While dining in a certain Pharisee’s house, Jesus was the object of the scorn of His host because he was eating without first washing. This became the occasion for a series of woes which Jesus pronounced upon the hypocritical Pharisees who make clean the outside of dishes, but who are inwardly full of wickedness.
This series of woes was interrupted by a lawyer who complained that Jesus was also reproaching them with his condemnation of the Pharisees. In response to this, Jesus turned also with His terrible woes to them. And among the reasons why they too were to be condemned was the fact that they had taken away the key of knowledge.
The lawyers were that group of Jewish leaders who made the law of Moses especially the object of their study. They sought to understand the law and apply it to the life of Israelites. But in their study and teaching of the law, they took away the key of knowledge; and by doing this, they did not enter into that knowledge themselves, nor did they permit others to enter who desired this.
Although this is a rather negative discussion of the key of knowledge, I wish to call your attention briefly to it this morning on the occasion of your graduation.
THE KNOWLEDGE REFERRED TO
There have been various interpretations of this expression by different commentators. Meyer, e.g., makes the knowledge of which Jesus speaks divine, saving truth which he compares to a closed house: The key, he says, has no specific referent, but the lawyers are accused of preventing the people whom they instructed from gaining true knowledge.
Lenski speaks of the fact that the key spoken of in the text is the Scriptures, and specifically, Christ. But he identifies the key and the knowledge which the key unlocks.
Calvin identifies the key with the keys of the kingdom of heaven and makes the knowledge of which the text speaks the true understanding of the law of Moses.
No doubt all these interpretations have an element of truth to them. The correct idea must be determined by the context in which these words of our Lord appear.
The lawyers to whom Jesus speaks were men who made the law of the Old Testament the particular object of their study. But that law was a part of the Old Testament Scriptures which God had given to His Church. In their study of the law and their application of it to the life of the people of Israel, they considered that law as a mere body of legislation governing Israel’s civil, ceremonial, and ecclesiastical life. Or, at best, they looked upon the law as a kind of ladder upon which a man could climb to heaven. They forgot that the heart of the law was Christ, for all the law pointed ahead to Christ and was the schoolmaster, to use Paul’s expression, to lead to Christ. Thus, by their teaching, they took away Christ and deprived the people of the knowledge of the truth as revealed in the law—specifically the knowledge of the riches of the kingdom They did not enter into that knowledge themselves, and they hindered those who were entering in.
From this context we may say that the knowledge to which Jesus refers has especially four elements about it.
In the first place, Jesus uses the word “knowledge” in the broad sense of the word. He does not limit the expression here. He speaks of knowledge in general. He speaks of knowledge from the viewpoint of all that a man knows with his soul.
In the second place, this knowledge, however, is true knowledge. Or, to put it a little differently, it is knowledge of the truth. And, as such, it is always knowledge of God. This is the only true knowledge there is. Although we may perhaps speak in a certain sense of knowledge from a formal point of view (Columbus discovered America in 1492), nevertheless, true knowledge in the sense in which Scripture speaks of it is always knowledge of God. Anything else is principally the lie.
But at the same time, there is also no true knowledge of God except it be saving knowledge. Once again, in the abstract it is perhaps possible to speak of a certain objective knowledge of the truth which a man possesses; but man being the sinner that he is will never hold to that truth apart from faith. Thus faith is absolutely indispensable to the acquisition of that knowledge. But faith is always more than mere intellectual assent to a body of objective data.
In the third place, this knowledge is principally in the Scriptures. This does not contradict what I have already said. Jesus refers indeed to knowledge in a very general sense. And some of that knowledge you have acquired in your years in college. You have gained knowledge in such areas as history, science, psychology, logic, philosophy, etc. Yet the fact remains that the Scriptures are the principle of all knowledge. This is true for two reasons. One reason is the subjective condition of man. Man is a sinner. And the sin which inheres in his very nature makes it essential for knowledge to come to us in the Scriptures. Without Scripture there is no knowledge of God. The second reason is objective. All knowledge comes through Christ. Let me say that again. All knowledge comes through Christ. God does not reveal Himself, except through Christ. All revelation is through Christ. And Christ may be known only through the Scriptures.
