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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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 Free Reformed Churches of Australia - FRCA
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
Title:Christ holds the keys of the kingdom
Text:LD 31 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Keys of the Kingdom

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

The Keyes of the Kingdom                             

Ps. 132: 4, 8, 9

Ps. 62: 1, 4

Ps. 25: 2, 4, 5, 6

Ps. 32: 1, 2, 4, 5

Ps. 119: 25, 27


Scripture reading:       Acts 20: 25 – 32; 2 Tim. 3: 10 – 4: 5 and Hebr. 12: 3 – 11

Text:                              LD 31


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,


Our Lord Jesus holds the keys of the kingdom.

The “keys of the kingdom” is also called “the key of David”.


“These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens” – Rev. 3: 7


When Scripture calls the key of the kingdom “the key of David”, it is clear that the key of David belongs to the throne of David.   The one who sits on the throne holds the key.   Christ is seated on the throne, and therefore: when He opens the kingdom to someone, no one shuts it; when He closes the kingdom to someone, no one opens it.  

Life and death is at His command.


He is the one who gives entrance into the kingdom, and He is the one who excommunicate from the kingdom.  

Now, He has entrusted these keys to His church.  

The keys, by which the kingdom is opened or shut, is the preaching of God’s Word and church discipline.


By the preaching of His Word Christ opens the kingdom to all who believe; and by the administration of the same Word He also closes the kingdom to those who do not believe and obey.  

But how does the preaching of His Word open and close the kingdom?


The minister has no authority in himself to open the kingdom or to close it.  

The minister simply has to administer Christ’s Word by which Christ Himself opens the kingdom to believers and closes it to unbelievers.  

Yes, ultimately the keys of the kingdom are only in Christ’s hand.  But these keys, the preaching of the gospel and church discipline, are indeed administered to us through the service of men whom God has called and appointed for this holy task.


And therefore the servant who administers the Word has to be very careful to administer nothing else but Christ’s Word – Christ’s Word alone!  

Or else the word of men starts to rule in the church.  


Dear congregation, Christ is the only Head of His church, and His Word alone is to govern the church.

The true church is found only where the sceptre of His Word is reigning; where the key of the kingdom is used and applied according to His command.


There is therefore no room in the church for own opinion, or for the word of man.


How important then that those who are appointed in the church to administer the Word of Christ do so faithfully!   For if they add or take away from the Word then it is no longer Christ ruling, but man ruling according to his own word.  

When that happens in a church, the keys of the kingdom are taken away.   Then such a church becomes a false church.   For Christ only rules where His Word is faithfully administered – and only as long as His Word is faithfully administered. 

When a minister preaches the Word of Christ faithfully, then it is Christ Himself addressing His congregation.   In the preaching the Word of Christ comes to us with authority and power.   When Christ’s word is proclaimed, there is no room for speculation.   No human opinions!   No adding or taking away from the Word!  

The minister has nothing to tell you, and he should have nothing to tell you.   Only Christ’s Word is allowed on the pulpit, and on home visits, and at catechism, and in all the instruction of the church.   Only then the keys of the kingdom are present both to open and to close.

I proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme…

Christ hold’s the keys of the kingdom


We will note...


  1. How Christ uses this key in the preaching
  2. The importance of Christ’s discipline
  3. The administration of Christ’s discipline


In the first place we note...

How Christ uses this key in the preaching


Christ, by the mouth of His ministers, proclaims to us complete salvation – complete salvation to all who believe and obey the gospel.   An open kingdom is proclaimed to you.

At the same time, through the same proclamation of Christ’s Word, a closed kingdom is proclaimed to all who do not believe and obey.

Thus a minister opens the kingdom when he proclaims to the believer: Your sins are forgiven!  All the blessings of salvation in Christ belong to you.   You are a child of God and heir of all the heavenly blessings in Christ.  

It is yours.  All the abundance of God’s blessing rests on you in Christ.  


Thus the preacher proclaims to all who believe in Christ and obey His Word.

At the same time the preacher proclaims to those who disobey Christ, that the wrath of God remains on them.   And thus, through the same preaching, he closes the kingdom to them.

Now, Christ’s Word comes to the whole congregation, but it also comes to each one in particular.   The preaching addresses each one of God’s people in their own circumstance to comfort and to rebuke, to proclaim both God’s covenant blessings and His covenant curses as they apply.  

The Word of God that comes to us in the preaching is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and joins and marrow. God’s Word that comes to us in the preaching discerns our thoughts and the intents of our heart.  

