The Keys to the KingdomErwin W. Lutzer | March 15, 1992
Selected highlights from this sermon
If Jesus is called only a teacher, prophet or a good man—if that is all that He is—it’s an insult to who Christ really is. When Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was, Peter answered in Matthew 16:16, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” May we understand Christ, His divinity, His humanity, as Peter did.
You know, I am sure that if you were to stand at the corner of State and Madison Streets in Chicago and ask people who Jesus Christ is, almost everyone who you asked would want to say something that they believe is complimentary. I don’t think that there is anyone (perhaps one in a thousand, but very few), who would actually want to say something that was derogatory about Jesus. And yet I venture to say that nine out of ten answers, though they appear to be a compliment are, in effect, insulting to who Christ really is. It would almost be equivalent to someone asking who you are and someone answering that you are X number of pounds of atoms, or you’re X number of pounds of chemicals. And you want to say, “Well, I may be that, but I’m sure a lot more than that.” In the very same way, when people say, “Well, I believe that He’s a great teacher, or a prophet, or a wonderful man,” that in itself, if that’s all that He is, is indeed an insult.
Now if you’ve been with us you know that this is the fourth in a series of messages on the life of Peter. First of all, we noticed in the first message that Jesus said, “Thou art Simon and thou shall be called Peter (which is by interpretation a stone). I’m not only going to change your name, I’m going to change your character.” In message number two what Jesus said was, “What you need to do, Peter, is to become a fisher of men,” and to illustrate, Jesus said to Peter, “You can put your net in at the wrong place and the wrong time, and I’ll still fill it, because soul winning (catching fish) is something that I am actively involved in, and will help you to do.”
In the third message we noticed last week how Peter was walking on the water and needed to learn that the very water that was threatening to be over his head was under Christ’s feet.
Today we come to that important passage in Matthew 16, and it’s a section of Scripture that everyone has heard many times involving even some controversies. But it’s one in which Peter confesses who Jesus Christ really is, and I want you to notice that Jesus, first of all, begins by asking, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Now He knew who the religious leaders thought He was. In Matthew 12 they said that Jesus was Beelzebub. He was Satan. That’s what the religious crowd thought of Jesus.
But Jesus begins this passage by asking, “What do the crowds say?” So what I want you to notice today are three opinions of Christ. Matthew 16:13: “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’” And now they begin to delineate three different opinions with a possible fourth.
They say, “Well, some people say that you are John the Baptist.” Why would they say that? Well, they probably get it from Herod Antipas. In the 14th chapter of Matthew you remember Herod beheaded John the Baptist in response to the wish of one of the belly dancers that was there in the king’s court. And after beheading John the Baptist, Jesus begins to show up doing miracles, and Herod says to himself, “This must be John the Baptist whom I beheaded.” And so many people thought that perhaps that was the answer, that Jesus was some kind of a resurrected John.
Well, there’s a second opinion. Some said, “Well, we think that you are Elijah.” Why would they say that? I want you to take your Bible and look at the beginning of Matthew, the dividing line between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Look at the very last page of the Old Testament. The prophet Malachi is making a prediction here and he says in chapter 4, verse 5, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome Day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” Many people looked at this prophecy and they interpreted it very literally. They said that Elijah is going to be raised and returned. Now actually John the Baptist was the fulfillment of that prophecy. He himself was not Elijah. Actually he denied being Elijah, but it does say that he was the fulfillment of this prophecy because an angel said in Luke 1:17 before John was born: “He shall go forth in the strength and the power of Elijah.” So John the Baptist was not Elijah reincarnated. He was not Elijah resurrected, but he had the spirit and the power of that great Old Testament prophet, Elijah, so there were many people who said, “Well, this Jesus must be Elijah.”
And then, “Some say you are Jeremiah.” (Verse 14) Why Jeremiah? Well he was the weeping prophet. He was the prophet who was able to bear upon his own soul the sins of the people and feel keenly their rebellion and their hostility toward God. And Jesus was a weeping prophet. Jesus was serious. Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. It is clear that Jesus was born into this world with a very strong burden, with heaviness of spirit as He saw the people reject him, and knew fully what that the implications of that rejection really were. And so they said, “You might be Jeremiah.” They all thought that he’s got to be some Old Testament personage that was either reincarnated or raised from the dead, or one of the prophets.
