Jesus began his public ministry in the Gospel of Matthew by saying, "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!" Repenting is clearly important to Jesus. What he was asking people to do back then—and us today—is turn away from the worldly kingdom. Jesus is asking us to turn from the things that are ruling and governing our lives, to take a step outside the walls of our self-built fortresses and begin to look for a new kind of King in a new kind of Kingdom.
I don't know how "Repent!" resounded with people back in Jesus' day. But today it is a hard word to hear. There are many reasons for this, but I want to outline three oppressive rulers in our earthly kingdom, holding many people, Christians and non-Christians, captive. These things are keeping us from experiencing the power and freedom of God's new rule.
Guilt says you're not enough
Guilt is the inner tension we feel when we fail. Guilt is our conscience convicting us, "I messed up. I let people down. I am not good enough." Guilt can paralyze us and keep us from doing things we know we should, out of fear of letting others down. We begin to worry about our relationships, sensing we have hurt others and will never measure up to their standard, let alone God's.
Guilt is Isaiah saying, "Woe is me, for I am a man with a dirty mouth, from a people with a dirty mouth!" Isaiah finds himself in the presence of God Almighty, the King on his throne, and he knows he is unworthy of being there. Isaiah isn't wrong in feeling guilty. But it holds hims back, stops him up, and makes him feel like giving up and dying. God had a different plan. God took away his guilt (by touching a burning coal to that dirty mouth), and immediately Isaiah is ready to answer the new kingdom call, "Here I am! Send me! Send me!"
Jesus has paid the price for our guilt. If we let our own emotions and sense of unworthiness rule our actions, we reject the God who has already paid for them and forgotten about them. We turn away from our inner anxieties and failings. We turn away from guilt, and we turn toward Jesus, who wants to put us to work in the world.
Blame says you're the problem
Blame is when we try to make others feel the inner tension of guilt. Blame is when we put the burden of bad outcomes onto others. Blame is when we wish to point the finger at another and say, "You did it. You are the problem. You need to change or leave." Sometimes it is a silent pointing of the finger, in order to deflect responsibility onto another. Blame is a powerful tool, and it puts another person on the defensive, so that they are the ones "on trial" and not us.
Blame is the priests and prophets telling Jeremiah, "You will die!" Jeremiah was commissioned by God to share hard words of exile, defeat, famine, and other terrible things that would be coming on God's people. As expected, the people of his time hated hearing this, so they blamed him as the problem. Well, it didn't work. Jeremiah wasn't the problem. He was trying to get them to see a different kind of kingdom than the earthly one which was being destroyed. All the current kings were corrupt and weak. Jeremiah foresaw, along with Isaiah, a King who would be despised, afflicted, and rejected so that we would be loved, accepted, and welcomed into God's eternal Kingdom.
We don't need to blame anyone else. We can take responsibility for our own actions. We can own our feelings. We can lead others by turning away from the posture of self-protection. Jesus already gave up his life for us; we don't need to try to force anyone else to do so. We turn away from blame, and instead we seek to build up others in the name of Christ, who finds nothing worthy of blame in us.
Shame says you don't belong
Shame is being shunned by close friends. Shame is others making us feel like failures. Shame is when we are on the receiving end of blame. Shame is being rejected. Shame says,"You should be ashamed of yourself. How dare you act like that! You have no place with us." Shame is the internal pressure we feel when we don't conform to the external standard. Sometimes we are our own worst critics and assume everyone else looks at us with the same sense of disappointment we might have toward ourselves.
Shame is Ahithophel's advice being rejected and him leaving to commit suicide. There is an extended story of Absalom in 2 Samuel: He kills his brother for mistreating his sister and then is banished from the presence of his father, King David. He later succeeds at overthrowing his father (who flees Jerusalem in sadness) and sets himself up as king. Ahithophel was one of his advisors, but God didn't want Absalom to receive good advice. Ahithophel felt so ashamed of himself for giving advice that wasn't heeded that he committed suicide.
Our King stumbled, naked, carrying the ultimate sign of community rejection: a cross set aside for the rule breakers. He was led outside the city, to be killed as an outcast. But that was the very act that cemented our place in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus welcomes the rejects, promising never to forsake us. We all belong in the family. We turn away from the power of shame, and we turn to Jesus. In Him, we have eternal acceptance.
Jesus says you're forgiven
Feeling guilty? Want to blame others? Are you ashamed? Repent. Turn. Jesus doesn't want us to get stuck being ruled by these ruthless masters. Jesus has invited us into a new Kingdom, where there is real hope and abundant life. Repent to get past the things keeping you from experiencing the fullness of God's love for you. There is a place where nothing evil will rule over us anymore, whether it is a spiritual or physical oppressor. This is Jesus' Kingdom; it has overtaken the world and continues to bring peace, healing, and freedom into all our lives.
Where do you see guilt, blame, or shame holding you back from repenting in your life? What other things do you believe are holding people captive? Share your thoughts below!