The Keys Of The Kingdom

Matthew 16:19

September 10, 1989 | Ray Pritchard

It was the the most important game of the season. The score was tied 2-2 in the bottom of the 10th inning. Andre Dawson reached first base with a walk. Up came Luis Salazar. He slams the ball into right field, way back into the ivy-covered walls of Wrigley Field. Meanwhile, Andre Dawson takes off from first base, rounds second, doesn’t even break stride as he touches third base. As he rockets toward home, in comes the throw from right field. It’s not in time. Dawson crosses the plate standing up. The place goes wild. Over it all comes the voice of Harry Caray, “Cubs Win! Cubs Win! Cubs Win! Holy Cow!”

Believe it or not, it was the first time I’d ever watched the Cubs on T.V. And it was the first time I’d ever heard the voice of Harry Caray. This is what baseball is all about. After the game yesterday they asked Don Zimmer, the manager of the Cubs, “How did your team come back from that great embarrassment on Friday when you blew the big lead to win this afternoon?” And he said, “They played their tails off. They never gave up.”

Isn’t it great to see a team in the middle of a stretch drive in September? It’s great to be there when every game counts. When every pitch is do or die. When every at-bat can win it all or lose it all. When a missed signal means a run scored and a dropped fly ball can cost you the pennant. A stretch drive in September. That’s what baseball is all about.

The September Stretch Drive

Well, here we are. It’s September and we’re not playing baseball. We’re in church at 931 Lake Street in Oak Park. This is the first Sunday after Labor Day. It’s the beginning of our September stretch drive. Everybody who’s been gone for the summer is back and the choir is back. Isn’t it good to have the choir back in the worship services on Sunday morning? It’s just wonderful. There’s so much excitement. People look so happy. You’ll see people this morning you haven’t seen around here for a long , long time. Things are looking good.

And the question comes, What difference does it all make? Here we are all decked out on Sunday morning in September. What difference does it all make?

Oh, I know we come, we listen, we give, we pray, we sing, we read, we go home. Is there any reason to be excited? Is there any reason to get serious about anything? Is there any reason to believe that we’re doing anything besides just going through the motions? Is there any reason to believe that what we are doing has any real significance at all?

You won’t be surprised to know that I think the answer to that question is yes. What we are doing here is very, very important indeed. This morning—to prove that point—I am going to take you back to the passage we’ve been looking at for the last three Sundays—Matthew 16:13-19.

From The Mundane To The Sublime

We’ve already looked at some of the foundational things Jesus had to say about the church. We’ve looked at the church’s testimony – “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” We’ve looked at the church’s foundation – “Upon this rock I will build my church.” We’ve looked at the church’s assurance —”The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Now, finally, we are looking at the closing verse of this section, the verse on the church’s authority, Matthew 16:19. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This is the Church’s authority.

And that leads us to the question this morning, does it make any difference that we are here? If so, what difference does it make? I want to suggest to you this morning from this passage of Scripture that it makes a great deal of difference that we are here. I am going to tell you two spiritual truths from this passage that comprise the most shocking and surprising spiritual truths that I will ever share with you. I hope you will listen carefully. I hope you will follow along in your Bible because I want to share from the Word of God why I think it is important that we are here.

I said these are shocking truths. They are shocking and surprising and startling, because they lift us from the mundane to the sublime, and they transform a rather nice and beautiful Sunday morning worship service into something which is preparation for the greatest work that man can do on the face of the earth. So, then, does it make any difference that we’re here this morning?

Yes, it does for two reasons.

1. It makes a great difference who we are and what we’re about because God has given us the authority to open and shut the doors of heaven.

That’s a shocking statement. In fact, when I was preparing this message I tried to get around that the best I could. As I studied this passage, I spent a long time pondering what it really means. At one point this week I had 24 books on my desk—mostly commentaries and Bible dictionaries, trying to see what Matthew 16:13-19 was really saying. When I finally put everything back on the shelf I concluded that where I started was where I had to end. That, indeed, this verse is teaching us that God has given us the authority to open and shut the doors of heaven After all, that is the fundamental question of life. When you die, are you going up or are you going down? Are you going to heaven or are you going to hell?