I want you to know today that the world has no better an understanding of Christ than the ancient world, and those who actually lived during the time of Jesus. But I also want you to know that those people who have a twisted or wrong view of Jesus, their view is really the product of some willful rebellion. It is a product of willful turning away from the facts, and we’ll see that in just a moment.
So first of all, you have the opinions of the crowds. Secondly you have the opinion of Peter who speaks for all the other disciples. Verse 15: “He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’” The Greek text says, “But you! They are saying that, but you, what are you saying about Me?” Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” What he said was that in the Old Testament there were predictions that there would be a man who would come who would be a prophet. He would be into truth. He would be a priest. He would make a sacrifice for sins as a high priest to abolish the Old Testament priesthood, which would no longer be necessary because there would now be a priest who could bear the sins of the world. And He would be the king. He would be the ruler. He would be a man of truth, prophet. He would be a priest, a man to put an end to all false religion, and Himself being the one to give people to God, and He would also be king. Church and state would be united in His person – king, prophet and priest.
And Simon Peter looked at Him and said, “You are Messiah.” That’s what the Greek text really means - the word Christ. “You are the Messiah. You are the fulfillment of all of the prophecies that were made in the Old Testament, and You are the Son of the Living God. You are God, a very God. You are the God man. You are the one who unites in your person divinity, and humanity into one.”
And I need to pause here and tell you that there are some people who think, and they generally come to your door on a Saturday morning, and they like to tell you that Jesus Christ is not quite God. He is a created being. And I want to tell you today that if Jesus Christ is not quite God, He is like a bridge that is broken at the farthest end. He is unable to redeem anybody unless He is God, a very God. And Simon Peter looked upon the one whom he had come to adore and to love and to worship, and he says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Now I want to ask you a question today. Where did that information come from in Peter’s mind? Was that faith something that was within him that was just waiting to be released? Was it because of Peter’s upbringing? Was it because of the fact that he had within himself the potential to see the light? Well, that’s the way we think, but that’s not what Jesus said. Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”
Jesus said, “Peter, despite all the facts, despite all the information that has been given to you, despite all the argumentation that somebody might be willing to lay on you regarding my divinity, the bottom line is that if my Father had not revealed it to you and given you that enlightenment, you would not have come to that conclusion. The faith by which you believe is granted as a gift of God. My Father showed it to you.”
Let me ask you, do you stand today with Peter and say, “My heart is filled with praise and gratitude to God because I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God?” You say, “Yes, Pastor Lutzer, that’s exactly what is in my heart.” I want you to know today that that is the result of a miracle. It is a result of the same miracle that God did in the life of Peter, to show you that truth, because apart from that you will argue against it. You will be blind to it. You will give alternatives to it. You will stand against it with all that is within you no matter what the facts are because the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God. They are spiritually understood, and because of that, unless God shows it to us, we will not see it.
Now He uses the Word of God. And He uses this very message that is being preached to those of you whose hearts are closed today to Christ. But it is a work, a ministry of God. “The light that shone out of darkness in creation,” Paul says, “is the same light that has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” You say, “Pastor Lutzer, today I have the assurance that I belong to God.” You are a walking miracle. God has showed you something. He has worked in your life.
Now I want you to notice what else Jesus says to him: “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.” You say, “Well, was the church built on Peter?” I don’t think so, because as you may know there are two different Greek words that are used here. “You are petras, meaning a stone, and upon this rock, this slab of rock I will build my church.” But if the church is built upon Peter, he can’t be the primary foundation because elsewhere it says, “No foundation has ever been laid but that which is Jesus Christ.” To build the church on a man would be to build on the sand for sure, but also, even if we say that in some respects the church is built on Peter, two comments must be very quickly made. First of all, there is no evidence that his authority is transferrable, and secondly, there’s no evidence that it’s been transferred to what is generally called today the papacy. That whole stream of tradition grew up quite independently of New Testament teaching.
But Jesus does give Peter a very important responsibility. He says in verse 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.” What are these keys? Well, you know that the purpose of keys, of course, is to make sure that you can get in a door, or you can close a door. You can lock it so that nobody can pass through it, and Jesus is saying, “Peter, you are going to have some keys by which My kingdom is going to be open and extended.” And of course we look at the book of Acts and we can see how clearly this was fulfilled.
