Matthew 23:13 (NIV) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”
The Pharisees and teachers of the law were not entering God’s kingdom for one reason: they were determined to enter on the basis of their own righteousness, and were rejecting the only legitimate gate into the kingdom – Jesus.
But their spiritual shortcomings extended far beyond this. They were slamming the door of the kingdom in the face of multitudes of legitimate seekers. They had written off to their faces many of the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus had come to seek and to save. In their denunciations, they had convinced many of these that they were too bad to ever be saved; too wicked for God to visit anything on them besides His judgment and wrath.
In doing this, they were operating in direct opposition to God’s agenda and purpose. And with every person they discouraged and waved off the path as unworthy, they brought deeper judgment on themselves. Not only that, but they were actively trying to persuade people that Jesus, the one true way, was a charlatan and a fake, turning them even further from the path.
Jesus’ denunciations of these men may seem harsh to some. But He was simply delivering God’s message directly to them. They had strayed from God’s ways, and were now actively working in opposition to Him. Jesus’ words had a twofold purpose. To those who still had enough spiritual life and love for God to be able to respond, His words were a wake-up call – a call to repent and get back on the path. But for those whose necks were stiff and whose wills were set on the path of ruin that they were following, God’s words were a sentence of doom that would soon overtake them.
Father, we are so reluctant to speak Your strong words to people. But for those locked hard into sin’s irons, those harsh-sounding words may be the only thing that can break through and penetrate their souls, moving them to repent. Help me to never be cruel or harsh with those whose hearts are soft. But help me never to turn from speaking, even the hard truths, to those who need to hear them, so that they can be led to repent, and be saved. Amen.