GOSPEL READING: Matthew 23:13-22
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. 16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, `If any one swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, `If any one swears by the altar, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; 21 and he who swears by the temple, swears by it and by him who dwells in it; 22 and he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
Meditation: When the Lord Jesus knocks on the door of your heart are you ready to answer and receive him (Revelations 3:20)? The Lord offers each one of us an open door to the kingdom of God, but we can shut ourselves out if we ignore or reject his offer. What is the door to the kingdom of heaven? When Jacob fled from his brother Essau, who wanted to kill him for stealing his birthright (Genesis 27:41), Jacob sought refuge in the wilderness. There God pursued him and gave him a vision that both changed his life and the life of his people. As Jacob slept on a star-lit hillside God showed him a great ladder or stairway that extended from earth to heaven. This stairway was filled with a multitude of angels ascending and descending before the throne of God.
An open door to the throne of God
God opened heaven to Jacob, not only to give him a place of refuge and peace, but to offer him the blessing of dwelling in intimate friendship with the living God. God spoke to Jacob and renewed the promises which he had made to his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac, and now to Jacob and his descendants. God promised not only to bless and protect Jacob, but to make him and his descendants a blessing to all the nations as well. When Jacob awoke he exclaimed: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). God opened a door for Jacob that brought him and his people into a new relationship with the living God.
Jesus is the door to God’s kingdom
Jesus proclaimed to his disciples that he came to fulfill the prophetic dream of Jacob in his very own person: “You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (John 1:51). Jesus proclaimed that he is the door (John 10:8-9) and the way (John 14:6) that makes it possible for us to access heaven and God’s very throne. But Jesus woefully warned the religious leaders and successors of Jacob that they were shutting the door of God’s kingdom not only on themselves but on others as well. The word woe expresses sorrowful pity as well as grief and sadness.Why did Jesus lament and issue such a stern rebuke?
Don’t be misled by wrong-headed teachers
Jesus was angry with the religious leaders because they failed to listen to God’s word and they misled the people they were supposed to teach and lead in the ways of God. They were blindly leading people to “pharisaism”- to their own ideas, rules, and practices which God did not intend or require – rather than to God’s intention and way of life for his people. Jesus also chastised them for their hyprocisy – a hypocrite is an actor or imposter who says one thing but does the opposite. Jesus gave some examples to show how misguided they were in their thinking and practices.
In their zeal to win converts, the religious leaders required unnecessary and burdensome rules and practices which obscured the more important matters of religion, such as love of God and love of neighbor. And at the same time they made exceptions for themselves by devising clever ways to evade binding oaths and solemn promises which they had made to God. The Jews treated an oath made to God as a binding obligation that must not be broken under any circumstance, but the Pharisees found clever ways to evade their obligations when inconvenience got in the way. They forgot that God hears every word we utter (especially our oaths and promises) and he sees the intentions of our heart even before we speak or act.
God’s ways and thoughts are different from ours
The scribes and Pharisees preferred their idea of religion to God’s idea. They failed to lead others to God because they listened to their own ideas of what is true religion and they failed to understand the true meaning and intention of God’s word. Through their own pride and prejudice they blindlyshut the door of their own hearts and minds to the truth of God’s kingdom.
The prophets of the Old Testament had repeatedly warned God’s people to seek the Lord and to put aside their own thoughts and ideas of religion in order to hear and understand God’s mind and intentions for his people. The prophet Isaiah wrote,
“Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts…For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:6-9).
Seek God’s kingdom first
How can we shut the door of God’s kingdom in our own personal lives? We close it through stubborn pride, disobedience, and ignorance. Do you submit your mind to God’s word or do you cling to your own thoughts and ideas of what is right, true, and good for you? Do you allow the world’s way of thinking to form the way you think, act, and speak – or do you allow God’s word of truth to form the way you think, act, and speak? Do you ignore God’s word through indifference or lack of reflection on his word?
The Lord Jesus wants to speak to us each and every day – to help us grow in our knowledge and understanding of his love and truth. The Lord is knocking at the door of your heart – are you receptive and ready to listen to his voice as he speaks through his life-giving Word? God’s kingdom is always present to those who seek him with a humble mind and a willing heart. The Lord invites us to pray daily, “May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Lord Jesus, your word is life for me. May I never shut the door to your heavenly kingdom through my stubborn pride or disbelief. Help me to listen to your voice attentively and to conform my life more fully to your word.
1 Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful!
2 Let Israel be glad in his Maker, let the sons of Zion rejoice in their King!
3 Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with timbrel and lyre!
4 For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.
5 Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches.
6 Let the high praises of God be in their throats
9b This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the LORD!
Daily Quote from the Early Church Fathers: Shutting the Kingdom of Heaven, by Origen of Alexandria (185-254 AD)
“There are those who dare to say that God is not good because of the curses in his law that he places against their sin. And yet the one who is truly the Son of God who gave that same law is also the same one who put blessings into the law. The same God who provides blessings for those who are saved in a similar way applies curses which he placed in the law against sinners. ‘Woe,’ he says. Woe to you and to those hearing these things who plead the God of the law and yet do not understand that these words were spoken by God in a kindly way. So we understand why Jesus said, ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees.’ They believe that it is in fact a good thing to pronounce these curses against sinners. They consider the arrangement of the law’s curses to be a part of God’s design. The chiding father frequently urges his advice on his son for his improvement – advice that may seem to be a curse. He does not wish the curses to be actualized, however, but rather he desires to avert him from even more such curses.”(excerpt from COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 13)