Scripture: 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.
When God knocks on your door are you ready to let him in (Revelations 3:20)? God offers each of us an open door to his kingdom, but we can shut ourselves out if we reject his offer. What is the door to heaven? When Jacob fled from his brother Essau, who wanted to kill him for stealing his birthright (Genesis 27:41), he 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. 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 posterity.
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 proclaimed to his disciples that he would fulfill the 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 and concern as well as grief and extreme sadness.
Why did Jesus lament and issue such a stern rebuke?
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. Jesus gave a series of examples to show how misguided they were. In their zeal to win converts, they required unnecessary and burdensome rules which obscured the more important matters of religion, such as love of God and love of neighbor.
They were leading people to Pharisaism rather than to God. Jesus also chastised them for their evasion of binding oaths and solemn promises. Oaths made to God were considered binding, but the Pharisees found clever ways to evade the obligation of their oaths when convenience got in the way.
They forgot that God hears every word we utter and he sees the intention of the heart even before we speak or act. The scribes and Pharisees preferred their idea of religion to God's idea.
They failed as religious leaders to teach others the way of God's kingdom because they failed to listen and to understand the intention of God's word. Through their own pride and prejudice they blindly shut the door of their own hearts and minds to God's understanding of his kingdom.
How can we shut the door of God's kingdom in our lives? By closing our ears to Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelations 17:14; 19:16), who speaks words of life and love, truth and freedom, hope and pardon. The Lord Jesus wants to dwell with us and to bring us his kingdom.
He opens the way for each of us to "ascend to heaven" and to bring "heaven to earth" in the daily circumstances of our lives. God's kingdom is present in all who seek him and who do his will.
Do you pray as Jesus taught, "May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10)?