The Power Of The Keys

I am saying God has given us the authority to open and shut the doors of heaven. You say, where in the world do you get that? Take a careful look at verse 19, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” What’s a key? A key is a mechanism or device which opens something. If you have the key to something you have the authority to open it up. For instance, I have in my pocket some keys. I have a key to my Honda (somebody take it please). I have a key to my mini-van which I think I’ll keep. I have a key to the glove box of the mini-van. I have a key to the church which I use when I come to work. And, finally, I have a key to our house. What does it mean? If I have the keys to the car I have the authority to unlock it, to get in and to take my car and drive it away. If I have the keys to my house, I have the authority to open it, to unlock it, to go inside and once I’m inside to lock the door behind me if I feel like it. Whoever holds the keys has the authority to open and close. Jesus is saying, “I am going to give you some keys.” If I were to give to one of the choir members my keys, I’d be giving to them the authority over my house, my car or to enter the church because that’s what my keys do. Keys impart authority.

In the ancient Near East, the kings would have a palace and in the palace they would have a storeroom where they would keep their money and grain. It was an important place. And the king would pick out a trusted servant to whom he would give the key to the storeroom. That was the highest honor the king could bestow. In those days the servant who had the key would wear it on a chain around his neck so it would be obvious to all that he had the keys of entrance into the palace and into the treasures of the king. If the steward were doing his job he would never take the chain off from around his neck. He wore it continually as a sign of the authority given to him by the king. The man who had the key was the man who could let you inside to see the king or he was the man who could refuse you entrance. That’s what’s behind Jesus’ statement when he says, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom.”

I need to tell you something else about this. Jesus spoke these words to Peter. In this passage Peter is the one who speaks but when he speaks he is speaking for the apostles. When Jesus speaks to Peter, he is speaking to Peter and ultimately to all the apostles. I would interpret this verse this way. Jesus was speaking to Peter. Peter represented the apostles. And, ultimately in the New Testament, the apostles represent the whole Christian church. I would suggest to you that when Jesus says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom”, he’s not just speaking to Peter or to the apostles. He’s ultimately speaking to you and to me. Jesus is giving to you and to me the same keys that he gave to Peter.

Opening The Doors Of Heaven

This verse has been a subject of great controversy over the centuries. Over 2,000 years there has been a great debate. If you look at the books on church history, you will find sections in some of the books which discuss something called, “The Power of the Keys”. That is, they are trying to figure out what Jesus meant when he said, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom.” What were the keys and to whom did he give them?

Let me tell you how the Protestant Reformers interpreted this verse. Martin Luther said that the preaching of the Word of God represents the keys of the kingdom. I’ve already told you the keys of the kingdom is the authority to open the door into the kingdom of God. What opens the door into the kingdom of God? Luther said it was the preaching of the Word of God. It is through the preaching of the Word that men come into a right relationship with God. Luther’s great point was that the preaching of the Word should not be restricted to the pastor or to the priest or to any ordained clergy, but that the preaching of the Word belongs to the entire church.

John Calvin essentially agreed with Martin Luther, but he specified that “the keys of the kingdom” represented the preaching of the gospel which is revealed in the Word of God. When the gospel is preached the keys are being exercised to unlock the door of heaven so that those who believe the gospel may go through. When the gospel is preached—the particular method or occasion doesn’t matter—that’s like taking the keys of the kingdom, opening the door of heaven, and saying, “Would you like to come in?” Is it not true that men go to heaven by believing the gospel? Is that not what the gospel is for? That’s the way to heaven. It is the Word of God and it is the gospel of Jesus Christ that men must believe. So when the gospel is preached, the keys are being exercised and men and women are being invited to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Peter And The Gentiles

Now, that much is clear. Is there a place in the Bible where this interpretation can be sustained? Is there an example where Peter used the keys of the kingdom in this way? I think the answer is yes. All you have to do is read the book of Acts. Come to Acts chapter 2. What is Peter doing? He is preaching on the Day of Pentecost. To whom is he preaching? To the Jews. And by his preaching, Peter is opening the door of heaven to the Jews. Come over to Acts 8. He’s preaching again. To whom is he preaching? He’s preaching to the Samaritans. He’s opening the door to the kingdom of heaven to the Samaritans. Come over to Acts 10. To whom is he preaching? He’s preaching to Cornelius and his household. What’s he doing? He’s opening the door of faith to the Gentiles. So, in the book of Acts in chapters 2, 8, and 10 you have Peter preaching the gospel and opening the door of heaven, first to the Jews, then to the Samaritans, then to the Gentiles. It perfectly fits what Jesus said in Matthew 16.

