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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Christ gives the keys of the kingdom of heaven to his church
Text:LD 31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Administering God's Blessing

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 149

Psalm 95:1-3

Psalm 122

Hymn 1

Hymn 61

Scripture readings:  Matthew 18:15-19, John 3:22-36

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 31

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

Beloved church of our Lord Jesus,

In the Scriptures, we hear Jesus talking quite a bit about the kingdom of heaven.  Many times he used parables to show us what the kingdom of heaven is like.  From all his teaching, we get a good idea of what he was talking about when he used the expression “kingdom of heaven.”  Simply put, the kingdom of heaven is when people live with Christ as their king.  The kingdom of heaven is spiritual in nature.  In the kingdom of heaven, people receive good spiritual things.  Things like the forgiveness of sins, a new life, an eternal home, and glory that will last forever. 

The Bible also teaches us that the kingdom of heaven has a door with a lock on it.  This was implied in Matthew 16:19 when our Lord Jesus spoke about the keys of the kingdom.  There’s a lock on the door.  Not everybody can get all those good spiritual things the kingdom offers.  The only way to get in the door is with the keys.  From Matthew 16, we see our Lord giving those keys to the apostle Peter.  From Matthew 18, we know that he was, in fact, giving them to the apostles as representatives of his church.  Christ has given the keys of the kingdom of heaven to his church.  That means the church opens and closes the kingdom of heaven.  The church can open and close access to all those good spiritual things: forgiveness of sins, new life, glory that lasts forever, and so on.  Just like with many locks, the one on the door to the kingdom of heaven has two keys that fit.  Our Lord Jesus teaches us that the church has two keys which can open and close the kingdom.  By these two keys, the kingdom of heaven is open for those who believe and closed to those who don’t.  So, I preach to you God’s Word, summarized in the Catechism, with this theme:

Christ gives the keys of the kingdom of heaven to his church.

We’ll learn about those two keys:

1.  The preaching of the good news

2.  The exercise of church discipline

The good news is that even though we’re sinners, God promises to take away our sins if we accept the promise of the gospel.  All our sins can be washed away with the blood of Jesus Christ.  That’s good news, for sure!  And, of course, Christ wants his church to preach that good news.  During his ministry on earth he sent out his apostles with a preaching mandate.  Today, he continues to do the same thing with his church.  The faithful preaching of the Word is one of the defining marks of a true church. 

So, whenever we have our worship services, we always have preaching from the Scriptures.  When we do that, we hear how our sins are taken away if we believe God’s promise about Jesus.  God’s promise is that the obedience of our Saviour, his suffering and death, his resurrection – all of it is our salvation from sin.  When we believe what we hear in the preaching, then the kingdom of heaven is being opened for us.  We can see that in what we read in John 3, especially verse 36.  In this part of the gospel of John, John the Baptist is talking about Christ.  He said that Jesus Christ was preaching or giving testimony.  But no one accepts his testimony.  Then John the Baptist said in verse 36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life…”  That means that whoever believes the preaching of Jesus Christ will live forever with God.  Of course, that preaching of Christ still takes place today by his ambassadors, men who’ve been called by God to proclaim the gospel.  They continue the testimony of Christ with the same effect.  So, the kingdom of heaven is opened with this key when we listen to the preaching of the gospel and sincerely believe it.

But the kingdom of heaven can also be closed with the preaching.  That’s the other thing John the Baptist said in John 3:36, “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”  That means that whoever listens to the preaching and doesn’t believe it, the kingdom of heaven is closing for that person. 

There are other ways the kingdom of heaven can close for us by the preaching of the gospel.  Here I have to say something out of love and concern.   It’s a concern shared by the elders.  There are some among us who don’t seem to see the importance of attending the worship services regularly.  During the morning service, often the church is full.  Things usually look thinner in the afternoon.  Sometimes there are legitimate reasons why people can only attend once.  We’re not concerned about that.  We’re concerned about people who are perfectly healthy, have no little children or others dependent on them, and yet they make a conscious choice to only go to church once.  They could be here twice, but they make a deliberate choice to only come once and sometimes even less.  By doing this, we’re ignoring or avoiding the preaching of the gospel, one of the keys of the kingdom.

On this, I’m not giving you my opinion.  No, what I am about to say is on the authority of Christ.  If you reject this, you’re not rejecting my opinion, you’re rejecting the word of Christ.  I say that the Lord declares to you that when you make a conscious choice to attend worship here only once when you could be here twice, you’re closing the kingdom on yourself. 

