In Leviticus, the sin offering only dealt with lesser sins — sins of inadvertency, or of being led astray. Often it is called the purification offering; in many cases it dealt with issues of uncleanness that were not sins at all. But the purification offering did not deal with any of the more serious sins — sins of trespass against God’s holy things, or high-handed sins.
The only way that a trespass or high-handed sin could be dealt with was by confession and bringing a trespass offering (sometimes translated guilt or reparation). The trespass offering was always followed by a purification offering. James Jordan makes the point that, in one sense, there was no offering that could take away high-handed sins. But by confessing your sin and bringing a trespass offering, God converted your high-handed sins and trespasses into lesser sins, sins of inadvertency that could then be cleansed by the purification offering.
In Psalm 40:6, David lists four of the five offerings, saying that God does not desire sacrifice (peace offering), offering (tribute, or grain, offering), burnt (or ascension) offering, or sin (or purification) offering. The one offering David does not name is the trespass offering. Unlike the sin offering, the trespass offering was a male lamb, the one sacrificial animal most closely linked with Jesus, who came “to do your will” and who sanctified us by the offering of his body (Heb. 10:5ff). All of the offerings prefigured Jesus, but Jesus is preeminently our trespass offering, the ram of God. He is the one offering that is able to take away the worst and greatest of sins, if we confess them. He is the one offering that God does desire.
Seeing how God dealt with high-handed sin might help us to better wrestle with the unpardonable sin (Matt. 12:32). It is common, and right, to say that if you tremble at the thought you have committed this sin, then you haven’t. But perhaps we can go deeper. The unpardonable sin is a high-handed sin. It is a sin for which there is no offering that can cleanse you. But if you confess your sin, even your worst sin, Jesus your trespass offering converts your sin into one that can be pardoned. He is faithful to forgive and cleanse you.