A Key for Christmas


A sermon preached at Calvary Baptist Church in Simpsonville, SC in 2016.

Isaiah 22, Revelation 3:7-13

Imagine with me that on Christmas morning, one of the gifts you receive is a small box. You hold it in your hands, and it isn’t very heavy. You shake it and it rattles a little. You know that good gifts come in small packages, so you tear off the paper with anticipation. Inside you find a key. Would you be excited?

What thought goes through your head? “What does this key fit?” It could be the key to a car. That would be a nice gift, wouldn’t it? It could be the key to a boat, or a Wave Runner, or a four-wheeler, or maybe a snowmobile. (That wouldn’t be so exciting in South Carolina, more so in Iowa where I live now.)

The point is, you know that the key itself is not the gift. The key represents the gift, and it gives you ownership of the real gift and the ability to use the gift, whatever it is.

The Bible talks about a key that is associated with our celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth. Three different people are said to have this key. The key represents authority and control. Each person uses the authority and control that comes with the key differently.

As we look at what the Bible says about this key, see if you can think of how it connects to Christmas. No Googling!

This key is called the Key of David. We find it first in Isaiah 22. Isaiah prophesied to the people of Judah, which was the southern kingdom of the divided nation of Israel, about 700 years before Jesus was born. He spoke of the Key of David in connection with two men in Judah.

The first man’s name is Shebna. Shebna illustrates for us the destructiveness of a self-centered life.

Read Isaiah 22:15-19.

1. The Destructiveness of a Self-Centered Life

Shebna was an administrator, a manager who served under the king in Judah. He oversaw the king’s palace—the residence where he lived and from which he ruled. Here is how his role is represented in three different Bible translations:

  • (NKJV) “this steward, To Shebna, who is over the house
  • (NASB) “this steward, To Shebna, who is in charge of the royal household
  • (NET Bible) “this administrator, Shebna, who supervises the palace

The text does not say, “Shebna had the key of David,” but does imply that Shebna had it and it would be taken away from him and given to another (v. 22). The key of David may have been a literal key hanging from the steward’s tunic. Or it may have been a symbol of his role and responsibility of controlling access to the palace. The steward determined who had access to the palace and, ultimately, to the king.

Shebna, steward of the king’s palace, had a position of authority and privilege. But rather than using his position to serve the king, or the nation, or God, he used it to advance his own agenda, to elevate himself above others, and to indulge his appetites.

Look how the prophet Isaiah describes Shebna:

First, he was self-important. V. 16. Wealthy or very important people had tombs, caves hewn out of a rocky hillside where the bodies of family members were placed when they died. Common people would rent tomb space from the wealthy. Shebna wanted one of the perks that came with being wealthy and important—his own tomb. So he commissioned workers to construct an ornate tomb. He thought he deserved VIP treatment.

Why would Shebna be so intent on owning a tomb? When this took place, according to 2 Kings 18, Shalmaneser king of Assyria was attacking Jerusalem and had it under siege. Shebna devoted manpower and resources to constructing a tomb. It seems he thought, “If I’m going to die, I deserve to go in style.”

Second, he was self-indulgent. Verse 18 speaks of Shebna’s “glorious chariots.” This can be translated literally “chariots of your glory.” Shebna evidently had a fleet of vehicles. They were designed to display his importance—custom built, with a premium paint job, tricked out with luxury appointments and top level accessories, so he could ride in ultimate comfort and style, displaying his importance to all who watched him ride past. Shebna used his position to advance his own agenda, indulge his appetites, and display his importance.

Do we have this kind of problem today? Do people in authority use their position for their own advantage?

