Keys of the Kingdom




Matthew 16:13-20

(13) Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"

(14) And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

(15) He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"

(16) Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

(17) And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

(18) And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

(19) I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

(20) Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.



It was autumn, and the Indians on a remote reservation asked their new Chief if the winter was going to be cold or mild. Now the chief was a college graduate who had been away from the reservation a long time and had never been taught the old secrets. He looked at the sky, but he had no clue. Finally, to be on the safe side, he told the tribe that the winter was going to be cold and that they should collect wood to be prepared. Several days later, he drove down to town where he could use his cell phone, and, being a practical man, he called the National Weather Service and asked, "Is the coming winter going to be cold?" They said, "It looks like this winter is going to be quite cold indeed." So, the Chief went back to his people and told them to collect even more wood. A week later, he called the National Weather Service again. "Is it going to be a very cold winter?" "Yes, it is." they replied. "We expect one of the coldest winters on record." "How can you know that?" the Chief asked. The weatherman replied, “Because the Indians are collecting wood like crazy.”

The weather is obviously important to people who work outside since they make a living based on what the weather does. The weather also determines mood for some people. SAD stands for Seasonal affective disorder. It is sometimes called winter depression. In the South, it would be summer depression, or too many 95 degree days. The typical symptoms of SAD include depression, lack of energy, increased need for sleep, a craving for sweets and weight gain. (Wow! Sounds like most of us!)

I think the weather is important to us “older” people because it gives us something to talk about and perhaps something to guess about, but let us talk about weather in another sense—spiritual weather. We could talk about the spiritual weather, or condition, of the nation, but that is not really our concern. We are concerned about our own spiritual weather.

During WWII, baseball broadcasters were forbidden to give information about weather conditions over the air, for fear it might be of aid to enemy bombers. On one St. Louis broadcast, Dizzy Dean and his play-by-play partner Johnny O’Hara filled a rain delay with about an hour of aimless talk, never mentioning why there was no action on the field. Finally, Dizzy Dean “ran out of words,” as O’Hara explained it, and said, “If you folks don’t know what’s holdin’ up this game just stick your heads out the window.”

Sticking your head out the window is one sure way to determine your local weather, but how about your internal weather, the condition of your soul?

Matthew tells us that the spiritual condition of our soul depends on a relationship, our relationship with Jesus. Jesus asks his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"

Back in 2008, Esquire Magazine conducted a survey around the question: Who is the Greatest Man Alive. The candidates were people like Tiger Woods, Steve Jobs, Madonna, Warren Buffett, Meryl Streep, Bob Dylan, Britney Spears, Daniel Day-Lewis, Michael Jordan


A Christian has a different answer. The greatest man alive is Jesus Christ. He lives in our hearts and minds and saves our souls.

Think for a moment about the size of the universe. The universe is commonly defined as the totality of everything that exists, including all space, time, matter, energy, planets, stars, galaxies, intergalactic space, and beyond. There are various multiverse theories, in which scientists have suggested our universe is one among many universes. God is the originator, creator, source for all this, “for the totality of everything that exists.” The question is how can we know anything about such a god.

The central thought of Christianity is that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus tells us what God is like. In Matthew, Jesus challenges his disciples: "Who do people say that I am?" And we have a variety of answers, but the one Jesus commends is from Peter: "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God."

OK, let us unpack this answer a little. The word “Christ” literally means “Messiah” or “anointed one.” Jesus is the one who is anointed and appointed by God to save his people. The phrase “Son of the Living God” is the link with the second person of the Trinity. Jesus is a reflection of the Creator. The role of the Son is to show us what God is like. Or to use the language of John, chapter 1, Jesus is the Logos, the Word made flesh. In the same way that words reveal thoughts, so Jesus is the revealer of the thoughts of God.

Therefore, if you ask me what God is like: I look at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. How do I know that God identifies with the poor and excluded? Because in the ministry of Jesus I see a life that connected with the poor and excluded. How do I know that God wants to turn moments of despair into moments of hope? Because in Jesus, I see the cross followed by the Resurrection. How do I know that God calls us to live whole, transformed lives? Because in the gospels, I see Jesus touching countless lives and making them whole and transformed. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the Son disclosing the Father.

In Matthew chapter one, we are given the good news of salvation, that this babe of Bethlehem is "Immanuel, which means God with us." Yet a question haunts the reader. The Sermon on the Mount has been delivered and Jesus' ministry of teaching and healing is well underway when John the Baptist asks the question, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Jesus' reply is pointed, "Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me." That was in chapter 11. Now we come to the climax of the gospel in chapter 16. The parables, the miracles, the stories have told us more and more about Jesus, and now everything is focused on this direct and personal question. Jesus asks, "But who do you say that I am?" No more equivocation, no more quibbles, no more hedging. Peter speaks for the disciples, and for Matthew's gospel, and for us. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

Names are significant in the gospel of Matthew. At his birth, Jesus' name is interpreted as signifying that "he will save his people” (1:21). Now in like manner the confessor's name is given significance. His name was Simon bar Jonah, but Jesus gave him a new name, Peter, or in Greek, Petros—which means rock, and Jesus says, it is on this "rock," this petra, that he will build his church (16:18). This is a play on words in Greek, The man Petros declared the petra--the foundational belief of the Christian Church, which is that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God. If the church is to be the church it must sit on this rock.

