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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:The Keys of the Kingdom
Text:LD 31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Keys of the Kingdom

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 59
Psalm 43
Hymn 47:1,9,10
Hymn 1A
Psalm 89:1-3

Readings:  Isaiah 55, Matthew 16:13-20, Matthew 18:15-19
Text: 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 brothers and sisters in Christ,

Have you ever been to the Magic Kingdom?  I went once.  It was right around the time I turned seven.  Our family was living in the Northwest Territories at the time, so rather than Florida, we went to California.  It was January and California was a nice break from the dark Arctic winter.  But even nicer was Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom.  If you’ve been, whether to Disney World in Orlando, or Disneyland in Anaheim, you’ll never forget it.  The rides, the musicals, the parades, the fireworks.  Especially to kids, the Magic Kingdom is an incredible, unforgettable experience. 

Unfortunately, a lot of what passes for Christianity on our continent is very similar to the Magic Kingdom.  A lot of what’s out there is closer to the Magic Kingdom than it is to the kingdom of heaven.  Think about it with me for a moment.

What does a Disney park exist for?  For entertainment and fun.  The kingdom of heaven is not about our entertainment.  Who can go to the Magic Kingdom?  Who will be accepted?  Anyone, unconditionally (as long as you have the money to pay for admission).  The kingdom of heaven excludes many.  The Magic Kingdom is casual and easy-going, an environment in which the comfort and earthly happiness of people is the highest goal and priority.  The kingdom of heaven has other priorities and goals – ones which are focussed on the King.  The Magic Kingdom has a message that true joy and meaning in life comes from looking down and within.  True to its name, the kingdom of heaven wants to orient us upwards and outwards.  We could go on.  The kingdom of heaven is the complete opposite of the Magic Kingdom in all of these and many more ways.   

What is the kingdom of heaven anyway?  Briefly, it is a way of speaking about the reign of God.  God is the king and he rules over everyone and everything.  In this age, however, not everyone recognizes and submits to his rule.  In this world, there are rebels and traitors.  Meanwhile, there are those who do acknowledge God as King.  There are those who worship Christ as Lord.  Where do you find those people?  You find them in the church.  The church is where the kingdom of heaven is revealing itself.  So, you see, there is a close connection between the kingdom of heaven and the church.  They’re not exactly the same thing, but they are tightly related to one another.  And Scripture teaches that it is the church which has been entrusted with the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

We see that in what we read from Matthew 16.  Jesus tells Peter that he will give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven.  At that moment Peter was representing the apostles.  He was representing men who would serve as ministers of Christ’s church, and in some way, he was representing the entire church.  In these words, Christ was giving power to his church to open and close the gates of the kingdom of heaven.  After all, that’s what keys are for, aren’t they?  Keys are used to open and close doors.  There are two keys that have been given to the church, the preaching of the Word and the administration of discipline.  We’ll look at both of these this afternoon. 

The first then is the preaching of the gospel.  The church opens the gates of the kingdom of heaven when the gospel is proclaimed.  Remember that “gospel” means “good news” or “glad tidings.”  It is a message of comfort and hope.  It’s a message that we ought never to take for granted. 

The message is that all our sins have truly been forgiven because of Christ’s merits.  Because of everything that Christ has done in our place, God has forgiven us.  That means Christ’s suffering and death, but it also means his obedient life, and his resurrection.  All of Christ’s merits!  Receiving those merits results in God’s forgiveness.  Again, let’s not take for granted what that means.  Forgiveness means that our sins are no longer an obstacle in our relationship with God.  When forgives us, he forgets our sin.  In the Bible that’s a term that always comes in the context of a relationship.  He forgets our sins – that means he hurls them into the depths of the ocean.  He removes them as far as the east is from the west.  Then we can have a relationship of fellowship with God.  He is our Father and we are the children he loves. 

The kingdom of heaven is opened when this message is not only proclaimed, but also accepted in true faith.  That means that when we hear this good news, we embrace it personally for ourselves.  We say, “Yes, Jesus Christ is my Saviour.  He lived a perfect life for me.  He suffered, died and rose again for meI rest entirely in him and in his merits.  I trust Jesus for my well-being for now and for eternity.”  And we do this whenever we hear that gospel message. 

That means too that that gospel message has to be announced again and again and again.  It can never be taken for granted.  It’s no secret that what one generation takes for granted, the next generation will not know about, and the generation after that may even deny.  You may think to yourself, “Well, I’ve heard that gospel message before.  Why does our pastor have to keep saying the same message every Sunday?  He uses different words, but it all basically comes down to the same thing.”  But loved ones that’s the message we all need.  The gospel is not something that naturally sticks to us.  Our tendency is to head for the Magic Kingdom, rather than the heavenly kingdom.  We need the gospel to reorient us again and again. 

