometimes after we all pray together?” And one of the older students didn’t miss a beat and jumped in, “I wonder if it is because the preachers have a lot of sins to say they are sorry for.” A very insightful statement indeed. Truth be told, we all have a lot to tell God we are sorry for because we are all humans who continuously sin and fall short of God’s glory for our lives.
So there is good news and bad news within our text today. Would you like the good news or bad news first? The bad news is our text makes it crystal clear that absolutely nothing is hidden from God. So friends, that means when we were are a little too irritated behind the wheels of our car, even silently, God knows the true intentions of our hearts. Scary, right? “God discovers the desires and thoughts of our hearts.” We can sometimes wear masks and hide our truest selves around people; but as much as we try to mask our true sinful nature from God we are unable to do so—none of our actions are hidden from God. Hebrews makes the case that human beings cannot handle being fully seen by God. God’s word will reveal intentions of the heart, and thoughts unspoken. Nothing will be hidden from the God who will judge us according not only to actions, but to mere intentions. Hence, humanity’s need for a High Priest, an intercessor, Jesus Christ to make a case on our behalf, plead for mercy, take on the punishment that should be our own.
As much as we would like to deny the fact, we all are sinners, and because we are sinners we cannot bear the weight of our sins and we all need to confess. Friends, it is never comfortable to admit we are wrong to admit that we are sorry for our shortcomings. It is never comfortable to think about all the mistakes we make and how God knows the very intentions of our hearts. Confession can make us uncomfortable for various reasons. We wonder what people will think of us if they know our true hearts and our true sins. Confession might make us uncomfortable because it reminds us that God knows the intentions of our hearts—that’s a scary thought.
But if we confess Jesus is our Lord and Savior, we can’t just get caught up in the bad news. The very ability to approach the throne of grace with boldness through Jesus Christ and confess our sins is the good news! The fact that we are able to bring our sins before Christ who understands our sins is unique. In the ancient Greek-Roman world, empathy between humans and gods was not thought to be possible. The classical Greek and Roman gods such as Zeus and Apollo did not understand the human condition or plight. People who worshiped these gods understood that these gods just kept their distance from humans and were unable to show empathy or sympathize with the human condition. For these gods being sympathetic to human condition was non-existent. Our God however, is quite the opposite of these apathetic gods. Today’s passage reminds us that Jesus is the sympathetic high priest. Jesus is sympathetic to our situations and unique sins because he was tempted but He is not stuck in sin. He understands why we might make the poor decisions we did, but He did not make them. Theologian Karl Barth reminds us that, “the gospel illuminates the mercy of God and the need to confess.”—and the good news is we can confess because our God sympathizes with our weakness to sin and is full of mercy and compassion and also approachable through Christ.
Yes, God can see behind our masks we use to try to hide our sins, but in Christ- God also listens to our confessions. Jesus is able to identify with human weakness, yet Jesus’ sinless life grants the ability for confession of sins. Yes, we can hide nothing from God—but when we confess our sins through Christ, we are forgiven. This is reason not to despair but to have hope.
There is a power in confession. The children’s resource for worship describes the power of confession simply- it says: “Confession is proof of God’s promises always to love and forgive us — even when we mess up and don’t follow God’s way, or when we do things that hurt others. Everyone makes mistakes; that is why we confess our sin together. When we confess our sin, we say that we are sorry for these things, and we ask God to forgive us and help us live new lives.” Friends, confession is powerful because it reminds us how much we rely on God’s grace.
Confessing our sins can grant us a certain level of accountability. There is a story about a child participating in Ash Wednesday service where church members anonymously wrote down their sins on sheet of paper folded it, and placed it at the cross. This 6-year-old wrote, “God, I’m sorry because I lie.” But then he signed his name, and he refused to fold it. He walked to the front and pinned it to the cross. His parents asked, “Why did you put your name on it? Don’t you want to fold it up so no one can see?” To which the child replied, “I wrote my name on it because I want everyone to see it. Because if they know it was me, maybe they can help me stop.” As we confess our sins, we acknowledge ourselves as someone who is in need of Christ’s grace and mercy and when we confess in the context of a worship setting we have built in accountability. Within Christian community we have people who are all sinners who can also hold one another accountable.
(Met-an-o-eh-o) the Greek word which normally is translated into English as repentance, quite literally translates into thinking differently afterwards, and/or changing one’s mindset. When we confess our sins, we are allowing the Holy Spirit to help us rewire our thought process to think differently afterwards…to think through how our words and actions impact those around us. We can stop carrying around our sin baggage. Confessing our sins to God allows God to hold onto our sins and slowly, day by day, help us change our frame of mind. Confession places us in a posture of being open to God’s work of changing our mindset.
Friends, we need to confess. But as we confess our shortcomings day after day, and week after week; we are always reminded of and encounter God’s immeasurable mercy, we are reminded of Jesus’ ability to sympathize with our weakness, and the knowledge that despite our infinite sins, we are met with infinite grace. There is power in confession of sins. Hear the good news, in Christ and in Christ alone, we are forgiven. Amen.