I read about a sailor who was shipwrecked and managed to swim to a rock, which he clung to until the tide went down. A reporter asked him, “Did you shake with fear when you were hanging on that rock?” “Yes,” he replied, “But the rock did not.” He was terrified, but he was reassured by the solidity and stability of the rock.

We have a solid rock, the rock of ages. You remember the song,

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in thee;

Let the water and the blood,

From thy wounded side which flowed,

Be of sin the double cure;

Save from wrath and make me pure.

Jesus said, on this rock, on this confession, I will build my "church." That leads to an interesting question. What is the church? In our time, that is a question that needs examining.

On a spring break trip to Italy, a tour group was standing just inside St. Peter’s Basilica, the 2nd largest church building in the world. The tour guide was trying to explain the enormity of the building and part of his presentation went like this: “This church is so large no man on earth could hit a baseball from one end to the other. Not Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth or even Mark McGwire."

The group stared in silence at the beautiful marble sculptures, intricate paintings and glorious mosaics all around all around the enormous building. Then in an astonished voice one girl interrupted the silence. She said: "You mean, they actually let them hit baseballs in here?"

You see, she knew what a church building was for, but, here was this guide talking about hitting baseballs in the church, and she knew that you don’t do that.

Well what do you do? What is the church about?

I have heard many descriptions:

The church is a lifeboat for the rescue of sinners.

The church is a family, where Christians help one another and love each other.

The church helps people in need.

The church is the company of believers who have found the way of life.

The church is the “body” of Christ on the earth, reflecting His spirit and controlled by His will.

Those are all pretty good definitions, but let us look at what Matthew says. Matthew is the only gospel that uses the word translated here as "church,” and notice that “church” is linked to “Kingdom.” The Church is the community of disciples, which is linked to the kingdom of God and intimately bound up in Jesus. Jesus establishes the church which has the keys of the Kingdom.

Furthermore, we are told that “the gates of Hell” will not prevail against the church. What are these “gates”? It is probably a poetic way of describing the power of death (Is. 38:10). The congregation of the new covenant will persist into the age to come despite the efforts of the powers of darkness to destroy it.

There is still another question we want to ask of these verses. What are these mysterious "keys of the kingdom of heaven," Countless jokes and stories depicting St. Peter as the gatekeeper of the Pearly Gates have their origin in this verse.

Let me give you a sample. Two men died and went to Heaven. St. Peter greeted them, and said "I'm sorry, gentlemen, but your mansions aren't ready yet. Until they are, I can send you back to Earth as whatever you want to be." "Great!" said the first guy, "I want to be an eagle soaring above beautiful scenery!" "No problem," replied St. Peter, and POOF! The guy was gone. "What do you want to be," St. Peter asked the other guy. "I'd like to be one cool stud!" was the reply. "Easy," replied St. Peter, and the other guy was gone. After a few months, their mansions were finished, and St. Peter sent an angel to fetch them back. "You'll find them easily," he said, "One of them is soaring above the Grand Canyon, and the other one is on a snow tire somewhere in Detroit!"

There are hundreds of similar jokes, but on a more serious note, the keys of the kingdom are a symbol of Peter's authority as a leader in the Church after the Resurrection. When we picture Peter holding a set of keys invested with the authority to admit or refuse admittance to the kingdom, our minds tend to dwell on the negative part of his job description. He can lock people out of the kingdom, but that is not the image we need. We should stress Peter letting people in. In the book of Acts, Peter is the chief missionary of the Easter message. He has the joyful task of leading many into the kingdom through his preaching.

Peter's confession tells us who Jesus is: Messiah and Son of God. It also tells us who Peter is: Peter is the one who publicly confesses Jesus' identity. Peter's ministry, his call, to say who Jesus is. This is our ministry and call, to say who Jesus is. Jesus calls us to be Peter. We are to confess Jesus as messiah and son of God in our time and place. We have an identity, as disciples and ambassadors of the kingdom. We are to call God's people to God's church.

This requires that we focus on that task.

I heard a little story about a bride who was very nervous about the wedding service. It was almost time for the bridal march, and she was not even sure she could walk down aisle. Her mother gave her some words of calming wisdom. She said. “Honey, focus on three things. The first is walking down the aisle. I know it seems like a long way to walk, but just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other and you will get there. Next, focus on the service. You will stand before God with the man you love and will make vows to God. Focus on the service that represents the love God has for you in Jesus Christ. Last, focus on the hymn that the soloist will sing. The hymn embodies God’s love for you in Christ. So, focus on those three things. Walking down the aisle, standing before God, and listening to the hymn.” The bride was thankful for these words of advice. The congregation watched as she walked down the aisle and noticed a look of calm determination on her face, but as she passed them, they heard her mumbling three words over and over, “Aisle, service, Hymn… Aisle, service, Hymn… Aisle, service, Hymn.”...

That bride took her mother's advice literally, and it worked for her. In the gospel of Matthew, we are urged to take Peter's confession literally, and it will work for us. I will give you three words to focus on. “Jesus” is the first word. You cannot make any spiritual progress without Jesus. “Church” is the second word. Belief in Jesus makes you a member of his church. The third word is “kingdom.” The church has the keys to the kingdom and eternal life with God. Jesus Church, Kingdom.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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Last Modified: 05/02/13