D. A. Carson explains the significance of Peter’s ministry in the book of Acts this way:

Peter accomplishes this binding and loosing by proclaiming a gospel that has already been given and by making personal application on that basis … Whatever he binds or looses will have been bound or loosed so long as he adheres to that divinely revealed gospel. He has no direct pipeline to heaven, still do his decisions force heaven to comply; but he may be authoritative in binding and loosing because heaven has already acted first … Those he ushers in or excludes have already been bound or loosed by God according to the gospel already revealed which Peter, by confessing Jesus as the Messiah, has most clearly grasped. (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 18, p. 373. Italicizing mine.)

Let me summarize what I have just said.. The keys to the kingdom is the offer of the gospel. Whenever you offer the gospel to another person you are opening the door of heaven to them. What happens if people go through that door? They are saved. They are born again. They become children of God and you have opened the door for them. What if, when you share the gospel, the person comes right to the edge, they put their toe in the door, and then they pull it back, and walk away? What happens then? They have closed the door to heaven. You have opened it and they have closed it. That’s the significance of what Jesus is saying here. When we share the gospel we are opening the door to heaven and if men and women will come in, let them come in and let the praise party begin. If they will not, if they choose to walk away, then we must say to them, “O, my friend, I love you, I care for you, I pray for you but you have just shut the door to heaven. Unless someday you repent and change your mind and come back, you will walk all the way to Hell.” That’s what Jesus is saying.

What More Could God Do?

When I said he has given us the authority to open and shut the doors of heaven, that really means that we have the privilege (and duty) of preaching the gospel. When we share Christ, we are using the keys of the kingdom. We are opening the door to heaven.

Let me put it this way. God has already done everything necessary for the whole world to go to heaven. What more could God do than he has already done? He has given his only begotten son, who walked on this earth for 33 years. He sent his Son who worked miracles, who raised the dead, who cast out demons, who loved the sick and the sinful, who loved the little children. That same Son was betrayed with a kiss from someone who was supposed to be his friend. That same Son was mocked and beaten and crucified beside two criminals. That same Son condemned to death by the guilty. He was hung on a cross between two thieves. Before he died, he cried out, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

God has already done it. He’s done enough. Is there anybody in Oak Park who needs to be saved? Come on in. Anybody in River Forest who wants to go to heaven? Anybody from Cicero, Berwyn, Elmhurst? Anybody from Chicago who wants to be sure that when they die they’ll be with God? Good news! God has already done enough. He has done enough.

“Why Should I Let You Into My Heaven?”

And because God has done enough, he has declared that the conditions for entering heaven are very simple: You must understand that you cannot get to heaven by yourself. You must cling to the cross of Jesus Christ as your only hope of heaven. That’s the condition of salvation. Any man, woman, boy or girl who truly believes, “that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.” God’s already made it clear. If you’ve ever taken Evangelism Explosion, you already know the second question they want you to ask when you’re out witnessing: “Suppose you were to die tonight and you were to stand before God and he were to say to you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say to him?” That’s a good question because it is his heaven and if it is his heaven he has the right to set the conditions. God has already set the conditions and it has nothing to do with going to church and nothing to do with being baptized and nothing to do with giving money and nothing to do with being good and nothing to do with any human effort. It has everything to do with clinging to the cross of Jesus Christ. That’s the gospel. That’s the good news.

And God has said to you and me, “Don’t just sit here. Don’t just think that you’ve done enough. Don’t just say, ‘Bless me Lord.’ But go out from this place and spread the good news and open the door to heaven to men and women who cannot find their way. When they come in, bid them welcome. If they turn and walk away, warn them lest they die.”