My wife and I now live in Iowa, where you would not think corruption and abuse of power would be a problem. However, I read this news item recently:

Iowa Assistant Attorney General Rob Sand said special investigations into public corruption have steadily increased over the last 15 years, a revelation made during the sentencing of a former Poweshiek County sheriff. The former sheriff, Tom Sheets, was convicted of stealing thousands of dollars from the county, and his sentencing memorandum reveals how common embezzlement and other types of corruption are in the state of Iowa. “The criminal activity that we located and that he has now pled guilty to is in regard to the gas card usage,” Sand said. An extreme case happened in August 2014 when a former city clerk in Casey set the City Building on fire after she admitted to using the city’s credit card and funds—$50,000 worth—to purchase items for personal use without the knowledge or approval of the City Council. “You do hate to think that in the Midwest, that we have that much of a problem,” said Don Avey, of Ankeny. “I’d like to think (we’re) a little more honest in the Midwest.” (State Prosecutors Say Public Corruption on the Rise in Iowa).

People become ambitious and greedy and use positions for their own advantage and gain. It happened in Jerusalem, it happens in Iowa, it happens here in South Carolina. It even happens in our own sinful hearts. We are all susceptible to greed, ambition, envy, and using our place in life to serve our own desires.

God singled out this man Shebna and called him out publicly through Isaiah’s prophecy. He caused Shebna to be removed, and put a new man in his place. This man’s name is Eliakim. Eliakim illustrates the inadequacy of a benevolent leader.

Read Isaiah 22:20-25.

2. The Inadequacy of a Benevolent Leader (20-25)

God sovereignly removed the authority that belonged to Shebna and transferred it to Eliakim. He was given the “key of David,” which included control over who had access to the palace and the king (see v. 22).

Eliakim had some good qualities. We would probably classify him as a nice guy and a good person to have in a position of responsibility.

He was loyal to God. Notice the contrast in how Shebna and Eliakim are described. In verse 15 God refers to “this steward Shebna.” In verse 20 He refers to “my servant Eliakim.” Evidently Eliakim loyally served, not only his king and his country, but God.

He cared for the people. Look at how he is described in v. 21—“He shall be a father.” He would not be a self-serving leader like Shebna, but an affectionate, caring, guiding leader, like a father to his beloved children. Eliakim had this care for the people themselves—“the inhabitants of Jerusalem”—and for the nation as a whole, the kingdom—“the house of Judah.”

While Shebna used his position to indulge his selfish ambitions and appetites, Eliakam used his position to protect and provide for the people.

Verses 24-25 picture Eiakim as a peg, driven into a crevice between the stones in a wall and hard to get out. It is securely fastened with items hanging on it. The point is he would do his job well and fulfill his purpose. But a day would come when, as secure as Eliakim’s position was, he would be removed. The secure peg would work loose and “the burden that was on it”—whatever was hanging on it at the moment—would fall to the floor.

Eliakim, a good man, doing his job for God and country, wouldn’t be in that position forever. And the load he carried would come crashing down.

I think you can see parallels to much that is happening around us today. I am not trying to draw a parallel to any specific individuals. You can’t do that. But we do see both kinds of people, and especially leaders—in government as well as in business, even in the church! There are self-serving leaders, and there are caring benevolent leaders. The self-serving leaders eventually crash and burn. The caring, benevolent leaders eventually fulfill their terms, or just grow old, retire, and die. Even the best human leadership is imperfect and temporary.

You can also apply this on a personal level. Spouses, parents, kids, supervisors at work—all can be self-serving. Even people you love and who are caring, benevolent, and provide guidance in your life will not always be present. They grow old and die, or just move on to another place, and no longer fill that role in your life. God allows us to experience disappointment with things and people on this earth to awaken us to the need for something else.

If we’re honest, we will admit that there is self-centeredness in all of us. We all have selfish ambitions and desires. Even when we are at our best, we are sinners who fall short of the glory of God and who one day die.

What happened to the key of David? It disappears from view for centuries! Then it is claimed by One who is completely capable of fulfilling the role and responsibility, and we realize the key represents more than access to an earthly palace and human king.

Who ends up with the key of David?

Read Revelation 3:7-13.

We move forward from historic Israel and Judah to the current church age, here and now.

We’ve seen the destructiveness of a self-centered life and the inadequacy of a benevolent leader. Now let’s look at the perfection of the loving, self-sacrificing Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

3. The Perfection of the Loving, Self-Sacrificing Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ

He is the Perfect Leader.

