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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:King Jesus entrusts us with the keys of his kingdom
Text:LD 31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 145:1                                                                                       

Ps 93:1,4  [after Athanasian Creed]

Reading – Matthew 16:13-28; Matthew 18:10-20

Ps 19:5,6

Sermon – Lord’s Day 31

Hy 51:1,2,3

Hy 37:1,2

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

Brothers and sisters, when we began this service, the Lord greeted us with words from Revelation 1: “Grace and peace to you from him who is, who was, and who is to come, from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (vv 4-5).

Maybe we didn’t pay much attention to it. But listen again to its last few words: “Grace and peace to you from Jesus Christ…the ruler of the kings of the earth.” Christ is the one enthroned in the heavens, the great king. And Christ our King welcomes us with ‘grace and peace.’ Despite our filth and shame, Jesus smiles down from his throne with the favour that He earned for us by his death and resurrection.

Christ is our King. That means we’re citizens of his commonwealth, and subjects of his dominion. We belong to his kingdom. And the Scripture says only those who truly share in the kingdom are entitled to its blessings, the gifts of life and peace.

So how do we get into the Kingdom of Christ? It says a couple chapters later in Revelation about Jesus, “He holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open” (3:7). It is Christ who decides whether the door will be opened or closed, whether a person receives grace and peace. He holds the keys, but He’s given these keys to his church. So this is our theme from Lord’s Day 31,

Jesus the King entrusts us with the two keys of his Kingdom:

  1. the preaching of the holy gospel
  2. and church discipline


1) the preaching of the holy gospel: When the Catechism students first learn what true worship is all about in the second commandment, they already know that the preaching of God’s Word is of first importance. They know it’s important by the amount of time we spend on the preaching every Sunday.

They also know the preaching is important by thinking about how our church building is set up. For instance, we don’t have an altar at the front of the church for the ongoing presentation of Christ’s sacrifice—not like in the Roman Catholic church. We also don’t have a large screen for film clips. There’s no elaborate setup for all kinds of musical performances. But at the front and in the centre of every Reformed church is the pulpit. For the preaching is of first importance.

The Catechism students learn this, just as everyone else has learned, that the faithful preaching of God’s Word is one of the marks of the true church. If there’s no true preaching, then that church has strayed very far from what her King requires.

We know preaching is important. But is old-fashioned preaching still effective in our Internet age, our time of Tiktok, TEDtalks, and podcasts. How do we know that this key we’re using isn’t rusty and bent and too old? The Belgic Confession talks about “the pure preaching of the gospel” (Art. 29), but what makes the preaching pure?

There’s no simple definition of preaching in the Bible. But it does say a lot about what it means to proclaim the Word of God. For example, it says that God’s servants are compelled to pass his words along. In other words, preaching has to happen, no matter what cultural pressure is against it, no matter what enemy opposes it. Like Amos says, “The Sovereign LORD has spoken—who can but prophesy?” (3:8).

God has also told his people to test what a preacher says by what God has revealed in his Word. Have you ever heard of the Bereans? These were people to whom Paul and Silas preached during a missionary journey. And the believers in Berea were commended for this one thing, that they cherished and also tested the preaching that was brought by the apostles. Says Acts 17, “They received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (17:11). They compared whatever they heard from these human messengers with God’s written Word. And don’t miss the blessed result of their diligence in the Word, “Therefore many of them believed” (v 12). So be a Berean!

It doesn’t mean that the preached Word isn’t brought in weakness—it certainly is! Human shortcomings always get in the way. A sermon can be badly put together, or it can be badly delivered, and sometimes both. But God has chosen preaching to be so precious for the strengthening of his people. Romans 10: “Faith comes by hearing…the Word of God” (v 17).

Another aspect of true preaching is that those who bring God’s Word are not allowed to pick and choose the message they want to bring. Listen to what Paul told the Ephesians, “I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). A preacher may not only preach on what he finds interesting, or what the congregation wants to hear. True preaching must be in full agreement with God’s Word, and it must address all that God has revealed.

And what’s the focus of the true preaching? This is critical. And Jesus tells us that the preaching must be about him. He once asked his disciples about how people perceived him. Who is He? Is Jesus a teacher who says wise things? Is He our friend when we’re feeling down? Is Jesus someone all-powerful who reigns in heaven, yet who is far away from our earthly concerns?

Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16). And it’s good to read what happens after these words of Peter. This simple confession is the turning point in Jesus’ ministry: “From that time Jesus began to show to his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things…and be killed and be raised the third day” (Matt 16:21).

Peter didn’t understand what it all meant. But Jesus’s words are clear: through his suffering, being killed, and being raised to life—through this gospel, God opens the way for sinners into the Kingdom of heaven. And Jesus commands that it be preached, though all the forces of hell oppose it. This is in fact what Peter later did in Acts, what Paul did, and what every faithful preacher does all across this globe: “We preach Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

So a minister today must maintain this as first and foremost on his list of duties. It is the high calling and incredible privilege of Christian ministry, to preach about the one Person who can make a true difference. When a preacher is focused on the atoning work of Jesus, he doesn’t have to worry about being clever in his content, politically correct, or entertaining: “I preach Christ and him crucified.”