His Word is living and active and powerful.   Through the preaching Christ is actively working salvation, and through the preaching Christ is actively condemning.   Through the preaching He is actively opening and closing the door of the kingdom.  


But when the discipline of God’s Word is absent in the preaching, when a minister prefers to preach only the promises of God’s blessings, then such a preacher is no longer faithful in handling the keys of the kingdom.  

Such preaching, in which the minister prefers to skip over the threats and curses of God’s covenant, is just as harmful to a congregation as when a false gospel is proclaimed.  

Yes, if a minister faithfully administers the Word of Christ then he will also proclaim a closed kingdom to those who do not repent of their sins.  


The minister may only say what Christ says. 

Woe to the minister that wants to close when Christ opens; and woe to the minister who wants to open when Christ closes.  


In order to open and to close the kingdom on Christ’s command, the whole counsel of God (Acts 20: 26, 27) has to be proclaimed.

The minister may not pick and choose what he preaches, but has to administer the Word as it comes from the mouth of Christ – that is: as it is revealed to us in holy Scripture.


If any minister shuns the proclamation of the full counsel of God, he will become guilty of the blood of those whom he has deceived with his flattery.  

Whoever proclaims his own word, or whoever proclaims what the people would like to hear, is a thief and a robber that destroys the flock.   

But where the Word of Christ is proclaimed in truth – His whole Word and His Word alone – there Christ is present with the keys of life and death.   


Dear congregation, this opening and closing of the kingdom is a present reality.    The door is now already opened to those who believe, and the door is now already closed to those who do not believe the preaching.


It is a serious reality. 

The preaching is no work of art in which the minister has to impress the congregation with his skills, or amuse them with his wonderful imagination, or catch them with tricks, or treat them with good storytelling.   In the preaching the minister may not come with interesting ideas and lots of suggestions, or with his own opinions.   Neither may he choose what to preach.   He simply has to be a faithful servant proclaiming the word of Christ: “Thus says the LORD!”   

In the preaching the minister must simply be the mouthpiece of Christ in order that Christ may exercise His power over life and death!


When Christ blesses, the minister has to proclaim the blessing of Christ.  

When Christ curses, the minister has to curse.

When Christ comforts, the minister has to comfort.

When Christ exhorts and rebukes, the minister has to exhort and rebuke. 

When Christ opens the kingdom, the minister has to proclaim an open kingdom.  

When Christ closes the door, the minister has to do so with clear proclamation.


This applies not only to ministers, but also to the elders. 

To a certain extent the same Word is also laid in the mouth of all believers: a father to his house, a mother to her children, a brother speaking to a brother.   Whenever the Word of Christ is faithfully administered we are confronted with Christ Himself who opens the kingdom to those who believe His Word, and closes the kingdom to those who disobey His Word.  

But this is officially done by the minister who preaches the Word and by the elders in exercising oversight and church discipline.  


Now, Church discipline is not added as something separate or apart from the administration of God’s Word.   Instead, church discipline is part of the faithful administration of God’s Word.

We note that in the second place when we look at…

The importance of Christ’s discipline


There are people who are very negative about church discipline.  

In fact, they have a dislike of the very word “discipline”.

But such feelings or such thoughts are fully un-Scriptural.

Scripture always speaks very positively about church discipline and about discipline as such.


Just to refresh our mind somewhat, think for example of the book Proverbs.   The whole book is presented to us as discipline that will make us wise.

The purpose of the book Proverbs is stated in chapter 1: 2:


“To know wisdom and instruction…”


We may also translate the Hebrew:


            “To know wisdom and discipline…”


That is in short the purpose of the whole book: to become wise by giving heed to correction and discipline.


Our translation has the word “instruction”, but what kind of instruction is meant?

The Hebrew word does not refer to any kind of instruction, but to that kind of instruction by which we are corrected, disciplined, admonished and rebuked.

The word, “instruction”, in Proverbs chapter 1, is the same Hebrew word when he speaks of “the rod of correction” or “the rod of discipline” (Prov. 22: 15).

And usually the word is translated: discipline, correction, or chastisement.  


Now, this word discipline – or if you like: corrective instruction; instruction that corrects, admonishes and rebukes – is not only used in Proverbs chapter 1 to tell us the purpose of the whole book, but the same word for corrective instruction is also used throughout the whole book.

The wise son listens to discipline and correction, and therefore he is wise, and therefore he also increases in wisdom.  

The foolish son hates correction and rebuke; he despises discipline, and therefore he is a fool and remains a fool.


