The keys to the kingdom

In an effort to dispel rumors about his identity, Jesus had a conversation with his disciples that made it clear he had come from heaven to earth for a specific purpose, to die for the sins of the world. Jesus began the conversation by asking his disciples, “Whom say the people that I am?” (Luke 9:18) and then asked, “But whom say ye that I am?” (Luke 9:20). The apostle Peter’s response is documented three different ways in the three gospels that have a record of this incident. I think Matthew, who was present at the time, captured it best when he said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mark 16:16). What Peter was saying was that Jesus was the Messiah, the savior God had promised to send to his people. Matthew went on to say, “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).

Luke explained that the reason Jesus’ true identity was being kept a secret was because, “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day” (Luke 9:22). In other words, it was dangerous for Jesus’ identity to be revealed because the religious leaders wanted to kill him in order to stop him from completing his mission of saving the world. After Peter made his confession of faith, Jesus told him, “And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mark 16:18-19).

Keys are only mentioned twice in the Bible, in the conversation Jesus had with his disciples about his identity and in Revelation 1:18 where Jesus said, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and death.” The keys to the kingdom of heaven and the keys to hell were both given to Jesus, the Messiah, who was also know as the anointed one, God’s designated representative. It was in his role as Messiah that Jesus obtained access to heaven for all mankind. When Jesus told Peter that he would give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, he was essentially saying that Peter, and anyone else that confessed that he was the Messiah, would be able to have direct access to God for all eternity. Jesus’ reference to things being bound and loosed on earth and in heaven had to do with sin and its power to separate us from God.

So that his disciples would understand that access to God was not something to be taken lightly, Jesus said:

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)

The phrase Jesus used “take up his cross daily” meant to undergo suffering, trial, punishment, to expose oneself to reproach and death. In other words, to allow oneself to be treated in the same way that Jesus was. Matthew’s version of Jesus’ admonition included an incentive. He stated, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels: and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matthew 16:27). The Greek word that is translated works, praxis means practice and by extension a function (4234). Another way of referring to works could be an assignment or regular duty. I think what Jesus was implying was that the more we exercise our faith on earth, the more we will see the results of it in heaven.

 

Missing the mark

Jeremiah described the permanent nature of sin when he said, “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the tablet of their heart” (Jeremiah 17:1). The tablet of our heart can be thought of as the place inside our mind where we record memories. Sometimes, we would like to forget things that we have done or things that have been done to us, but the horrible memories won’t go away. As with the recording of the Ten Commandments, Jeremiah was letting the people of Judah know that God’s legal system was permanent and all offenses would have to be dealt with at some point.

The word Jeremiah used to identify sin was chattâ’th (khat – tawth´), which means “an offense and its penalty” (2403). “The basic nuance of this word is ‘sin’ conceived as missing the road or mark…Men are to return from ‘sin’ which is a path, a life-style, or act of deviating from that which God has marked out.” The key to understanding God’s expectation regarding sin was the concept of repentance, or in Hebrew, shuwb (shoob). “The basic meaning of this verb is movement back to the point of departure” (7725).

God expected his people to sin, that’s why he established a way for sins to be forgiven. What most people didn’t seem to understand was that the only way sins could be forgiven was to confess them to God. Jeremiah said, “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is” (Jeremiah 17:7). The essence of what Jeremiah was saying was that a person had to have the kind of confidence in the LORD that enabled him to confide in the LORD something that could be counted against him as sin. The result of a confession of sin was the restoration of God’s blessing.

Jeremiah stated, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:9). Jeremiah’s declaration made it clear that God had access to the inner being and could discern the motives behind actions. Even though the people of Judah thought they were sinless, God’s judgment determined that everyone had broken his commandments.

Confession

Between the ages of four and seven, my sister and I were molested by our brother. Because I am almost four years older than my sister, her abuse started about the same time mine ended. One year, when we were on a family vacation, my two brothers, sister, and I were in a truck camper on our way to Arkansas. While I was taking a nap, my two brothers molested my sister. I woke up in the middle of it, but pretended to be asleep so that they wouldn’t know I was listening and could tell what was going on. I never told anyone about it. Several years later, I was raped while spending the night at a friend’s house. I only recently realized the circumstances of the two events was very similar. It felt as if I was being punished for not protecting my sister because I could have stopped her abuse.

Solomon said, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy. Happy is the man that feareth always: but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief” (Proverbs 28:13-14). According to Solomon, confessing and forsaking our sins can prevent our hearts from becoming hardened because when we receive God’s mercy we are then able to be merciful to others. The Hebrew word translated mercy, racham means to have compassion or show pity to someone and racham is also translated as love (7355). Mercy is at the heart of salvation and it was modeled by Jesus as he died on the cross.

