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Sermon on Lord's Day Lordís Day 31 Q&A 83-84 of the Heidelberg Catechism by Rev C Bouwman held on Sunday afternoon, 30 March 2003.
Text:
Lordís Day 31 Q&A 83-84

83. Q. What are the keys of the kingdom of heaven?
A. The preaching of the holy gospel and church discipline. By these two the kingdom of heaven is opened to believers and closed to unbelievers.[1]
[1] Matt. 16:19; John 20:21-23.

84. Q. How is the kingdom of heaven opened and closed by the preaching of the gospel?
A. According to the command of Christ, the kingdom of heaven is opened when it is proclaimed and publicly testified to each and every believer that God has really forgiven all their sins for the sake of Christ's merits, as often as they by true faith accept the promise of the gospel. The kingdom of heaven is closed when it is proclaimed and testified to all unbelievers and hypocrites that the wrath of God and eternal condemnation rest on them as long as they do not repent. According to this testimony of the gospel, God will judge both in this life and in the life to come.[1]
[1] Matt. 16:19; John 3:31-36; 20:21-23.

Scripture Reading:
Isaiah 22:15-23
Matthew 16:13-20

Singing:  (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise" Anglo Genevan Psalter) 
Psalm 45:1,6
Psalm 86:3
Hymn 11:2
Psalm 96:2,8
Psalm 22:10,11

Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!

How important to your salvation is the preaching? Will your children in 20 or 40 yearsí time need the preaching?

The question is important. The number of students at the College in Hamilton is about sufficient to replace the ministers of Canada and Australia who will retire in the next four years. The number of young men known to be preparing themselves to go to Hamilton is again about sufficient to replace the ministers who will retire when these young men are ready to enter the ministry. The point: there are not enough ministers for the congregations that are currently vacant. Thatís to say nothing of new congregations or mission work. This phenomenon is the same in the Dutch sister churches.

Does this represent a problem? Yes, brothers and sisters, this represents an acute problem. Why? Because, as the church confesses in Lordís Day 31, the preaching has a critical function in Godís plan of salvation. In fact, the preaching is the key that opens the kingdom of heaven to sinners. Without preachers people are not saved. Without preachers for the years ahead the kingdom will not be opened for your children and grandchildren! That is why we need to work today to ensure that there will be sufficient preachers for the time to come.

I summarize the sermon with this theme:

WITH HIS GIFT OF KEYS TO THE DISCIPLES, CHRIST STRESSES THE FUNDAMENTAL ROLE OF PREACHING.

  1. What keys are for.
  2. How the key works.

1. What keys are for.

Our Lordís Day speaks about "the keys of the kingdom of heaven." There is one place only in the Bible where we come across that phrase, and thatís in Mt 16, where Jesus says this: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (vs 19). To understand the Lordís phrase we need first to consider what He means by the term Ďthe kingdom of heavení.

The kingdom of heaven is that domain over which heaven reigns. Jesus Christ has ascended to the right hand of God, where all authority in heaven and earth was given to Him, and so He is today Lord of lords and King of kings. All the world, therefore, is His kingdom.

Yet from Scripture and experience we know that much of the world lives in rebellion against the King of kings, refuses to acknowledge Christ as king. That reality does not diminish Christís ability to exercise His will over the rebels, but it does point up that these rebels (thatís the unbelievers) do not enjoy, do not participate in, the benefits that belong to Christís kingdom. These rebels, these unbelievers are in Christís kingdom, but are not of Christís kingdom. The gifts that Christ has obtained for sinners on the cross Ėand these gifts include the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, and so on- are not distributed to the unbelievers; they are distributed only to the believers, those who acknowledge Christís kingship.

Now Jesus speaks about "the keys of the kingdom of heaven." What picture is this phrase to conjure up in our minds? Are we to think of a room with big doors Ėthatís the kingdom of heaven and its privileges- and to get through those doors we have to get hold of some keys? If yes, what are those keys?

