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Eternity 137 - Blockages In The Kingdom

(Matthew 23:13 NKJV) "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.

The woes in Matthew 23 are the direct and diametric opposites of the "blesseds" in the Sermon On The Mount. The first blessed is "blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God" while the first woe is "woe to those who spiritually deprive others of the Kingdom of God". The second blessed is about mourning and comfort, while the second woe is about devouring widow's houses. And so on in parallel, instead of the pure in heart we have woe to those who clean the dish instead. Instead of blessed are the merciful we find woe to those who tithe dill and mint and cummin but have forgotten mercy. The last beatitude is about those who are persecuted and the last woe is about those who engage in persecution and build the tombs of the prophets.

The people these woes are directed against are the blockages to true spirituality. Those who substitute outwardness for inwardness, and who prefer the performance of small duties to the exercise of love and mercy and the apprehension of deeper truths. These are those who starve the sheep, who leave dead churches in their wake and forbid any movement of God that smacks of spiritual reality.

These are those who have to be in control, and who delight in denying things to people. The poet Goethe once described the Devil as "him who always denies". These deny people the Kingdom, they shut people out from God and angrily scowl at those who have found true joy in Christ. They are terrified of true spiritual power being unleashed in the pews of their church.

There is something shocking about true intimacy with God that makes "control freaks" afraid. In reaction to the Holy Spirit they run, and they also forbid others from going anywhere near that "dangerous thing" - a deep personal, emotional, real relationship with God.

"Control freaks" as they are popularly known, are afraid of meeting a God who can control them. An unpredictable God, a God who can love lepers and be embraced by prostitutes. A God big enough to go beyond all social conventions.

Such people are blockages in the Kingdom. They often rise to power in ecclesiastical structures and create structures that are elaborate defenses against spiritual change - including revival and renewal. They leave whole denominations in spiritual desolation so that God has to work around them, and raises up new leaders and alternative movements. The control freaks clog the channels of grace for a little while until they are either removed or flowed around.

But "woe to them". They are undone! They are judged. They will be charged with the blood of all the prophets and the righteous martyrs (Matt 23:35). They are not just unblessed, they are desolated, and so destined for perdition that it is their natural realm. In fact they are called "sons of Hell" (Matt 23:15) just as much as true Christians are called sons of God (Matthew 5;9). These people are very religious but utterly doomed.

This puts a tremendous responsibility on those of us in positions of spiritual authority to be people who are not blockages, but channels of grace, vessels of mercy. people who have the savor of life about them. We are to be servant leaders not dominators of the flock. Hence the exhortations earlier in the chapter about titles and prominence and being called "Rabbi". If we are humble abut our use of power we will not end up like the scribes and Pharisees!

Early in my ministry I remember meeting certain denominational officials who wore grey flannel suits and strutted in their prominence and power over pastors under appointment. They were the evangelical equivalent of the Politburo. They seemed to want us to cringe before them and to fear the "black mark" they could give us that would ruin our careers forever. I went overseas as a missionary and in time the denomination changed and the old guard moved on. But they were terrifying men and they knew it. Such powerfulness is not from the Holy Spirit.

How then can we avoid falling into the love of control? First trust God with His Church. Its His to order and ours to serve. Secondly be open and humble in any use of power. Thirdly remember our job is not to "prevent trouble" but to preach good news. And finally simple empathy and love for those in our charge. We must be reluctant to bruise and eager to bless. Able to restore people gently with an eye t our own weakness.