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Edward F. Markquart

Series A
The Keys of the Kingdom

Pentecost 14     Matthew 16:13-20

Keys. To begin today’s sermon, I would like to talk about keys. See in my hand. A key from my key chain. Keys are so important to our everyday lives. So are key chains. Many of us adults have a key chain. In fact, having a key chain is a sign of becoming an adult.

How many of  you carry a key change? How many keys on are your key chain? Who carries the most keys in this congregation this morning? Let’s have a little test here? Everyone take a look at your set of keys and let’s determine who has the most keys that they carry with them. Shout out the number of keys that you have on your key chain.

Doesn’t it frustrate you when you lose your set of keys? Knowing we all have problems losing our keys, most of us have a key hook at home where we hang our sets of keys. If we don’t have that key hook, most of us lose our keys and that is so frustrating when we lose them.

Keys are incredibly small but open such great power. You know that and so do I. I think of Wendy who drives an eighteen wheeler which he sometimes parks in the church parking lot at night during the week. Wendy gets into that eighteen wheeler, turns the ignition, and Wendy moves tons of material just with that little key. Look at this key in my hand. Look how small it is. How much does it weigh? I measured its weight. This key weighs a fraction of an ounce. It is two inches long. But it can move many tons of machinery. This key is a small little bugger but it is important.

Most of us have other keys. For our work. That is, for our office, our building, our school. Most adults have jobs and often there are several keys that are connected with work. Sometimes we carry a master key. A master key will open numerous doors in the building.

I think every adult in this room has at least two crucial keys:  a car key and a house key. These two keys are important to all of us. We have a key to open up our house, condo or apartment and all the joy that we experience once we open that door. We also have a key to our car or cars to open the door into that machine which takes us to all kinds of wonderful places. What if we didn’t have a key to our house, condo or apartment? What a sorry mess we would be in. The key opens the door to pure pleasure. The same with the car key. What if we didn’t have a key to our car and we were stuck in our garage, carport or driveway. How dull. How confining. But that car key opens not only the door to our car but the doors to so much in life.

We all have these two basic keys for life. One for the house. One for the car. O yes, we have other keys. Often we other numerous other keys and have them on a key chain. But there are two keys which are used most often: for the house and for the car.

Further, we often use the word, “key,” as a metaphor for many things in life. We all know that there are keys to being a good athlete or a good musician. What are the keys to being a good athlete or musician? Well, you know them. Talent, hard work, discipline, enjoyment of the task, experience, learning.

There are important keys to doing your job. You have a set of keys to doing your job well and I have a set of keys to do my job well. The keys to being a good pastor is getting along with a great variety of people, loving God, loving Jesus Christ, loving the Bible, taking care of people in their deepest needs, being a friend to people, being a leader, a preacher, a teacher. I have a set of keys that make my job run more smoothly. You have a set of keys that make your job run more smoothly. What are some of the keys that are important to your job.

There are also keys to effective parenting. You need to use those keys to effective parenting or life will get really messed up. There are keys to effective and loving marriages. You need to use those keys to marriage or your marriage will get messed up.

There are keys to effective and great friendships. There are keys for everything, so it seems.

It is with this mood and metaphors that we approach the gospel lesson today from the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus talks to us about the keys of the kingdom.

Let’s do a brief Bible study of the text. Would you please turn to your bulletin where the text is printed? Would you please find a pen or pencil for notes?

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, Circle the words, “Caesarea Philippi.” Caesarea Philippi lies about twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee. The city was named after Caesar Augustus and his son Philippi. We do not know precisely why this event of Peter’s confession happened outside of Judea.


"Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" Circle the words, “Son of man,” and write the word, “Jesus.” Jesus was asking his disciples what the large crowds of people were saying about him.

14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, Circle the words, “John the Baptist.” Many people thought that Jesus was none other than John the Baptist. Let me explain. We know that Herod had recently beheaded John the Baptist. Many people thought that Jesus was none other than John the Baptist who had come back to life. We recall that Origin, one of the great early church fathers, said that Jesus and John the Baptist were cousins and therefore, perhaps looked alike. Herod himself, who actually ordered the beheading of John the Baptist, was confused by Jesus’ appearance and wondered if Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. (Mark 6:16)  

but others Elijah, Circle the word, “Elijah.” A prophet from the Old Testament said, “I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” For centuries, the Jews believed that Elijah was to appear before coming of the Messianic age, and John the Baptist was none other than Elijah.  

and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." Circle the word, “Jeremiah.” Matthew inserts the name, “Jeremiah.” Prophets from the Old Testament prophecied that Jeremiah would return before the day of the Messiah. Both Jeremiah and Elijah were thought to be “forerunners” of the Messiah.

15 He said to them, "But who do YOU say that I am?" Please circle the word, “you.” Jesus had heard the conclusions of the crowd and now he wanted to know what the disciples personally thought. One Biblical scholar writes, “Note the emphatic, ‘but you,’ at the beginning of the sentence. Another scholar translates this sentence, “And you, who do you say that I am?”

