SHUTTING THE DOOR
“Alas for you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you shut the door to the Kingdom of Heaven in the face of men! You yourselves are not going into it; nor do you allow those who are trying to get into it to enter it.”
Matt. 23:13-26 form the most terrible and the most sustained denunciation in the New Testament. Here we hear what A. T. Robertson called “the rolling thunder of Christ’s wrath.” As Plummer has written, these woes are “like thunder in their unanswerable severity, and like lightning in their unsparing exposure.. . . They illuminate while they strike.”
Here Jesus directs a series of seven woes against the Scribes and Pharisees. The Revised Standard Version begins every one of them: “Woe to you!” The Greek word for woe is ouai (GSN3759); it is hard to translate for it includes not only wrath, but also sorrow. There is righteous anger here, but it is the anger of the heart of love, broken by the stubborn blindness of men. There is not only an air of savage denunciation; there is also an atmosphere of poignant tragedy.
The word hypocrite occurs here again and again. Originally the Greek word hupokrites (GSN5273) meant one who answers; it then came to be specially connected with the statement and answer, the dialogue, of the stage; and it is the regular Greek word for an actor. It then came to mean an actor in the worse sense of the term, a pretender, one who acts a part, one who wears a mask to cover his true feelings, one who puts on an external show while inwardly his thoughts and feelings are very different.
To Jesus the Scribes and Pharisees were men who were acting a part. What he meant was this. Their whole idea of religion consisted in outward observances, the wearing of elaborate phylacteries and tassels, the meticulous observance of the rules and regulations of the Law. But in their hearts there was bitterness and envy and pride and arrogance. To Jesus these Scribes and Pharisees were men who, under a mask of elaborate godliness, concealed hearts in which the most godless feelings and emotions held sway. And that accusation holds good in greater or lesser degree of any man who lives life on the assumption that religion consists in external observances and external acts.
There is an unwritten saying of Jesus which says, “The key of the Kingdom they hid.” His condemnation of these Scribes and Pharisees is that they are not only failing to enter the Kingdom themselves, they shut the door on the faces of those who seek to enter. What did he mean by this accusation?
We have already seen (Matt. 6:10) that the best way to think of the Kingdom is to think of it as a society on earth where God’s will is as perfectly done as it is in heaven. To be a citizen of the Kingdom, and to do God’s will, are one and the same thing. The Pharisees believed that to do God’s will was to observe their thousands of petty rules and regulations; and nothing could be further from that Kingdom whose basic idea is love. When people tried to find entry into the Kingdom the Pharisees presented them with these rules and regulations, which was as good as shutting the door in their faces.
The Pharisees preferred their ideas of religion to God’s idea of religion. They had forgotten the basic truth that, if a man would teach others, he must himself first listen to God. The gravest danger which any teacher or preacher encounters is that he should erect his own prejudices into universal principles and substitute his own ideas for the truth of God. When he does that he is not a guide, but a barrier, to the Kingdom, for, misled himself, he misleads others.
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