If you’re not familiar with The Golden Key, I recommend clicking here to read the story before proceeding to my commentary.
The story of The Golden Key takes place “in the winter time.” Of course it does. If you think about the seasons in terms of life and death, winter is a time where death seems to make a stand in an effort to reign over us. It’s a bleak season, void of the life that had blossomed in the spring and filled the days of summer. It’s a time where the vibrant colors of the previous seasons, having peaked in the fall, are siphoned from the landscape. The light of day is shorter and the darkness of night lasts longer. Add in a “deep snow [that] lay on the ground” and we have a setting perfect for expressing the gift we’ve been given in Jesus.
Upon this cold, dark, snow-covered backdrop of winter “a poor boy was forced,” by the conditions of the weather and the apparent fact that his supply of wood was depleted “to go out on a sledge to fetch wood.” Perhaps today’s readers, living in homes heated by furnaces controlled by the push of a button (on their phones) or the turn of a knob, miss the gravity of the situation presented in this tale’s first sentence. The ice giant Winter is poised to kill a poor boy who, at this very moment, is without the only thing capable of repelling the giant’s frigid bite, fire. No wood, no fire. No fire and the cold of winter wins the day, which means death for the poor boy. He’s “so frozen with cold” that he can’t even make it back home with the wood before starting a fire. He has to warm himself first. This is a dire situation indeed. Death is at the door. This is a survival story.
In this predicament, while on a journey to search for the necessity of life in the midst of a deathly winter, the poor boy finds “a tiny, gold key.” And if there is a key there must be a lock as well. Naturally.
If when the facts of Jesus’ life are presented to a person and he realizes that this man, who was born in Bethlehem (a birth celebrated in the winter), actually lived and is recognized throughout history as a teacher – a key to unlock truth – then he must come to terms with the reality that what Jesus taught must either be true or false. And then if, upon a closer look the person discovers, well, yes, what He taught is most certainly true, then Jesus is not just a key like other keys, no, He’s the Golden Key and what He unlocks is described in our tale as “an iron chest,” a “little box” wherein “no doubt there are precious things.”
Now let us consider this box for a moment. It has precious things inside and at the end of the story the boy is in the midst of unlocking it, leaving us in anticipation, waiting to “learn what wonderful things were lying in that box.” The box is the will of God for all people and inside it awaits heaven. What’s more, this box full of wonderful things, God’s will, had been out amidst the “deep snow” of death that lay about us the whole time.
How many people don’t even consider the will of God to be a reality? How many people don’t know or don’t care about the precious things of heaven: forgiveness, salvation, and life everlasting? It’s not a concern for people, they don’t even know the little box is out there because it’s been hidden by the dark season of sin that we live in. But it’s there. Right under our feet, and it has been the whole time.
When the boy inspected the little box, he didn’t immediately find a keyhole. When we look at the will of our Father in heaven, we don’t immediately see a way to unlock heaven. We see that we can’t live by God’s good and Holy Law. We appear to be locked out, unable to access the “precious things” our Lord wants us to have (Matt. 7:7-11). We live in a world full of keys, teachers (Buddha, Muhammed, Ellen DeGeneres) who claim to have the answer to life, the way to health, wealth, and happiness, the means to achieve immortality and escape pain forever, or perhaps to simply disregard eternity as a concern. There are an abundance of keys for us to choose from, and so as the boy inspects the box we might expect him to find one of two things: either a multitude of keyholes, one for each key, allowing him to simply use the one that best suits his liking or is easily accessible to him at the time; or the box, as is usually the case with chests, will have one keyhole that will only work with one particular key.
“At last he discovered” a keyhole “but so small that is was hardly visible.” But why would the keyhole be small? To emphasize the point being made. There’s only one key that unlocks God’s will, one key that gains for us access to the “precious things” of heaven. And in a world full of keys, it’s a tiny one, far too often overlooked and taken for granted, dismissed and rejected. Of course, the hole would be small, the boy found a tiny key. If he had been so accustom to little keys perhaps he would have detected the hole quicker. When it comes to keys, tiny ones are not the norm. The tiny golden key is Jesus (John 14:6-7). But Jesus is more than just the key. The value of a key is found in the lock that it opens. “Where the key was, the lock must be also.” Jesus is both the tiny key and the small keyhole (John 10:9). This story draws the reader to what Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:13-14,
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Jesus fulfilled the will of the Father perfectly; He’s the one precious key that fit the lock of the Law on the chest of God’s will, opening up to us the most holy of holy places, heaven (Eph. 2:18; Heb. 10:19-20), and giving us access to His gifts.
With this in mind, the end of the story is a delightful picture of the post-resurrection now, but not yet reality in which the Church resides. Jesus lived His life, “he turned it once round,” (Heb. 9:26-27) giving us the “precious things” of God: forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. We have them now! They’re ours today. “And now we must wait until he has quite unlocked it and opened the lid, and then we shall learn what wonderful things were lying in that box” (Heb. 9:28). Until Christ returns, ours is a life of anticipation. We wait for our Lord to come again so that we will know entirely the wonderful things that are in the box (Rom. 8:18). Or as St. Paul put it, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully” (1 Cor. 13:12).
Rev. Tyrel Bramwell is pastor at Christ Lutheran Church in Murray UT. Grail Quest Books will be publishing the first book in his fantasy series, The Gift & The Defender, later this year. This series is being reposted with Rev. Bramwell’s permission. You can follow the latest writings in this weekly series at his website.