In this passage, we hear Jesus asking a personal question of us? “YOU there. Who do YOU say that I am?” Today in this moment, Jesus asks each one of us, “What is your personal opinion of me and my identity? I am not interested in what your church says about me. I am not interested what your pastor says. I am not interested in what yours parents or friends say about me. I am interested in what you think and you say about me. What are your personal conclusions about me?”

Let’s pause for one moment and in our minds, answer that question. What do you think about Jesus?

16 Simon Peter Circle the name, “Simon Peter.” Consistently, we discover that Peter is the leader of the disciples. His name is at the top of the list of the twelve disciples.  Peter is the first to speak, the one to take the initiative, the one who doubts and sinks in a storm, the one who is the rock of faith, the one who is given the keys of the kingdom, the one who sticks his foot in his mouth on the mount of Transfiguration. There are 93 references to Peter’s name in the first gospels. His name is at the heart of the gospel stories.

answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." “You are the Messiah, Son of the living God. Peter got the answer right. These words are one of the climaxes of the gospels, one of the high points, one of the mountaintops. Peter, for a moment, finally gets it right. He understands the truth about Jesus, that Jesus was/is morethan a prophet, more than a great moral leader, more than a loving example for us to follow. For Peter, Jesus was not only the longed for Messiah; but he was the Son of the living God, the Mind and Heart of God, the one who had been sent from God and would return to God. We also remember that the Apostle Paul said, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (I Corinthians. 12:3.) In other words, the Spirit finally got through to Simon Peter and Peter for the first time momentarily understood the truth about Jesus.

That is what God wants from us. God, through the Holy Spirit, wants us to come to the moment in life when we realize the true identity of Jesus, that he is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, that the Spirit of Christ is with us right now at this moment and in every moment of our lives.

17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, Jesus called Peter by his Aramaic name, Simon Bar-Jona, the son of Jonah.

Circle the word, “revealed.” The human mind, human reason, human wisdom cannot come to the conclusion about Jesus’ true identity that Jesus is the Son of God.

We make a distinction between reason and revelation, between flesh and Spirit. Reason (flesh/blood) cannot come to an accurate conclusion about Jesus’ true identity; only revelation through God’s Spirit can. It is not human reason that leads to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is the living Son of God who is with us at this very moment and in all moments of our lives, but it is God’s revelation due to the work of the Spirit that leads us finally to believe in Christ as my living Lord, the Son of God for all eternity. 

but my Father in heaven. Circle the word, “my.” Jesus called the living God, “My Father.” We remember that this was the deepest scandal for the Jewish Pharisees, that Jesus had the audacity to call God, “his” Father. God, our heavenly Father, is the one who reveals the true identity of Jesus to us and we do not come to that conclusion because of reason.

18 And I tell you, you are Peter, The word, “Peter,” means “rock.” “You are Rocky. You are the Rock.” Peter receives a new name from Jesus. Receiving a new name indicates that Peter has been given a new identity. In both the Greek and Aramaic language, there is a play on words. “You are Petros (Peter) and on this Petra (rock).”

and on this rock A rock is solid, endurable, endurable.

A question is asked: Who is the solid rock that the church is built upon? Is it Peter? Is it Jesus? Is it both? There needs to be a great foundation at the base of the church for the church to have lasted so long. What is the foundation or rock on which the church is built? Jesus? Peter? The confession/testimony of Peter?

For centuries, Christians have debated the meaning of the phrase,  “on this rock.” Roman Catholics have taken the traditional Catholic interpretation. That is, “on this rock” refers to the person of Peter. The structure of the language and the play on words (“You are Petros and on this Petra I will build my church.”) indicates that it is Petros/Petra himself on which the church is to be built. The church is to be built on the back, shoulders and confession of Peter. In the Roman Catholic Church, we hear about the primacy of Peter, who was the first bishop of Rome. His bones are the most sacred relic at the Vatican.

On the other hand, the Protestants have taken the traditional Protestant interpretation. That is, “on this rock” refers to Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That confession is the rock on which the church is to be built. The emphasis is not on Peter and the person of Peter but on Christ, the Son of the Living God. Christ is the rock and foundation on which the church is to be built. We recall the old solid hymn with its heavy ponderous tune, “Built on the Rock the Church shall stand, even when steeples are falling. Crumbled have spires in every land, bells still are chiming and calling.” Christ is the Rock on which the Church shall stand.

It seems that both the traditional Roman Catholic and Protestant positions have a validity to them. Peter was the first human being to confess the truth about Christ, the Son of the living God. His confession is the rock/foundation on which Christ will build his church.

 I will build my church, This is the first reference to the “church” in the four gospels.  Circle the word, “church.” The church is the “ekklesia” or the assembly, or synagogue, or gathering. Circle the word, “my,” and we remember that the church belongs to Christ. The church does not belong to its members, its pastors, its power groups. The church always belongs to Christ. We also remember that Jesus was going to build his church, and that building process has been going on for centuries. Jesus was/is forever building this community of believers that belongs to him. Christ is forever building our local congregation, Grace Lutheran Church as well.

