What’s In It For Me? (Mark Sermon 51)
April 30, 2023 | Andy Davis
Life in the Spirit, Judgement Day
A call to set our hope fully on the future Kingdom of Christ, desiring deeply the honors and rewards He will give at that time.
- SERMON TRANSCRIPT -
I. “What’s In It For Me?”
Turn in your Bibles to Mark 10: 280-31. You might also want to refer over to Matthew 19: 27-30, the parallel passage. This is a very unusual week for me. Yesterday as I was thinking about the sermon, I felt that I had swung and missed the text, so I did what a lot of pastors do, but I never want to do, which is write Sunday’s sermon on Saturday. I know that that's a common thing, but it's just not... So I don't work well under that kind of stress, but I wanted to go a different direction, but some of the points would be similar.
A week ago, my daughter Jenny sent me a text. She asked if I'd be willing to bring a pack and play to church. That's a portable crib so that they could use it this week. So I texted her and said, "What's in it for me?” Now, my kids know I do this kind of thing from time to time, my wife will ask me a favor and I'll say that, "What's in it for me?" I just like playing with that a little bit. She texted back something like this, "Not much. I'll owe you a small favor within reason." So she gave me a kind of a coupon I can turn in, but nothing big. That's how that went. If you look at Matthew's version of Peter's question, you can hear a kind of an echo there. In Matthew 19:27, Peter answered Jesus, "We have left everything to follow you. What then will there be for us?" Or putting it more personally, “what's in it for me?” That's the name of my new sermon, “What's in it for me?”
It is a little bit shocking because it seems so selfish, so worldly, so mercenary. We feel like we should be at a higher moral level doing everything we do for Jesus without any thought whatsoever of personal benefit, without any thoughts of rewards. Soldiers who fight ardently for love of country are patriots, but soldiers who fight for money are mercenaries. We feel like we're called to a higher level in terms of virtue in our service to Christ, a more perfect standard. As I was reflecting on this, it brought me strongly back into one of the most significant insights of the Christian life I've ever had, that I've ever received from another teacher, another pastor in the word of God or a book that I've ever read. The kind of insight that has the power to change your entire ethic, your entire approach to life.
It has been for me that insight has to do with the combination of my desire, my relentless desire for personal blessedness, personal happiness, something to come to me to make me happy and, as clearly revealed in the scripture, God's relentless desire to be glorified, to be central, to be above all things. The author of this insight, of course, is John Piper book, Desiring God. Peter's desire for reward and Jesus' response in Mark 10 and in Matthew 19 for me was, I don't mean to be facetious, but kind of a portal into Piper. It kind of went through a warm hole as I was riding my bike yesterday back into those themes and what Piper calls Christian hedonism.
Let me walk through the calculus of Christian hedonism. “What's in it for me” reminds me of things I've said often about the flesh, the essence of the flesh, which begins from infancy. Some of you have newborns. I've heard how it's going for you and you are well aware of what I've called that fanatical commitment to self-interest that we see at 3:00 in the morning in an infant that isn't really used to being alive yet and isn't enjoying it. It’s a fanatical commitment to self-interest, and that seems directly contrasted with the call of Christian discipleship.
Christianity seems at least at one level to be all about self-denial. We follow a savior who left the comforts of heaven to come to a cursed planet, to live a life of poverty and sorrow. Who lived every moment to bless other people, then willingly lay down his life even on a cross, even with that exquisite physical suffering and the infinite eternal spiritual suffering of being our substitute, continually saying no to himself. Did He ever ask in any sense “what's in it for me?”?
No. In fact, He called on his disciples, as we've already seen in Mark's gospel, to a life of self denial. Mark 8:34, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross. Follow me for whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life from me and the gospel will save it." At the end of this same chapter, Mark 10, Jesus says, "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant. Whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the son of man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
That doesn't seem like a life of “what's in it for me”, but Jesus gives a rather perplexing answer. It is perplexing at a lot of levels, but right away just the fact that He doesn't rebuke Peter at all. I mean, you think it'd be an opportunity to say “you're thinking all wrong here. What kind of question is that? You shouldn't be thinking about rewards. You should be willing to serve. Leave everything for me and not worry about what's in it for you.” Actually He goes into detail about what the apostles will get having left everything both in this age and in the age to come.