Look with me for a moment at 2 Peter 1:12-14 [read].  Peter says, “You know that I’m repeating myself, but this is good for you.  This is what you need, and I’m going to keep doing it.”  And that’s what the ministry of the Word is about:  not giving us novelties that will tickle our ears, but feeding us regularly with meals that are healthy and nourishing, even if they are all very similar to one another.  You can trust that these meals will give you the nourishment you need.

But there’s one more aspect to consider.  It has to do with the fact that the congregation is bigger than you – it includes young people and children.  I remember growing up in the church.  As a child, the odd time I picked up something from a sermon.  But a lot of the time it flew past me and didn’t stick.  But eventually I got to an age where the sermons started reaching me more often than not.  Now what if my pastor had said, “Well, all of the people have heard this before, so why should I repeat it?”  The reality was that I was there before, but I hadn’t really heard it.  And if he didn’t repeat it, I wouldn’t get it -- ever.  So, think of our young people who are growing into the faith.  The regular repetition of the promises of the gospel is essential for them.  There will always be young people in our congregation who are really starting to “get the faith” for the first time.  It might not be new to you, but it will be new to them.  And for all of us, whether young or old, whenever we hear the gospel proclaimed, we need to accept it in true faith.  When that happens, the doors of the kingdom of heaven are swinging open and we’re being pulled in.

Loved ones, God’s Word always has an effect.  We see that in what we read from Isaiah 55.  God says that the Word which goes out from his mouth will not return to him empty but will accomplish what he desires.  That includes the preaching of his Word too.  Whenever God’s Word is faithfully proclaimed, there will be an effect one way or another.  Paul says the same thing at the end of 2 Corinthians 2.  There he says that the ministers of the gospel are spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ.  To some this is the fragrance of life, to others the smell of death.  The Word is a sword that cuts two ways. 

Another way of describing that is to speak about the closing of the kingdom of heaven.  The gospel comes against a background.  The good news is only so good because the bad news is so bad.  The bad news is that God will punish unrepentant sinners.  The bad news is that an eternal hell awaits those who do not rest and trust in Christ alone for their salvation.  Eternal condemnation is the background to the preaching of the gospel.

The church is called to warn unbelievers and hypocrites about this coming judgment.  In the church there can be those who do not believe the gospel message.  In my calling as a pastor in three different places, I’ve encountered them.  Some are forthright about their unbelief and don’t even try to hide it.  Others are hypocrites.  They wear a mask, pretending to be somebody they’re not.  They pretend to be upstanding church members while in private they live unrepentantly in sin.  The strange thing is that most of the time all these people will continue to come to church and sit under the preaching.  They do it because that’s what you do if your family is Canadian Reformed.  They do it because that’s what you do if you want your kids to get a “moral education” at a Christian school.  And there are probably other reasons too.  But whatever they may be, there they are in church warming a pew. 

Brothers and sisters, the Word of God has to be proclaimed to such people too.  They need to hear that as long as they do not repent and truly believe in Jesus Christ, they are heading for hell.  God will judge them both in this life and in the life to come.  While I don’t like to dwell on this point, it needs to be said.  If anyone here is not truly believing in Christ alone, if the promise of the gospel goes in one ear and out the other, please hear the warning of the Word of God:  you are on the broad road that leads to destruction.  Out of love, I am compelled to testify to you what the Word of God says:  the wrath of God remains on you and eternal condemnation awaits you.  Brothers and sisters, listen to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.”  Let’s all repent of our sins and believe in Christ alone for the forgiveness of all our sins.

So, the preaching of the Word both opens and closes the kingdom of heaven.  The faithful administration of discipline works in reverse.  It closes and opens the kingdom. 

Let’s reflect for a moment on the necessity of discipline.  Have you noticed that in the last ten years or so you seldom hear about airliners crashing?  It used to be that there would be a couple of big ones every year.  It was still quite safe, but the big accidents made a big impression with a lot of people.  But today accidents are very rare, especially considering the even bigger numbers of commercial aircraft that are flying.  Why is this?

It comes down to something called Cockpit Resource Management or CRM.  Cockpit Resource Management is something that airlines use to improve safety.  There are strict guidelines about what goes on in a cockpit.  So, for instance, there are certain critical times where the conversation can only be about what is going on with the flight.  There is accountability between crew members.  There are extensive checklists that need to be followed.  Cockpit Resource Management is a key reason why travelling by airline today is absolutely the safest way to travel.  In fact, the medical community is adopting much of the same philosophy and the same procedures for operating rooms.  It’s expected that this will save lives in hospitals too.