There was Peter, not just on the Day of Pentecost preaching to a large crowd of people, leading them to faith in Christ. But in addition, when the Gospel was going to go to the Gentiles, such as to Cornelius, God used Peter and showed him that now these narrow views —that the Gospel is only for the House of Israel —need to be blown apart, and that the Gentiles would be also heirs of eternal life. And later on, the Apostle Paul became used of God as a minister to the Gentiles to show that from now on the Keys of the Kingdom are worldwide.
What does it mean when it says, “Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven?” By the way, that statement is not just made to Peter. It is made to all the disciples. This was not something special. You say, “Well, how do you know that?” Take your Bible and turn it just one page to chapter 18, verse 18. Notice that Christ is speaking now to all the disciples and says the very same thing. You know in English, the word you can be either plural or singular. Here it is plural in Greek. Christ is saying in verse 18 (and here the southerners have an advantage because they can take singulars and make them into plurals, and we can understand it more clearly): “Truly I say to you, whatever you all bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you all loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” It’s plural. It refers to all the disciples.
And Jesus is saying that the disciples have the responsibility of binding, which means to forbid. Loosing means to permit. But they are given authority, and this authority is extended to local congregations of being able to expand the Kingdom of God through preaching, through teaching and through witnessing, and also to exercise discipline so that those who are not approved by God may be told so, and that they might know where they stand. It does not mean that we on earth have the ability to forgive sins, as if to say we are taking the prerogative that belongs to God. But we do have the ability to preach the Word. We do have the ability to give assurance to those who need assurance of salvation through faith in Christ, and also to warn those who have not trusted Christ as Savior regarding their destiny. So this is really something that has been expanded not just to Peter, but to the entire church.
First of all, the opinion of the crowd! Oh, He’s this! He’s a prophet. He’s a great teacher. He’s this and He’s that!
“Peter, what is your opinion of Christ?”
“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”
“Peter, you saw this insight because My Father has been at work in your heart.”
It isn’t just because you were brought up Christian. You know, there are some people who think that the reason that a person is a Christian is because he’s brought up in a Christian family. Well, that may help because God may use that influence, but nobody is ever born a Christian.
You know, it is sometimes said here in the city of Chicago that the only way you can make sure that your car has a parking place is to buy a car that is already parked, and that might not be too bad an idea. And in the same way, some people think that the only way that you can become a Christian is to belong to the right family. The answer is no. You come back next week. We’re going to be sharing testimonies of some of the new members who are going to be joining The Moody Church, and you will find that there were many who were converted as adults from different faiths, without a Christian background. And of course all of us know that there were those who were brought up in Christian environments who have never savingly believed on Jesus Christ, because ultimately it isn’t those influences. It is whether God has worked in your heart, and you have responded to the work and the ministry of the blessed Holy Spirit. And that’s why I now come to a third opinion.
The opinion of the crowds! The opinion of Peter! What do you think of Christ? What is your opinion? What do you say of Him? I want you to grasp something of the total unavoidability of Christ. Nobody can be neutral about Him.
Now there may be some politician and you are neutral about him. Are you for him, or against him? And it’s a little bit of both! Right? With Jesus it can’t be that way, and the reason that it can’t be is because He made such fantastic claims that no one can avoid those claims. As C. S. Lewis has pointed out, either He is a liar when he said, “No man comes to the Father but by Me,” and He has the ability to forgive sins. Think about that. You know, if you have wronged me and you come to me and ask for forgiveness, I can forgive you for the sins that you have done against me. But let us suppose that you have wronged someone else. Can I forgive you the sins that you have done against someone else? I don’t think that you’d accept that for a moment. Yet Jesus did that. He could say to people who had wronged others, “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” because He recognized that all wrongs ultimately are wrongs against God, and He had the right and the authority to clear their record.
So what is He? Is He a liar? Is He a lunatic, making these astounding claims? Is He just a legend? Is all this just made up? Well we have too much historical evidence for anyone to accept that. Or is He Lord? Those are your options.
But that doesn’t mean that confronted with all of this you can’t find some way to wiggle out from under it, because as I mentioned a moment ago, it is not simply a matter of argumentation. It is a matter of the work of the Holy Spirit in the human heart because all of the evidence in the world cannot convince someone who is absolutely determined not to believe. And why is it that we by nature are determined not to believe? It’s because we know that if Jesus is Messiah and if Jesus is Christ, the Son of the Living God, we now have no option. We must worship Him. We must come to receive salvation, and our only response is to yield to His authority, and to His will and to recognize His exclusivity that there can be no other allegiances, no room for other religions, no room for contradictory beliefs. Christ is who He says He is, and He becomes the focus of our thoughts, of our minds, and of our hearts.