Mark 10: 29-30, “'I tell you the truth,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields from me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age, homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children in fields, with them persecutions and in the age to come eternal, life.’" It's even more developed in Matthew's account. Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel and everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or mother or father, children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life."
How do we harmonize this? How can we understand this yearning for rewards? What's in it for me? What do I get? A desire, a strong desire for personal blessedness, something to come back to us in the Christian life. John Piper has sought to harmonize these things in Desiring God, indeed in his whole ministry. He puts it this way. There are two irrepressible forces in the universe as we study scripture. First, God's desire for his own glory in all of his creation and in all of his creatures. Second, our desire to be happy. The standard evangelical appeal pits the one against the other as if only one of those two can be fulfilled. It's either we're going to live for the glory of God or we will live for our own happiness, our own blessedness, and we have to make a choice., and pray God, it's the right choice. Either God gets the glory or I get the joy. Not both. The normal evangelical appeal is will you surrender to God's will for your life? Are you going to keep pursuing your own personal happiness?
Then there are subthemes in the same kind of approach like Christian worship, like we should all come here on Sunday and say, “Lord, we want you to know this is all about you today. We're here for you. We want to make you central. We want to put you first. It's not about us. We want you to be glorified in my worship today, I don't want anything out of this.” It seems so holy and then also Christian service. When you serve other people, don't ever think what's in it for you. The point is their happiness not yours. You are not the point. Their needs are the point. Our selfish joy and service should never be our goal. Rather, it's an accidental byproduct of a life well lived for Christ. Kind of bump into happiness along the way as you're serving others.
Piper exposed the fundamental flaw in this. It's deeply flawed actually, and he drew out quotes to help establish it. First of all, on the second desire, the repressible force that we all have to be happy. It's just a fact. We're wired this way. Blase Pascal put it this way, "All men see seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend toward this end. The cause of some going to war and of others avoiding it is the same desire in both attended with different views. The will never takes the least step, but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even those who hang themselves."
He's not saying it’s good or bad, he's just saying it is. It just is what is. CS Lewis in his powerful sermon, “The Weight of Glory” said, "If you asked 20 good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, 19 of them would reply unselfishness. But if you ask almost any of the great Christians of old, well, he would've replied love." You see what's happened, a negative term has been substituted for a positive. The negative ideal of unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves as if our abstinence and not their happiness is the important point. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit this notion has crept in from Kant in the stoics which is no part of the Christian religion.
In other words, it's like true virtue is making sure you personally derive no pleasure whatsoever from an act. An action is moral only if it's done from effectively sheer duty, disinterested benevolence, disinterest meaning I don't get anything out of it. Benevolence is something good done not for you, but he other person. If you seek, if you desire, or if you should happen to receive any blessing from it, it's actually morally ruined to some degree. Rubbish says John Piper, that's complete rubbish. It's not Christianity. Yes, it is true that God has a relentless desire to be glorified in all his creation and by all his creatures. God created all things for the praise of his glory, and when redemption is finished, the entire universe, the new heaven, new earth, the new Jerusalem are going to be radiating with the glory of God. But our desire for personal delight and happiness is not an enemy to that. Not at all.
Actually God created it for that. He created that drive for personal fulfillment and pleasure and happiness and satisfaction to find its residence in God. So Piper adjusted the Westminster Shorter Catechism in “What is the chief end of man?” The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. God is most glorified in us when we're most satisfied in him. That's his well-known slogan. The more we say to God, I want you, I want as much of you as I can get. I'm hungry for you. The more God's glorified, especially in worship, the better. I know that sounds all holy and all that, but imagine coming to God and saying, “God, I want you to know I don't really personally have any needs today, but you apparently are kind of needy. You need my worship, so I'm here to give you my worship. Hope you're satisfied with it.” I can see God saying, “Can I just tell you something about what's going on up here in heaven? First of all, before anything was made, I was fine, perfectly blessed within the Trinity. Secondly, I'm made out of fullness, not out of emptiness. I don't need any of my angels or people that praise me, but I just want you to know I got 100 million angels up here who doing a phenomenal job. You guys are pathetic. I don't need you to worship me. You need me and you need to worship me, so come hungry and I'll feed you.”
