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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Christ the King Gives the Keys
Text:LD 31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 119:1,2                                                                              

Hy 2:1,2,3

Reading – Matthew 16                                              

Ps 12:1,4,5

Sermon – Lord’s Day 31

Hy 51:1,2,3

Hy 55:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, if you’ve ever purchased a new home, you know that it’s a big deal to get the keys. On that day when the ownership is officially changed from someone else to you, there’s a lot of excitement around that one moment. Even though a couple house keys seem so small, a key signifies something important. It’s about taking ownership. It’s about control. Getting those keys means you now have access: you can go in, and you can go out.

So what about the church? For whatever reason, we could decide to sell this particular church building, and part of that would be arranging a time to hand over the keys to the new owners. Yet in the big picture, such a moment is trivial. Because we know that the church of Christ is so much more than a physical building. And access to it is controlled by something far more than a little key and a security code.

Because this is Christ’s church, it’s fitting that He himself stands at the door. He decides who may come in, and who must leave. Think about what is said about Jesus in Revelation 3:7, “He holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open” (NIV). Access to the Kingdom is determined by Him, the great King. It’s our response to Christ that decides whether we have a place inside, or outside, his Kingdom. For do we trust in Him? Do we answer his call? Do we do his will?

Christ holds the keys, but here’s the thing: He has given these keys to his church; that is, to his people, and to her leaders. He’s entrusted them to our care and use. He employs the church and her leaders as those who will watch the door, as those who will open and close.

We might not think a lot about these keys. Like we hardly consider those aluminum keys resting in our pocket or purse, we take for granted these precious and powerful tools that have been given us by Christ: the preaching of the gospel and church discipline. But they’re so substantial. The keys of the kingdom are something to cherish in thankfulness, and use in faithfulness. I preach the Word of God summarized in Lord’s Day 31, under this theme,

Christ gives the keys of the kingdom to his church:

  1. keys to open and to close
  2. keys to close and to open


1) to open and to close: There might be a question about the difference between the first point and the second point. “Open and close, close and open,” don’t sound that different. But we simply follow the Catechism, in how it asks the questions. See Question 84, “How is the kingdom of heaven opened and closed by the preaching of the gospel?” Compare that with Question 85, “How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened by church discipline?” These two keys ultimately do the same thing, but in a different order, with a different emphasis.

Here in this first point we’re considering the preaching of the gospel. And the action that is emphasized is the “opening.” The doors of the kingdom of Christ are flung wide open whenever the gospel of salvation is preached and it’s believed with a true and living faith. The gospel opens!

To think about that a little more, look at Matthew 16. Jesus has been ministering for about two years. So He asks that question of his disciples, a question that we heard in Mark too, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” (v 13). What sort of impression do the crowds have of this Jesus? And there’s some confusion among the people. For the disciples tell their Master that, “Some say [you’re] John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (v 14). You can hear in all those responses that people know Jesus is sent by God, and that He’s important, but they just don’t know how important He is!

Maybe you could expect some uncertainty among those who were outside observers, temporary members of his fan club. But what about those men who really knew Him, who’d been with Him every day, and who’d been blessed with years of private instruction? Jesus puts the question to the twelve, “But who do you say that I am?” (v 15).

It is Simon who replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v 16). Appreciate the gravity of what Peter’s saying here. He says that Jesus is the Christ—that He is in fact the Promised One, sent by God! He’s the Saviour everyone’s been waiting for. He’s none other than the Messiah himself, the One called and appointed and equipped to deliver his people.

Simon has answered well. For Jesus confirms that it’s his true identity. What’s more, Jesus speaks of how this single truth will be so essential to the future of God’s people. For He says, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (v 18). The foundation of the church will forever be this truth, as confessed and as taught by the apostles, that Jesus is the Christ—Saviour and Lord. 

That’s the foundation of the building. And what’s the way into the building? This is what we focus on, as Jesus next says to Peter and to the others, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (v 19). In ancient times, just like today, handing over the keys was a big deal. But back then, keys were typically entrusted to a steward, a manager—to someone who would take care of the place for the landlord.

For example, a wealthy businessman would give the keys of his home and buildings to a person called a steward, so that he could manage all his operations. Or closer to the idea of our text, a king would also entrust to someone the keys of his palace—yes, even when he was still there, and seated on his throne. For that palace steward could then decide who was allowed to enter and to see the king. If you can gain access to the throne room, you might be able to receive justice from the king, or you might receive his mercy in your need. But it all depended on being allowed to enter—if you couldn’t get into the king’s presence, you had no hope. This means of course, that the one who holds the keys has great power and privilege!

Says Christ to his apostles, “It’s this high position that I give to you. For I give you the keys of the kingdom. I consider you the stewards of my house. You are the gate-keepers for my palace. At your word, people can enter and can see me.”

