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Don’t Be Afraid of the Skeletons In Your Closet

Over the last few weeks, we have been talking about the various issues in our lives that cause interpersonal tension between us and then, because they aren’t dealt with, lead to disunity among groups or larger numbers of people. This results in divided communities, divided states, and a divided nation.

Today I want to talk about the idea of our past shames, and how because we do not understand that all of our shame and disgrace can be removed in the gospel, we feel the need to protect our deep, dark secrets at any cost. This often results in rage and interpersonal conflict.

Life is messy. More precisely, life can be miserable. Over my tenure of ministry, I have had more conversations than I would like to admit about abuse, rape, racism, and on and on. For many, these things were experienced as a child, and as these very real wounds occurred, they were seared into their pysche seemingly without any hope of every being removed.

Our past shapes us. We carry these wounds in a jar and we pretend that they don’t impact the way that we live our lives, but we are wrong. At any given moment, the jar can crash to the floor, and as it breaks the pandora’s box of our emotions and shame are quick to lash out at those around us.

The old adage is true - hurt people hurt people.

But there is another way. The skeletons in our closet, whether they are there because we were innocent victims or active participants, do not have to define us any longer.

In Leviticus 16, we read about a holy day in the Jewish Calendar called the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). On this day, the High Priest of Israel would perform various sacrifices and rituals, entering the most holy part of the temple, in order to cover (what kippur means) the sins of the nation for another year. He would enter into the temple as a representative of the people and stand before the presence of God, so it was of the utmost important that he was purified, clean, and prepared.

During this day, two goats were involved. One goat would be sacrificed and the other goat would be set free into the wilderness. For our purposes, the second goat is the one that we are interested in. That goat would have all the sins of the people ceremonially spoken over it and ‘placed on its head.’ Any of the sins for which the people would be ashamed - sins committed by them or against them - were placed upon that goat’s head.

After this was done, the goat was released into the wilderness never to return. It was the ‘scapegoat’ or the ‘sender away of sins’. It served as a visual image to the people of Israel of a spiritual truth - that God would send away their sins one day and remove their shame forever.

Of course, the Day of Atonement wasn’t successful in either covering the sins of the people permanently or in removing the shame, impact, and effect of sin from their lives. This is why the ceremony was performed every year as the most holy day.

On the cross, however, Jesus performed his own Day of Atonement. He was slaughtered as the innocent sacrifice, and on the cross God placed all the sin of humanity upon his head. The New Testament teaches that Jesus became the manifestation of sin, the curse of sin, on the cross and God poured his wrath upon Jesus in judgement for sin.

Jesus blood covers those who trust in it and now God removes our sin and shame. The scriptures describe it this way, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).” And elsewhere, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34).”

In Jesus, our shame is removed, but even if you are a follower of Jesus this can be a truth that is hard to grasp. You don’t have to be ashamed for the things that you have done or have been done to you. Jesus was publicly humiliated so that you could be set free from humiliation. Jesus was publicly executed for your sin and for mine - the world has already seen it on the cross - we do not need to be ashamed.

Practically, this means that the barbs and arrows that we throw towards others to protect our own shame, to hide the skeletons in our closet, can be disarmed as we embrace the shame-removing truth of the gospel. Hurt people don’t have to hurt people. We can be healed. We can speak and give love instead.