As I said a moment ago, Jesus used the term "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" in the passage we read from Mt 16. But the notion of Ďkeysí in that passage is not new with Jesus; He picked it up from Godís revelation in the Old Testament. I refer specifically to Isaiah 22:22: "The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder; So he shall open, and no one shall shut; And he shall shut, and no one shall open." To understand Jesusí words about the keys of the kingdom of heaven, we need to come to grips with the Lordís word in Is 22.

"The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder," says the passage. On whose shoulder? Who would receive the key? According to vs 20, thatís "Eliakim the son of Hilkiah". This man God would clothe Ėvs 21- "with your robeÖ, I will commit your responsibility into his handÖ." Who is God speaking to here? Who gets told that "I will clothe him with your robeÖ, I will commit your responsibility to his hand"? Thatís vs 15: Isaiah had to go and speak to Shebna. This Shebna was "steward", was "over the house." God would replace this Shebna with a new steward, Eliakim.

What was a steward? The point of the term is this. Israelís king was meant not only to govern the people, but also administer justice (cf Ps 72:1). So the people were to have access to the king; think of the two women with their two boys (one dead) who came to Solomon for justice. But how does that work? Could the people just willy-nilly knock on the doors of the kingís throne room and expect the king instantly to have time for them? Understandably, the answer is No. The king appointed a Ďstewardí, a man who was Ďover the houseí, and this man was (among other tasks) to make the appointments for the king. Yet itís clear too that not every Israelite could come to the king with whatever complaint he might have; the king would be far too busy for them all. So the steward was also entrusted with the task of screening the requests and determining which was of sufficient importance to come to the king. If the steward agreed that your case was worth the kingís time, heíd make you an appointment, and on the appointed day you could front up to the kingís chamber and the guards would let you in Ė because the steward had said so. Conversely, if the steward felt that your case was frivolous, he would deny you a slot to see the king, and so when you approached the guards to enter the kingís presence they wouldnít open the door for you. You see: the steward would open access to the king and no one could shut; or the steward would deny access to the king, and no one could open it.

So itís clear: the steward had an enormous responsibility, and in fact had great power too. If a steward was a corrupt man, he would give appointments not according to the severity or rightness of your complaint but according to how much you were willing to pay himÖ. And that was the case with this Shebna. Heíd enriched himself through his office as steward, to the point that he prepared for himself a tomb fit for royalty. Hence Godís judgment, vs 17: "the Lord will throw you away violently, O mighty manÖ." And vs 20: "I will call My servant EliakimÖ; I will clothe him with your robeÖ; I will commit your responsibility into his handÖ. The key of the house of David Ėthatís access to the king!- I will lay on his shoulder." As Shebna used to do, so Eliakim would now do: "he shall open, and no one shall shut; And he shall shut, and no one shall open." That is: he shall give access to the king and that decision shall be final; alternatively, he shall deny access to the king, and that decision shall be final." Only thing is: unlike Shebna who used his position corruptly, Eliakim would use it rightly (vs 21b).

This material, congregation, forms the Old Testament background to Jesusí words in Mt 16. Jesus says in vs 19: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven." Those keys: as with Eliakim in Is 22, the point of keys is the question of access. With Eliakim the point was access to the king and therefore access to the kingís justice in your particular dispute. In Mt 16 the point is access to the Christ, the King of kings, and therefore access to His justice, ie, whether His atoning work on Calvary can be your righteousness before God, whether you can enjoy forgiveness of sins for Jesusí sake, whether you can be assured of peace with God. As Eliakimís decision to open access to the king meant that no one could shut, and Eliakimís decision to deny access to the king meant that no one could open it, so in Mt 16 the decision of the person with the keys is final; "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

This makes it clear, brothers and sisters: this concept of the keys of the kingdom is no insignificant thing! What the Lord has entrusted in Mt 16 is something of fundamental significance for all who wish to enjoy the privileges of the kingdom of heaven Ė including such blessings as forgiveness of sins and peace with God! Those keys: they are vitally important; whoever has those keys determines who has access to the kingdom, determines who may enjoy the privileges of the kingdom and who may not. Whatever he decides is ratified in heaven!