That's what true worship is. It's seeking our pleasure vertically in worship is what it's all about. It's saying to God, “You are what I want. You're what I need.” Then horizontally the same thing. It's like, can you imagine serving another person and saying, “I want you to know I get nothing out of this exchange. Hope you're blessed by it.” Piper likens it to an anniversary, like giving your wife flowers and saying that to her, “I want you to know I'm not enjoying this moment at all. I'm not getting anything out of this horizontally. I hope you enjoy the flowers I bought you.” What he calls dutiful roses. That's corrupt. Love is where I find my blessedness in your blessedness, right? I find my happiness in making you happy. It makes me happy to make you happy. It makes me blessed to bless you. That's why I'm a cheerful giver, because I'm excited about blessing you. Vertical and horizontal. That's what we're talking about here.
Rather than being shocked by Peter's question- “We've left everything to follow you. What then will there be for us?” - we should delight in Christ's stunning promises or rewards, both in this life and in eternity. We should yearn for him. We should be yearning for him. We should want as much as He wants to give us in that next world. C.S. Lewis put it this way, “the New Testament does have lots to say about self-denial but not self-denial as an end to itself. We are told to deny ourselves and take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ and find our lives in him.” It says it right there in that passage and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire for us. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.
We're far too easily pleased with what? What are we far too easily pleased with? The answer in the Bible is always the same, idols, creatures, created things going after them as our ultimate purpose in life. That does not satisfy. That's what the rich young ruler was doing. So that's the context.
II. Peter’s Question In Context
Let's look at Peter’s question in context. Remember last week, the rich young ruler, seemingly the perfect seeker coming, but he was fundamentally a flawed man. “As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him, fell on his knees before him and said, good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good except God alone." Then Jesus uses the law of God to expose his need for a savior. “You know the commandments. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not give false testimony. Do not defraud. Honor your father mother.”Unfortunately, the man thinks he passed all that test. He's basically a good person just needing a little bit more to get him over the hump. "Teacher," he declared, "All these I have kept since I was a boy." Then Jesus probes his soul, searches him. “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One things you lacked, he said. ’Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’" Based on my introduction of the sermon, that's an appeal to what Piper called Christian hedonism. Give up what cannot satisfy you. Give up what you cannot hold onto to gain something that will bring you eternal happiness.
That's the invitation here, but the man can't take it. He's shattered. He leaves. “His face fell. He went away sad because he had great wealth.” Jesus then seizes the opportunity to teach about the eternal dangers of wealth. Jesus looked around, said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples are amazed at his words, but Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God. It is easier for camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." The disciples are doubly stunned by this. They're wiped out by this. It goes against their theology of wealth and blessedness.
They wonder about salvation. The disciples were even more amazed and said to each other, “Who then can be saved? Jesus looked at them and said with man, this is impossible, but not with God. All things are possible with God.” Now Peter steps up and connects the dots. I think he's picking up on the treasure in heaven phrase, the treasure in heaven. He says, "Well, what about us? We've left everything to follow you." Mark just has that simple statement, he doesn't have the rest. “We have left everything to follow,” but there's an implied question, “are we in on that treasure in heaven thing?” Matthew's version is broader. He openly says it. "We have left everything to follow you. What then will there be for us?"
Let's remember how the apostles had in fact left everything for Jesus. He doesn't deny that at all and how significant it was. Remember back in Mark chapter 1, “As Jesus walked beside the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake for their fishermen. ‘Come follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘And I'll make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. When He had gone a little farther, He saw James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John in a boat preparing their nets. Without delay, he called them and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him." It's a big deal walking away from your livelihood, stepping out in faith to follow Jesus like that.
And Matthew, the tax collector in Matthew 9:9, "As Jesus just went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. 'Follow me,' he told him. And Matthew got up and followed him.” Matthew walked away from his lucrative tax booth. That took courage and sacrifice. Matthew 8, "A teacher of the law came up to him and said, ‘Teacher, I'll follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus said, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nest. The Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” “I don't know where I'm going to sleep tonight. I don't know how we're going to eat." Remember how his disciples were walking through the grain fields on the Sabbath and picking heads of grain and rubbing them together in their hands to eat them? Why? Because they were poor. It was a big deal what they did.
III. Jesus’ Promise of Earthly Rewards . . and Earthly Suffering
All right, so we've left everything to follow you. What then will there be for us? Jesus promises earthly rewards first, and He asserts this with a solemn oath. "Truly, truly. I say to you." He says this a lot, but whenever he says this, it's serious. It's a very serious statement. I'm making a vow to you. Or you can take this to the bank, heaven and earth will pass away, but this promise will never pass away. You can take this to the heavenly bank promising this to you.
