Sermon on John 20:19-23

The first Sunday after Easter

The Ministry of the Keys

1. Grounded in peace, 2. Given by Christ, 3. Granting Forgiveness

Text:  John 20:19-23


There’s a lot of responsibility coming.  With new chapters in our lives there will be new privileges and new responsibilities.  We are just two months or so away from that, because in about two months we’ll be occupying our brand new church and school building.

But with that occupancy and use of the building comes a lot of responsibility.  First of all we can pray that we never take the blessing of a new church and school for granted.  After all that we’ve been through at Wadsworth Elementary, I’m confident we won’t.  Next, we’ll need to make sure that we make wise use of the building—that we use it in appropriate ways for appropriate things.  We will want to make sure that we open our doors at the right and proper times.  Finally, it’s probably a given to us all, but we will want to take good care of our new church and school building.

One of the greatest privileges in carrying out all of those responsibilities will be our use of the keys to the building.  Some will have keys that open only the school and classrooms.  Some will have keys just for the church.  Some will have keys for the offices; others will have keys for the janitor’s room and closets.  A few might even have keys to everything.  How we use the building, how we take care of the building, how we allow others to enjoy the building is largely dependant on how we make use of our keys.

As great as the privilege and responsibility of having and using keys for our new church and school might be, there is actually a greater privilege and responsibility that every single Christian has.  We all have been given keys to the kingdom of heaven.  You and I have the power and the privilege to either open or close for someone the door to heaven.  Many times we call this activity the Ministry of the Keys.  Today we will study John 20:19-23 as we take a closer look at  The Ministry of the Keys which is 1. Grounded on peace, 2. Given by Christ, 3. Granting forgiveness.


Put yourself in the disciples’ sandals for a moment.  Imagine yourself locked in that room with them.  They seem to have been absolutely frightened.  We are told, On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews . . . Their world had just been turned upside down in a matter of a few days.  They had given up the last three years of their lives to follow and learn from Jesus.  Then suddenly he was arrested, tried, crucified, and dead.  He was gone!

Was the same going to happen to them?  Were the Jews going to arrest them?  Were they going to be wrongfully tried and falsely accused?  Were they going to die? They must have felt lonely, helpless, filled with sorrow, filled with fear.  To some degree they must have even felt guilty that they all ran away and fled in the Garden of Gethsemane.  And it would have been a long time before Peter would ever forget how he denied knowing the Lord three times.

At the same time, they were completely confused.  The women had come back to tell them that they saw the tomb empty.  Peter and John saw the tomb empty.  Mary Magdalene and Peter had apparently seen Jesus.  But what exactly was going on here?  Unsure of what to do or where to go, they sat locked up and terrified in that room.

We can relate, can’t we?  Sometimes we might feel like we just want to lock ourselves up in a room and be all alone.  There are so many problems in the world.  Sometimes it’s even scary living in this world.  Things don’t seem to be getting any better.  Maybe we should lock ourselves up in a room and just avoid any contact with the terrifying world around us.

Besides the problems of this world, we have plenty of problems in our own lives, too.  We’ve got family problems and financial problems.  We’re too busy, too tired, too worn out.  We have strained relationships, failing relationships, broken relationships.  Sometimes we might want to lock ourselves up in a room and just wallow in our sorrow as we try to avoid or forget about our problems.

At the same time, we may feel very guilty about things we have done in life.  I’m sure you and I can very quickly think about those few things we have done in life that are just horrible—those words you wish you could take back; the foot you wish you could have taken out of your mouth; those actions you wish you could have taken back.  We might compare our guilt over those sins to the guilt that Peter had over his denial of the Lord.

Or maybe we simply feel guilt over the sins we struggle with every day.  We fight hard with our sinful nature to stop our anger, our temper, our language, our impure thoughts, our spiritual nature.  But we all too often fall into the same traps and snares.  We may feel like it would be better if we simply locked ourselves up in a room.

We can surely relate to those terrified, sorrowful, and guilty disciples who locked themselves up in that room.  But look at what happened.  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’” Talk about a shocker!  Not only was Jesus suddenly standing right in front of them—alive—but now he was telling them about peace.

Peace?  How could there be peace?  Didn’t Jesus remember what the Jews had just done to him?  Didn’t Jesus know what the disciples had done to Jesus?  Didn’t Jesus realize that things were never going to be the same?  How could there be peace?  Rather than telling them how, Jesus showed them:  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.”

Why did he say “Peace?”  How could there be peace?  Because that is what he had just won for them at the cross.  The holes in his hands and side were the proof.  He hung from a cross and carried all their guilt.  He died to pay for all their sins and now he was alive to prove that this salvation had worked.  He had established peace.

That is the first important truth about the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  How does one get into heaven?  How do we get into heaven?  Through Jesus alone, and through the peace that he won.  We might have family problems and financial problems.  We might have heartache and headache.  We might feel guilty and covered in sin.  But Jesus appears to us on the pages of Scripture and says, Peace be with you!” He shows us his hands and his side.  He reminds us that our sins are forgiven.  He proves that he lives and therefore we will live with him.  We have the right to use a key to open the door to heaven because Jesus has given us peace.