That raises a critical question: who has the keys? To whom did Jesus entrust these keys in Mt 16? At first reading it appears that the Lord Jesus gave these keys to Peter. Vs 18: "I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keysÖ." On the basis of that reading the Roman Catholic Church builds its doctrine that the Pope Ėsuccessor, it is said, to Peter- the Pope determines who can be savedÖ.

But is it really true, congregation, that Jesus addressed His words about the keys only to Peter? The answer is No, and there are a couple of reasons why I say that. The first is this: while itís true that the passage about the keys in vs19 is addressed first to Peter, the fact of the matter is that Jesus was speaking to all twelve. Vs 13: Jesus "asked His disciples, saying, ĎWho do men say that I Ö am?" After they had offered the opinion of the public, Jesus replied with this question, "But who do you say that I am?" The Ďyouí here is plural; Jesus wants the opinion of the twelve. Simon Peter voiced the opinion of the twelve, and told Jesus that in their opinion He was "the Christ, the Son of the living God" Ė and there follows the exchange about the keys of the kingdom. Then we read in vs 20 that Jesus "commanded His disciples" Ėso not just Peter- "that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ" Ė as they had just confessed through Peterís mouth. Point: Jesus was speaking to all twelve, though He was looking at Peter Ė the one who was first to voice the true confession of Jesusí identity.

That Jesus is speaking to all twelve here is pointed up by Jesusí words in Mt 18. For when the Lord speaks there about church discipline He says this: "Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" Ė literally just as Heíd said in Mt 16. But this time the pronoun Ďyouí is in plural form, and the point is that Jesus is distinctly speaking to all twelve and telling them all that their actions of binding and loosing Ėin other words, their using the keys- opens and shuts the kingdom of heaven. In the same way, Jesusí words in Mt 16 about Peter being the rock upon which the Lord builds His church is applied in Eph 2 to all the apostles (vs 20). So, to limit Jesusí words in Mt 16 to Peter alone, and insist that Peter alone (or a successor to Peter) controls the keys to the kingdom of heaven is simply wrong.

Let Jesusí reference be, then, to the twelve. To them Jesus gives the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and thatís to say that when they open the kingdom to you, the kingdom is open and when they close the kingdom to you the kingdom is closed.

But now a new problem arises. Is it really so that our access to the gifts of heaven is somehow determined by these twelve? How does that work? I can best answer that question by looking with you at the first key, the preaching of the gospel. That our second point this afternoon:

2. The working of the first key.

The benefits of the kingdom of heaven include such gifts as the forgiveness of sins and peace with God. The Bible is emphatic that one can receive forgiveness only by faith. It is what Jesus has said; "he who believes Ö will be saved, but he does not believe is condemned" (cf Lordís Day 7.20).

If faith is so necessary, where does this faith come from? Says the Scripture: "faith comes by hearing" (Rom 10:17), and that hearing happens through the preaching of the gospel (Rom 10:14; cf Lordís Day 25).

But now think it through, brothers and sisters. While Jesus was on earth, He preached much, taught the people many things. But what about His disciples? When did they begin to preach that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior sent by God to pay for sin? That, congregation, was after Pentecost. Before His ascension into heaven Jesus told His disciples that all authority in heaven and on earth was give to Him (His was the kingdom!), and therefore the disciples were to go out and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that God had commanded (Mt 28:19f). But they didnít go preaching right away; they waited (according to Jesusí command) till they were endued with power from on high, had received the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).