Did you notice that the disciples don’t even have to ask Jesus what those keys are? He mentions keys, and they know! Because they hinge on the very thing Jesus has been speaking about: the gospel, the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. This gospel is the key that unlocks the way, that unbars the gate, and opens the door to the King!

And now Christ will “turn up the volume.” For with Peter’s confession crystalizing what they were all starting to think, Jesus goes on (for the first time) to speak of his coming death, “Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (v 21). Do you notice how the confession that Jesus is the Christ cannot be detached from what He’s going to do on the cross? Jesus is the Christ, and the Christ must die. 

The gospel of salvation is the key held in hand by the apostles as later they went out into all the world. They preached the “open door.” They announced it widely and freely: “Talk to me if you want access to the gracious King. Talk to me if you want a place in his glorious Kingdom,” they said. “Let me share something precious with you. I can tell you something that will give admission to all the treasures of God’s grace.” No wonder that Jesus refers to himself in another place as “the Door.” He is the very gate or entryway to salvation.

And his Word always carries with it the force of divine authority. For this is how Christ explains the disciples’ work, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (v 19). Whenever the gospel is preached, there is a binding of those who hear. There’s an obligation. This is not a message that you can safely ignore. It won’t go away, even if you plug your ears with distraction. Because it has authority, no matter how you receive it.

Sometimes this message means that there’s the relief from the heavy bonds of sin, the relief of guilt being lifted off. And other times this message means that a person’s unbelief and unrepentance is condemned. Because if you reject this, you reject life itself! It’s Jesus, the great Bearer of the Keys, who gives the authority to his stewards. They’re weak men, yet Jesus was pleased to use Peter and the others—together with the elders of the church today—as his representatives, as the stewards of his Kingdom.

So today in the church of Christ, a true proclamation of the gospel is like the Lord Himself, speaking from his throne. The King’s Speech—streaming right into our ears. That makes hearing the gospel on a Sunday afternoon like today a very serious thing. But also very beautiful. In the Catechism’s words, “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” (Q&A 84). On this rock of the gospel, Christ will build his church.

Through his Word, Christ the King is saying to all who hear, “Come on in, out of the cold. Come on in, out of the darkness, inside to where it’s light and warm, and where a rich feast awaits. Just knock, and the door will be opened unto you. When you by true faith accept the promise of the gospel, you gain free access to the presence of the King. By faith you have free access to all the treasures of God’s grace.” Just like Jesus says to his church in Revelation 3:20, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” That’s the “open door,” the glorious invitation of the Word whenever we read it, and hear it.

In the gospel, Christ gives a key that opens. But this key turns the other way too: “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” (Q&A 84). That’s a hard message!

Sometimes people portray the preaching of Jesus as if it was all love and toleration, and He was just happy if people were polite enough to listen. But Jesus could be very severe. He didn’t shy away from speaking about hell. In some of his parables we even find the terrible image of the “closed door.” He warns that those who are too late will be put outside. Those who aren’t prepared, those who don’t receive Christ—these will be shut outside the door of the kingdom. This closed door will not yield to knocking. Those who don’t believe are left in a place of weeping and despair.

For as we said before, we’re judged on one thing, one thing alone: our response to the gospel of Christ. If someone won’t believe this message, such a person is still bound up in all his unforgiven sins. So together with announcing the promise of salvation, the preaching of the gospel needs to give warnings and admonitions. We need that, for sin is still so attractive. The power of unbelief is still very real. The lures of his world are all around us. Any one of us can be ensnared by godlessness, hypnotized by a certain sin, or simply lulled into a spiritual coma because we think everything’s all right.

So it’s something we need to hear. Christ commands us to repent of our sins, each one of us. He calls us to humble ourselves before God daily. And Christ wants us to know that God’s just judgment rests on all who do not put their faith in Him, and on those who don’t show their faith by a godly walk of life.

We need this word of warning. Not that we live in fear, always anxious that God is suddenly going to slam the door on us, that He’s going to give up at the first sign of our failing. But the admonitions of the Word should cause us to examine ourselves humbly: Have I brought all of my transgressions before the Lord, or am I covering them up? Am I depending on Christ alone for my life and salvation, or am I depending on myself? Am I striving to walk in obedience to Him, and by faith in his Name?


2) to close and to open: With this second point, our focus shifts to the second key of the kingdom. Recall that question of the Catechism, “How is the kingdom of heaven closed and opened by church discipline?” (Q&A 85). That’s the hard reality: the kingdom of Christ is sometimes closed. So, to put it bluntly, who should it be closed upon?