A faithful preacher in a faithful church will always centre his message on Christ. That’s because in some sense all of Scripture speaks about him (John 5:39). In Christ, all the lines of world history converge (Gal 4:4). In Christ, everything in the universe holds together (Col 1:17). So every time that the preacher comes to the pulpit and opens the Word, every eye ought to be fixed on Christ and him alone (Heb 12:2).

Whatever the particular circumstances of God’s people at this moment, a preacher is called to bring the Word of Christ. Whatever our worries, joys, temptations and longings—the word of salvation can be spoken into our life with powerful effect. It’s a key that opens the kingdom! In Christ there is relief for people crushed by their guilt, joy for those troubled by anxiety, courage for those trapped in their addictions, help for the ones burdened in wrecked relationships, and comfort for those who are grieving. There is hope, because for Christ’s sake God has promised to help us, forgive us and restore us.

So the preaching is joyful, and it is serious. The preaching is about eternal matters, things that really count. It’s about Jesus, the King who was dead but who came to life, that many might be saved. The preaching of the holy gospel does nothing less than open to you and to me the kingdom. The Catechism explains that through the preaching, God announces “to each and every believer that [He] has really forgiven all their sins for the sake of Christ” (Q&A 84). That’s what entering the Kingdom is all about: God forgiving our sins in Christ.

But the preaching also comes with a warning for those who don’t answer it in true faith. It warns those who are strangers to Christ and his fellowship that they will not “inherit the kingdom of God” (Q&A 87). For not all who sit under the preaching believe the message of the preaching. Not all who come to church will enter the Kingdom.

This is how the Catechism puts it, that the kingdom is closed “when it is proclaimed…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).

Jesus is a loving Savior, He is full of mercy. And yet He will not let those in who haven’t believed in his Name. Jesus says in Matthew 16 that a person might gain the whole world, yet lose his own soul—lost, because he wasn’t willing to come after Christ, to deny himself, take up the cross, and follow him.

The gospel of Christ always come with this warning. To all who hear, there’s a warning given in love: don’t be found unprepared when our King returns. It’s a warning so that we don’t come to that last day, and see the kingdom door being closed in our face. The preaching asks us: Have you “accepted the promise of the gospel?” (Q&A 84). Have you received the Saviour in faith? Have you been living for Christ?


2) church discipline: People like to say that the church isn’t for perfect Christians, it’s for sick sinners. That’s true in a sense, but it doesn’t say everything. The church is definitely a place where sinners can find shelter in Christ, yet those who come must also live differently. Jesus the King seeks faith and obedience from those who want to live under his rule. It’s for this reason that Jesus has given a second key to his people. It’s the key of church discipline. With this key, the kingdom of Christ can also be closed to those who don’t live according to his will.

The Catechism speaks about those “who call themselves Christians, but show themselves to be un-Christian in doctrine or life” (Q&A 85). What does that mean, to be un-Christian? How do we know what that looks like? Being a Christian isn’t just receiving the mark of baptism. Being a Christian isn’t just having membership in the right church. A Christian isn’t defined as someone who has a Scripture app on his phone or a Bible on his shelf, or a cross around her neck. Nor is he even someone who gives the right answers at a homevisit.

According to the Catechism—and according to the Word of God—a Christian is someone who confesses the name of Christ. It’s someone who presents himself to God as a sacrifice of thanksgiving. And it’s someone who’s daily involved in fighting against sin and the devil. A Christian is marked by believing and by doing!

So while some people might call themselves Christians, says the Catechism, they show themselves to be “un-Christian” in doctrine or life. When there’s such people, Jesus wants something to be done for them. We don’t put them out of the church as quickly as we can but seek to discipline them.

See how the word “disciple” is at the root of that word “discipline.” It’s a simple clue to how with this activity, we’re trying to disciple believers. We’re teaching them—we’re teaching each other—how better to follow the Master. Discipling involves encouragement and prayer, correction and admonition, ongoing, day by day, for years.

I know that it sometimes seems that the key of church discipline is left hanging on a nail in the consistory room. What I mean is, it’s just for the elders to use, and only when things have gotten really bad. That key of church discipline seems far too heavy for most of us to pick up and to use effectively and boldly.

But Christ hasn’t given this key only to the elders of the church. That’s because right and faithful living in the Kingdom must be the concern of us all, fellow citizens of Christ. This key of church discipline is for daily use in the Kingdom. For sin still has a presence in our lives. There are still failings that can hinder us from the service of God. There are still sins that can open rifts between fellow Christians, and cause division. There are still sins that can spread and infect the body of Christ. The key of church discipline is given so that all such sin can be handled in the right way.

