March 21, 2021*
By Pastor John Partridge
What is it that makes you feel guilty?
People blame the church, or religion in general, for making them feel guilty and accuse them of manipulating their emotions to benefit themselves. And, if we’re honest, that does occasionally happen just as, in any other field, human beings have been known to abuse their authority or take advantage of others. That doesn’t mean that anyone is clamoring to ban MBA’s, or schoolteachers, or accountants, or any other profession in which a few practitioners have been caught doing things that they shouldn’t. But, in any case, your church, or your religion, isn’t the cause of your guilt.
But if religion doesn’t cause guilt, who, or what, does?
We will get that… eventually. But first, let’s think about guilt more broadly. There are different kinds of guilt. The guilt I feel when I cheat on my diet by eating ice cream is not the same as being found criminally guilty of something that is against the law. And that king of guilt isn’t always the same as being in violation of the laws of God.
More confusing still is that the laws of God seem to be different between the Old Testament and the New Testament, so some of us could easily be confused as to what we are supposed be doing and not doing. And, in fact, many Christian denominations, and our own denomination, argue about some of those things. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about.
One of the things that we see repeated throughout the Old Testament was that the prophets of God pointed toward a day when God was going to fulfill his promises and change the way in which his people met with God, experienced God, and the very nature of the way in which God’s people experienced a relationship with God. One such glimpse into the future is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34 where we hear these words from God:
31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband tothem,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
Through Jeremiah, God says that there is a day coming, a future day, when God is going to bring forth a new covenant that will be different from the covenant of Moses under which Israel lived. And the reason that God gives for issuing a new covenant, is that God’s people broke the first one and were unable to live according to it’s standards. In the first covenant, the commandments were written in stone, but the new covenant will be written on the hearts of the people. Also, God will no longer be exclusive to the people of Israel, instead God will be revealed to everyone. The rules, and the way in which the people of God lived under those rules, would change dramatically and they changed, of course, with the coming of Jesus, and through his life, death, and resurrection as we hear in John 12:20-33.
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
It is significant that the people who had come to meet Jesus were Greeks. First, the Greeks would, obviously, been foreigners and were most likely Gentiles and not Jewish. But second, the Greeks, in general, were known to be process thinkers rather than people who would understand religion as a system of blind obedience. These two differences alone allow us to understand that Jesus’ instructions and explanations to them were likely different than those that he would normally have given to anyone who had been raised under Judaism or a system of Abrahamic, Mosaic, or rabbinic instruction. For this audience, Jesus explains that death is like the planting of seeds. If wheat falls on the ground, it dies. But if wheat is planted, it grows and reproduces itself and transforms a single seed into many. Jesus explains that, like those seeds, the people who live for themselves alone will live one lifetime that ends in death. But anyone who follows Jesus, and spends their life serving him, will grow into a life that lasts for eternity. Jesus says that this moment, the time leading to his crucifixion, was his purpose in coming to earth from the beginning. And he concludes by saying that his “lifting up,” his crucifixion and death, will be the moment in history that will attract all the people of the world, and of all time, to see him and worship him. For the Greeks, this teaching was not only something that they would hear and understand logically from Jesus the teacher, but a lesson that they would likely be able to hear, and to witness with their own eyes in the days ahead.
And, just as God promised in the days of Jeremiah, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus changed everything. The writer of Hebrews explains this covenantal change in Hebrews 5:5-10:
5 In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him,
“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father.”
6 And he says in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”
7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Jesus is different than kings and high priests that inherit their power from their earthly fathers. While kingships and the high priesthood generally passed from father to son, Joseph held no earthly authority and so Jesus could not inherit it from him, particularly since Joseph was not a descendant of the priestly clan of Levi. But neither did Jesus simply assume power or authority and claim the high priesthood for himself particularly. Instead, God confers the priesthood upon Jesus and declares him to be a priest of the order of Melchizedek rather than a priest of the order of Levi or Aaron.
Let’s unpack what it means for Jesus to be a priest of the order of Melchizedek. Because the Israelite priesthood was exclusive to the family of Levi, and the high priesthood to the descendants of Aaron, it was, as I mentioned before, an inherited title. But, since priests were from the tribe of Levi, and kings were the descendants of David, from the tribe of Judah, the high priest and the king could never be the same person. And that’s why Melchizedek is important. In the Old Testament, long before Moses or Jacob, or the twelve tribes of Israel, Abraham met, and gave honor and gifts to Melchizedek who was described as both priest and king. And, according to Hebrews 7:3, since there was no record of Melchizedek’s birth or death, the traditional teaching was that Melchizedek’s priesthood did not end with his death, but that he remains a priest forever.
Jesus was heard by God because of his reverent submission, Jesus learned obedience from his suffering, was made perfect, and became the source of eternal salvation and rescue for everyone who chooses to obey him (which, you will remember, is exactly what Jesus told the Greeks in John 12).
But so what does any of that have to do with guilt?
And the answer is… everything.
We read in Jeremiah, that with the arrival of God’s messiah, God would write his words upon the hearts of the people because God’s people had been unable to obey the laws of the first covenant that had been written in stone. Whenever people disobeyed the laws of the first covenant, they were found guilty and condemned because of their failure. But with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and with his appointment as our high priest and king forever, Jesus sacrificed his own life, once, and rescued us forever. The people of the first covenant obeyed in fear that they would break the law and be condemned for their guilt. That was, if you will, Guilt 1.0. But now, God has written his name upon the hearts of all humanity. We feel guilt when we do things that our hearts know is wrong. But, as the followers of Jesus, we do not obey in fear that we will be condemned, but in gratitude for our forgiveness. Our obedience and faithfulness grow out of our gratitude rather than out of fear. That sort of guilt is completely different, and we might call that Guilt 2.0. That sort of guilt, which is an awareness and a knowledge of forgiveness rather than a fear of failure, is fundamentally different.
I have often used the example of the time my brother and I drove from Akron to Pittsburgh to paint our grandmother’s garage. We didn’t spend an entire Saturday driving and painting in the heat of summer to earn the love of our grandmother. We did it because of the love that we already had, and the gratitude that we felt for all the things that she had already done for us. And that, I think, describes the difference between the covenant of the Old Testament and the new covenant of Jesus.
Instead of living in fear of condemnation, we are set free from condemnation, set free from fear, and set free from sin. As the followers of Jesus, rather than be manipulated by our fear, we obey the commands and the instructions of Jesus out of gratitude for our forgiveness, knowing that penalty for our imperfections and failures have already been paid.
We don’t obey so that God will love us.
We obey because we are grateful for the love and forgiveness that he has already given.
And that is Guilt 2.0.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/ADO8KTfgf2s
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.