There is no question about Jesus’ attitude toward the scribes and the Pharisees in this verse. It seems pretty straightforward. What if it isn’t? What if Jesus was instead using their language in a way so as to make a point?
The Pharisees, with their belief in the afterlife, would certainly not want to be headed for Hell. They intended to go to Heaven. Jesus told them that while they think they are the bouncers for God, they’re not getting in either. There was probably some dismay there.
Jesus piled on with the various traditions (versus Biblical law) that the Pharisees and the scribes held everyone accountable for. Frankly, it was unbearable. That was Jesus’ point. They held onto traditions that made their lives Hell on earth. Jesus made it clear that it also prevented them from Heaven.
Jesus knew their hearts were stubborn. His greater concern was not them, but all those they dragged along with them. The concern for people who were now burdened with more than their hearts could bear. What if they decided they would rather be Hell-bound than bound with all the rules and traditions that made the life they were living hellish?
Sounds extreme, but this was exactly Peter’s point to the elders of the Jerusalem church. They and their ancestors could not withstand the misery. The people that were being drawn to the freedom and grace of Jesus Christ were being threatened with rules and traditions! Most of them the same that they (of Jewish descent) wanted to be freed from, and who believed that Jesus had done so!
Paul often had to deal with the Judaizers who kept trying to bring Jewish customs into the Christian community and imposing them on Gentiles. It made Paul quite angry at times.
You may have run across Christians who try to follow some of the Jewish law (particularly the dietary ones). They were free of the Law before they were born yet seek to be bound by laws that were not theirs to bear.
This is also something we need to be careful of ourselves. One of the big lessons of many missionaries was trying to impose Western thinking on non-Westerners. Western thinking got tied into the message of Jesus Christ, often putting burdens (things we would think of as burdens) on people that the Scriptures did not call them to bear.
The church in the Western world is fading. Ultimately, it must rediscover what it means to evangelize and be missional. Of course, the biggest group to which we must be missional are the people we are already comfortable with. We do not look at them with missionary eyes. We are too close. Even more than the Jews had to cast of their traditions, we may have to cast off much of what “makes” us Westerners so that we can be the messengers of salvation to our neighbors.
1) What might be your cultural blind spots that weaken your ability to evangelize?
2) How does our Western culture act in ways similar to the Jewish laws of old?
Lord, soften our hearts and open our minds. May we feel your love for others and learn to set aside ourselves for the sake of others’ salvation. Amen.