Think for example of the proverb that says:


“He who keeps instruction is in the way of life, but he who refuses correction goes astray.” – Prov. 10: 17


The Hebrew may be accurately translated:


“He who gives heed to discipline is in the way of life, but he who refuses correction goes astray”


Or think of the proverb that says:


“Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid” – Proverbs 12: 1


“A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke” – Proverbs 13: 1


“A fool despises his father’s instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent” – Prov. 15: 5


“He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding.” – Prov. 15: 32


You see how this “instruction” is every time described as correction or rebuke.

Every time he says that we are wise and become wise if we receive corrective instruction, discipline, that kind of instruction that corrects us, admonishes us, and rebukes us.

And every time he says that it is a fool who despises correction and hates rebuke.  

And because the fool hates discipline and correction, he remains a fool.


Dear congregation, by nature we are all fools.   By nature we hate correction and rebuke.   But Christ renews our hearts and grant us an open ear to receive the discipline of His word, the corrective instruction of His Word, both in the sermons, and also when needed in church discipline.


The book Proverbs does not only speak about words of correction, it also speaks about deeds of correction: the rod of discipline.


“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him” – Prov. 22: 15


The rod of correction will deliver the child of his foolishness.


Furthermore, the book Proverbs presents to us the covenant instruction of a loving father to his covenant child.   When the loving father applies the rod of discipline, he does so exactly because he loves his child.


“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” – Prov. 13: 24


Why does a loving father discipline his son promptly?   Because he does not want him to become one bit hardened in sin; he does not want him to proceed one step further on a road that leads to death.   Therefore he disciplines him promptly.   And if he doesn’t, he hates his son.


“Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.   You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell” – Prov. 23: 13, 14


If you discipline him, you will save his life; if you do not discipline him, he will end in hell.

That is the importance and the seriousness of discipline; not only in the home, but also in the church, which is the household of God.

The Lord tells us that He does exactly the same with us in the church.

We read from Hebrews 12 where the Lord says:


“My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” – Hebr. 12: 5, 6

Now, that is a direct quotation from Prov. 3: 11, 12 where we read:


“My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor detest His correction; for whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.”


You see, it is that same Hebrew word “instruction” which is described in Proverbs as correction, rebuke and chastisement, which a father has to apply to his child in order to save his life and to bring him back to the way of life – that same corrective instruction is true of our heavenly Father towards us, His children.


But how does our heavenly Father admonish and rebuke and discipline us?   Is it not though the preaching of His Word and also through church discipline?


Yes, the Lord has that same corrective instruction in mind when He says to Timothy:


“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” – 2 Tim. 3: 16


And when He continues to say:


“Preach the word!  Be ready in season and out of season.   Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” – 2 Tim. 4: 2


He has to administer God’s Word which admonishes, corrects, rebukes, exhorts.

It is by the administration of that Word that our heavenly Father chastens us.

And, says the apostle to the Hebrews, if we are not corrected and rebuked and chastened by the Word – in the preaching and in church discipline – then we do not belong to the Lord.

But if we give heed to the discipline and the chastening of the Lord, He treats us as sons.


And what is the purpose of this discipline and chastening?

That we may become partakers of His holiness – Hebr. 12: 10

And then He concludes:


“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebr. 12: 11


Dear congregation, in a sense all of God’s Word is corrective instruction.    We need every part of God’s Word to correct and to guide us.   Without His Word we are by nature all going astray, constantly.   By nature we wander like sheep, and are to be brought back time and again by the corrective instruction of God’s Word.


If we were already holy and perfect, we would have no need of correction or discipline.   But because we are by nature sinful and foolish and inclined to all evil, we need the constant correction and discipline of God’s Word – and Christ administers it to us, officially, by means of the preaching and church discipline.


Without it we will not only remain fools, but proceed on a road that leads to death.


Brothers and sisters, once we understand this, we start to appreciate God’s discipline.

Yes, then we even start to thank Him for it.

Then, as Prov. 4: 13 puts it, we take firm hold of this corrective instruction, this discipline, for it is our life!

And then we also thank those who administer it to us, for we need it so desperately!


But when must words of discipline proceed to deeds of discipline?

When must the words of correction and rebuke proceed to formal church discipline?

Brothers and sisters, church discipline always starts with corrective instruction, but when must the corrective instruction proceed to formal church discipline?  

Only when a person gives no heed to the corrective instruction, and refuses to act on it.  

When the words of correction and rebuke are not heeded, deeds of correction and rebuke have to follow.