Let me give you five reasons why it matters that we make it a priority to attend worship as often as we’re able.  And as I give these five reasons, let’s be looking at ourselves and not at others, thinking “Well, I sure hope so and so is not on holidays today.”  We all need this reminder.  So, five reasons: 

First off, when we make a choice to only attend once, we’re hurting ourselves.  The preaching of the gospel is a means of grace in the lives of believers.  The Spirit works through the preaching to bring about transformation and sanctification in our lives.  We’re also missing out on opportunities to encourage and be encouraged by our brothers and sisters before, during, and after the worship services.  Don’t we confess that the sixth commandment includes that “I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself?”  So, why would we want to hurt ourselves spiritually by staying away from the preaching of the gospel? 

Second reason:  when we make a choice to attend only once, we’re hurting our families.  What’s the message we’re sending to our children and grandchildren?  Perhaps we’re saying we’ve arrived.  We’ve already heard it all, we already know it all.  We don’t need the Spirit to work on us through the preaching anymore.  We don’t need our brothers and sisters in the church to encourage us or for us to encourage them.  So, perhaps we’re teaching pride to our children and grandchildren.  You can decide for yourself the way you want to worship God – forget everybody else.  You make up your mind for yourself when you want to go to church.  Brothers and sisters, this is so wrong and it’ll ultimately destroy not only your children spiritually, but also the church.  Pride is never healthy for anybody.  The Scriptures warn us over and over again about the dangers of pride. 

Now a third reason:  when we make a conscious habit to attend only once, we’re hurting the church and its unity.  We confess that we’re the body of Christ.  So why is this particular part of the body going off and doing his or her own thing when the rest of us are gathered here for worship?  “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ and the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.’” (1 Cor.12:21).  “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Cor.12:26).  And by extension we could say, if one part is worshipping, every part should be worshipping with it.  Since we’re the body of Christ, we do things together, and that includes gathering for worship. 

The fourth reason has to do with the fifth commandment.  We confess in Lord’s Day 39 that we’re to show “all honour, love, and faithfulness” to all those in authority over us.  We are to submit ourselves with due obedience to their good instruction and discipline.  It’s God’s will to govern us by their hand.  Brothers and sisters, among those in authority over us are the office bearers of the church.  The consistory calls the congregation to worship twice each Sunday.  You shouldn’t look at it as optional.  Of course, there can be legitimate reasons why you can’t come.  But if you make a willful choice to do something else, be somewhere else, when you’re called to be here, that’s a sin against the fifth commandment.  Now somebody might say that the Bible doesn’t tell us to worship twice, so we don’t have to listen to the consistory about this.  But let me ask you:  does it go against what Scripture teaches?  Is the consistory forcing you to disobey Scripture by worshipping twice?  If anything, shouldn’t we want to worship as often as we’re able? 

Let me use an analogy.  The Bible tells us to obey the government.  The local government puts a speed limit of 50 Km/h on most city streets.  Well, the Bible doesn’t tell us that we should drive 50 km/h, so we don’t have to listen to the government.  Try and tell that to the police officer who’s going to give you a ticket.   No, we still have to obey, so long as we’re not commanded to do anything contrary to what Scripture teaches.  And in this case, there are good Scriptural reasons why the consistory calls you to worship twice.  It helps us set apart the whole Lord’s Day.  It’s also for your well-being and for the well-being of your children – but most of all, it is a huge part of our giving glory to God with our lives.

Finally, the last reason has to do with your pastor.  I remember talking to an older pastor once who became very frustrated.  He’d spend a lot of time preparing his sermons.  The average minister spends at least 15-20 hours on a sermon.  During the week, he’d encounter situations in the congregation.  He knew what needed to be addressed in the preaching.  But Sunday afternoon would come around and he’d get up on the pulpit and the people who needed to hear the message he was going to bring weren’t there.  They were at the lake, or at home, or at a sports event, or whereever else.  He’d spent all that time carefully crafting that sermon and then this… For a pastor, that’s frustrating.  What does it say in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13?  “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labour among you and are over in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”  When we make a conscious choice to be a oncer, are we respecting the pastor who devote much of his time to preparing for the preaching of the Word? 

When we ignore or avoid the worship services, we’re ignoring or avoiding the preaching of the Word, one of the keys of the kingdom.  And of course, that preaching of the Word cuts two ways, whether you hear it or decide to avoid it.  For some people, it’ll give them life and more abundantly.  For other people, it will be death.  Listen to what the Spirit says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  The power of God leads to life.  So, God calls you this afternoon to make sure that the message of the cross is his power for you.  God calls you to make sure that that the preaching of the gospel is opening the kingdom of God for you and not closing it. 

Now, let’s look at the second key of the kingdom of heaven…

It hardly needs to be said that church discipline is not popular with many Christians.  Discipline is often thought of as being something negative.  Many people simply want to do their own thing without having anybody to tell them what is right and wrong.  Many want a typical church – everybody tolerates everybody except the intolerant.  But our Lord Jesus said that it has to be different.  In Matthew 18, he said clearly that if somebody in the church sins against us, the other people in the church have to say something about it.  We want to follow Christ, so we need the exercise of church discipline.