In the fourth place, the figure of the text is that of a locked room. No doubt, knowledge is presented under that figure in the text on the one hand because all knowledge comes through revelation. Revelation is the uncovering of the Unknowable God. On the other hand, the room is locked because sin locks that door with utter and total finality. Nevertheless, that room is full of wonderful treasures: treasures of the knowledge of God, which knowledge is riches beyond compare, not only in this life, but into all eternity. What glorious and marvelous riches await the one who enters that room! It is indeed a storehouse that dazzles the eyes and brings ecstasy to the soul.
The key to that room—the key which unlocks the door—is Christ.
In a certain sense of the word it is true that the key and the room are to be identified. On the one hand, Christ is indeed the key by which the door to that room is opened. Because the lawyers of Jesus’ day cut Christ out of the law, they threw away the key of knowledge. But, on the other hand, because the Scriptures are the principle of all knowledge and because the Scriptures are the record of the revelation of Christ, therefore Christ is also the principle of all that knowledge.
Nevertheless, He is the key. All knowledge is opened to us only through Christ. This is true of the Scriptures first of all. If you take Christ out of the Scriptures, whatever you have left is not true knowledge. Indeed, you have nothing left principally. Only when you see Christ in the Scriptures do you see that which the Scriptures reveal. Only when Christ is the key by which the door of the Scriptures is opened, do the riches of that room full of treasure become available to us and become our possession. The Scriptures are what they are because of Christ.
But, from this viewpoint, this is true of all knowledge. Because we can come to true knowledge, the knowledge of God, only through the Scriptures, therefore, we can acquire knowledge in any discipline of knowledge only through Christ. This is true of history, of science, of philosophy, or whatever. Take Christ out and you have nothing left. Remove Christ from history and you can have no genuine history. Take Christ out of science and you have no genuine science. But with Christ as the key to all knowledge, everything fits and all becomes clear. The room of knowledge is opened and the true treasures of the knowledge of God become our possession.
THE KEY THROWN AWAY
The lawyers threw away the key of knowledge.
There are many who do the same today.
Those who no longer accept the Scriptures as the infallibly inspired Word of God take away the key of knowledge. It may be that the errors which some find are relatively few in number. But the trouble is that there is really no stopping. And presently Christ is taken out of the Scriptures, for the miracles are denied; and along with the miracles go the virgin birth of Christ, His resurrection from the dead, and His atoning sacrifice on the cross. But when the key is thrown away, then all true knowledge is gone, for the door to that knowledge remains locked.
The theory of common grace also throws away the key. Those who are addicted to this theory teach that because of a general attitude of favor towards all men, God gives to all men a general operation of the Spirit. By means of this there is, so they say, a certain true knowledge of God apart from Scripture which can be obtained apart from faith and apart from Christ without salvation. This too throws away the key of knowledge and locks the door to the true knowledge of God. If the unbeliever is able to acquire some such knowledge, then that knowledge is the knowledge of the lie. Throwing away the key one is consigned to stumbling about in a pitch dark room, thinking one has acquired treasures when one only handles the filthy lies produced in unbelieving minds.
The key of knowledge is also discarded by the A.A.C.S. Those who follow the new philosophy from Amsterdam make a disjunction between Scripture and God’s Word or work in creation. But then there is a knowledge to be gained apart from Christ. And the effect is that the key is thrown away, and the room of the true knowledge of God remains locked.
But you have been given that key. Your graduation is the token of that. Graduation from a school is not necessarily that. But here, within these walls, it is. Your diploma does not signify only that you have intellectually mastered a given amount of material with sufficient competence to acquire a passing grade. It signifies that you have been given the key of knowledge. If it does not signify that, then we have no business here in this institution.
You have been given that in all the subjects you have been taught. It is a key which opens to you the storeroom of the treasures of that knowledge of which Jesus speaks. As long as you hold that key, the door will be open before you. You have begun to enter that room. Do not think that you have now examined and acquired all the treasures in it. You have only begun. Indeed a lifetime is insufficiently long to discover the riches in that room.
But it is your key given to you to use. Use it as you continue your studies now that you are ready to enter Seminary. Use it as you enter that room again and again in your quest for the truth. The lawyers did not themselves enter in. You will not either if you discard the key.
But because you study for the ministry of the Word and sacraments in God’s Church you will, in the future, the Lord willing, also lead others into that treasure room of the kingdom. The lawyers hindered those who were entering. They could not prevent them from entering, for the key comes to them from elsewhere—if not from the lawyers. May your heart be set on that calling to aid others to enter. And may God give you the desire of your heart.