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Christ is Coming with Rewards

John Hoole November 03, 2002

When I was in high school and college, I was no different from many of you. loved sports - especially participating in them. In high school, I participated in everything sport except football. In Baseball, I played mostly shortstop. In Track and Field, I was a pole vaulter and a distance runner. Basketball was my real love from early childhood. I have a small sports court in my back yard, and I still enjoy going out and shooting a few baskets, or having someone come over so we can have some good competition.

I have always enjoyed watching just about any kind of sport. I am fortunate to have a wife that enjoys watching most sports as well. She will watch the Mariners or the Supersonics or the Seakhawks, even when I am unable to. I might be studying for my next lesson, and she will keep me informed of the activity on the court or on the field.

We just completed the 2002 World Series. I have brought with me an autographed baseball. This ball has two autographs on it - Don Larson and Yogi Berra.

Why do the athletes on the Seahawks, the Mariners or the Sonics get involved in their sports? Why do people like me still like to have a good basketball match. Why did Yogi Berra or Don Larsen play baseball.

There might be a number of reasons why they did. But, all of these reasons have one thing in common, they did it to obtain a corruptible crown. Their riches are temporal --- eventually they will die and the wealth they labored for is passed on. Their fame, once so heady, is now lost as the public forgets them in favor of a new star.

Today, I want you to ask yourself, "what race am I running? "Will this race give me eternal happiness,..or lead only to a corruptible crown."

The early church may not have had a Superbowl Sunday, but they were all certainly familiar with athletic contests. After all, the Olympic games started in that part of the world. No doubt wives have been shaking their heads for thousands of years wondering why their husbands get so excited over these contests.

However, the apostle Paul uses, on more than one occasion, athletic contests to illustrate spiritual truths. The principles that apply to athletics also apply to living the Christian life. And in 1 Cor. 9, Paul instructs each of us to play in such a way as to win.

1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (NKJ)

24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.
25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable [corruptible] crown, but we for an imperishable crown
.

As Christians, we are in a far more meaningful race. And Jesus tells us that there are rewards at the end of our race. And this is what I want to speak on today. The awards that are awaiting each of God's children. Every person who has accepted Christ as their Savior will receive a reward at the end of their race. In the economy of this world, there are a limited number of crowns. The economy of heaven, however, is refreshingly different. Heavenly rewards are not limited to a chosen few, but "To all those who have waited with love for him to come again." (2 Tim. 4:8)

That three-letter word ALL is a gem. In heaven, the winner's circle isn't reserved for a handful of elite Christians.

James 1:12 tells us that everyone of God's children, "will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him."

Some may believe that rewards are a poor motive for obedience, but Jesus did not think so. To be sure, character or virtue is reward enough; but in His grace, Jesus was willing to add something extra. He wants to add some icing to our cake. After all, whatever rewards we receive only bring greater glory to Him, both here and hereafter.

It was Jesus who used the phrase, "great is your reward." The issue of rewards is found 106 times in 101 different verses in the Bible.

Never minimize the present power of a future reward. The holy band of Old Testament prophets and saints lived with the expectation of reward. Moses turned his back on Egypt and suffered for it because "he had respect unto the recompense of reward." (Hebrews. 11:26) Abraham walked by faith as he looked for a reward - that eternal city God had promised him.

Jesus encourages us today by promising us heavenly rewards tomorrow. From His mouth, we hear a similar promise: The saved of Christ will receive their reward.

"When the master comes and finds the servant doing his work, the servant will be rewarded." (Matthew 24:46)

The reason I want to talk on the subject of "rewards" is to encourage each of you. God has something great in store for everyone of his children. For all that we don't know about the next life, this much is certain, the day Christ comes to gather his children will be a day of rewards.

Revelation 22:12 NIV

12 Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.

Those things you did that never heard the cheers of men will hear the cheers of angels. The small will be great. The forgotten will be remembered. The unnoticed will be crowned and. The faithful will be honored.

The praise and cheers of 70,000 fans for Don Larson's perfect world series game in 1956 will be nothing compared to what you will hear in the presence of God. He received a World Series ring. You will receive a crown. Not just one crown, but many crowns.

The Bible speaks about 5 different crowns. I want to address four of them. I have already mentioned the incorruptible crown. I won't elaborate on that crown any further today. But of the remaining four, let me give you a preview.

The Crown of Life

James 1:12 NIV

12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

To help you appreciate the eternity Christians will have, consider this rule of thumb. Heaven will be wonderful, not only because of what is present, but because of what is absent. The apostle John took notes on what he saw in his visions of heaven, but he was also careful to mention what was absent. Do you remember his famous list of "no more?"

"God will wipe away every tear from the eyes, and there will be no more death, or sadness, or crying, or pain. The old ways are gone." (Rev. 21:4)

Did you catch the first "no more." "There will be no more death." Can you imagine a world with no death, only life? If you can, you can imagine heaven. Citizens of heaven wear a crown of life.