Think of an illustration. Imagine the royal prince during a war. He's captured, but he manages to escape and he's being chased. He's a fugitive, making his way through a territory. He comes to a farmhouse where there's a simple peasant who lives with his family. He reveals who he is and asks if he can borrow the family's one horse to ride on and get away from his pursuers. Then he writes the man a note and he signs it and he seals it with his signet ring using wax from the candle on the man's table. He promises not only the return of the family horse, but 20 gold pieces, a change of clothing for everyone in the family, and the permanent status as friend to the royal household. All of that written out, signed with a signet.
Jesus also in his humiliation is speaking of a future time when He will sit on a throne of glory. “I won't look then what like I look now and I'm promising you, and you can take it to the bank.” Mark focuses on earthly rewards initially. "I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields from me in the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age." In this present age, homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields. Why does He list that? He’s telling them that what they give up, they’re going to get back and 100 fold. This is a promise made to the apostles who have left their home base and have ventured out in faith to serve Jesus and the gospel. And not just them, but 20 centuries of missionaries, of traveling evangelists and servants of the gospel who have physically left places to go. There's a spiritual leaving that I want to talk about at the end of the sermon, but they physically left. I read years ago about John Patton, the missionary from Scotland to the New Hebrides Islands in the South Pacific. In my opinion, he traveled oversea farther than any missionaries ever traveled from his home to his mission site, 13,000 nautical miles. It was a long journey. The parting scene between him and his father is just gut wrenching. His father was an incredibly godly man who deeply loved his children, and his children deeply loved him, and his father walked with him to a point where they had to part and say goodbye. This is the account. It says,
"My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are still fresh in my heart as if they had been but yesterday. But tears are on my cheeks as freely now as they were then. Whenever memory steals me away to that scene. For the last half mile or so, we walked together in almost unbroken silence. My father as often was his custom as carrying his hat in his hand while his long flowing yellow hair was yellow then, but later years white as snow streamed like a girl's down his shoulders. His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me and his tears fell fast, when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain. We halted on reaching the appointed parting place. He grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence and then solemnly and affectionately said, 'God bless you, my son, your father's God prosper you and keep you from all evil.' Unable to say anymore, his lips kept moving in silent prayer, as tears flowing. We embraced and parted. I ran off as fast as I could and when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left him gazing after me, waving my hat in a due. I was around the corner and out of sight in an instant, but my heart was too full and too sore to carry me further. So I darted to the side of the road and wept for a time. Then rising up cautiously, I climbed the to dike if he yet stood where I'd left him. Just at that moment, I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dike looking out for me, but he did not see me. And after he had gazed eagerly in my direction for a while, he got down and then set his face toward home and began to return there. His head's still uncovered and his heart I felt sure still rising in prayers for me. I watched through blinding tears till his form faded from my gaze, then hastening on my way, vowed deeply and offed by the help of my God to live and act, so I was never to grieve or dishonor such a father and mother as he had given me.”
I mean, how do you say goodbye like that to go to a mission site? He never saw his father again. That was like a funeral. So what then will there be for us if we do that? If we leave, what will there be for us? If you look at Jesus's promise for the earthly part, it's you will get what you need to do your mission. I think that's what He's saying. You'll get what you need. This is not prosperity gospel stuff. This is not health and wealth, this is not Joel Osteen's Your Best Life Now. We're not going that direction. He's not saying you'll permanently own other people's homes. Instead, it's Hudson Taylor's spiritual secret. God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply. That's what it is. God's going to give you what you need and He's going to give you encouragement along the way that you're part of a vast family of God and that family is going to take you in and care for you and meet your needs and you will not be at a loss.
That's what He's promising. No one who has left homes or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age, homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, fields, He says.
This relates I think to the practical promises and preparations made in Matthew 10 when Jesus first sent the apostles out on the first missionary journey. Remember how He said, “Don't take any bag for your journey. Take no tunic or extra sandals or a staff or any bag of gold or silver because the worker's worth is keep. And whenever you go to someplace, find some home there and stay there at that home until you leave. And then at the end of that, he promises rewards for the host family. “Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a profit's reward. Anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones, because he is my disciple, he'll never lose his reward.” So any help given to the traveling missionary and the traveling servant of God gets eternally rewarded.
