************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 83-84 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on May 15, 2011

Q & A 83-84
Acts 8:26-40
"The Keys of the Kingdom: Preaching"

"Dad, may I have the car keys?" It's a great day when you can say that for the first time. The keys declare you have the right to use and enjoy the car. Keys are also status symbols think of a local hero being given the "key to the city." Keys are symbols of power. At a nuclear missile site several designated people each hold a key. Only when all those keys are inserted simultaneously can someone push the button and launch the missile. The power that these keys give to fallible human hands is truly frightening. Keys also control entrance and exit they determine who can go in or out.

The Bible often uses the sign of a key to get its message across ot us. In appointing a new leader in Israel, God said,
(Is 22:22) I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.
One of the accusations that Jesus leveled against the scribes and pharisees concerns a key:
(Luke 11:52) "Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering."
On the island of Patmos the ascended and glorified Christ comforts John with these words:
(Rev 1:17-18) "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. (18) I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades."

I God Has Given Keys to the Church
A The footnote at the bottom of Q & A 83 refers us to the words of Jesus in Matthew 18. There we read the account of the Lord Jesus giving the "keys of the Kingdom" to Peter as a representative of the apostles and, therefore, of the church.
(Mt 16:18-19) "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (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."
Later, Christ said the same words to all the apostles (Mt 18:18).

The footnote at the bottom of Q & A 83 also refers us to the words of Jesus to the apostles in John 20:
(Jn 20:21-23) ... Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." (22) And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. (23) If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

What do these two quotes tell us? That Jesus has given the church the power of entrance and exit into the Kingdom. Christ has given the church the power to lock and unlock the doors of heaven.

B You probably realize that the Roman Catholics disagree with us on the interpretation of these words of Jesus. First, the Roman Catholics, on the basis of these words, claims the primacy of Peter as the first pope of the church. Second, the Roman Catholic Church claims that the power to "bind and loose," to "open and close," to "lock and unlock" is done by the sacrament of penance. If sins are confessed to the church and the appropriate act of penance done, then the doors of heaven and salvation are opened. If sins are not confessed and if penance is not done, then the doors of heaven and salvation are closed. Third, the Roman Catholics believe that the church doesn't just declare that sins are forgiven but actually has the power to forgive sins.

C The church, as I already said, has been given the keys of the Kingdom. Therefore, she opens and closes the doors of the Kingdom.

Many people today don't like to hear this. There are those who have problems with the church and organized religion and don't believe the church has such power. There are those who believe salvation and Christ is their decision and has absolutely nothing to do with the church. There are those who believe we are all God's children and don't care what the church says or thinks. There are those who point to the misuse of power and position by many within the church throughout the ages. And, there are those who think of the church as a gentle, kind, powerless fellowship that welcomes all, rejects none, and judges nothing.

Don't make the mistake of thinking of the church as some kind of benign and inoffensive religious club. Rather, think of the church as a castle. This castle is surrounded by a deep water-filled moat, and thick high walls. A guard is standing at the gate and not just anyone or everyone is allowed to enter in. And, sometimes, someone is forced to leave.

D Do you know why Jesus has given such power to the church? Jesus says in John 20, "I am sending you ..." (Jn 20:21). The reason for the power of the keys is the missionary mandate of the church. The power of the keys is given to the church so she can evangelize and gather in the harvest.

Of course, it is not enough to merely evangelize. Jesus makes clear at His ascension that this must be followed by teaching and baptism (Mt 28:18-20). Meaning what? Meaning that the power of the keys is to be used to grow the church both without and within.

To sum up then, God has given the church the keys of the Kingdom so she will grow, increase, and remain in the faith.

E Who holds the keys of the Kingdom? Jesus says, "I hold the keys of death and Hades" (Rev 1:18). And, it is Jesus Who gives the power of His keys to the church. Notice how Jesus gives this power to the church: Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn 20:22). The church uses the keys of the Kingdom through the working of the Spirit. Therefore, it is in the name of Jesus and by the power of His Spirit that the church has the authority to declare sins are forgiven or not forgiven. Let me repeat: the church herself does not have the authority to forgive sins. She only declares. And, she does so only in Jesus' name and by the power of His Spirit.

F With all this in mind, the Catechism asks, "What are the keys of the Kingdom?" Based upon the Bible, here is the Catechism's answer: "The preaching of the holy gospel and Christian discipline toward repentance. Both preaching and discipline open the kingdom of heaven to believers and close it to unbelievers."

