Thursday, March 26, 2015

Teach Us to Pray, part 32: The Keys to the Kingdom of God

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

We are currently studying the Model Prayer of Jesus and parsing the phrase "Your Kingdom come". Yesterday, we looked at how we receive the Kingdom of God in the form of His word and the effect it has on our lives. Today, we are exploring the "keys of the Kingdom". There are two passages of particular note and I have included them here.

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." (Matthew 16:19 NASB)

And He said to them, "Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. [ But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting." ] (Matthew 17:20-21 NASB)

In the passage in Matthew 16, Jesus had just asked the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" and Peter had responded with that declaration of faith and truth, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Jesus commended his faith and promised Peter the "keys of the kingdom". That promise has made its way into the vernacular with the image of the apostle Peter standing at the pearly gates with a huge set of keys, deciding who can enter and who cannot, but that was not what Jesus intended at all. 

Instead, the word used here is kleis and is used metaphorically to indicate power and authority, specifically the power and authority to help people gain knowledge. On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood and spoke in such a way that thousands came to faith in Christ. He metaphorically opened the door to faith for them. What we forget about that day is that, after the ascension of Christ, Peter and the other disciples, along with quite a few believers, had spent weeks together in continuous prayer and worship. His power and authority flowed out of the time he had spent in prayer and fasting. His spiritual knowledge was the expected outcome of his discipline.

The passage in Matthew 17 followed the transfiguration. Jesus and the disciples who had accompanied Him to the mount of transfiguration returned to find the other disciples unsuccessfully trying to heal/cast out a demon from a boy. After Jesus healed the child, He told them that they could not heal him because of the "littleness of your faith" and also said that some things could only come out by prayer and fasting. 

How does all this relate to the keys of heaven? Matthew Henry says that the keys of the kingdom of heaven are knowledge and discipline. He related this discipline to the admitting of people into the church and disciplining sinners, and he may be absolutely correct, but I am inclined to believe that, because of his faith, Peter received the keys of knowledge and discipline so that he was able to share the gospel in a clear and concise way (knowledge), with the result that many people came to Christ through his preaching. 

Peter also had knowledge from the Holy Spirit that allowed him to know what God would have him do in healing those who were sick and performing miracles. That knowledge came from the discipline of time spent in prayer and fasting. He "loosed" people from disease and the bondage of sin and did incredible miracles in the name of Christ. His preaching and teaching "bound" them to Christ. (Of course it was the Holy Spirit working through Peter and not Peter himself doing the loosing and binding.)

The amazing thing is that you and I have been granted this same Holy Spirit that Christ gave to Peter and the other disciples. We, too, can have the faith of a mustard seed. We, too, can have the keys of knowledge and discipline, if we will. 

This binding and loosing, then, comes about only because of the permission of Jesus and the knowledge that His Spirit gives. When we spend time in prayer and when we fast, we gain insight and power. We gain important keys that help us to "lock and unlock", to "loose and bind". What does that mean to the way that we pray? I generally think that those for whom I pray (and I myself) need to be loosed from the power of Satan and that they (and I) need to be bound to the mind, heart, and will of Christ. Jesus told Peter that he would give him that authority and implied that the church would be built on the same faith that Peter had. We, too, can have power and authority, if we will. 

I don't have the power and authority of Peter, though, and you probably don't either. It grieves me to say that, but grieves me even more to realize that the reason I don't have it is not that Christ is not willing to grant me power and authority, but that I am not willing to sacrifice as Peter sacrificed to have it. Peter walked away from his business and spent his life preaching and teaching for Christ. He endured physical hardship, beatings, imprisonment, the scorn of his fellow man, and persecution that ended in a martyr's death. He did it all willingly and counted it as joy to suffer for his Lord. Peter held tight to Jesus and kept a very light hold on the things of this world.

If I lack the power of Peter, it is because I want the things of this world more than the power and authority, the knowledge and discipline that Jesus promised. I read those words, shudder at the truth of them, and recognize that it is truly pathetic. Why would I prefer comfort over the incredible delight of following Christ, even when it is hard, knowing that my eternal reward in heaven will be more than adequate recompense? This should not be.

I know that my Redeemer lives and reigns and is returning. I know that there will be a day of accountability for all the choices I have made, including my choices for or against faithfulness, boldness, and obedience. I know, yet my life often says different. My choices suggest that I doubt that I will answer for doing nothing while my brothers and sisters in Christ suffer severe persecution and death. My life implies that I do not expect to answer for doing nothing when the people Christ loves are hungry, cold, and losing their homes, their children, their way of life, all because of their faith. 

While I sit idly by and do so little, people suffer, die, enter eternity without Christ. One day, I will answer for it. One day, we will all answer for it. Time is short, and we must decide. Will we live for Christ or not? If, then, we choose to live for Christ, let us really do it. Let us embrace the Cross, embrace the discipline so that we might receive the power, the authority, the knowledge that brings transformation - first to us, and then to those whom Christ would call to Himself. 

We have a choice to make, so let's make it. Let us live like we believe. 

Start now, and keep on until Jesus calls us home.