We return to Jesus’ words in Matthew 16: “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” (v 19). Here it’s clear that the church will sometimes have to deal with a person who is stubborn in unbelief and unrepentance. And by Christ’s own authority, the church will have to put him outside his Kingdom.

For Christ never promises that we’ll be spared from suffering and hardship—on the contrary, being one of his followers guarantees us a share of suffering and hardship! There will be gut-wrenching trials and grim temptations that afflict the people of Christ—and indeed, some will fall away because of it.

Think of what Jesus says, right after Peter’s good confession, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (v 18). You can hear that there’s going to be a struggle. The very gates of hell—all the authority possessed by Satan, everything at his disposal—Satan will use to try and overcome the church. For Satan hates God’s people, and he hates all who confess his Son! He’s like a terrorist who daily seeks to destroy us. Satan will drive his truck into the crowd in desperation, he’ll blow things up if he has to. We have a fight on our hands, the Spirit says, not against “flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness” (Eph 6:12).

Satan will not succeed. But like the most fanatical terrorist, he’ll die trying! No wonder Jesus call us with these hard words: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (v 24). Beloved, if you will make the same confession that Peter made, it’ll be hard. If you will accept the gospel of Christ, then that means there’s a cross to carry—a heavy, painful, shameful cross. It means self-denial, sacrifice, and the long, hard road that is the Christian life.

And not everyone wants to carry this cross. Some fear persecution. Others are torn by their love of money. Others cave in to the pressures of family and friends. Jesus’ words in response to these people are chilling, “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (v 26). Will you lose your own soul by ignoring the gospel? Will you give up all the riches of the kingdom of heaven, just for the cheap pleasures offered by Satan?

Some will surrender under hell’s attacks. Some won’t be willing to deny themselves. A person might love his sin too much, and Satan might have too much to offer. And the Lord says that such people—those who continue to live in their sin—that these can have no place in his kingdom. On them, the door must finally be closed.

This is a key that the elders must exercise with a lot of prayer, a lot of humility, and a lot of wisdom. And then when the Form for Excommunication is at last read, there’s a pain and regret that hangs in the air. These are difficult words. You see something of the horror of excommunication when you remember that the Old Testament equivalent to it was physical death. Sin for which there was no repentance in the old covenant led to capital punishment. The church no longer has that sword, but Christ has given a spiritual power that has no less effect; recall those words: “Whatever you bind on earth, will be bound in heaven.” What happens here, in the church, is inseparably connected to what happens in heaven!

Just remember whose keys we hold in hand. It’s Christ’s Kingdom, and his church—and they are his keys. So when we use them faithfully, we can be confident that He will bless. In due time, and in his way, He will bless.

For applying discipline should never be seen as a purely negative thing. For it has three very positive purposes. In the first place, it serves to glorify our great God and Saviour. For the honour of his Name, we encourage, we rebuke, we discipline.

In the second place, church discipline can preserve Christ’s people from the stain of sin. For like a deadly cancer eating its way through a person’s body, sin can eat its way through the church. If a sin is left ignored, if a sinner is never disciplined, that same sin can touch his family, his friends, anyone who is near. So by cutting out the sin, we seek to preserve the holiness of Christ’s church, and to strengthen his believers.

And in the third place, church discipline can call the sinner to repentance—it can be a megaphone message of loving concern. I appreciate that this is often hard for someone to understand, that church discipline is done out of kindness. It feels like the elders are being harsh, even doing things that chase someone away. Yet in discipline our purpose is to humbly ask that question that was asked by Christ, to ask it of each and every member: “What profit is it to you if you gain the whole world, and lose your own soul?” And then we also strive to bring home his Word: “You will be freely forgiven, when you ‘by true faith accept the promise of the gospel’ (Q&A 84), when you ‘promise and show real amendment’” (Q&A 85).

No, don’t forget that this key also “opens.” Church discipline doesn’t only throw out, close, and bar the way. It also opens the Kingdom’s door! Because to those who are sorry for their sins, and to those who seek to put right their lives, we have the joy of announcing the glad tidings of Christ our Saviour: You are freely forgiven!

Sometimes you hear about someone who was shut out of the kingdom, but who later came back. Even years later, after withdrawing, after being excommunicated, they return. Never doubt that it can happen. Don’t doubt that church discipline is a key that “turns the other way” too. It can open the door of the kingdom, and admit back those who have wandered. Remember this whenever we pray for those who under discipline: this key has power, even to open!

After all, at the end of the day, it’s not our key, is it? Both these keys belong to Jesus Christ, to Him who has all authority and power in heaven and on earth, and who can wield these keys with great effect. Let’s then combine the preaching of the gospel with much prayer to our Lord. Let’s combine the applying of church discipline with much prayer. For even as we speak, we know that Christ is building his church. He’s building his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!   Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2017, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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