Matthew 23:13-22 (ESV)
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
“You shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves or allow those who would enter to go in” (Matthew 23:13-14)
Jesus accused these Pharisees of shutting the door of heaven in people’s faces. That’s a startling allegation. But how did they do it? Some burdened people with stringent rules. Some missed the heart of love embedded in the Law of Moses. Others tried to steer people away from Jesus by their teaching.
But let’s try to look at this from the other way around. After all, if you can close and lock a door, it stands to reason that you can also unlatch one and throw it wide! That’s the awesome truth tucked away in today’s Gospel. We can actually open the door of heaven for other people!
According to the Scriptures, this door is a person: Jesus! He is the “gate” and the “way” (John 10:9; 14:6). He is the ladder to heaven (1:51). But how can we, small humans that we are, open such a special door? By opening ourselves up! That way, people can come to see Jesus, who lives in us, and find their own way to a relationship with him.
Just as there are several ways to close a door, there’s more than one way to open it. We can open it through acts of kindness and love. We can try to encourage someone. A forgiving, compassionate heart can do it. Or we can look for opportunities to share about the difference that Jesus has made in our lives.
Jesus said that these Pharisees went to great lengths – even traversing sea and land – to find other people and train them in their ways (Matthew 23:15). While he frowned on the end result, the way they went the extra mile to win people over was remarkable. It worked! Similarly, if we want to usher people through heaven’s door, we too will have to go out of our way to build relationships with them. Friendly phone conversations, casual lunches, and the like can provide new opportunities to open up. Of course, we can’t pursue everyone. But we can pursue a few. You could even start with a list of three names. With some prayer, some planning, and some reaching out, you may even get the privilege of holding heaven’s door open as a friend walks through!