What have we done today to avoid death? We watch our diet. We pass on the pie. We take medicine to keep our cholesterol or our blood pressure down. That isn't wrong in itself, because we are trying to prolong life as much as possible. These things won't be a worry in heaven. In fact, you won't worry at all in heaven. We won't even worry about getting old in heaven. We will be ceaselessly strong. And in heaven, we will feel no pain.

Jesus urged the Christians in Smyrna to be "faithful, even if you have to die, and I will give you a crown of life." (Revelation 2:10)

Let me suggest another crown.

The Crown of righteousness

2 Timothy 4:7-8 reads:

I have done my best in the race, I have run the full distance, and I have kept the faith. And now there is waiting for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that Day.

The word righteousness defines itself. It simply means, to be in right relationship with God. The apostle Paul looked toward the day when he would be crowned in righteousness. Now, the careful Bible student might raise a question here. Aren't we already righteous? If so, why do we also receive a crown of righteousness? What happens in heaven that hasn't already happened on earth? Those are good questions and they can be answered by using an analogy that Paul uses.

Paul used the analogy of an adoption. Our son is adopted, so this is of importance to us. We adopted our son here in Seattle almost 30 years ago. Some people we know have gone overseas to adopt their children. Whether here or overseas, there is a lot of red tape and bureaucracy. Overseas adoptions often involved a language issue. But, whatever it takes - the red tape and large fees - it is all with the hope of taking a child into their home. In the case of those overseas, sometimes the adoption is completed before the child was born. For financial reasons, the couple would often have to return home, while awaiting the birth of their child.

Now think about their position. The papers have been signed - the money has been given, but the child is not yet born. They must wait until the birth before they can return to the country and claim the child.

Hasn't God done the same for us? He entered our culture, battled the resistance, and paid the unspeakable price which adoption required. Legally we are his - He owns us. We have every legal privilege accorded to a birth-child. We are just waiting for him to return. We are, as Paul said, "waiting for God to finish making us his own children." (Romans 8:23)

We are in right relationship now. We are clothed with Christ. But when Jesus comes, the relationship will be made even "righter." I know that's not a word, but you know what I am saying.

When he come, our wardrobe will be completed. We will be crowned with righteousness. We will be rightly related to God.

Think about what that means. What prevents people from being rightly related to God. Sin, of course. So if heaven promises a right relationship with God, what is missing from heaven. You've got it. SIN ! Heaven will be sin-free.

Because of sin here, the young are abused and the elderly sometimes forgotten. Because of sin, God is cursed and drugs are worshiped. Because of sin, babies have no daddies and wives have no husbands.

But in heaven, sin will have no power. In fact, sin will have no presence there. Can you imagine a world without sin? If so, you can imagine heaven.

The crown of glory

So what have we learned thus far. To be crowned with life means no more death. To be crowned in righteousness means no more sin. And to be crowned in glory means no more defeat.

1 Peter 5:4 NIV

4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Some of us might say or feel, "I have never won a prize in my life." Certainly, not a prize of great value. We don't see ourselves receiving any array of crowns and rewards when we meet Christ. Oh, maybe you were the scout master in your Boy Scout troop. Maybe you were in charge of refreshments at your child's homeroom Christmas party. But, you are thinking, nothing a great importance. You watch Yogi Berra and other walk away with the ribbons. And we think, All I have is "what ifs" and "almost."

If that hits home, then you will cherish the promises we just read from the Bible. Let me read it again.

1 Peter 5:4 NIV

4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Your day is coming. What the world has overlooked, your Father in heaven has remembered. You will one day be standing in the winner's circle. You will never again know defeat.

Now let's look at the fourth crown.

The crown of rejoicing

1 Thessalonians 2:19 NKJV

19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?

As I understand it, Oskar Schindler had his share of less-than-noteworthy characteristics. He was a womanizer and a heavy drinker. He bribed officials and was a member of the German Nazi Party. But buried in the recesses of his heart was a diamond of compassion for the condemned Jews of Krakow, Poland.

The ones Hitler sought to kill, Schindler sought to save. He couldn't save them all, but he could save a few, so he did what he could. What began as a factory for profit became a haven for eleven hundred fortunate souls whose names found their way onto his list -- Schindler's List.

At the end of the movie by the same name, Oskar Schindler prepares to slip into the night. With the defeat of the Nazi, all those he helped were now free, and Schindler, a Nazi, was now the hunted man. As he walks to his car, his factory workers line both sides of the road. They have come to thank the man who saved them. One of the Jews presents Schindler with a letter signed by each person. He is also given a ring, formed out of the gold extracted from a worker's tooth. On it is carved a verse from the Talmud, "He who saves a single life saves the world entire."

In the brisk Polish night air, Schindler is surrounded by the liberated. Row after row of faces. Husbands with wives. Parents with children. They know what Schindler did for them -- and they will never forget.

What kinds of thought raced through Oskar's mind at that moment? What emotions surface when a person finds himself face to face with lives he has changed?

Someday you will find out. Schindler saw the faces of the delivered - and you will too. Schindler heard the gratitude of the redeemed - you will hear the same. He stood in a community of rescued souls - the same is reserved for you.

When will this occur? It will occur when Jesus comes. The promise we read a few minutes ago from 1 Thessalonians 2:19 isn't limited to the apostle Paul.

