Matthew 24:13 “But 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.
When Jesus says “woe to you” it should get our attention. In Matthew 11:21 he said “woe” to Tyre, Chorazin, and Bethsaida and none of those three cities exist today. It’s a powerful statement! So why was Jesus saying “woe” to the Pharisees? Because they were shutting up the kingdom of heaven toward people!
The reason this grieved and angered Jesus so greatly is because His will has always been for His people to experience heaven on earth! When He taught the Lord’s prayer He said to pray, “on earth as it is in heaven.” Isaiah 64 records how God would tear the heavens open and come down in the person of Jesus!
God opened heaven and the resources of heaven to humanity through His gift of Jesus, however the legalism of the Pharisees was shutting the door to His Kingdom. The Pharisees taught a doctrine that focused on performance and making a great appearance, but missed the heart of the Father. This doctrine was so deadly, in Matthew 24:15 (NLT) Jesus said, “For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!”
Anything that turns someone into twice the child of hell as an unbeliever should get our attention! As I read through these verses years ago, the Lord took me on a journey to study the Pharisees. He wanted me to understood what motivated them to be so performance oriented. As I studied, I found that the underlying motive of their performance mentality was being rooted in fear.
The reason the Pharisees had a fearful view of God was because of the law. Under the law, blessings were conditional. When Israel obeyed they were blessed and when they disobeyed they were cursed (read Deuteronomy 28 for more details). Israel’s history was 2,000 years of obeying God and being blessed only to turn away from God and being cursed and overrun by enemies such as the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Greeks.
The Pharisees emerged in the 2nd century B.C. after leading a revolt to defeat Greek forces. They taught and emphasized keeping all of the law of Moses (613 commands) in order to maintain right standing with God. They also introduced the Mishnah which was an oral tradition of commentary on the Mosaic Law that added man-made rules that “built a fence” around the Mosaic Law so people wouldn’t even come close to breaking God’s commandments.
Think about this for a minute! They were so afraid of judgment and punishment they added extra rules to what God had given. This motive of fear killed all of the joy the Jewish people had in their relationship with God and the extra rules intended to bring good became such a burden that it caused people to give up hope in being able to please God.
The depression and oppression experienced by the Jewish people during the reign of the Pharisees stands in stark contrast to Romans 14:17 which says God’s kingdom is righteousness, peace, and joy. This is what trying to please God by performance does to people and when we fall into that trap it shuts up the kingdom of heaven.
According to Romans 3:19 God gave the law to make us all guilty. Galatians 3:24 says it was our instructor to bring us to Christ. God didn’t give the law so we could keep it; he gave the law so we would look for help in the form of a savior.
In His foresight, God knew we could never keep His laws so he rigged the system to make sure we win. He used the law to point us to a savior that kept the law perfectly! He’s a perfect Father who wants to have a relationship with His kids and sacrificed Jesus so He could have that relationship with us.
Unfortunately, many of us fall into pattern of the Pharisees and make our decisions based out of fear instead of the unconditional love of the Father. Just like the Pharisees, we use fear instead of the love of the Father to bring significance, security, and control to our loves.
We must learn to break the modern Pharisee spirit and quit tying our performance to God’s favor. Legalism shuts up the resources of heaven against us because it causes us to disqualify ourselves from God’s provision. God always wants to give us wisdom, blessing, favor, and answered prayers, but we don’t receive because we think we aren’t worthy.
Grace opens the Kingdom of Heaven! Let’s stop looking to ourselves and start looking to Jesus who is the author and finisher of our faith! He’s before all, in all, and through all. Let’s quit judging ourselves and judge Him as righteous and receive the fullness of heaven in our lives! If you would like to learn more about how we now live under an open heaven, check out this message.