What’s the connection with church discipline, you ask?  Perhaps some of you see it already.  In aviation and in medicine, if you just let people do their own thing, the results can be disastrous.  Even the world recognizes the value of discipline in certain contexts, for instance, the cockpit or the operating room.  The world sees the necessity of discipline to save lives.  Likewise the church needs to see the necessity of discipline for eternal salvation.  Letting people go their own way and do their own thing might avoid confrontation and might be the comfortable thing to do, but it is not a loving thing to do.  Live and let live might be the way of the Magic Kingdom, but the heavenly kingdom has a different ethos, a different way of approaching things, a way guided by Scripture. 

The key passage, of course, is the teaching of our Lord Jesus in Matthew 18.  That passage speaks to the situation where people who have professed their faith don’t live in accordance with their profession.  There is no evidence of union with Christ; the faith they claim to have does not produce any fruit.  Then church discipline needs to be applied.  This key of the kingdom begins to do its work, possibly (but hopefully not) with the end result that the individual in question is placed outside the kingdom.  At the end, unless there is a change, the person is placed outside of the congregation “and by God himself from the kingdom of Christ.” 

Let’s review the process as laid out by Christ in Matthew 18 and summarized in the Catechism.  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 is a broader application here.  So, let’s say that you see a brother or sister and they’re doing something that is clearly a sin.  It has to be very clear that it is a sin.  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.  That means the telephone is out.  Even more obviously, e-mail is out too.  Telephone and e-mail have no place in a serious matter like this, neither does Facebook or texting or what have you.  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.  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.  And if they still don’t want to listen, then the 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 and only then you have to bring it to the elders of the church.  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 elder. 

So, the elders will keep trying to get the person to repent.  But if they still will not listen, then certain steps are followed.  First there is what we call silent censure.  That’s when a person is withheld from the Lord’s Supper.  At that point, nothing is made public.  If things do not 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 will 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 will be removed from the fellowship of the church – again, that means they are 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 that form gets read.  Then the door of the kingdom of heaven is being opened again with the key of church discipline.   

Brothers and sisters, we have this teaching of our Lord Jesus.  This key of discipline is given to the church for our good.  It’s because our Saviour loves us and wants us to stay on the right path.  And so this key also has to be used with love by the church as well.  The goal of discipline is always the repentance and return of the sinner.  It’s not punishment for the sake of punishment, out of anger and retribution.  Rather, it’s discipline that’s meant to lead the straying sheep in the right direction, away from danger and destruction.  It may not be pleasant, but again keep in mind what happens when we just let people go their merry way and do their own thing.  In his book Stop Dating the Church, Joshua Harris has a set of questions for people to ask as they’re looking for a permanent church home.  One of the questions is:  would this church love me enough to kick me out if I were to be living in sin?  We’re not looking for a church home, but we can ask a similar question of ourselves:  do we love one another enough to go after one another if we see someone living in sin?  As office bearers, the elders have to ask the same kind of question:  if someone is living in sin, do we love them enough to use this key of the kingdom of heaven?  You see, it is all about love. 

Loved ones, we can be thankful that Christ has given us these keys.  We can be thankful for the preaching of the gospel – without it, how would we know Christ?  We can be thankful for the discipline of the church – without it, how would Christ draw us back to himself should we stray?  In both of these things, we see the wisdom of our Saviour and his love for us.  Let’s be thankful and let’s be earnest and diligent so that the preaching is always opening the kingdom for us, so that it and discipline never close the kingdom to us.  AMEN. 


Lord God, our Shepherd, our Defender,

We praise you for the love and wisdom you’ve shown your flock.  We thank you for the preaching of the holy gospel and for church discipline.  Lord we praise you for the promise of the gospel, that you have really forgiven all our sins because of Christ as often as we accept that promise.  We do accept it and we do believe it.  Please grant that for each and every one of us the preaching of the gospel would only open the kingdom.  We pray that there would be no unbelievers or hypocrites in our midst, but if they are here we earnestly pray that you would convert them and save them.  Lord, have mercy on us.  Lord God, please do not allow any of your sheep to stray.  But if they do stray, we pray that we would have the love and courage to go after them with the key of church discipline.  We pray that that key would be an instrument in your hand to keep our church in your ways.  Please work among us with your Spirit and Word so that we would always be a people who are honouring you.  May your Holy Name never be blasphemed because of us.  Forgive all our sins and help our unbelief.   

* 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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