So now what?  Were the disciples going to simply sit around now?  Were they supposed to give up being fishers of men now and go back to being regular fishermen?  Absolutely not!  What about us?  Are we to simply sit around?  Are we to go about our lives as if nothing has changed and nothing is different?  Absolutely not!

Jesus gave a very important assignment to his disciples and to us.  Look at what happened next, in verse 21:  Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’” The peace that Jesus gives to us is life changing.  Knowing that our sins are forgiven and knowing that we have the free gift of life eternal, our lives will never be the same.  We have an important task to carry out.  Jesus is sending us to do it.

These words were echoed by Jesus about 40 days later when he ascended into heaven.  Just before he visibly left this earth he said, Go and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus is still with us, but not visibly.  So instead of Jesus preaching and teaching God’s Word, now he has given us that task!  God has chosen to use us to carry the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus has sent us out into the mission field to share with others the peace that he gives.  As it will be a privilege for us to have keys to make use of our new church and school building, we have been given a far greater privilege and responsibility.  Jesus has sent us out with the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  He personally has said, I am sending you,” and Go and make disciples of all nations.” What an incredible privilege and responsibility!


If Jesus stopped right at verse 21, it might have been a little confusing to the disciples.  “OK, you’re sending us.  Sending us to do what?”  In the same way, perhaps many of you are still a little confused about this concept of “the keys to the kingdom of heaven,” or “the ministry of the keys.”  You might be thinking, “OK, Jesus is sending us.  Sending us to do what?  Pastor keeps talking about these keys, but what does that mean?”

Jesus fully explains in the final two verses:  And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’” Perhaps you have heard Jesus say the same thing in other words:  Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Essentially that is saying the same thing.  Jesus has given to us an amazing privilege and responsibility to each and every single one of us.  Jesus has given us the power and authority to use the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

How do these keys work?  If we forgive someone sins, it is as if God is forgiving that person.  And if God forgives someone, then the door to heaven is open.  But if we do not forgive someone, then God does not forgive that person.  And if God does not forgive someone, then the door to heaven is closed.

There are practical examples of how we use the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  You saw and experienced one today.  This morning we all confessed to God that we are in fact sinners and that we have disobeyed him and that we do deserve his punishment.  We confessed our sins and asked for his forgiveness.  Immediately after I turned and said to you, “God, our heavenly Father, has forgiven all your sins.”  Sometimes in worship my response is, “As a called servant of Christ, and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins.” Isn’t God the only one that forgives sins?  How can I say that?  Where do I get that authority?  Right here!  When I say that, I’m using the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  I’m pronouncing forgiveness.  I’m proclaiming the peace which Christ gives.  And when I use the loosing key of forgiveness here in church, it is just as if Jesus himself is forgiving your sins.

There are other practical examples from daily life.  Perhaps you have a friend or a neighbor or a family member that is going a bit off the deep end.  The person is caught up in sin.  But the difference is that this person doesn’t care about such sin.  Perhaps he or she is committing adultery or living a wild life, or as I often say “robbing banks.”  You talk to this person but he or she does not care and will not change.  Now you are to use the binding key, the locking key.  Now you are to tell this person, “Friend, you are sinning.  You are disobeying God and doing the opposite of what he desires.  Sin is damaging to faith, but you don’t seem to care.  Sin only leads in one direction—hell.  And if you keep this up, that’s where you are going.”  Now you have just preached the Law to this person.  You have used the power that Jesus has given you.  You have locked the door to heaven.  However, if that person recognizes the sin and repents of the sin and turns back to the Lord, then you of course proclaim Christ’s forgiveness to that person.  You preach the Gospel.  You open the door again.

Really, the ministry of the keys to the kingdom of heaven is simply this—it is the privilege and responsibility God has given us to preach his Word.  Jesus has sent us to go and make disciples of all nations.  We do that by using the keys to heaven, Law and Gospel.  We tell people that sin is dangerous and damning (that’s Law) and to the repentant sinners we tell them that Christ forgives all that they do (that’s Gospel).  What an incredible privilege and responsibility!  Jesus has given you and me the keys to heaven!


Does this seem like too big of a responsibility?  Does this seem like too daunting of a task?  Are you unsure you can handle The Ministry of the Keys?  Look again at our opening hymn:

Hark!  The voice of Jesus crying, “Who will go and work today?

Fields are ripe and harvests waiting; who will bear the sheaves away?”

Loud and long the master calleth; rich reward he offers thee.

Who will answer gladly saying, “Here am I—send me, send me?”

If you cannot speak like angels, if you cannot preach like Paul,

You can tell the love of Jesus; you can say he died for all.

If you cannot rouse the wicked with the Judgment’s dread alarms,

You can lead the little children to the Savior’s waiting arms.

If you cannot be a watchmen, standing high on Zion’s wall,

Pointing out the path to heaven, offering life and peace to all,

With your prayers and with your offerings you can do what God demands;

You can be like faithful Aaron, holding up the prophet’s hands.

Let none hear you idly saying, “There is nothing I can do,”

While the multitudes are dying, and the Master calls for you.

Take the task he gives you gladly; let his work your pleasure be.

Answer quickly when he calleth, “Here am I—send me, send me!”


If you would like to view a copy of this sermon to print or share, click here.

Posted on April 11, 2010, in Church, Sermons and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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