We have clear examples of this in the Book of Acts. Think about Peter. Remember how Peter had that vision of a sheet let down with all kinds of animals when the messengers were going from Cornelius's house and that was the beginning of the ministry to the Gentiles. Well, he was staying at somebody else's house. Simon the Tanner at Joppa, that wasn't his home. He was up on the roof and he got hungry and they were making him lunch. That was really nice of Simon, the Tanner's wife, to make Peter lunch. That's an example of the very thing we're talking about here, isn't it? Or about Paul? How many times has it happened with Paul, the resources for the ongoing mission are in the mission field itself. Paul goes over to Philippi and there's a rich woman there named Lydia. She hears the gospel. The Lord opens her heart, she comes to faith, and then she invites Paul and his missionary team to stay with her at her estate. Acts 16:15, "When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. If you consider me a believer in the Lord, please come and stay at my home. And she persuaded us, stay there." That's one of the hundred homes or more, right? It's provision for those that are traveling out doing the gospel work. Or again, Paul in Romans 16:23 says, “Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy sends, you his greetings." Who's Gaius? I don't know, a host person.
It also extends to family relationship. You leave your mother, you'll get a hundred mothers. You're like, I don't know if I want a hundred mothers or a hundred fathers or a hundred brothers. It doesn't matter. You're going to get them. He says here, Romans 16:13, "Greet Rufus chosen in the Lord and his mother, who's been a mother to me too." So Rufus' mother, Paul's adopted mother. I just picture her making him chicken soup. Rufus' mother, Jesus said, "You'll get a hundred times as much in this present age." I've seen this in my life. My wife and I sold almost everything we owned and went to Japan. And when we got there, we were greeted by Japanese Christians and host people who cared for us. I've seen it in China, I've seen it in Kenya, South Africa, Germany, Poland, Macedonia, Greece, England. That's my story. I've been in so many host families. They've fed me. They've given me their guest room. They've let me use their car. I've seen the promises. In India I stayed at the home of dear Christian family there.
Now this is general benefit for all Christians. We're part of a universal church, aren't we? We're part of a big family of God. We've got brothers and sisters all over the world. You haven't even met them yet. As soon as you meet them, you're going to find out that they love the same Jesus you do. They read the same Bible you do. You're part of a vast family of God. That's what he's talking about here. Now he also added, and with them persecutions, let's be honest, it's not going to be easy for you as you travel around. With them persecutions, you're going to suffer. You're going to go through very, very difficult times.
IV. Jesus’ Promise of Eternal Rewards
In Matthew’s Gospel, He promises more clearly eternal rewards. In Mark’s gospel He says, “and in the age to come, eternal life.” Let's not minimize that. How could we? What is eternal life? “This is eternal life,” said Jesus, “that they may know you the only true God in Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” You're going to be lavishly blessed in your relationship with God for all eternity. That's what you get. But what else? Stop right there. That's enough. That's God. Remember what God said to Abraham in Genesis 15:1, "Fear not Abraham. I am your shield and your very great reward.” What do I get, God? You get me." Oh, that's enough. And I'll give you some other things too. But the other things aren't the point. You get me in the age to come, eternal life.”
He does get specific in Matthew's Gospel, in some interesting ways. He says there will be the renewal of all things when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne. The renewal of all things, it's an interesting Greek word, only used twice. A new genesis, a new creation, a new heaven, a new earth. He talks about it in terms of the soul. He washed us with the rebirth and regeneration by the Holy Spirit. That's the conversion [Titus 3]. But here we've got this. "And at the renewal of all things, when the new heaven and new earth comes in and I sit on my glorious throne, then you who have followed me, the twelve apostles will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
What does that mean? I don't know. I'm not preaching on Matthew; I'm just alluding to Matthew today. But I don't know, it's just some kind of... Some people think it's millennial kingdom, some people, it's just positions of honor, positions of authority, positions of glory. That's what you get far beyond anything you ever gave up.
This is part of Jesus's regular pattern of promising rewards. He doesn't just do it once or twice. He does it again and again and again. "Blessed are you, when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad." Why? "Because great is your reward in heaven." Wow. I mean, He goes down to our personal disciplines and our benevolence. When you give to the needy, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Don't announce it with trumpets. Don't seek horizontal acknowledgement in this world. Don't go after that. But your father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you pray, don't announce it and make everyone see how holy you are. Go into your room, close the door and pray to your father's unseen, and your father sees what is done in secret. What does He say? He'll reward you. The same thing with fasting. He'll reward you. He talks about rewards all the time.
