The Keys to the Kingdom
12 Mar 2005, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
Walking around the city of Rome today you are constantly confronted with the symbol of the keys of the Kingdom. The keys of Heaven and the keys of Hell. In this historical Roman setting the faithful of the Church flock to ancient worship sites such as the Pantheon, the Santa Scala, representing the 28 marble stairs of Pilate's Judgement Hall, the Mammertime Prison where Paul was supposedly imprisoned, and the Catacombs which form the underground cemeteries of ancient Rome. Over the entrance doors on all these sites there are signs written in Latin indicating that a pardon could be received for the living and for the dead just by visiting there.
I would like to begin this morning by making it very clear to you that THE KEYS TO THE KINGDOM OF GOD come through no human being, or through no institution on this earth, but only through faith in the words of Jesus Christ.
During the Middle Ages the Medieval Church made profit out of the grace of God. Under the plea of raising funds for the erection of St. Peters Basilica, indulgences or remissions for sin were offered for sale by the authority of Pope Leo X, the Vicar of Rome.
Leo X was the extravagant son of a notorious Renaissance family by the name of Giovanni Medici. He was made a cardinal at the age of 13 and became Pope at the age of 38. He was described as 'a polished Renaissance Prince', and 'a devious and double-tongued politician'. Pleasure loving and easy-going, Leo went on a wild spending spree as soon as he ascended the papal throne.
Within two years, he had squandered the fortune left by his predecessor and he, and the Church, were now in serious financial trouble. It was at this time that his plans for the rebuilding of St. Peters in Rome was under way and it was to be financed by the sale of indulgences or as some would suggest that 'it was through the price of crime that a temple was to be built for God's worship.'
It was during this period in 1517 that a Dominican monk by the name of Johann Tetzel was appointed to conduct the sale of indulgences in Germany. This friar had already been convicted of base offences against society and the law of God and now he was given opportunity again to commit further falsehoods in the name of the Church. We need to recognise that if the people had possessed the Word of God at that time, they would not have been deceived.
As Tetzel entered a town, a messenger announced that 'The grace of God and of the Holy Father is at your gates'. He was welcomed as though he were God himself.
Tetzel proclaimed to the people that 'by virtue of his certificates of pardon, all the sins which the purchaser should afterward desire to commit would be forgiven him', and not even repentance was necessary. He assured his hearers that his indulgences had power to save the dead; and the very moment the money should clink against the bottom of his money chest, the soul in whose behalf it had been paid would escape from purgatory and make its way to heaven. This led to the well-known saying echoed throughout the country that, 'As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs'.
When some of Martin Luther's congregation came to him with their certificates of pardons expecting absolution, he was filled with horror and refused to hear their confessions.
Luther's voice could be heard thundering from his pulpit that unless they should repent and reform they must perish in their sins. 'Nothing but repentance toward God and faith in Christ', he said, 'can save the sinner.'
THE GRACE OF CHRIST CANNOT BE PURCHASED; IT IS A FREE GIFT. Consequently, Luther counselled the people not to buy indulgences, but to look in faith to a crucified Redeemer.
It was Tetzel's commercialism that eventually incited Luther to post his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg and the rest, they say, is history.
While Luther regarded Tetzel as the author of this tragedy, it is recorded that in 1519 as the Dominican friar lay on his deathbed, he wrote him a letter of comfort. He penned the following words saying, 'Don't take it too hard. You didn't start this racket'. The blame, Luther placed firmly and squarely on the organised Church of Rome.
HE CONTINUED TO MAKE IT CLEAR THAT '…every institution in which men are not increasingly occupied with the word of God MUST INEVITABLY BECOME CORRUPT'. There is a lesson here for all of us.
LUTHER REPEATED OVER AND OVER AGAIN THE SCRIPTURAL BELIEF THAT 'THE GRACE OF GOD IS FREELY BESTOWED ON ALL WHO SEEK IT BY REPENTANCE AND BY FAITH.'
Dear Friends, It is the power of the Gospel Story, the Salvation Story, that provides you and I with the KEY to unlock the door to God's Kingdom.
Let's read what Jesus had to say in 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'. In other words,'Woe to you teachers who take away the people's knowledge on how to enter the kingdom. They claim to be experts but don't understand the way to heaven themselves, and by their imposed traditions, they keep others from being saved.'
The apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:23 takes this a step further when he says:
'For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through THE LIVING AND ENDURING WORD OF GOD'.