In Matthew 18, Jesus teaches about mutual discipline and church discipline, and how we should lead our life in the Kingdom. Notice that He’s not saying these words only for the benefit of church leaders. They are for every Christian. And the main approach for this Kingdom-living is quite simple: ‘Brother, we should talk.’ Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone” (Matt 18:15). If you see your brother or sister in the faith acting in a way that’s not Christian, you must talk to him or her.

This sounds like a bold step. Few of us like to be confrontational. We hesitate to point out someone’s wrong. Perhaps you’re not totally sure of what your brother did. Maybe he did something that you feel is wrong, while he might not agree that it is. Even so, says Christ, you must talk. Rather than gossip, rather than complain, rather than let a grudge remain, let us talk.   

And notice how the Catechism first speaks about a sinner being admonished “in a brotherly manner.” We need to underline that phrase: “in a brotherly manner.” That puts all correction into the necessary atmosphere: it happens inside the bonds of love within a congregation. The approach is brotherly, sisterly—it is done lovingly.

And as a general comment, this approach is such an essential way for us to preserve unity and harmony in our church, to the glory of Christ. It happens when we can have open and loving conversations about what’s come between us, when we can talk about what’s different in our views or what is tense in our relationship.

For instance, there are times when you can’t say that what someone did is sin—like we said, there’s just something that doesn’t sit well with you. It bothers you, disturbs you, or just plain annoys you. Maybe there’s something they said or did that you don’t understand. These things happen in the church, no question!

We could do a few things with that kind of situation. Option A: We could keep quiet about it, or stew over it until we’re more upset, until we find ourselves ignoring the person after church. Option B: We could talk to someone else about it, see if they agree with us. “Do you find him irritating, too?”

Or, far better, you could talk—you could talk to the person that it involves. Not in front of lots of people, not when you’re rushed, but you and him alone. You have a brotherly or sisterly conversation, where you explain your concern. And that might be the end of it. Often it is. And it’s beautiful, for no angry letters have been sent. No gossip has been shared. No bitterness has been allowed to get rooted and to grow its poison. It’s done.

This same approach can be taken when you see your brother or sister acting in a way that you know is not Christian, because it goes against an explicit command of God. Then too, we need to talk. For instance, we know that our friend gets angry too easily. Or you have a sister who loves to criticize other people and cut them down. There’s someone you know who’s not always faithful in coming to church. “Let’s talk about this,” you say.

You do it because you love them. And because you understand that sin has an effect, a power. You understand that little sins can grow into larger ones. Occasional sins can become captivating sins. When we listen to the lies of sin long enough, we can become utterly deceived. So we need to talk about it. This is how it should be: True Christian friends, brothers and sisters may not sit back when someone wanders from the truth. We can do this at any age: in high school, as young adults, among lifelong friends.

And even when the time comes for the consistory to be involved in church discipline, the key isn’t resting in their hands alone. The entire church must be involved in prayers and support. Even if we don’t know the name, don’t know the whole situation, we pray. And if we’re given the opportunity, we must encourage and support. We don’t want to lose any member of the body.

Christ’s words about discipline are hard, yet we must wrestle with them: Those who still don’t repent, those who refuse all admonition, do not belong to him. They have no part in the security, the peace, the blessing of his Kingdom. This is how Proverbs describes it, “Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy” (29:1). Genuinely listening to each other and humbly accepting their rebukes, is important. To ignore these admonitions can lead to a sinner’s death.

We’ve seen that the key of preaching can save—can discipline save? Think of Jesus’s words in Matthew 18. Just before speaking of an unrepentant person being excluded from the church, Jesus told the parable of the lost sheep. “If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?” (v 12). Reflect for a moment on how that parable connects to the teaching about church discipline, which is given in the very next verses.

It means that God wants no sheep to stay lost. God wants no sinner to perish, but all to come to a knowledge of the truth! If that’s what God does, his people should do the same. We should be those who seek the lost, who forgive the wrong, who try to heal the broken. We pray  for a better day for those who are being disciplined, a better day for those who have been cut off, or those who have cut themselves off by withdrawing. We want the Kingdom of Christ to again be opened to them. We want to rejoice with God and all his angels, rejoicing when a sheep who was lost is found.

So don’t doubt that the straying can return. Don’t doubt that church discipline is a key that turns the other way too. It can open the door, and allow back those who’ve wandered. Discipline can lead to growth and progress and life. For remember that the key belongs to Christ! It’s in his hands, the one with all authority and power. It’s in Christ’s power to open and to close, to save and condemn.

So when we give correction—as it’s given from the pulpit, as it’s shared among friends and family and fellow members, as it’s given by the elders—let’s combine this with much prayer to our Lord. We pray that the King’s key would unlock the door to the Kingdom. We pray that He would open it wide, so that we all may live forever in his grace and peace.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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