Paul ministered in Thessalonica and has moved on to other places. But his heart is still in that city. The little church is so young, so fragile, but oh-so-special. He longs to see them again. He writes to them, and dreams of the time he will see them again. Look at the verse again.

1 Thessalonians 2:19 NKJV

19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?

The verse conjures up a image akin to the one of Schindler and the survivors. And in the case of Paul, in heaven Paul will search the sea of faces for his friends from Thessalonica. And they will search for him And in the presence of Christ, they will enjoy an eternal reunion.

Try to imagine doing the same thing. Think about the day Christ comes. There you are in the great circle of the redeemed.

Your body has been made new - no more pain or problems.

Your mind has also been made new - what you once understood in part, you now understand clearly.

You feel no fear, no danger, no sorrow. Though you are one of a throng, it's as if you and Jesus are all alone.

I am speculating now, but I wonder if Christ might say these words to you: "I'm so proud that you let me use you. Because of you, others are here today. Would you like to meet them.?" Chances are you'd be surprised at such a statement. So many in the body of Christ feel they have done very little for the Lord. It's one thing for the Apostle Paul to hear such words. He was an apostle, after all. We can imagine a foreign missionary or famous evangelist hearing these words. But us?

Most of us wonder what influence we have had. In one way that is probably good, for if we knew, we might grow arrogant. Most of us at that moment can relate to the word of Matthew 25:37, "Master what are you talking about?"

At that point - and again, these are my speculations - but Jesus might turn to the crowd and invite them. With his hand on your shoulder, he announces, "Do we have any here who were influenced by this child of mine?" One by one, they begin to step out and walk forward.

The first is your neighbor, a crusty old sort who lived next door. To be frank, you didn't expect to see him. "You never knew I was watching," he announces, "but I was. And because of you, I am here."

Then a cluster of maybe a half-dozen approach. One speaks for them all and says, "You helped out with the youth group when we were kids. You didn't open your mouth much, but you opened your house. We became Christians in your living room."

The line continues toward you. A co-worker testifies how you controlled your temper. A receptionist remarks how you greeted her each morning. Someone you don't even remember reminds you of the time you saw her in the hospital. You came to visit a friend in the next bed, but on the way out you stopped and spoke a word of hope with this stranger.

You are amazed beyond belief by the people from other countries. After all, you never traveled to Asia or Africa or Latin America. But look! Cambodians, Nigerians, Colombians. How did you influence them? Christ reminds you of the missionaries who came your way. Your friends said you had a soft spot for them. Now you understand you didn't have a soft spot. You had the Holy Spirit - and you were obedient when He spoke to you. And because of your obedience, many around the world stand before you.

It's not long before you and your Savior are encircled by the delightful collection of souls you have touched. Some you know - most you do not. You feel for these what Paul felt for the Thessalonians. They are indeed your crown of rejoicing.

But Jesus isn't finished yet. With the wave of his hand, the innumerable crowd parts, and you see yet another large group. Your Family. Your spouse is the first to embrace you. Then your parents. They are no longer frail like you last saw them, but robust and renewed. "We are proud of you," they say.

Next comes your children. They thank you. Over and over they thank you. And then some faces you don't recognize. You have to be told who they are. These are grandchildren and great-grandchildren and descendants you never saw until now. They, like the others, thank you for the heritage of faith you left for them.

Will such a moment really occur? I don't know. If it does, you can be certain of two things.

1. Its grandeur and glory will far outstrip any description my words can carry. The Bible says that no one has ever imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.

2. If such a moment of reunion occurs, you won't for a moment regret any sacrifice you made.

The hours you gave in service for Christ? You won't regret it at all.

The money you gave? You'd give it a thousand times over.

The times you helped the poor and loved the lost? You'd do it all again.

But what about missed opportunities? Oh, I really think that our God is too kind to let us face the opportunities missed. Heaven will know no regrets.

Look at that thought from the point of view of one of my favorite promises in the Bible.

1 Corinthians 4:5 NIV

5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

What an incredible sentence. God will praise each one of them. Nothing but praise!

He didn't say He would praise the "best of them." Nor did He say He would praise a "few of them." Nor did He even say He would just praise "the high achievers among them." But, God said, "He would praise each one of them."

When Jesus judges his children, there is no condemnation nor punishment, only praise!

There is none here this morning that will be left out. God will see to that. In fact, God Himself will give the praise. When it comes to recognition, God does not delegate the job. Michael won't hand out crowns. Gabriel doesn't speak on behalf of the throne. God himself does the honors. God himself will praise his children.

And what's more, the praise is very personal. In the verse we just read, Paul says, "God will praise each one of them."

What I hear from those words is this: Awards are not given one nations at a time. He doesn't dispense of awards one church at a time, or one generation at a time. God Himself will look you in the eye and bless you with the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's Joy!"

>With that in mind, let me urge you to stay strong in the faith. Don't give up and don't turn back. Let Jesus speak to your heart as he says, "Behold, I come quickly. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown!" (Rev. 3:11)

2 John 8 NIV

8 Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.

Rewards are waiting for all God's children.

   
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