Dear Friends, this tells me that:
THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN ARE THE WORDS OF CHRIST.
THESE WORDS HAVE THE POWER TO OPEN AND TO SHUT THE DOOR OF PARADISE
THESE WORDS ALSO DECLARE THE CONDITIONS UPON WHICH MEN AND WOMAN ARE RECEIVED OR REJECTED.
THEREFORE, THOSE WHO PREACH GOD'S WORD PRESENT A WORK THAT IS FRAUGHT WITH ETERNAL CONSEQUENCES.
I would like you to turn with me this morning to one of the most misunderstood portions of Scripture in relation to the Kingdom of God. It is found in the book of Matthew Chapter 16:13-20.
(READ MATTHEW 16:13-20)
On the basis of these verses some would have us believe that Peter's authority was now to exceed his fellow apostles. That he was to be the rock on which Christ would now build His Church.
What was Jesus really saying to this once boisterous and self-confident disciple?
The Scriptures make it very clear in 1 Cor 3:11 and Acts 4:12 that 'Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ'. 'Neither is there salvation in any other.'
DEAR FRIENDS, THE ROCK SPOKEN ABOUT HERE IS JESUS CHRIST - THE LIVING ROCK - THE ROCK OF OUR SALVATION and it is against this rock that the gates of hell shall not prevail.
Jesus is the only Rock on which the entire structure of the Church rests, for without Him there would be no Church at all.
Faith in Him as the Son of God makes it possible for us to also become sons and daughters of God.
The realization by Peter that Jesus was indeed the Son of God - THE CHRIST - is the key to the door of Salvation
In Rev 1:18 Jesus tells us that it was He that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for ever more, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death'. We need to recognise that Christ's triumph over death and the grave becomes the real central truth of Christianity
WHAT OF PETER? WHERE DOES HE FIT INTO THE PICTURE?
We are told that because of his nature, Peter eventually became the leader of his peers, but he possessed no greater authority. The keys given to Peter are the same words of Jesus that will open the kingdom to all who accept them. It was Peter's understanding of the truth, that Jesus is indeed the Christ, that placed the 'keys of the kingdom' into his possession and let him into the kingdom - THE KINGDOM OF GRACE. The same may be said of all those who follow Him right through to the very close of time.
CHRIST SIMPLY BESTOWED UPON PETER AND ALL THE OTHER DISCIPLES THE POWER AND AUTHORITY TO BRING MEN AND WOMEN INTO HIS KINGDOM.
Even as far back as 1483 a Dominican Monk by the name of GIROLAMA SAVANAROLA was making it clear that the Church of Rome was in major need of reform. At the time he was Prior of St. Marks in Florence and his preaching on prophecy and the book of Revelation was causing many of the Florentines to repent and lead humble upright lives. After condemning the excesses of the Church and the Popes he was charged with heresy. All of his preaching was based directly on the Bible, the only book he was to read for the last eight years of his life.
After refusing a Cardinal's position offered by the Pope, if he would change his preaching, he was eventually excommunicated in May 1497.
Thrown into a prison cell, tortured and then found guilty, his sentence was to be carried out twelve months later on May 23 1498. Stripped of his robes, hands bound and publicly defrocked from the priesthood, Savanarola, along with two of his companions, was led to the gallows and then stoned while his body was publicly burned.
From his writings it was clear that his confrontation with the Church revolved around the following points.
- He believed in justification by faith
- He believed that Papal pardons and indulgences were wrong
- He believed that confession to a priest was not necessary
- He also preached against the sinful lives of the cardinals
- He denied the supremacy of the Pope
- He called the Pope antichrist
HE DECLARED THAT THE KEYS WERE NOT JUST GIVEN TO PETER BUT TO THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH
Refusing to recant on any of these positions SAVANAROLA laid his life on the line holding firmly to these beliefs.
We need to recognise that there have been many men and women through the ages who have been prepared to stand and be counted so that the keys of the kingdom could be made available to all who wished to accept them.
THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM, THE WORDS OF JESUS, WERE TO BE GIVEN TO ALL WHO, THROUGH FAITH, WERE PREPARED TO ACCEPT THE GOOD NEWS OF THE GOSPEL STORY.