He says at the end of the Bible, Revelation 22:12, "Behold, I'm coming soon. My reward is with me and I will give to everyone according to what he has done." If we're not supposed to think about rewards, why does He talk about them so much? He talks about them a lot. He says, "I am coming soon and I'm bringing a huge bag of eternal rewards and I'm going to reward each of you according to how you've lived your life according to your service to me."
V. Earnestly Desire All Rewards
I think we should earnestly desire them. You should say, well, I don't know. Should I be saying what's in it for me? I'm not recommending that you say that, except as a joke, but there's nothing wrong with thinking I am interested, Jesus, in what you have to give me for my life of service. I'm interested in it. Actually, I don't just think it's not like some guilty pleasure. I think it's actually imperative to the way we think about God. Hebrews 11:6 says so. "Without faith, it is impossible to please God because anyone who comes to him must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who diligently seek him or earnestly seek him.” So you have to believe in a rewarding God. But look at the verse in Hebrews 11:6.
"He rewards those who seek him." He doesn't reward them with something other than himself. He rewards them with himself. We must believe that. Therefore, desiring rewards is only mercenary if it's somehow disconnected from the thing itself. C.S. Lewis put it this way, "A woman who marries for money is mercenary because money is not the natural reward of love. But a woman who marries because she expects that the man who will become her husband will make her happy and bring her lasting joy in multiple experiences of love is not mercenary. That's the essence of why you get married."
In fact, it is actually wrong to serve Christ and say, “I don't care what you give me" when He has made these promises of lavish reward, that's actually wrong. Just as it is wrong for a person about to get married to say to their prospective spouse, I want you to know I don't care if you make me happy in our future marriage. That doesn't matter to me. Even if I knew that our marriage would make me miserable for the rest of my life, I would go ahead and marry you. I'd be like, what's wrong with you? That's twisted. I'm not going to say that to Jesus. “I don't care, Jesus, if you make me happy, if I follow you, I don't care if I'm eternally unhappy. I'm still going to follow you.” That doesn't make any sense. It's not the way the New Testament's written. Not at all.
So we therefore should want the reward. We should actually store up as much of the reward as we possibly can. “Do not store up treasure on earth where moth and rust destroy and thieve break in and steal, but store up treasure in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and thieves do not break in steal. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” You're supposed to store up treasure and you're supposed to have your heart there and think about it.
What are the rewards? There are three Cs - crowns, commendation, and capacity. I’m just going to go over this quickly. First of all, crowns. It's like you’re getting a crown? Maybe, I don't know. I don't know about each of you individually. If any of you individually comes to me and says, “Do you think I'm getting a crown?” I will say, I don't know. But there are crowns and what are they? Emblems of honor for faithful and courageous service to Christ. Like in Revelation 4:4, "Surrounding the throne were 24 other thrones and seated on them were 24 elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their head." So there they are, crowns, emblems of honor, connected in some way to them, to their person. Or again, Paul in First Thessalonians 2 said, "For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? You are my crown,” he said to the Thessalonians. He led them to Christ. He planted that church. "You are my glory and my joy." He said the same thing to the Philippians. "Therefore my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown." That is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends. The people you lead to Christ, they are your crown. The people you serve. You help plant a church, that's a crown. Pastors, elders. Peter says, who've served faithfully as under shepherds, under the good shepherd, the chief shepherd. It says, when the chief shepherd appears, First Peter 5:4, "You'll receive a crown of glory that will never fade away."
"What are the rewards? There are three Cs, crowns, commendation, and capacity."
Peter wrote that to motivate elders and pastors to serve faithfully because they're going to get a crown of glory that'll never fade away if they do. I know that those 24 elders were casting their crowns down constantly before the throne of God and of Christ. That's their way of saying, everything I have received and achieved came ultimately from you and by your grace for your glory. All of my crowns are a subset of your glory. That's how it's married together. It's not a separate thing, but crowns.