It is not the choice of elders; it is the command of Christ.


If elders do not apply church discipline when they ought to, they are disobedient to Christ.

Elders who fail to apply church discipline, do not really care for the flock.   For the proverb also applies in this case:


“He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” (Prov. 13: 24)


The apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians saying:


            “…Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” – 1 Cor. 5: 6


If someone lives openly disobedient and are not disciplined, his disobedience will work like leaven through the whole congregation.


It is therefore not love or care for the congregation to refrain from church discipline, but disobedience and unfaithfulness to Christ who has entrusted this key to the church.


Finally, such a church will become a false church, where the keys of the kingdom are absent.


In the third place we note…

The administration of Christ’s discipline



The discipline of God’s Word does not only come to us through the preaching, it also functions daily within the communion of saints.    

However, LD 31 deals with the keys of the kingdom as it is officially administered to us in the preaching and church discipline.


We will therefore not deal this afternoon with all the commands in Scripture to exhort and admonish each other as brothers and sisters within the communion of saints, but will now focus on the official administration of church discipline.


As soon as there is repentance of sin, church discipline ceases.    Church discipline only proceeds where there is a hardening in sin.


“…if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’” – Mt. 18: 16


That is: if he will not hear; if he refuses to listen to corrective instruction.


With these words in Mt. 18 the Lord Jesus refers back to the law of Moses which prescribed that a case against someone has to be established by two or three witnesses.   No one should be judged on the witness of one man only.   By calling in two or three witnesses every word will be established.  


“And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church.   But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.   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”


You see then that repentance puts an end to any further discipline.   If the man listens, that will be the end of church discipline.   Then church discipline was instrumental in bringing him back to the path of life.  

Only if he hardens himself in his error, only if he refuses to hear and obey God’s Word, will church discipline proceed to close the kingdom to him.  

Finally, if he continues to harden himself in his sin, he will be excommunicated from the church.   He will no longer be a member of Christ’s church, but he will be as a heathen and a tax collector.   That means: he will be cut off from the communion of saints.


Brothers and sisters, this judgment which is officially pronounced by the church is not only binding on earth; it is also binding in heaven.   If someone is cut off from the church, then He is also cut off from Christ’s kingdom.   What has been preached will then also be applied.  

First it was preached to him that if he refuses to repent of his sins, he will have no part in the kingdom.   There, in the preaching, the key of the kingdom was already being used.  

The same key is also used in applying church discipline.   Church discipline applies the same Word that has been preached.   


Yes, the preaching and church discipline belong together.  And in that order: first the preaching, then church discipline.   If anyone refuses to exercise self-discipline in applying God’s Word to his own life, then church discipline has to follow in which the same Word will come to him through the admonition of many brothers.   


You see then, brothers, how both the preaching and church discipline are matters of life and death.   It is not merely a kind of church administration.   Whoever is cut off from the church by church discipline is also cut off from the kingdom of heaven.  

And the wrath of God will remain on him until such a time that he will acknowledge his sin and repent and return.


Now, if a false church misuse church discipline to persecute true believers, then we have nothing to fear.   The false church acts with the vain authority of man; but the true church acts with the authority of Christ in obedience to Christ’s command.  


When someone finally repents of his sins after being excommunicated, he will again be received in the church.   And he should be completely forgiven.   Then we receive him back as a brother and do so with gladness.  

Even excommunication is administered as a means of grace!   Excommunication is accompanied by the earnest prayer that the one who is excommunicated may yet come to repentance.    Excommunication is in a sense the most serious call to return to the Lord.  


He will be cut off from the communion of saints, but that does not mean that the church will stop praying for his repentance.   Whenever you have the opportunity you shall still speak to him and call him back.  


You won’t socialise with him as if nothing has happened.

You won’t acknowledge him as a member of Christ’s church anymore.

But you shall still pray for his salvation and call him back when you have the opportunity.  

Excommunication is then not writing off all hope of repentance.   Excommunication is administered as a means of grace, that he may see his folly and be ashamed of his sins and yet repent before it is eternally too late.


Brothers and sisters, the church has no choice whether to discipline or not to discipline.   It is Christ’s command, and we have to obey.  

We must not try to be wiser than God.

Nor may we try to be more patient than Christ.

If we would refuse to exercise church discipline in the way Scripture prescribes, then we are no longer servants of Christ.   Then we will become a false church where the sceptre of Christ’s Word is replaced by the opinions of man, and the discipline of His Word replaced by the experiments of false shepherds.


