Friday, January 20, 2023

The Vision (1.22.23): Shutting up the Kingdom of Heaven


Image: Early morning view of the moon, North Garden, Virginia, January 2023.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on Matthew 23:13-22 (audio not yet available).

But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in (Matthew 23:13).

In Matthew 23 Christ shows himself to be our great Prophet, Priest, and King. As Prophet he declares God’s Word. Eight times he pronounces a prophet woe on the failed religious leaders, beginning in v. 13 (cf. vv. 14, 15, 16, 23, 25, 27, 29).

In the first woe he speaks about the kingdom of heaven. This is the rule or the reign of God that began with the first coming of Christ and will be fulfilled at his second coming.

It was at the heart of Christ’s early preaching, as he declared, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

In the Sermon on the Mount, he exhorted his disciples, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

Experiencing the kingdom of God in the here and now is having the rule and reign of Christ invade your life, your present existence, and transform it for the glory of God and for your good and the good of others.

This is what Christ spoke about when he said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

In the first woe of Matthew 23, Christ says that one of the chief sins of the spiritual hypocrites is that they shut up the kingdom of heaven (v. 13b). They do so in two ways:

First, they shut themselves out of the kingdom: “for ye neither go in yourselves.”

Second, they shut out others from entering the kingdom: “neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”

Imagine a hospital where those with sickness can be cured, and there is sick man who not only refuses to go into the hospital and be cured, but he tries to dissuade others who are sick from entering. He even shuts the doors and throws his body across the entrance to keep them out.

How does the hypocrite do this? He does so by saying that he is a believer, by saying he is a disciple, but by then failing to believe and live and act as a disciple. Christ says, “for they say, and do not” (Matthew 23:3).

How do we respond to this teaching? We are meant to examine our own hearts and to ask: How am I like the scribes and Pharisees? What warning is Christ giving to me?

Have I shut myself off from the kingdom and have I shut others off from the kingdom through my spiritual hypocrisy?

Let us soberly look at ourselves, repent of our failings, and turn to Christ who always stands ready to forgive and redirect sinners.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

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