Let’s review the basic steps in this.  Verse 15 talks about sinning “against you,” so, in other words, there’s a personal offence.  But from other passages, like James 5:19, we know that there’s a broader application here.  So, let’s say you see a brother or sister and they’re doing something that’s clearly a sin.  It has to be clear that it’s a sin, that it’s contrary to God’s Word.  It can’t just be your idea or opinion that what they’re doing is wrong.  You have to be able to point to what the Bible says.  Then what do you do?  Well, you don’t go and talk with other people about it.  Matthew 18 is clear that you have to go and talk about it with your brother or sister – face to face.  You need to sit down face to face, and not in front of other people.  In private, you talk about it with the other person and you do it with humility and love in your heart.  Always remember that you’re a sinner too.  You want them to see what they did wrong and you want to see them repent – have a new way of thinking about their sin, about God, and about themselves.  And if they’ve hurt anybody with their sin, we want to see them go to those people and ask for forgiveness. 

Hopefully, they’ll listen and do those things.  But what happens if they don’t?  You have to keep going to them over and over.  It’s not a matter of one and done.  And if they still don’t want to listen, then our Lord Jesus tells us to bring along another believer or two.  We have to keep trying to get them to repent of their sins.  And if they still won’t listen and repent, after trying over and over, then you have to bring it to the elders of the church.  We do see that, right?  We don’t right away go to the elders.  If you do, the elders will say, “Well, did you follow Matthew 18?”  First, you have to try and deal with it on your own.  But after you’ve done everything you can, then you can go to the elders of the church and then they have to deal with it.  And again, the way we do that is by having a face to face meeting with our ward elders.  We should deal with important spiritual affairs through face to face contact as much as possible. 

So then, the elders will keep trying to get the person to repent.  But if they still won’t listen, then certain steps are followed.  First there’s silent censure.  That’s when a person is withheld from the Lord’s Supper.  At this point, nothing is made public.  If things don’t improve, then the consistory makes the first public announcement.  In this announcement, the name of the sinner isn’t mentioned and the congregation is urged to pray and admonish.  With the second announcement, the church goes to a classis for advice first.  When a classis has heard the case, they’ll either advise the church to hold off or continue with the second announcement.  Finally, there’s a third announcement in which a date is set for excommunication.  That means they’ll be removed from the fellowship of the church – that means they’re being removed from Christ’s kingdom by God himself.  The door to the kingdom of heaven is closed on them and they’re locked out. 

But that door can be opened again.  When the person has a change of thinking about their sins and a change of life which shows that they really believe in Christ, then they can be welcomed back to the church.  They can confess their sins and be readmitted.  In our Book of Praise, we have a form for Readmission into the Church of Christ.  Some of the happiest moments in church life happen when this form gets read.  When the form for Readmission gets read, then the door of the kingdom of heaven is being opened again with the key of church discipline.   

As I said, a lot of people look at church discipline as being a negative thing.  It’s not pleasant, that’s true.  But the church has discipline for a good reason.  It’s captured in the original German of the Heidelberg Catechism with the word busszucht – we translate that as church discipline, but literally it means discipline leading to repentance.  You see, Jesus Christ loves his church, he loves the people in the church.  If we’re going the wrong way, he wants to bring us back.  And that’s why we have Matthew 18 in the Bible, that’s why we have this summary of Scriptural teaching in Lord’s Day 31.  People can’t just do whatever they want in the church, as if we can all be some kind of spiritual lone rangers.  We all have to follow Christ together.  Discipline helps us to do that.  It’s not a bad thing – rather it’s a sign of the love that Christ has for us.

So there are these two keys:  preaching and church discipline.  Christ gives them to the church because he wants that door of the kingdom to be open to you.  That means two things for us:  first, listen to the preaching of the Word as often as we have the opportunity.  Really listen to it and work with it in our lives.  The second thing is to listen when a brother or sister tells us there’s something wrong with our walk as a believer.  Listen, look at the Scriptures, and if they’re right:  repent.  And when you see another believer in the church going the wrong way, you also have the responsibility to go and talk with them.  You can’t let somebody keep going in that wrong direction because eventually the door of the kingdom of heaven will close on them.   It’s only by God’s grace and Spirit that we can do these things.  In ourselves, we’re weak.  But if we depend on him and ask him for more grace, and follow Christ’s word out of thankfulness and love, we can be sure that the kingdom of heaven will be open for us and we’ll receive abundant spiritual blessings.  AMEN. 

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

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