The purpose of church discipline is first of all to hallow God’s Name, and it should be exercised to His glory, in obedience to His Word.


Church discipline seeks in the first place to honour the holiness of God’s Name; in the second place church discipline is exercised for the sake of the salvation of him who goes astray.    Even excommunication is applied with this purpose: to make him ashamed of his sins in order that he may repent.


In the third place church discipline also has to be exercised for the sake of preserving the whole congregation, so that the sin of one man does not spread through the whole congregation like cancer and kill the whole body.   Without church discipline the whole congregation will soon be departing from the Lord, as the apostle Paul said:


“…Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Cor. 5: 6, 7)


A little leaven leavens the whole lump.   One rotten apple will soon cause the whole box of apples to be rotten.   He applies this to the church, and says: Therefore, remove such a man or else his example will work through the whole congregation like leaven.


If he repents, then the preaching and church discipline were the keys by which the kingdom was again opened to him.   

Yes, church discipline also opens the kingdom of heaven where there is repentance.


Sadly many run away from church discipline and so run to their own destruction.   Thereby the kingdom of heaven remains closed to them.  


But God’s children always listen to the discipline of Christ, and by the means of church discipline always repent, even though they may for a time seem to reject it.   In the end all God’s children will head the Word of Christ’s discipline and repent, or else they will prove themselves not to be children of God.  

Those who despise church discipline and refuse to heed it, prove by that very fact that they are not of Christ.  


When they are disciplined by Christ in one church, they go and seek another church where the discipline of Christ is absent.   And so they please themselves by joining a false church where the Word of Christ is not obeyed; and there they feel at home.  


But, brothers and sisters, it does not help to flee from church discipline.   Because: whether you are excommunicated by the church, or whether you excommunicate yourself with the deed, or whether you go and join a false church for the sake of avoiding church discipline – it all boils down to the same thing: such a person is outside the kingdom.   And he will remain outside the kingdom until he repents.  

He will be cut off from Christ until such a time that he repents and return with confession of his sins.  


Yes, it does not help to flee from church discipline. 

If you would go and join elsewhere where the discipline of Christ is absent, and so continue without repentance, then you do not belong to Christ – even if you are very religious.  


There are enough false churches to flee to when Christ disciplines you; false churches where the discipline of God’s Word is absent, where you may do and live as you want, where you may serve the Lord in your own way as you please.   But then you will still perish, even if you were an active member of such a church.   Because: the true church and true worship is only to be found where Christ reigns through His Word.


Dear congregation, it is not a cold-hearted consistory that administers church discipline.   It is a faithful consistory filled with the love of Christ that exercises church discipline according to Christ’s instructions.   Church discipline is not a loveless thing.    It is not loveless to use the keys of the kingdom.   It is Christ’s command.   It is to hallow God’s Name, it is for the salvation of the sinner, it is for the preservation of the whole congregation; it is in obedience to the Word of Christ.


Christ is seated at the right hand of God, and He disciplines every child whom He adopts.   Whoever is loved by the Lord is also chastened by the Lord.   He scourges every son whom He receives – Hebr. 12: 6.   He disciplines us for the sake of our salvation, for the sake of our sanctification, in order that we may bear fruit to the glory of His Name.


When Christ walks through His vineyard He uses his pruning tools in order that we may bear more fruit.  But the dead branches He cuts off.


Dear congregation, we do not need the preaching only once.   And the kingdom is not opened only once by one sermon.   Neither do we repent once only.   No, Christ is daily governing us by His Word.   Time and again He brings us back to the way of life – as often as we go astray!  

He continues to do this by the continued preaching, and – where the preaching is not heeded – also by church discipline.  


The key does not unlock the kingdom only once.   The key is constantly in His hand; the preaching continues.   Christ comforts and rebukes, He blesses and curses, He forgives and He pours out His wrath; He opens and He closes – and He continues to do so by the administration of His Word, here in the church service, and also daily in the communion of saints when brothers and sisters exhort one another with His Word.


Let us then willingly submit ourselves to the Word of Christ and repent of our sins.  



To all who hear and obey the Word of Christ I proclaim in His Name that the kingdom of heaven is opened to you by the blood of Christ and the forgiveness of all your sins.  


But to all who refuse to repent of their sins and refuse to obey Christ, I proclaim in the Name of Christ that the wrath of God remains on them and that they have no part in the kingdom of God.


Dear congregation, Christ has the key of life and death.   Let us then flee to Him, heed His Word, and live.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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