For many Biblical scholars, this passage is from the time and traditions of the Apostle Paul when the word, “church,” was used. The word, “church,” was not used elsewhere in Jesus’ vocabulary and in all probability, was not used by Jesus in his lifetime. Such scholars conclude that Jesus himself did not use the word, “church.”

and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. This is a bold and victorious statement. We are told that the powers of death and damnation are not as strong as the powers of God nor will those evil powers win the battle. The powers of death and evil are all around us, but these evil powers are not stronger than the church and its power of God within. Evil will lose out!!!

19 I will give you Circle the word, “you” and write the name, “Peter.” The, “you,” seems to refer to Peter and not the church. Catholics emphasize that Peter has been given the power of the keys. On the other hand, Protestants emphasize that the church has been given the power of the keys. Peter and/or the church is to be the steward or caretaker of the keys.

the keys of the kingdom of heaven, What are the keys of the kingdom? The answer to that question has caused endless debate and interpretation. The word, “keys,” is a plural word. There is more than one key.

We momentarily focus on the word, “kingdom,” and not the word, “keys.” We remember the kingdom of God/heaven was/is Jesus’ primary teaching. We have listened to parables of the kingdom and teachings of the kingdom. We have also head about the miracles of the kingdom. The kingdom is wherever Christ rules in a person, a home, and a nation. The kingdom is wherever and whenever the love of Christ rules in a person’s life.

Within the kingdom, what are these two keys?

and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." There are two keys of the kingdom: one key is to withhold forgiveness and the second key is to grant forgiveness.

This saying was an Aramaic colloquial phrase. To “loose on earth” meant to declare a person to be released, loosed or absolved. “To bind on earth” meant to declare that a person to be bound to the consequences of his or her sins.

The phrase, “to loose and to bind” was a common Jewish phrase in Jesus’ day. The rabbis of the day had that power to “loose and bind.”  To “loose and to bind” was to allow and forbid, to declare something allowed and to declare something forbidden.

This phrase is an Aramaic colloquialism. In our daily lives, we all use contemporary colloquialisms, and we grasp the meaning of those colloquialisms such as “go jump in the lake” or “drop dead” or “get lost” or “go fly a kite.” We know that we are not to take these words literally or we would all get wet as we jumped in a lake or we would all die on the spot as we dropped dead or we would go get lost or we would go buy kites and fly them. We intuitively know that these phrases are slag expressions, contemporary colloquialisms, that are not to be taken literally. So it is with this phrase. It was an Aramaic colloquialism to grant forgiveness or withhold forgiveness.

We also recall the similar words of Jesus in John 20:23 when Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection. Jesus said to his disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Traditionally, the phrase, the “office of the keys, ” is interpreted to be the church’s authority to “declare the forgiveness of sins” after confession of sin during the worship service.

The Lutheran Book of Worship expresses these sentiments in the following words which are part of the confession: “As a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This is the office of the keys.

20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.This is part of the Messianic secret. Consistently, Jesus was telling is disciples not to reveal his identity. Why? We are not fully sure. It may be that the common crowd would have believed in Christ the Messiah for the wrong reasons so that they would have a bread king, a healing king, and a political king to throw off the political oppression of the Romans.

As we complete our study of this section of Scripture, we remember that Peter finally got it right … for a moment. Peter rightly confessed:  “Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God, the Messiah, the Holy One of God.”

What does this mean for our daily lives? To grant forgiveness. To withhold forgiveness.

We know that to give forgiveness is crucially important. Forgiveness is letting go of sins. It is releasing sins. Letting go of our own sins and imperfections and flaws. Letting go of the sins and imperfections of our spouse, our kids, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow church members. The list goes on and on. You cannot live with other sinful and perfect people harmoniously without the presence and power of forgiveness. The only kind of people in this world are sinful and imperfect, including yourself and myself, and we cannot live with people peacefully without forgiveness.

Just as you use the key to your house and car several times a day, so also you need to use this key of forgiveness often, daily, endlessly, infinitely.

The second key is more difficult: when we do withhold forgiveness. This much more difficult for each one of us who know that we are not to be judgmental and that we are to forgiven seventy-times seven or infinitely. At the same time, we hear this teaching that there are occasions when it is appropriate to without forgiveness.

John 20:23 says, “If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

I believe that this is an expression of “tough love.” That is, we and others need to see the consequences of our sins. We are not to protect someone who sins and does something stupid from the consequences of those stupid actions and decisions. Too often in life, we are “enablers,” those people who grant forgiveness, tolerance and acceptance too soon. We enable people to continue drinking, throwing tempter tantrums, living at our home free when they have no job and are not out searching for one. The list goes on and on where we enable people to live irresponsibly and not face the consequences of their sinful behavior. I believe that is what it means to “withhold forgiveness” or “retain sins.”

We know that the Bible connects repentance and forgiveness. Forgiveness without accompanying repentance is often “cheap forgiveness.”

Keys. The keys to my house and my car are the two keys I use most in life. The key for my house does not work in the ignition to the car. The key for my car does not work to open the house. Those are two different keys that need to be used differently for different occasions.

In the kingdom of God there are two keys. The key of forgiveness. The key of withholding forgiveness. Those keys are not the same but both are important to use. Amen. 

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