Who is “He who is holy and true, who has the key of David”? Each address to the seven churches in Asia in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 begins with a description of the one talking. All refer back to the one described in Revelation 1—the Son of Man, who is the eternal Son of God, who became a man, was crucified, rose from the dead, and returned to heaven—the crucified, risen, glorified Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Look at His attributes:

“Holy” – set apart; there is no sin in Him, He is completely righteous and pure. He is the complete opposite to Shebna, who was corrupt. Even Eliakim, at his best, could not be described this way. In fact, only Jesus can be described as 100% holy.

“True” – He embodies all that is real and all that is right. Again, He is the complete opposite of a corrupt abuser of power. Jesus lived a fully human life, faced every kind of temptation we face, including opportunities to use His power and position for His own advantage, yet maintained His integrity and honesty.

He is a striking contrast to corrupt, self-serving leaders. In fact, you cannot say these things of any human leader—“holy and true.” This can only be said of Jesus.

He opens the way to a heavenly kingdom.

He has possession of the key of David, which gives Him authority to determine who enters His kingdom and who does not. You can see from verse 12 that He uses His authority to allow or deny access, not to a stone palace made with hands, but “the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God.” He wasn’t speaking of an earthly palace, but of heaven and the kingdom of God.

He is the caring, benevolent leader who gives assurance to those who trust and follow Him.

Notice another important insight. Jesus was speaking to the church in Philadelphia, a first-century city in Asia Minor. There were Jews who had heard of Jesus as Messiah, trusted Him as Savior and started following Him. The Jewish community disowned them—cast them out of the family and said they had no part in the kingdom of God. In verses 7 and 9 Jesus was saying, “I determine who comes in—who is in the household and kingdom of God. I open the door and no one can close it. I close the door and no one can open it.” He reassured them that, though they were rejected by men, He claimed them, and He loved them.

There is also encouragement here for the local church as a whole. Jesus not only has the authority and ability to open the way to heaven. He also opens doors of opportunity for effective and fruitful ministry. In verse 8 he told them, “I have set before you an open door.” Because this church was loyal to the Word of God and to Jesus Christ, He had a plan and purpose for them. He intended to put opportunities before them for spreading the Gospel and building the church. The Apostle Paul spoke of such doors of opportunity being opened.

For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries (1 Corinthians 16:9).

Furthermore, when I came to Troas to preach Christ’s gospel, and a door was opened to me by the Lord (2 Corinthians 2:12).

Jesus who holds the key of David, the position and privileges of authority in the church and in the kingdom of God also promises to vindicate and deliver the persecuted (vv. 9-10) and honor those who are faithful (vv. 11-12).

What a contrast!

Jesus is not a self-serving leader, but a self-sacrificing leader. The Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

He is a caring, benevolent leader, but so much more. He loved us and gave Himself for us! In fact, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Shebna worked in the palace and traveled by chariot. The baby King Jesus was laid in a manger. He made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey! Shebna commissioned his own private tomb. Jesus’ body was laid in a borrowed tomb. Eliakim was caring, like a father. Jesus gave His life, not only for His friends, but “while we were yet sinners.” Even benevolent Eliakim passed off the scene and died. Jesus died, and rose again!

What’s the connection to Christmas?

So what’s the connection of all of this to Christmas?

There’s an old, old song we sing at Christmas. It was written to represent the cry of the people of Israel, exiled because of their unfaithfulness to God. They are longing for Messiah to come and deliver them. Each stanza of the song uses a phrase from the prophets describing the promised Messiah.

O Come O Come Emmanuel, and ransom [set free] captive Israel …

One stanza says,

Oh, come, O 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.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

The song represents Israel’s longing and praying for coming of Messiah. Good news – He has come! He has the Key of David—the authority and ability to open the way to heaven and save us from the eternal misery of hell.

If you know Him, rejoice that He came the first time to give His life so that all who trust in Him can enter His kingdom, and that He will come again to bring to pass all that has been promised. And realize that disappointment in people, possessions, and circumstances point us to the One who is faithful and true.

If you do not know Him, take this opportunity to consider placing your full confidence in Jesus Christ to save you from your sin and open for you the way to eternal life.