And if you are here today and you have believed on Him you know the words of the song,
I need no other argument. I need no other plea.
It is enough that Jesus died, and that He died for me.
Do you confess Him today as Messiah, as Son of the living God? I’m not talking about the words - just - because there are many people who say, “Yes, that’s the faith in which I was brought up.” And so Jesus Christ becomes a part of a creed or He becomes a part of a vague, undefined theological commitment. That’s not what I am talking about, because I want you to know that I am speaking about your personal faith in this Messiah, so that He is not only the Christ, the Son of the living God. But He is the Christ for you personally because you have seen Him to be yours and to be your Savior.
Benjamin Franklin! Remember the great revivalist, Whitfield, became a friend of Franklin’s, and they spent many hours together. Sometimes when Benjamin Franklin was interested in Whitfield, he actually went to hear Whitfield preach in places like Philadelphia, and he walked away just to see how far Whitfield’s voice would actually carry because he spoke to crowds of up to 20 and 25,000 people without a microphone.
One day near his death Benjamin Franklin said, “Whitfield often prayed that I would be converted,” but he said, “Whitfield has not lived to see his prayers answered.” Just before Benjamin Franklin died, a man by the name of Ezra Stiles, who was the president of Yale University, asked Franklin what his opinion was of the divinity of Jesus. And Franklin said, “I do not believe that He is really divine, though I shall not take out time now to investigate it because soon I shall know for certain,” referring, of course, to his impending death.
You look at a man like Benjamin Franklin and you say, “What a brilliant man!” but also, “What a fool!” No time to investigate on the very issue where your eternal destiny forever and ever depends, and you are saying you don’t want to be bothered with investigation? How wonderful it would have been if he would have investigated and through that investigation, God would have worked in his heart, and he would have confessed with Peter, “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But I need to stress again that I am not talking about a verbal confession of the creed. I’m talking about a heartfelt affectionate life-changing belief.
Helmut Thielicke, the great theologian, said that as a boy he was driving through Southern Germany on a bike trip and was very hungry – ravenously hungry - because he did not have breakfast. And at mid-morning he came to a little village and there was a shop, and on the window was written hot rolls. And he could hardly wait to get off of his bike. Already his gastric juices were beginning to develop within his body. When he got in he discovered that they never sold hot rolls at all. It was just a print shop and they had the sign out there to show the various kinds of lettering they were able to produce.
You know, that’s the way some people are. “Oh yes, Christ is the Son of the living God.” It sounds good. Now, who’s going to win the primary. Words without heartfelt affection, without understanding that not just that Jesus died as Messiah, but that He died for me, and that I am His because He has redeemed me! “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Pilate asked, “What then think ye of Christ?” And I ask you that today, because I want you to know that if Jesus is Lord, your destiny in hell or in heaven is forever irrevocably determined by your relationship to Him. No church can save you. No creed can save you. No religious commitment can save you. No desire to do better can save you. Only the miracle of God can save you. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Have you believed like that? Are you willing to let God work in your heart to show you the truth? Let Him speak to you right now. And let’s pray.
Our Father, we thank You today for the revelation of Your truth in the Scripture. We thank You for Peter who saw the light, and because he saw the light, his name belongs to You forever. Lord, we think of those who are in this congregation who have heard Your word over and over and over again. Oh God, remove the blinders. Remove the rationalizations. I pray that You might take from all of us the natural stubbornness and reluctance of the heart, and help us to see You for who You are. Grant us that, Lord, because we are needy.
And now before I close this prayer, I want you to pray, whether you are listening by radio or here in this auditorium. Have you grasped Christ for yourself? Would you open your life to Him and say, “Jesus, I believe. Help my unbelief. I want Your Holy Spirit to save me right now.” Would you do that? Why don’t you talk to Him? Pray to Him. Open your life to Him.
Father, the Word has been preached. The miracle is up to You. I’ve done what is possible. You must do the impossible. We leave every single person who has listened to this message in Your hands. From here on we are helpless. We have come to the edge of the abyss, and now it’s Your turn. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.