A high-school chum somehow or other landed an after-school job as a custodian at our school.
Now, it goes without saying that his part-time gig came with some very unpleasant duties, mostly involving lunchrooms, bathrooms, and locker rooms. But the job did come with what I thought were some very cool perks – like having keys to the entire school!
When you’ve got keys, you’ve got power and control, because you’ve got access and responsibility. You can open doors, and you can lock them. You’re able to access places few others can, and you’re capable of keeping the curious and mischievous out of nooks and crannies where they’re not supposed to trespass.
My friend loved telling about the time one of his former grade-school teachers, a person he’d always viewed as an authority figure, looked to him – a 15-year-old Cheeto-fingered, rat-mustached kid – as the authority who could open the door for her after she locked her keys in her classroom.
If you’ve ever been locked out of your house, your car, or even your locker, you know how important it is for someone to have the key. The person with your key is your lifeline – the rescuer who enters your fear, anger, and embarrassment to save the day.
During Advent, we look to Jesus as our lifeline, our rescuer, our Savior – as we sang earlier, our “Key of David.” “O come, thou Key of David, come and open wide our heav’nly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.”
In other stanzas of that same Advent carol, we also beckon Jesus with a slew of other names: Dayspring, Son of God, Desire of Nations, Rod of Jesse, Emmanuel – each one buzzing with holy energy more than capable of cleaning up the muck in which we all too often find ourselves mired.
The first to utter the unique handle “Key of David” is the Old Testament prophet Isaiah (22:22), who describes the king’s steward as the one who holds the key of David. As the keyholder, the steward has responsibility over the whole kingdom, though he’s not doing a very good job of it and very likely will get booted out of office.
A far-better steward and guardian speaks loudly and clearly in this morning’s Scripture lesson from the New Testament’s book of Revelation.
Through the pen of the apostle John, Jesus himself says that he holds the key of David. He, now, is the One who fully controls and reigns over the Kingdom of God with mercy and compassion – sacrificially loving others by putting their needs above his own. In that precious role, Jesus – Key of David – open doors that no one else can, and he shuts doors to prevent their opening.
With all authority and responsibility for the whole kingdom of God, Jesus by grace chooses to open the door to forgiveness and reconciliation, healing and wholeness, resurrection and eternal life. When once, because of your brokenness, you were locked out with no access to God, Jesus by his death and resurrection now offers you access to the God of Heaven and Earth. Having conquered sin, death, and evil, the path of misery is closed off, and the way on high is wide open. Thus, “Key of David” labels not only Jesus but also his Gospel – the Good News he brings when he deigns to come to earth and pitch his tent among us.
On this final Sunday of Advent, listen for that Good News. By the Spirit’s power, hear the Word of the Lord.
“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia:
“This is the message from the one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David.
What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open: I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me.
“Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it.
“And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God – the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.” (Revelation 3:7-8, 10-12)
The church in Philadelphia, in what is now western Turkey, has a leadership problem.
A few unruly members have unlawfully assumed authority, and the giving of the key of David intends to re-establish the authority of God the Father in heaven. In the culture of the day, a key serves as an emblem of governmental authority. Even today in the Middle East, the transfer of governmental power comes with placement of a large key upon the new leader.
And the key of “David” harkens back generations to the beloved Old Testament king well-known as a devoted shepherd of God’s people and a fierce warrior against God’s enemies. But most of all, and above all, David is a loyal and obedient worshiper and servant of the Lord.
David is a man after God’s own heart, which Heaven desires to beat strongly in the midst of God’s people. That’s the overarching story of Scripture – from Genesis, where God walks with humanity in the cool of Eden’s garden, to Revelation, where in the end a “loud voice from the throne” declares once and for all that the dwelling place of God is with men, women, and children (21:3).
The Lord expects to live with them, with us. That’s the throbbing pulse of God’s heart. Dwelling with God is where our history has been and where our history is heading. That is our ultimate destiny – living, moving, and having our being in full and complete intimacy with God, forever safe from the powers of evil and healed of every ill.
That is why Jesus comes as Emmanuel, God With Us – Dayspring, Son of God, Desire of Nations, Rod of Jesse, Key of David: To repair and reconcile all things unto God, for us and our salvation, and to open the door to our new heaven and earth.
And to those whose hearts align with God’s, the Lord is prepared to entrust the key of David.
It is to them – to us, to you and me – that God wishes to impart the authority of David through the Holy Spirit, opening doors that no one can shut and shutting doors that no one can open. As you and I more and more become people after God’s own heart, the doors we labor to open will always lead first and foremost to God’s presence. Gaining entry comes by, with, and through Sabbath worship, daily prayer, and regular fellowship – by, with, and through loving care, humble service, and generous giving to friend, neighbor, and stranger, never forgetting that small keys can open great doors.
Indeed, God asks us keyholders to heave open some thick, heavy doors, and it might feel like you have “little strength,” and you might feel of little significance in the grand schemes of a broken and fearful world’s design. But it is to those “who keep his Word and not deny his name” that the Lord will entrust his power and authority. Just as David is the least of his family and clan, a shepherd boy, yet called to a position of great authority in the Kingdom, God says of him, “He will do everything I want him to do” (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). And so must we!
Doing what God wants must be, above all else, the desire of each and every human heart – to have no purposes, no agendas, no ambitions, beyond those which are the Lord’s. At the Spirit’s urging, we do the Lord’s bidding: Bringing reconciliation to his people and the renewal of all things, so that we can walk in communion with God and abide in God’s love. Jesus – Key of David – opens the doors of righteousness, truth, and justice, and closes the gates to illness, disease, loneliness, abuse, neglect, inequity, deception, and unrighteousness in every sphere where the Spirit takes us as the voices, hands, and feet of Christ.
The Lord seeks and calls those upon whose shoulders he can place the key of David, those who will unlock for themselves and others places where Heaven’s transforming presence in sorely needed. God seeks those beloved keyholders who can be trusted with those responsibilities, those with the heart of David, a heart overflowing with humility and obedience – a person after God’s own heart. For such God seeks.
Are you that one?
If so, you’ll need to be patient. In faith, you’ll have to endure tribulation for a little while as you wait to receive heaven’s crown. In patience, you’ll be overcome by God’s Word, which enables you to survive being despised and oppressed by the supposedly wise and mighty of the world. When you’re overcome by God’s Word and the key of David rests upon your heart and mind, you’ll suffer evil without complaint, survive trials and tribulations, and find sustenance in the Word, which teaches and reminds that the path of discipleship won’t always be a walk in the park.
Though human power is puny by comparison, the power of the Key of David is great, and because the Lord and his Word are faithful, we hold fast to that truth and thereby overcome all its opponents.
And thus we continue to pray: Come, Lord Jesus. Key of David, come! And he will – into the everyday pain and grief of our wounded living and longest nights!
Thanks be to God!
Pastor Grant M. VanderVelden shared this message during worship on Sunday, December 18, 2022, the sixth Sunday of Advent at First Presbyterian Church. Scholarship, commentary, and reflection by Casey Kegley, Shyju Mathew, John Mulaney, and Bob Sorge inform the message.