One of the best books in my entire library is A. T. Robertson’s Harmony of the Gospels (aff link). It was my constant guide through the Life of Christ class I took in college and I’ve gone back to it more than almost any other in the study of Christ’s life. It isn’t a detailed commentary – just a chronological arrangement of the gospels.
Robertson called studying the last few days of Jesus’ life being “in the shadow with Jesus.” And next to the passage from Matthew 23 when Jesus is engaged in a final showdown with the religious establishment of the day, I wrote down a single sentence uttered by my professor, Dr. Jesse Thomas…
The Jewish leaders were guilty of slamming shut the door of the kingdom…
I’ve thought of that phrase repeatedly for over a decade now. What a terrifying thought. Jesus’ most heated words of condemnation were reserved for those guilty of preventing others from approaching Him.
Jesus was revolutionary! Further, He’s still calling for an utter revolt inside every one of us. He’s challenging us to let go of everything onto which we are holding to salve our consciences and establish our own righteousness. For some of us this means a complete renovation in our thinking toward self, God, and others – a release of all we think we know for sure and an embrace of an entirely new, self-abandoning way of thinking.
Jesus preached a lot of great sermons in his life, but his final public message was actually a confrontation of the legalism and self-righteousness so firmly entrenched in Jewish life at the time. The scary thing is, it’s now firmly entrenched in the culture of Christianity, not because of any ecclesiastical leadership but simply as the result of our unwillingness to completely turn from and repudiate our old selfish, sinful nature.
Jesus issued seven “woe’s” to the religious leaders. In modern language He was saying, “Blind leaders! How terrible it will be fore you in the day of your judgment!” Out of this passage and these woes, I’ve faced a list of questions to ask myself in hopes of continuing a Jesus-inspired revolution within. Maybe these questions will help you as well…
- Is there anything about my life that is actually keeping people away from knowing Jesus?
- Am I outwardly religious out of a sense of pretense? Is it enough for me that people think I’m spiritual?
- Am I actually making UNdisciples? That is, am I influencing others toward a legalistic faith in my attempt to lead them to genuine faith?
- Are my rules more intricate than God’s rules? Have I tacked on preferences, traditions, and pet peeves to the Scriptures as tests of judgment toward others?
- Am I satisfied with appearing to be clean?
- Am I trying to “look alive” to everyone else while I’m really dying on the inside from a lack of intimacy with God?
- Do I persecute God-sent prophets, handing out criticisms instead of turning a listening ear?
Tough questions. Jesus talked tough. He called the leaders “vipers” that day and taunted them to go ahead and finish the job of killing off God’s prophets (referring to Himself and the apostles). When a revolution is needed, motivational encouragement seems so thin. I need to ask the harsh questions, and you do too.
photo credit: Desmond Kavanagh