I believe the process of hardening a heart begins at an early age, perhaps when we are as young as two years old. The tendency we have to rebel against our parents is the same tendency that causes us to rebel against God. I know it was a hard heart that made me keep silent instead of helping my sister and I was only about eight at the time. Today, because of what Jesus did on the cross, we can confess and forsake our sins at any time and receive God’s mercy. Just as the process of hardening the heart can go on for many years, I believe the process of unhardening or softening the heart can also take time. Thankfully, the condition of my heart has improved significantly since I accepted Christ.

Giving credit where credit is due

When God redeems a man, he is exercising his complete, sovereign freedom to liberate a human being. Redemption involves some intervening or substitutionary action which effects a release from an undesirable condition (6299). Jesus’ death on the cross effected the release of every person from the bondage of sin and death. No other person ever has or ever will die for the sins of another. God chose to liberate man from his sin nature and offers redemption from sin to anyone who desires it.

Rechab and Baanah thought they were doing David a favor when they killed Saul’s son Ish-bosheth and brought his head to David as evidence (2 Samuel 4:8). What they didn’t understand was that Ish-bosheth was not a threat to David. David was not distressed about Ish-bosheth’s appointment as king of Israel. David declared to Rechab and Baanah that the LORD had redeemed his soul from all adversity. What David meant was that Ish-bosheth’s sin  no longer had any effect on David’s life because David had been redeemed from all sin, not just his own.

The sins that usually hurts us the most are sins that are committed against us. When God redeems a man from sin, he does not just release him from the effect of his sins, but the sins of everyone else also. When I was 14, I was raped and it had an extremely negative effect on my life. I suffered a great deal of adversity as a result of someone else’s sin. It wasn’t until I realized that Jesus died for that person’s sin against me that I was freed from the effect of that sin on my life.

David described Ish-bosheth as a righteous man (2 Samuel 4:11). The word David used for righteous, tsaddîyq (tsad – deek´) means just. It is said that a Christian is justified by the death of Jesus on the cross; it is just as if the person had never committed a sin. If a sin has never been committed, then there can be no effect from it. What David was doing was crediting Ish-bosheth’s sin to Jesus and claiming redemption from that sin. It was not going to have any effect on him and therefore, Ish-bosheth’s murder was unnecessary.

Every sin can be credited to Jesus’ account. Jesus died for every sin that had been or ever will be committed when he shed his blood on the cross. The only thing we have to do is give him the credit.

What did I do to deserve this?

A woman that is truly a victim knows she has not done anything to deserve the mistreatment she gets from an offender. Many times a guilty conscience can cause doubt as to whether something was deserved or not. The second time I was raped, I did not feel I was a victim, but was getting the punishment I deserved for a previous wrong action. It almost felt good to be punished because it took away the guilt, but it made it difficult for me to feel anger toward the man that raped me and at that time, I was not sure if I wanted or should escape from what was happening to me.

Somewhere in between I know I don’t deserve this and this is all my fault is the question that never seems to get answered, what did I do to deserve this? David had a fail proof system for clarifying whether or not he deserved the treatment he was getting from king Saul and his army. David said in Psalm 7:8-9, “The LORD shall judge the people: Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me. O let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins.”

Basically, what David was saying was LORD, you be the judge. David knew it was pointless to judge himself, so he would turn every situation over to the LORD to work out according to his knowledge of David’s character and motives. The advantage to letting the LORD be the judge is that David did not ever live with guilt. He trusted that God was fair and just in dealing with his children and would not allow the wicked to triumph over the righteous. With regard to the wicked, David believed “His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down on his own pate” (Psalm 7:16).

Doing the right thing for the wrong reason

I think the worst thing a Christian can do is do the right thing for the wrong reason. It seems like if you do the right thing, you should always get a good result, but that is not the case. What is more important than what you do is why you do it. God does not tally up all the good things we do and reward us for our effort; he looks at our heart. God judges the motive behind every action we take and makes sure that bad motives do not produce good results.

I married my ex-husband for two reasons: 1) I was pregnant, and 2) I had no means of supporting myself. I had only been a Christian for a few months. I was still recovering from being abducted and raped by a serial rapist the year before and had overdosed on sleeping pills, so my emotional state was unstable.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had completely cut God out of the picture. There was no repentance or asking for forgiveness, just a desperate attempt to fix things and conceal my wrong doing. I thought I was doing the right thing and would be rewarded for my effort, but I had no interest in being married to the father of my child; I just wanted him to take care of us.

