“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. - Matthew 23: 13 (NKJV) We started a series yesterday examining the portion of the Gospel where Jesus provides us with seven warnings regarding the scribes and Pharisees. The position held by these groups in the days of Jesus is similar to the position the church holds today. Specifically, the apostate church who uses their religiosity for personal gain while leading people genuinely seeking God astray. Yesterday we looked at the introductory remarks from Jesus regarding what we need to be wary of today. The sad reality is that due to our propensity to pastor worship and church worship, many Christians sit under leadership that is not advancing the kingdom of God. Also due to an increase in Biblical illiteracy, we simply do not know what to look for to protect ourselves and our walk. The Bible says we are to test everything and hold onto the good. We barely test anything anymore. The Bible says to do as the Bereans did but too many never heard of the Bereans never mind what they did differently than everyone else. These are the end times we are living in and Jesus is coming back soon. That also means that wickedness is increasing and there is more and more falseness in the church that we need to expose and stay clear of. Let us return now to the text. The first woe regarding the church is to beware churches that shut the kingdom of heaven against men. Well preacher, what does that mean? In the days of Jesus you had these sects controlling all of the religion of their day and they made a financial profit from doing so. They also consolidated power through these systems as well. They had the writings of the law and prophets yet they tossed them aside and did not bother with vetting the Messianic claims being made by Jesus. Instead they viewed Him only as a threat to the kingdom they were building here on earth. A kingdom where they enjoyed some luxuries and privileges. Realize however that Jesus was their Messiah! Not only that but despite what dual covenant theologians believe, the Jewish people also must come through Him to get to heaven: Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. - John 14: 6 (NKJV) The scribes and Pharisees however made sure that people did not come to Jesus. Unfortunately today the apostate church does the exact same thing. The first thing we must realize is that there is no church that has a sign on its lawn warning us that it is indeed apostate. I do not believe that many of the wolf-pastors even realize they are slaughtering the sheep. Our sinful state can always convince ourselves that our evil is somehow righteous. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! - Matthew 6: 23 (NKJV) Beloved, there are plenty of people who are convinced that their darkness is actually light. Try having a Biblical conversation with a Jehovah's Witness! The sad thing though is that even within more "mainstream" churches, we see the same phenomena. The seeker-friendly, purpose driven movement has created pastors that operate their churches based on the wisdom of man instead of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Do they shut heaven against men? Absolutely! They won't even preach about heaven because they are afraid of preaching hell. They avoid preaching hell because they do not want to confront sinful man with his need to repent. That is now deemed as not being friendly to the "seeker." I listened to a sermon today from a mega church pastor. A typical "young gun" raised on Warren instead of Spurgeon. The sermon was filled with the wisdom of man. Filled with personal stories and anecdotes. I know more about this man's family now then I do about the key verses he pretended to use. And his stories were funny. They were personally endearing. They even touched my heart from time to time. But they did not lead to the cross. They did not lead to heaven. They did not have the words of eternal life. What it amounted to was a self-help and motivational message about embracing the seasons of your life that could have been given by Tony Robbins, with verses that were not exposited and some occasional references to God. This became even clearer when it came time for the ending and the "altar call" time. What proceeded was an excruciating exercise in avoiding one word - sin. It was so obvious to me as a Christian that it was painful to listen to. He teased his congregation with some Gospel elements. He spoke about how Jesus died on a cross between two thieves. He spoke about how He was resurrected on the third day. He just could not bring himself to open heaven and say WHY. Why did Jesus have to die on the cross? Why was He resurrected on the third day? Nope - can't say the word sin. So instead we heard this focus group tested blather about asking Jesus to "lead your life" so you can overcome the really difficult seasons you face. There was not even the traditional altar call with raised hands and empty prayers. Instead he instructed everyone to take a moment of silence to fill out their "Connection Cards" and write where they are at now in life. You cannot make this stuff up. It is what they are taught. The sad reality however is that in their efforts to not offend they are simply being cruel beyond belief. That we would hold the keys to heaven in our hands and then hide our hands from unbelievers. Lie to them about their best life now or taking seven steps to be a better sinner. If you spent Sunday at this church you may even leave feeling better and have concrete plans on how to deal with the difficult seasons more effectively but what's the real problem? Oh that's right - you are still going to hell. It is not just the majority of the new age churches. It is all of the false gospels. The prosperity gospel shuts heavens doors by asking us to focus instead on material and earthly blessings which will rust with time and fade away. I remember once watching an Osteen message where not only was the Gospel never presented but the name of Jesus was never uttered. Yet at the end there he was, asking people to invite Jesus into their hearts! Salvation is not a business plan we execute. To the prosperity preachers of the world, sins are merely "poor choices." To the cheap grace preachers we never have to bother ourselves with any element of the law. We do not have to ever deal with our own sin and repent for forgiveness. The problem is that amidst the hoopla and frenzy over how much God wants to be your friend, we fail to make Him our Lord. It is only through His position of Lordship in our lives that we truly turn to Him. Singing friend of God does not make us a friend of God. Saying Lord Lord will not get us into heaven. God never asked for purpose driven sheep. He wants repentant sheep. He wants obedience more than sacrifice. Beloved the first woe could not be clearer. The business of God is not about money. It is not about personal fulfillment. It is not about being motivated. It is not about helping myself. Pastor - it is not about how great your kids are. It is about the kingdom of heaven and the finality of hell. Thus it is about our state as sinful creatures before a holy God. As such it is about our need for a Savior because we can do nothing under our own power to reconcile ourselves back to God. Thus it must always be about Jesus. Not as a buddy but as the rock of our salvation. Not as someone who can "lead our life" but rather someone who can save our life. Not as someone we can "invite into our hearts" but rather someone who can open up the kingdom of heaven for us. This is the Gospel. This is what we are supposed to hear when we walk into the house of God. Woe to the man who does the opposite. Woe to the man who actually shuts the kingdom of heaven against the men that God wants it open for. Rev. Anthony.