Sin is a slippery subject.
There are those who shy away from pronouncing its presence, who semantically rename it “moral failure,” or redirect its blame from the individual to amorphous causes—family, society, economics, or ideology.
And then there are those who gladly point out sin’s existence in everyone and every event that they examine. From this stark perspective, it is not hard to find, or create, blame within a world that is filled with so much malice, corruption, and abuse. Like the story of the boy who cries wolf, the hardened and wounded world shuts its ears to these incessant condemnations.
Enemies, on the other hand, are much easier to agree on.
From national interests to personal problems, we all have opponents with opinions, agendas, and intentions in conflict with us. We are “enemies,” because we disagree. In the extreme, foes seek genocide, though more often, some form of submission. Enemies are those we must overcome because they are against us.
Sin and enemies are both real. Today’s headlines testify to their relevance for our century’s nomenclature. To pretend that they were created by psychological projections of ancient civilization only displays our modern pretentiousness.
When the angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph, declaring the coming birth of the Messiah of Israel, he told Joseph to name Mary’s baby, Jesus, “because he will save his people from their sins (Mt 1:21).” At that time, the Jewish people were under the thumb of the Roman Empire, ruled by an oppressive puppet king, Herod. It would have made much more practical and political sense for the angel to say “he will save his people from their enemies.” Throughout Israel’s history and the Hebrew writings, the Lord continually promised that He would save, or He would send a savior to deliver, His people from their enemies (Ex 6:6-8; Jud 2:18; Ezk 35:20-31, Zechariah's song especially annunciates this in Luke's birth narrative--Lk 1:68-71).
Yet, the Scriptures also repeatedly reminded the reader that it was the people’s sins, not their enemies, which had separated them from God. For example,
“You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against (your ways), you were angry.
How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like a filthy menstrual rag.” Isa 64:5-6
While it is always easy for us to single out the sawdust in someone else’s eye, the real problem is the plank of wood protruding from our own. Enemies will always be with us. Even if we try to truly reconcile with them, there are no guarantees of a blissful peace. In any case, we should be examining our own hearts, our own motives, and our own sins. Repentance is a paradoxical path—the only way to win, is to lose. We first must humble ourselves before we are lifted up from our own pit. Here, we find the power of Jesus, Israel's Messiah, the one who can save us from our sins, which are ultimately more deadly than our enemies.