Keys today have not changed much since Old Testament times. Many doors, during that period, were locked by using sliding bolts of wood with leather straps or rope. A number of these could be opened from the outside by means of a key. One or more pegs or wedges were dropped into corresponding notches or holes in the bar making it impossible to move unless the pegs or wedges were lifted up. This procedure could be completed by inserting a key into a hole or slot and lifting the pegs so that the bar could be moved and the door opened. Most ancient keys were not turned in the hole, but functioned as a lever to lift up the pegs of the lock. Keys of this nature were first mentioned in the book of Judges 3:25 and in Isaiah 22:22 where we are told that some were so large they had to be carried on the shoulder (Wood, 1994:849).
In ancient times a KEY not only opened doors, but also it expressed the symbolic idea of authority, power or privilege. The person who controlled the key controlled the door.
I'M SO GLAD, AREN'T YOU, THAT THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM ARE IN THE HANDS OF JESUS CHRIST
IF JESUS CONTROLS THE KEYS WHAT THEN WERE THE CONDITIONS OF ENTRY INTO THE KINGDOM?
As used throughout the ministry of Jesus, the term 'kingdom of heaven' referred both to the 'kingdom of grace' found in the hearts of those who became its citizens here and now and also to the 'kingdom of glory' set up at the Second Advent.
No one can ever hope to enter the future 'kingdom of glory' who has not first entered the present kingdom of His grace.
When John the Baptist and Jesus called the Jews to repentance by suggesting that the 'kingdom of heaven is at hand', they were presenting to the Jews the opportunity of becoming citizens of the kingdom the Messiah had come to establish. He asked the people to demonstrate, by their baptism, that they recognised their sinfulness and were repentant.
The step he now asked them to take was a dramatic one. It was not to be taken lightly. A drastic change was now necessary to prepare people for Jesus' coming.
THE CONDITION FOR CITIZENSHIP WAS TO BE A GENUINE REPENTANCE AND A THOROUGH CONVERSION OF THE LIFE. THE PRINCIPLES THAT WERE TO CONTROL THE MEMBERS OF THIS KINGDOM WERE THEN SET FORTH IN THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT.
Jesus then makes a number of remarkable statements. He was to make it very clear in Mark 16:16 that 'Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved…'
Jesus also commanded His disciples in Matt 28:18-20 to "Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.'
DEAR FRIENDS, JESUS WAS MAKING IT VERY CLEAR THAT, ALONG WITH REPENTANCE AND A THOROUGH CONVERSION, HE REQUIRED BAPTISM OF THOSE WHO WISHED TO BECOME PART OF HIS KINGDOM.
THIS WAS NOT TO BE AN OPTION NOR WAS IT TO BE TAKEN LIGHTLY
JUST AS BAPTISM BY WATER IN THE DAYS OF JOHN THE BAPTIST PREPARED PEOPLE FOR JESUS FIRST COMING, BAPTISM BY WATER AND THE SPIRIT HELPS PREPARE JESUS' LOVED ONES FOR HIS SECOND COMING.
In the early Church, Baptism automatically followed a person's acceptance of Jesus Christ. It was a confirmation of the new believer's faith. We read this in Acts 8:12. LET'S READ:
Acts 8:12 'But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptised, both men and women.'
Baptisteries, dotted throughout the ancient world, attest to the vital importance of Baptism to the early church. The significance is not in the rite itself, but in what it acknowledges to both the church and the world regarding our death to sin and new life in Christ. The fact that most ancient Baptisteries were built separately from the main church building also indicates their importance and possibly because the unbaptised, at the time, were not entitled to set foot inside the main church.
WHAT THEN IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN BAPTISM AND SALVATION?
The apostle Peter in 1 Peter 3:19-21 uses the experience of Noah to illustrate the relationship between baptism and salvation. LET'S READ I am reading from a paraphrased version (1 Peter 3:19-21).
'It was also through the power of the Holy Spirit that Christ worked for the salvation of people in the past, offering to set them free from the prison of sin.
This was the case in Noah's day when the Holy Spirit offered the people a way of escape. But they didn't listen and kept right on sinning. God patiently waited for one hundred and twenty years for them to change their minds, the whole time Noah was building the ark. When the rains finally came, only eight people decided to come into the ark and be saved.
Figuratively speaking, those eight people were baptised by the flood and their lives were spared. This is what happened to you when you were baptised. You went through those baptismal waters as a sign that you were saved and you came out clean. I'm not talking about washing away bodily dirt - all you have to do to have a clean body is to take a bath. What I am talking about is the pledge you made to God in good conscience at your baptism - in that sense you were washed clean. Salvation itself is made possible only through the resurrected Christ'.