It says in Judges 18:30 that the children of Dan worshipped a graven image or false god until the day of their captivity. The word translated captivity, gâlûwth (gaw – looth´) is derived from the Hebrew word gâlâh (gaw – law’) which means “to leave, depart, uncover, reveal” (1540).

The day of my captivity was the day my ex-husband left me for another woman. At that point, I had no one else to rely on but God. I wish I had turned to God sooner, but unfortunately, like the Israelites, I was a stiff-necked, stubborn woman and thought I could take care of my own problems.

“And they set up Micah’s graven image, which he made, all the time that the house of God was in Shiloh” (Judges 18:31). My guess is that Laish, where Micah’s idol was kept, and the house of God in Shiloh were not that far apart in distance. It was probably not for convenience that the Danites wanted to worship at home rather than going to the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was where you went to acknowledge your sin, and like me, the children of Dan wanted to keep that a secret.

Misery loves company

I’ve heard it said that misery loves company, but I’ve never been able to find anyone that was willing to join me. I don’t know what it is about suffering that makes it less painful when you are not alone, but I know I seem to feel better when someone is with me, even if my condition gets worse.

I think there are people that believe God enjoys watching us suffer, that he causes us to suffer because he wants to teach us a lesson. I don’t see how that could be true given that he is always with us and would be experiencing the same thing.

When the Israelites sinned against the LORD, they always reaped the consequences of their actions. Misery or ‘âmâl (aw – mawl´) in Hebrew “depicts self-inflicted sorrow” (5999). Misery is not something we get from someone, it is what we bring on ourselves. “‘Amal means troublesome work, emphasizing the difficulty involved in a task or work as troublesome and burdensome” (5999).

The person that seemed to know the most about misery was Solomon. He wrote the phrase “vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Eccles 1:2). Solomon was extremely rich and had unlimited resources at his disposal, yet he writes in the book of Ecclesiastes that all his effort did not bring satisfaction, only misery when he thought about his accomplishments.

There appears to be a direct link between sin and misery and it may be that misery is what comes from or is the result of sin. The more sin in a persons’ life, the more misery they will feel. It could be that Solomon had so much misery in his life because he was so successful. He accumulated many possessions, more than anyone in the world, and had 1000 wives and concubines.

God is our deliverer, but even he has limits to what he will put up with. When the Israelites cried out to him, he responded, “Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation” (Judges 10:13-14).

Even though God does get angry and has limits to what he will put up with, he does not turn his back on his children. He is always with us, especially in our misery. After the Israelites put away their strange gods and began to serve the LORD again, “his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel” (Judges 10:16). The word translated grieved, qâtsar (kaw – tsar´) means to dock off or curtail. One way to express how he felt is he couldn’t take anymore.

Because the Holy Spirit lives inside Believers, I imagine he feels what we feel, our experiences are his experiences, and our misery is his misery. Whatever we are going through, he is going through it with us. One of the things the Holy Spirit does for us is convict us of our sin. The reason may be because he can’t stand misery.

I confess

I’m not sure exactly what it is about confessing something I’ve done wrong that makes me feel better, but I know that inside of each person there is some sort of mechanism, a switch if you will, that seems to get flipped when we confess our sin to God. It might be one of the great mysteries of life or maybe I’m just stupid, but I don’t understand why forgiveness has the power to change a person, why in many ways forgiveness is the key to true life.

The Hebrew word that is translated as confession in Joshua 7:19, tôwdâh (to – dah´) means an extension of the hand as in adoration, like a choir of worshippers (8426). If you’ve ever been in in  church where the people raise their hands during worship, then you have an accurate picture of what confession looks like.

In a sense, confession means to become a worshipper of God. When Joshua says to Achan, “My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him” (Joshua 7:19), he is basically saying, you need to get right with God and become a true follower or worshipper of him. Achan’s response “Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel” (Joshua 7:20) indicates that he knows he is subject to God’s commandments and must be punished for his wrong doing.

The Greek word that is translated as confession in Romans 10:10 sheds a little more light on the act of confession. Homologeo (hom – ol – og – eh´ – o) means “to speak the same thing” or to agree with something (3670). The idea here is an acknowledgement of the truth, to say yes, I believe that is true. Paul puts it this way, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:10).

One of the ways salvation is described is “the present experience of God’s power to deliver from the bondage of sin” (4991). So when I confess, I actually experience God’s power, it is like a momentary jolt that makes me aware that God’s working in my life.