That’s the first part of it. God has given us the authority to open and shut the doors of heaven. We do that, as John Calvin said, as “porters” of the kingdom of heaven. God gave to his church the keys to unlock the Pearly Gates. And thank God, it has nothing to do with anything about membership in this church or any other church. How do we determine who goes to heaven? Have you believed in Jesus Christ and are you clinging to him? If you have and if you are, I’ll see you in heaven. And if not you are not trusting in Jesus Christ, I must warn you concerning the reality of hell. That is our task.

There’s a second great truth in this passage.

2. He has also promised to ratify in heaven our decisions on earth.

This, if possible, is an even more radical statement. This is a very strong statement Jesus is making. He’s upping the ante here. He’s saying when you say to someone, “You are forgiven,” if you do it on the basis of the gospel they are forgiven. If you say to someone, “You are forgiven, past, present and future, because you are a son of God,” and you are acting on the promise of the gospel of Jesus Christ that because he has believed on the name of the only begotten son of God his sins are forgiven. When we declare forgiveness to someone who has believed in the gospel God says amen from heaven. When we say to someone who has rejected the gospel, your blood is upon your own head God says amen from heaven. It’s true. Look at the text.

Jesus said, “Whatsoever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” He’s talking about declaring the forgiveness of sin to people. If you say to someone, “Because you have rejected the gospel, you are still bound up in your sin,” God says, “That’s right. They are still bound in their sins.” If you say to someone who has believed in Jesus Christ, “Because you have believed in Jesus Christ, you are forgiven,” God says, “That’s right. You are loosed from your sins.”

Done On Earth, Done In Heaven

And you say, Pastor Ray, why is that so? In the translation of this text there is an extremely unusual Greek construction called a periphrastic future perfect. It occurs only a handful of times in the whole New Testament. The NIV translates these phrases “will be loosed” and “will be bound.” But, as D.A. Carson from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School has argued, that translation is not the best. The New American Standard offers a better translation: “Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven” and “Whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.” Note the phrase “shall have been.” It suggests action in heaven preceding the action on earth.

But what is the “binding” and “loosing” Jesus is talking about? It’s the picture of man bound up by his own sins. When he is forgiven, he is loosed from his sins. “For Christ, in delivering us, by his gospel, from the condemnation of eternal death, looses the cords of the curse by which we are held bound.” (John Calvin)

What role do we play in the binding and loosing process as it applies to individual sinners? In the first place, only God can forgive sins. That is one of the clearest teachings of God’s Word. (cf. the whole discussion between Christ and the Pharisees in Luke 5:17-29 on this very point.) No mortal man can ever forgive sins. No one can ever say, “I forgive your sins” or even, “On my own authority, I declare that your sins are forgiven.” To say that would be blasphemy.

But there is a true sense in which we may declare to a person the forgiveness of their sins on the basis of what God has already done. For instance, we know that God forgives sins on the basis of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. That forgiveness is received through personal faith in Christ. When a sinner comes to faith in Christ, we may say with absolute certainty, “Your sins are forgiven.” We know that God will back us up on that because he said he would. Are we forgiving his sins? No. He didn’t sin against us, and anyway, we don’t have the power to forgive sins. All we can do is to declare God’s forgiveness.

When we say to someone, “Good news, your sins are forgiven,” God says, “Amen. That’s right. I already did it.” And when we say to someone, “My friend, you are still under the judgment of God,” God says, “Amen. That’s right. They already were under judgment.” Done in heaven, done on earth. Done on earth, done in heaven. Not on the basis of whim or human personality but acting on the basis of the Word of God. When we act according to the principles of the gospel, we open the door to heaven. When they come in, we say, “Your sins are forgiven,” and God says, “Amen.” Then acting on the gospel when we invite them to come in and they walk away, we say, “You are under the wrath of God,” and God (in great sorrow) says, “Yes, that’s true.” That’s what this text is telling us.