So: what happens on the day of Pentecost? This: as soon as the Holy Spirit is poured out, as soon as the disciples were endued with power from on high, they began to preach! Acts 2: Peter, the very man to whom Jesus spoke in Mt 16 when He promised the keys of the kingdom, Peter began to preach. To whom? To the very people who fifty days earlier had cried out to "Crucify Him, Crucify Him," even adding that Jesusí blood be upon them and their children. Itís obvious: given their crime on Good Friday the kingdom of heaven is well and truly closed to these people.

But see: Peter preaches to them anyway. What he preaches? He preaches that Jesus is the Christ! He proclaims that God worked mightily through Jesus of Nazareth so that this man Ėwhom the audience had crucified!- did not stay in the grave but was raised from the dead and enthroned at Godís right hand. Vs 32: "this Jesus God has raised up." More, this Jesus is "exalted to the right hand of God" (vs 33), is now King of kings. Conclusion, vs 36: "therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ."

Does Peter say that the benefits of Jesusí kingdom are closed to the crowd before him? True, when the crowds heard Peterís proclamation of Jesusí lordship, they panicked; "they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostle, ĎMen and brethren, what shall we do?í" And Peter doesnít say, ĎSorry, thereís no hope for youí; instead, Peter says, vs 38, "Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." That is: Peter is throwing the doors of the kingdom wide open, Peter is saying that the privileges of the kingdom are for them.

But how did Peter get the crowds to be cut to their heart? He did that through the preaching. That is: the preaching is the key that opens the kingdom of heaven!

Here I need to take you back for a moment to that passage from Mt 16. That passage had concluded with this note: "then [Jesus] commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ" (vs 20). But precisely this is what Peter does do in Acts 2; he proclaims "God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." In Mt 16 Peter and the other disciples were not allowed to tell that Jesus was the Christ; now, in Acts 2, Peter does tell. Why the difference? That is because the Holy Spirit has been poured out, and through the working of the Holy Spirit the disciples now realized what they had not sufficiently understood before, namely, that Jesus was the Christ, was the Messiah who reconciled sinners to God through the shedding of His blood on the cross. They didnít realize it sufficiently before, and thatís why they were not to preach; it would only hinder the gospel. Now by the power of the Holy Spirit they realize it, and so now they can preach. And preach they do; the book of Acts relates so many apostolic sermons, tells us of so many missionary journeys.

What is this ability to proclaim Jesus so freely as the Christ? This, congregation, is fulfillment of Jesusí promise in Mt 16! Jesus had spoken in that passage about the keys of the kingdom, but He had not given that gift immediately. Jesus spoke in future tense; "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven." Those keys Jesus gave at Pentecost. For the key that opens wide the doors of the kingdom of heaven is nothing else than the preaching of the gospel. Preaching is the key, because through preaching the Holy Spirit works faith, and faith is absolutely essential to enter the kingdom and enjoy its privileges; without faith there is no justification before God, no forgiveness of sins, no peace with God. The disciples preach, and in the preaching declare that the kingdom of heaven is wide open for all who believe that Jesus is the Christ, and declare also that the kingdom of heaven is shut tight against those who refuse to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ.

Do you see, congregation, the fundamental position the Lord God has given to the preaching? An Israelite in the Old Testament could not get to the king apart from the steward; the man who had the key to the house of David determined access to the king. Thatís the role the disciples receive in the New Testament; no one shall see God unless he believe, and faith comes through the preaching. The preaching is so critically important for those who would access the King of kings and enjoy the privileges of His heavenly kingdom; itís the preaching that opens wide the doors of the kingdom. Itís because the disciples understood the crucial function of preaching that they in turn preached so diligently and let nothing stop them from their preaching. They knew: sinnersí access to the kingdom of heaven and its privileges Ėforgiveness of sins and peace with God- went through them. And thatís, of course, why Satan opposed the apostles so vehemently, seeking to intimidate them, imprison them, silence them. For Satan did not want the doors of that kingdom thrown open to sinners!