This week I want to look at the key of preaching. Next week I want to look at the key of discipline.

II The Key of Preaching
A "How does the key of preaching the gospel open and close the Kingdom of heaven?" "The kingdom of heaven is opened by proclaiming and publicly declaring to all believers that as often as they accept the gospel promise in true faith, God, because of what Christ has done, truly forgives all their sins.

Preaching opens the doors to heaven when it calls upon men to come to Jesus in repentance, faith, and obedience.

The key here is the preaching. The Gospel must be preached. Every Sunday, in some way, the congregation must be called to come to Jesus.

Some churches, as you know, no longer preach about Jesus. In some churches you never hear a word about sin, repentance, faith, and obedience. Instead, you hear about a recent book, or issue, or urban renewal, or becoming a "green" church, or multi-culturalism, or what have you. Anything but Jesus. Anything but sin and repentance.

In my files I found an article about Judson Memorial Church in New York City. This church's building was built in honor of the great missionary to Burma, Adoniram Judson. However, apostasy has closed in on this church and she no longer exercises the keys of the Kingdom.
For instance, she put on a show on Flag Day--a show "dedicated to the stars and stripes" instead of to God. Furthermore, this show was filled with depraved and obscene exhibits that actually defiled the flag. On another occasion the pews were removed to make room for dancing. The pulpit had been removed for a presentation of "Winnie the Pooh" and had not been replaced.

[Tan, P. L. (1996, c1979). Encyclopedia of 7700 illustrations.]

I chose my Bible reading from Acts to make a point. What does Philip do when he preached the Gospel of Christ? What does Philip do when he told the Ethiopian eunuch the good news about Jesus? He opened the doors of the Kingdom!

I could have read any number of passages. I could have read from Peter's Pentecost Day sermon (Acts 2). I could have read the story of Saul's conversion (Acts 9), or that of Cornelius (Acts 10), or Lydia (Acts 16). Everyone of them had the door of heaven opened to them by an encounter with the Lord Jesus.

Keep in mind those beautiful words that Paul wrote to the church at Rome:
(Rom 1:16) I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
I say "Amen" to that. And so does Pastor Godfrey. And, I want to believe that every person here tonight agrees with us.

B Many churches and many pastors stop at this point. They preach, "Jesus saves." They preach, "Jesus died for you." They preach, " God loves you." But there is more much more to preaching than that. For preaching not only opens the Kingdom of heaven; it also closes the Kingdom of heaven.

How does preaching close the Kingdom of heaven? "The kingdom of heaven is closed, however, by proclaiming and publicly declaring to unbelievers and hypocrites that, as long as they do not repent, the anger of God and eternal condemnation rest on them."

The church must preach judgment from Sunday to Sunday also. It must warn people about their sins. It must warn them to turn or burn, to repent or go to hell.

Listen to what Jesus says in John 3. What I am about to quote comes right after John 3:16 (the verse about the love of God):
(Jn 3:18) Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

(Jn 3:36) Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."
How come these verses are never memorized along with John 3:16?

C Again, this kind of thinking and teaching make some people upset. They don't like it if the pastor points out sins. "He is so judgmental," they say. "He is nothing but hell and damnation," they say. "He is so negative," they say. I have found from experience that there are people who thank and compliment the pastor only when he preaches positive things. No true pastor is pleased by this!

On the other hand, I find the opposite reaction to be equally distressing. There are people who like hearing hell and damnation. There are people who want to see others squirm. There are people who say something positive about the sermons only when sin and sinners are condemned especially if it is the sin of young people.

Obviously, we need a balance. The Kingdom of heaven needs to be opened. And, the Kingdom of heaven needs to be closed. And, to demand or appreciate only one or the other means we do not put up with sound doctrine. God is not pleased when men gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Tim 4:3).

The last two lines of A 84 are very instructive. They are a kind of warning shot: "God's judgment, both in this life and in the life to come, is based on this gospel testimony."

Do you hear that? God judges you based upon your response to the Gospel. God judges you based upon your response to Jesus. God judges you based upon your response to the keys of the Kingdom. Every time you hear the Gospel the doors of heaven either open or close.

So, tell me, what happens when you hear the Gospel preached? Is heaven opened or is it closed?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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