And then commendation. What's that? Praise from God that God would speak well of what you did in your life. Most famously, in Matthew 25, his master replied, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You've been faithful with a few things. I'll put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master. Well done, good and faithful servant." That's commendation from almighty God. Or 1 Corinthians 4:5, says, "Judge nothing before the appointed time. Wait till the Lord comes. At that time, the secret motives of men's hearts. All of that will be revealed and at that time, each will receive his praise from God." Those three words, “praise from God.” I know heaven's all about praise for God. And well it should be. We're going to praise God, but there is praise from God should you want that. I'm asking brothers and sisters, should you want God to praise you? You actually should. You should want him to say, well done, good and faithful servant. You should want him to honor you. You should want him to praise you because He won't do it amiss. He won't do it lightly. It will be so meaningful to you to have your Father express pleasure in how you lived your life. Praise from God. That's commendation.
"Should you want God to praise you? You actually should. You should want him to say, well done, good and faithful servant."
Then finally, capacity. This is the hardest to understand, but I think it's true. God is infinitely glorious. No creature can fully take him in. But the more faithful you serve in this life, the more of his heavenly glory you will be able to understand and take in. How do I think this way? I think of God's glory as an infinite ocean. All of us are like vessels or various volumes, like a thimble, a cup, a bowl, a bucket, a vat, a super oil tanker, different volumes, but the ocean's infinitely greater than any of them. All of them 100% full, But they just have different capacities. So when He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you've been faithful with a few things. Now I'm going to put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.” What He's saying is, “share my joy together. I want you to feel my joy of the service you've rendered. I want you to come into me and experience my joy and my delight." In Luke 6:38 it says, "Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, press down, shaken together, running overly poured into your lap. With the measure you use, it will be measured to you."That's where I get the different volumes.
What's poured into our lap? What is the reward? It's God. You get more of God and He always has more to give you. So how much of God do you want in heaven? That's the question. There's going to be some judgment day surprises. Look at verse 31, "Many who are first will be last and last, first." People we thought were great, maybe weren't as great as we thought they were, and some obscure brothers and sisters are going to be elevated like the widow that gave the copper coins. Jesus said what? She put in more than anyone. Many who are first will be last and last, first. Therefore, Paul says in First Corinthians 4:5, "Judge nothing until the appointed time.” Wait till the day, and at that point, we'll find out. George Whitfield, one of the greatest preachers of all time, wanted this to be his epitaph on his tomb. He said, "Here lies George Whitfield. What sort of man he was the great day will discover." That's pretty simple. In other words, here lies George Whitfield, what he was like you'll find out on Judgment Day. That's the point, the final day will reveal how we actually serve the Lord.
First and foremost, if you're an unbeliever, you walked in here as an unbeliever, it's not for you to be storing up treasure. The Bible actually reveals if you're not yet a Christian, you're storing up wrath every day, so come to Christ, trust in him. Trust in his precious blood. This is what He says to you in John 6. When you come and ask him, what must we do to work the works of God? This is the work of God: to believe in the One He has sent. Believe in Jesus.
Then you can start storing up treasure in heaven. For you Christians, I would just say in your own way, say “what's in it for me? Help me to understand heavenly rewards and store them up. Help me to store up as many as possibly can.”
I want to speak specifically about the dynamic here of leaving things for Jesus. Some of you will be called, and you don't even know it right now, to leave your home, your country, your family, your friends, and go somewhere overseas, some other place to serve Christ. You're going to be called to do something you never thought you could do. Drink in the promises here. God will take care of you. He will meet your needs. Do not be afraid, but step out in faith to go do great things for God. He will provide for you. God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply. He will take care of you. Most of us are not going to be called on to leave our familiar surroundings, but we are to live lives of aliens and strangers in this world, to venture out by faith in serving him. Some of us, some in this church are going to leave this church in the next year to go church-plant. You're going to join our church-planting effort. You're going to stop coming here on Sunday mornings and go to another place. It's not because I hope you don't like us, it's because God's calling you to do a work, to venture out. Be willing to do hard things, be willing to venture out, be willing to risk things in your service to Christ.
Close with me in prayer. Father, thank you for the time we've had to walk through this deep, powerful, complex topic. I thank you for the truth of the word of God. Help us, Lord, to seek your glory, to seek you as hungry and thirsty. You are our God. Earnestly, we seek you. We desire you as in a dry and weary land. You are all we need, all we want, and that we would go after you. Fill us, oh Lord, with a yearning to store up treasure in heaven. Treasure being intimacy and closeness with God and with Christ. Help us to be willing to risk things or be willing to go places we never thought we could go and do things we never thought we could do to serve you. In Jesus name. Amen.