Peter explains that just as Noah and his family were saved through water, we are saved by baptism. However, it is important to recognise that it was God, not the floodwaters, that saved Noah and it is the blood of Christ, not water, that removes sin from the believer.
It is also essential to understand that while baptism is vitally linked to salvation, it does not guarantee salvation. To illustrate this situation, the apostle Paul used the Exodus experience in 1 Cor 10: 1-5,12. Lets read what he says:
I am reading from the NIV. LISTEN CAREFULLY:
1Cor 10: 1-5
'For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. NEVERTHELESS, GOD WAS NOT PLEASED WITH MOST OF THEM; THEIR BODIES WERE SCATTERED OVER THE DESERT.'
So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall.
The people of Israel were symbolically baptised as they passed through the Red Sea. Yet, in spite of this experience, 'GOD WAS NOT WELL PLEASED WITH MOST OF THEM.'
BAPTISM DOES NOT AUTOMATICALLY ASSURE SALVATION
A FORMAL CONNECTION WITH THE CHURCH IS NOT PROOF THAT OUR MEMBERSHIP IN THE KINGDOM OF GRACE IS INTACT.
HENCE, ISRAEL'S EXPERIENCE WAS WRITTEN FOR OUR ADMONITION
THEREFORE, LET HIM WHO THINKS HE STANDS, TAKE HEED LEST HE FALL.
IN EFFECT, BAPTISM HAS NO MEANING UNLESS IT IS THE PUBLIC TESTIMONY OF WHAT THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS ALREADY COMPLETED TO ENABLE US TO BECOME MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY OF GOD.
BAPTISM ATTESTS TO OUR UNION WITH JESUS IN THE SAME WAY THAT THE WEDDING SERVICE ACKNOWLEDGES PUBLICLY THAT A COUPLE HAS DECIDED TO DEVOTE THEIR LIVES TO EACH OTHER.
PROOF THAT GOD'S ELECTION IS APPRECIATED AND APPROPRIATED IS THEN DEMONSTRATED BY THE QUALITY OF OUR LIVES, PARTICULARLY THE QUALITY OF OUR INTERACTION WITH OTHER MEMBERS OF THE BODY OF CHRIST AND THE WITNESS OF OUR LIVES IN THE WORLD.
1 John 2:9-11 makes that very clear. LISTEN TO WHAT HE SAYS:
'Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.'
Jesus says, 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.' Matt 11:28.
IF THIS INVITATION IS GIVEN, WHY IS IT THEN THAT SO MANY ARE HESITANT TO TAKE THE STEP OF FAITH?
The feeling of 'not being good enough' has probably caused more people to stay away from Jesus Christ than any other reason. It has also kept a lot of discouraged Christians from asking for, and receiving, the many blessings that they might otherwise have had.
We all need to realise that by our own efforts we can never be 'good enough'. There is only one way any of us can come to Christ and that is 'Just as we are' (White, 1908: 31). No matter who we are or what we have done we need to recognise that being saved is a gift from God to you.
Listen to the words of this old Hymn.
Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid'st me come to Thee
O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt;
Fightings within, and fears without,
O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee I find,
O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, Thy love I own
Has broken every barrier down;
Now to be Thine, and Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come.
The year was 1970 and a young Brazilian teenager by the name of Maria had been on her way to town to purchase groceries for the family home when she discovered a religious pamphlet by the side of the road.
Brazil, at that time, was predominately Roman Catholic with about 85 per cent of the population accepting the religion brought by the Portuguese colonists in the 16th century. Another 10 per cent practiced local religions, which combined aspects of both African spiritual beliefs and Catholicism. Protestants were to make up the remaining 5 per cent. Of this group the Lutherans were be the largest denomination.
Seventh-day Adventists were to make their entry into Brazil towards the end of the 19th century through book publications and the distribution of small tracts of literature. Many of these papers after being read were often used as wrapping paper for groceries and other items and in this way were to eventually find their way into a myriad of different homes, both rich and poor.
Maria's discovery, then, was not altogether unusual. As she read the small pamphlet she saw that it mentioned something about the seventh day as being the Sabbath. While this concept was radically different to what she currently understood, she took the opportunity of sharing the material with one of the girls at the local store who, having a Christian background, offered her the loan of a small Bible.