Then itís true: the apostles in time died, and with their death their preaching ceased. But the principle remained: faith comes through the preaching, and so God saw to it that there remained preachers. Timothy was not an apostle, but the Holy Spirit called him to office as preacher in Ephesus, and so Paul gave Timothy this emphatic command: "I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Tim 4:1f). And other preachers were appointed beside Timothy, other preachers through the ages by whose ministry God would open wide for sinners the doors of the kingdom of heaven. Through the preaching of the gospel the kingdom is opened; through the preaching the Spirit works the faith one needs to benefit from Christ and His gifts. The keys of Mt 16 have functioned ever since Pentecost and will continue to function till the day of Christís return; the gospel will be preached for the salvation of all those whom God has called to eternal life. Lordís Day 31: "the kingdom of heaven is opened when it is proclaimed and publicly testified" Ėand thatís the preaching!- "to each and every believer that God has really forgiven all their sins for the sake of Christís merits as often as they by true faith accept the promise of the gospel." Thatís the fundament role of preaching; by Godís ordinance preaching is critical to salvation.

Two consequences follows. The first is this: appreciate the preaching! Our day and age undervalues the preaching, for people want action instead of words. But the Lord says that the first key that opens the kingdom of heaven is the preaching, and so we need to value that preaching. That means concretely: pray for preachers, pray that they receive insight and wisdom and faithfulness and boldness to preach the word. And: be in church, work with the preaching. Notice the way Lordís Day 31 puts it: when the gospel of salvation in Christ is proclaimed the doors of the kingdom stand wide open for all believers as often as they accept the promise of the gospel. Thatís to say: Sunday by Sunday we are to respond to the preaching, Sunday by Sunday make a decision anew to accept what the Lord says in His Word to us in our circumstances. But you canít respond to that promise when youíre not in church to hear that promise proclaimed Ė and itís the proclamation that opens wide the doors of salvation!

Itís the second consequence I need to emphasize today: pray that there be adequate preachers! The privileges of the kingdom are given to men through the means of preaching. That means we need preachers, it means the world needs preachers! Todayís preachers will not last forever; tomorrow the churches and the world need new preachers, other ministers and missionaries. So: pray that God will raise up young men able and willing to use the keys of the kingdom, to open the gates of salvation! But prayer, of course, needs to be accompanied by work, and that means that we also need to encourage young men to consider the preaching. Parents, speak with your sons about the critical role God has given to the preaching in His kingdom, and develop interest in them for that wonderful work of preaching the gospel. Young people, encourage each other to take seriously the pivotal function God has given to preaching, and talk up the ministry as a desirable career. Brothers and sisters of the congregation, encourage young men, talk up the office of minister of the word. So much is at stake; it is through the preaching that the kingdom of heaven and its privileges of forgiveness of sins and peace with God is given to men! Thatís exactly why Satan wants to stifle the preaching, and how better can he do it than by making the task of the preacher appear burdensome, an office no young person really wants. That way the kingdom of heaven will not be opened to the next generation!

You see, your children and grandchildren will need the preaching in 20, 30 years time as much as we need it today, for itís through the preaching that the kingdom is opened to them. But if there are no preachers, who will open the kingdom of heaven for your children? Or for the world? Thatís why itís so critically important that we be busy today encouraging young men for that glorious office!

I stress it: for the sake of the salvation of many, talk up the office of the preacher! I know: the preachers of today are sinful men, and itís so easy to find fault with us preachers, and critical comments more often than not have basis in reality too yet. But to criticize todayís preachers does not help the youth to aspire to the office Ė and that plays exactly into Satanís hand. And that in turn has grave consequences for the coming generation.

What are the keys of the kingdom of heaven? How is that kingdom opened for you and for me, for your children and mine, for the thousands and millions of our world who live in darkness? The primary key is "the preaching of the holy gospel." May the Lord God in mercy grant that many young men give themselves to be preachers, to be ministers in the churches and missionaries in the world. Amen.