Monday, March 17, 2008

Hindrances to the Kingdom

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. (Matthew 23:13)
The scribes and Pharisees had given up on trying to entangle Jesus in their controversies and discredit Him in the eyes of the people. Jesus, however, was not yet finished with them, and He now gave His assessment of them before the people. He had long been aware of what they were about, what motivated them and how they operated. He even hinted at it when He preached The Sermon of Heaven on Earth. What He had veiled then, He now made explicit in His public denunciation of them.

He recognized that they sat in “Moses’ seat,” that is, they had spiritual authority in the synagogue system. “Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do,” He said, but then added, “But do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do” (Matthew 23:3). Then he began to enumerate:
For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, “Rabbi, Rabbi.” (Matthew 23:4-7)
The scribes and Pharisees loved to do their works to be seen and praised of men. They put on a good show, making a theatre of their “devotion” to wow the crowds. They were all about themselves, not the kingdom of heaven. Jesus had no kind words for them, but labeled them for what they were: play-acting, mask-wearing hypocrites. Then He pronounced a series of “woes” on them (Matthew 23:13-32):
  • Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
  • Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.
  • Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
  • Woe to you, blind guides, who say, “Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.” Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, “Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.” Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.
  • Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
  • Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
  • Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
  • Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.” Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt.
Jesus was not condemning all scribes and Pharisees. As we saw in an earlier account, there was at least one to whom Jesus said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And there were probably others like that as well. What Jesus was denouncing, however, was the attitude that was prevalent among them, a self-righteousness and self-aggrandizement that corrupted everything they did. This attitude not only kept them from receiving the kingdom of Heaven on Earth, but also hindered others from entering it. Apart from the kingdom, all that was left for them was judgment.
Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:33-37)
This did indeed come to pass within a generation, when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in AD 70.

Do not let self-righteousness and hypocrisy, neither yours nor that of anybody else, keep you from entering the kingdom of Heaven on Earth.



The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

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Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.