Jesus had a lot to say about spiritual blindness. He didn’t like it. Some of his harshest words were reserved for those who should know better, those persons for whom the light of God’s truth ought to be clear and present. Yet they are in darkness. Having spiritual blindness is terrible to Jesus because it not only keeps the blind person in the dark, but slams the door of God’s kingdom in other people’s faces.
Many of the Pharisees of the New Testament, most of the heretics in the early church, and some of the spiritual phonies of today are actually not charlatans, that is, they are not deliberately trying to deceive or lead others astray; they are not trying to keep people out of God’s kingdom – they think they are doing the right thing when they are actually doing the wrong thing. One of the eye-opening realities I learned when I first started studying church history is that the early heresies that were condemned at the church councils were doctrines promoted and put forth by men who were not evil bad people – they were just sincerely misguided. They thought they were helping the church better understand the nature of God and Christ when in fact they were teaching really bad doctrine. They were unintentionally slamming the door of God’s kingdom in the faces of ordinary people. And later when I worked on my master’s thesis in 19th century American Religious History, I read hundreds of sermons from southern preachers before the American Civil War. I learned that they had a biblical defense of the institution of black chattel slavery. Many of them were pastors of large churches and led many people to Christ, that is, white people. They were super-slamming the door of God’s kingdom right in faces of African-Americans, and teaching others to do the same.
We can unwittingly super-slam the door of God’s kingdom in the faces of people when we say God’s grace is for all, and turn around and avoid certain people; when we have explicit written statements or rules that exclude people from service; and, when we bind people to human traditions and practices instead of Holy Scripture. The seven deadly words of the Church that slam the door of God’s kingdom in people’s faces is: “we’ve never done it that way before.” Never mind that there are people trying to enter the kingdom of God – that is against our tradition! However well-meaning and sincere that might be, it is sincerely wrong because it leaves people who need to be saved by God’s grace on the outside and unsaved. And that kind of practice will bring the condemnation of Jesus every time.
Jesus gave us some telltale signs of spiritual blindness, which he calls “hypocrisy” (Matthew 23): hypocrites don’t practice what they preach; they keep other people out of God’s kingdom with their burdensome legalism; they focus on externals and ignore the inner sanctum of the heart; and, they major on the minors.
But condemnation and warning is never the last word. The last word to everything is God’s grace. At the end of his tirade of pronouncing woes on the Pharisees and those like them, Jesus did something that we would do well to follow: he broke into a tear-filled, heart-rending love song for his wayward people. Christ was not just concerned to blast the bad guys; he has a deep pastoral sensitivity to people, all people, so that they will come back to the true worship of God. May it be so, Lord Jesus.