To Whom Much Is Given

Why is this in here? Because we don’t take seriously our Christian obligation. We don’t take seriously our Christian obligation to Oak Park and River Forest and all the other communities. We have a good time and we go out and if anybody comes to us, great, we’ll tell them the good news. But if not, there are other churches. My friends, there are not too many other gospel preaching churches in this neighborhood. That’s one reason God put us here. That’s one reason Jesus gave us the keys. He said, “I’m giving you the keys to the kingdom.” That’s the most important thing in the world. He didn’t give the keys to the school system. He didn’t give them to the city hall. He didn’t give the keys to the government. He didn’t give them to the men at ABC and NBC and CBS. He didn’t even give the keys to the noted scholars from the universities of the world. He gave the keys to the kingdom to us and said, :”Now go out from this place and open the door to heaven to the people you meet. When they come in, tell them they are forgiven. If they reject you ,warn them of coming judgment. And whether it’s grace or whether it’s judgment, whatever is done on earth in accordance with the gospel ,God says it will be done in heaven.

God Takes Us Seriously

That brings me back to Don Zimmer. After the game yesterday, he said, “The reason these guys don’t lose is because they have discovered that every game is important.” They have discovered something that some of us have never discovered. Every Sunday here is important. Every Sunday Calvary Memorial Church is life or death. It’s heaven or hell. It’s light or darkness. It’s the upward path or it’s the downhill slide. Every single Sunday.

Do you know what I think the bottom line of this message is? God takes us seriously. If I give you the keys to my house, I’m going to keep my eyes on you day and night until I get my keys back. When God gave the keys of the kingdom to his church he was saying, “I’m giving you something I’m not giving to anyone else in the whole world. Do something with it.” He is watching us day and night to see what we are doing with what he has given us. God takes us seriously. What we are doing here is utterly serious. So we take the keys of the kingdom and we go out these doors and we open heaven to those who come in and we bless them and declare their sins are forgiven, and we warn those who turn away.

John Calvin offers a fitting summary of this truth:

This is a great honor, that we are God’s messengers to assure the world of its salvation. It is the highest honor conferred on the gospel, that it is declared to be the embassy of mutual reconciliation between God and man (II Cor. 5:20). In a word, it is a wonderful consolation to devout minds to know that the message of salvation brought to them by a poor mortal man is ratified by God. Meanwhile, let the ungodly ridicule, as they may think fit, the doctrine which is preached to them by the command of God. They will one day learn with what truth and seriousness God threatened them by the mouth of men. Finally, let pious teachers, resting on this assurance, encourage themselves and others to defend with boldness the life-giving grace of God, and yet let them not the less boldly thunder against the hardened despisers of their doctrine. (Comments on Matthew 6:19)

Building Christ’s Church In Oak Park

Four weeks ago I began my ministry as the pastor of Calvary Memorial Church. It was not by chance that I began preaching to you from Matthew 16. In the first sermon I mentioned that I wanted us to examine these seminal words of Jesus so that we could together discover what the church is all about. Now that the work is done, I think we ought to stand back and see what we have done.

1. We began by looking at the Church’s Testimony—-“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Everything begins there. We declare and testify openly that Jesus is the God’s promised Messiah from heaven, that he is God’s only-begotten Son, the Savior of the world. It is that testimony which makes us Christian.

2. We then looked at the Church’s Foundation—”Upon this rock I will build my church.” The rock, we discovered, is not just Peter and it is not just his testimony, but it is Peter openly confessing Christ to the world. And that testimony is not only Peter confessing, but it is Peter representing all the apostles, who in turn represent all who follow them. They are the Living Foundation Stones, and we who follow them are Living Stones built upon the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ. The church is made up of men and women who personally embraced one revolutionary truth—that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

3. We next considered the Church’s Assurance—”The Gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” We learned that death itself cannot defeat because our Founder defeated death. Though we die, the church rolls on. Satan wins the battle, but Jesus wins the war. Satan has the gates, but Jesus has the keys. Therefore, we move triumphantly forward knowing that our work does not depend on us, but on Jesus alone.

4. Finally, we have looked at the Church’s Authority—”I will give you the keys of the kingdom.” By preaching the gospel, we open and shut the doors of heaven. To those who believe, we declare their forgiveness on the basis of the gospel. To those who reject our message, we declare that they are still in their sins. When we make those declarations on the basis of the gospel, we are declaring on earth what God has already ratified in heaven.

We have our work cut out for us, don’t we? But we have a clear testimony, a solid foundation, a triumphant assurance, and a heavenly authority. That ought to be enough. Jesus has been building his church for 2,000 years. In Jesus’ name, I invite you to join me as we join him in building his church right here in Oak Park.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?