Q.84. How does preaching the gospel open and close the kingdom of heaven?
A. According to the command of Christ: The kingdom of heaven is opened by proclaiming and publicly declaring to all believers, each and every one, that, as often as they accept the gospel promise in true faith, God, because of what Christ has done, truly forgives all their sins. The Kingdom of heaven is closed, however, by proclaiming and publicly declaring to unbelievers and hypocrites that, as long as they do not repent, the anger of God and eternal condemnation rest on them. God’s judgment, both in this life and in the life to come, is based on this gospel testimony.
Last week we briefly explored these two questions in our response to Question 83. This week we will spend more time reflecting on Christian preaching \. In a world where bumper stickers seem to increasingly reflect public opinion one could wonder if preaching has any purpose. This quotation attributed to Saint Francis reflects the sentiments of many, “Preach the gospel, use words if necessary.” Unfortunately, this statement is a partial truth. It is true we must preach the gospel, but it is equally true that we must always use words. The gospel message must be declared verbally and clearly. For if Jesus had simply lived and died but the story of his life, death and resurrection was never verbally proclaimed, we would be lost in our sin, devoid of any hope. Read Isaiah 52:7 and Romans 10:14-15. This week we will look at the lives of a few people who had the kingdom opened and closed based upon their reception of the preached message.
Read Acts 8:26-39. The Ethiopian was struggling and confused. Obviously, he had met many serious Jews in his travels and he had picked up parts of their worship. He was in Jerusalem for the sacrifice, but this did not bring him to a full understanding of the meaning of the Scriptures. But when Philip climbing into the chariot with him and preached to him, telling him “the good news about Jesus,” then salvation came and new life was opened up.
Cornelius and his family is the story of another wonderful group of people who lived a godly life yet they were without the good news of the kingdom. God wanted these gentiles to hear the message of his Son and so he appeared to Peter and Cornelius in visions. When Peter arrived in Caesarea he proclaimed the message and the household believed and was baptized. Read Acts 10.
But the truth about gospel preaching is not always as wonderful as the two stories above. There are those who refuse to acknowledge the truth of the message and instead reject it. Paul met many people like this in his travels. Read Acts 19:23-29. While in Ephesus, the silversmiths who kept the idols of Artemis in production refused to submit to the gospel proclamation that Christ is the one God whom all people must bow down and worship. These men never repented or believed and therefore their sins were never forgiven. The preaching of the gospel didn’t effect salvation in their case but declared the truth of God’s punishment.
Just as the Gentile idol makers refused to repent in Ephesus, the same was true of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem who stoned Stephen. Read Acts 6:8-7:60. Stephen boldly proclaimed the gospel to the Jews. He clearly enunciated the sin of the people and the fact that the Messiah had come into the world. Yet instead of confessing their sin and seeking forgiveness, these men added one sin to another and so they allowed the wrath of God to remain upon their unrepentant life.
But this doesn’t always have to be the case. Through the proclamation of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, people can come to repentance and new birth. Read Acts 2:14-41. By preaching, three thousand new believers gained the assurance that their sins were forgiven and that the Kingdom of heaven was their inheritance. Let each and every one of us never stop believing and proclaiming the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ.