In Matthew 16:19 Jesus says to Peter, “I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” All the paintings and sermons and even all the jokes and cartoons about Peter standing at the gate of heaven deciding and declaring who gets to go in and who has to go somewhere else, all come from this one verse. There is no other mention of such keys anywhere else in the Bible. And think of it—what a possession! What could be more valuable or desirable than the keys to that place? One would think everyone would like to get their hands on that set of keys.
But then again, maybe not everyone. First, we will look at someone who would be very interested in such keys, and then we will look at why some people do not seem to be interested at all.
A while back I read the old classic Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a novel about the life of slaves in the old South just before the outbreak of the Civil War. In many ways it was a depressing story, describing in great detail the extremely hard life of the slaves; not only the hard work, but also the daily humiliations, the deprivations, and the uncertain family life. Husbands and wives, parents and children, and life-long friends could be at any time sold off in different directions, separated for the rest of their lives at the whim of their owner and master. This was, for many people, the very worst aspect of slavery. Uncle Tom, along with many other characters in the novel, endured the worst of all this. But the novel was not only sad. Filling the story with hope and even joy was Uncle Tom’s strong faith in Jesus his true Master and Lord. His faith was always looking forward to that other home in heaven that Jesus promised, and Tom was often telling others to hold on to their faith, and to keep in mind that there was a better day coming in a better place.
Life is better now for most of us, and we can be grateful for that. However, when all is going well for us in the here and now, we might not be as interested as Uncle Tom in hearing about having to leave all this to go somewhere else. Enjoying life here is more on our minds than thinking about having to move on to some other place. The better life is here, the less thinking we do about the life to come. It is when we aren’t having fun and are without hope that we begin to think more about heaven. You can be sure that when Uncle Tom heard someone reading the Bible, he would be paying close attention when they talked about someone getting their hands on the keys to the kingdom.
I once heard a campus pastor describe the challenges of preaching the Gospel of eternal salvation to wealthy Americans. He was especially referring to those who he works with the most—college students. He said that many of those students are having the time of their lives. They have friends all around, they have an interesting and busy social life, they have nice cars, they somehow have the money to but whatever they want, and they seem to have endless opportunities for entertainment, even traveling the world. They have it all. So, this campus pastor asks, ‘What can the Gospel add to their already full and enjoyable lives?’ Most students, even those from solid Christian homes, are uninterested.
This pastor admits he is painting the picture with some broad strokes. Not all college kids are well off, and even those that are well off do have their struggles, as everyone does. But still, the life of the typical college student, and most Americans, is far better than Uncle Tom’s hard life. And studies do show that, on the average, that the better one’s life is here and now, the less time one spends paying attention to spiritual matters, or looking forward to a better life in another place.
There is, however, one big reminder that is always out there, always threatening, always rattling around in the back of our minds. That is the thought of death, and the realization that all these comforts, all these pleasures, and all these opportunities will most certainly one day (any day) come to an end. (continued…)
Matthew 16:19a — (Jesus said), “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven…”
Colossians 3:1-2 — Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
–Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556)