Matthew 23:13-14: 13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.  15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
Why did Jesus come down so strong against the Pharisees? These verses give us the answer. They were working hard to make converts for hell. They did this in two ways. First, they looked down on others who weren’t as “righteous” as they were. Imagine being a tax collector or prostitute. They would have nothing to do with them. They criticized Jesus for making friends of them. If you thought that the Pharisees represented the best of the Jewish faith, would you want anything to do with it?
Second, the Pharisees were unbelievers who believed only in themselves and in their own righteousness to be saved. So when they converted people to their way of thinking, they really weren’t saving them at all. Just the opposite, they made them children of hell as well. No wonder Jesus had such strong words for them.
I heard a sermon by a pastor in New York who was counseling with a young woman who was deep into drugs and as a result had become a prostitute as well. He counseled her to join a church so that she would have a community of people around her to support her. “Why would I ever want to do that?” she said. “I feel bad enough the way it is.” She saw the church only as a place where she would be condemned.
When I heard that story, I had to ask myself, “Is that how people like the tax collectors and prostitutes would see me and my church?” Do we give off vibes that say, “Only the righteous are welcome here?” I pray that it is not so. I pray that I believe that I am just one sinner reaching out to other sinners to know the hope that I have in Jesus.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I pray that I will never get in the way of the gospel by making people think that your Church is only a place for the righteous! Give me a heart for the lost, a heart like you have, which was not afraid to become friends with tax collectors and sinners. I ask this in your name. Amen.