This was to begin a spiritual journey that would lead her into much conflict with her family. Maria had hidden the Bible and the other material in the timbered area near their home and as often as possible she would slip away to study and read.
After a number of months had passed Maria discovered a family who were members of the local Seventh-day Adventist Church and with their encouragement she began to attend Sabbath School and other Church programs with them.
Six months had passed since she had discovered the Bible Study tract and it was now that Maria was to make the decision to be baptised and become a member of the SDA Church. Early one Sabbath morning she plucked up the courage to approach her father with this special announcement and while expecting him to show opposition to the decision she was totally unprepared for his response.
Pointing to his hunting rifle sitting in the corner of the room he angrily and firmly told her that if she were to leave the family church and be baptised into this new religion he would use it on her.
A further six months were to pass when Maria once again spoke to her father. This time it was to announce that at 3 o'clock that afternoon she was to be baptised and she was extending an invitation for her family to attend.
Once again her father repeated his threat and said that if he were to come, his rifle would be with him.
Maria was not to be deterred and at 3 o'clock, along with 20 other candidates, she prepared for Baptism in a little stream not far from the small SDA church.
As she stood in the water with the Pastor by her side she saw her family coming over the hill. After approaching the site of the baptism, they stood approximately 35 m distant and her father, as he had promised, had his rifle by his side.
The pastor quickly suggested that they make other arrangements by postponing the baptism until another day.
Maria looked at her Pastor and said, 'Pastor, nineteen hundred years ago Christ gave his life on the cross for me. Christ sees all that is happening here today. He knows my life, and if it means my death, I am ready, but I want to go all the way for my Saviour'.
As Maria came up out of the water two shots rang out. One bullet went through her heart killing her instantly. She died in the arms of her pastor who was wounded by the second shot.
Maria was buried the same Sabbath afternoon, in a grave not far from the little church.
As the newspapers of the day recorded, the father was immediately taken prisoner and placed in solitary confinement.
HOWEVER, THE STORY DOES NOT END THERE. The irony of this event was to be further publicised by the local newspapers that pursued the story for some months. They discovered that the father had asked the prison authorities to arrange a visit with Maria's pastor and this resulted in continuing visits over a two-month period. In a letter written by Robert Adams from the South American Division of SDA, dated November 3, 1971 he states that: One day, almost a year after Maria's death, the father, under guard was taken out of the prison and down to the river where he and his wife and several of Maria's brothers and sisters were baptised.' This was the same place where Maria had been baptised one year before.
It was Maria's story that became an inspiration to many people throughout the southern part of Brazil to commit their lives to Jesus Christ. In death it would seem she could do more for her Saviour than during her life.
The witness of Maria's life provided the opportunity for many Brazilians to discover for themselves the words of Jesus which, in turn, were to provide them with the keys to the kingdom of God - The kingdom of grace. (Dept. of Ed. 1972: 48,49).
WE NEED TO BE REMINDED AGAIN:
That THE KEYS TO THE KINGDOM OF GOD come through no human being or through no institution on this earth but only through faith in the words of Jesus Christ.
THAT THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM ARE THE WORDS OF CHRIST.
THAT THESE WORDS HAVE THE POWER TO OPEN AND TO SHUT THE DOOR OF PARADISE
THAT THESE WORDS ALSO DECLARE THE CONDITIONS UPON WHICH MEN AND WOMAN ARE RECEIVED OR REJECTED.
THESE CONDITIONS INVOLVE A GENUINE REPENTANCE, FAITH IN THE GOSPEL STORY WHICH IS FAITH IN THE LIFE DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST, THE NEED TO BE BORN AGAIN AND THE NEED FOR BAPTISM WHICH SIGNIFIES A MOST SOLEMN RENUNCIATION OF THE WORLD AND PREPARATION FOR THE SECOND COMING.
Today I would invite you to accept the invitation of Jesus when He says to you: Come to me, all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest'.
It is my sincere prayer this morning that you all take the opportunity today to accept this offer of grace, which is free to all and, as a result, receive the KEYS to the kingdom of God.
Bibles NIV, Clearword
Department of Education, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (1972) 'Under New Management', God's Style of Life, Unit III & Teacher's notes, Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
White, E. G. (1908) 'Steps to Christ'.
Wood D. (Co-ordinator) (1994) 'The Illustrated Bible Dictionary - Part 2. Leicester LEI 7GP, England: Intervarsity Press.
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