OAKRIDGE BIBLE CHAPEL

Eternal Rewards and How To Get ‘Em (Matthew 19:27–20:28)

The God of the universe calls and invites all people to obey him, to fellowship with him, and to serve him and, like a wise parent, he motivates his children in a variety of ways. Sometimes God motivates with fear (e.g., Rev 2:16). The reality of hell is terrifying and, rightly understood, is hugely incentivizing to trust in the One who can save us from it. Other times, God motivates with love (e.g., John 14:15). As we grow in an understanding of all God has done, is doing, and will do for us we are propelled by gratitude toward allegiance, commitment, and submission. There are also times God motivates with rewards (e.g., Rev 2:10, 26; 3:21). These are perks and accolades that go beyond everlasting life and, just like fear and love, can be very motivating. No doubt, that’s why God uses them to spur his people on toward faithfulness.

Jesus’s first century disciples needed some clarification on the topic of future rewards and the Holy Spirit saw fit to record and preserve this lesson for Jesus’s twenty-first century disciples as well.

SERMON MANUSCRIPT

The God of the universe calls all people to obey him, to fellowship with him, and to serve him. And, like a wise parent, he motivates his children in a variety of ways.

Sometimes God motivates with fear (e.g., Rev 2:16). Obviously and ultimately, the reality of hell is terrifying and, rightly understood, is hugely incentivizing to trust in the One who can save us from it. God motivates with fear.

Other times, God motivates with love. This is the most ideal and mature fuel for obedience (e.g., John 14:15; 1 John 4:19). Growing in an understanding of all God has done, is doing, and will do for us fills hearts with a joy and gratitude that propels us toward allegiance, commitment, and submission. God motivates with love.

There are also times God motivates with rewards (e.g., Rev 2:10b, 26; 3:21a). These are perks and accolades that go beyond everlasting life. Parents, teachers, and employers are all very familiar with this strategy. “If you finish your carrots, ice cream.” “If you work well, early dismissal.” “If you hit quotas, bonuses.” Rewards, like fear and love, can be very motivating and, no doubt, that’s why God uses them for us.

Jesus’s first century disciples needed some clarification on this topic and the Holy Spirit saw fit to record and preserve this lesson for Jesus’s twenty-first century disciples as well.

A Couple Conversations About Rewards

This passage is built around a couple conversations about rewards. Clearly, the people in this text expected future recognition for exceptional service. Peter wants to know what the reward is for those who will do what the rich young man from 19:16–26 wouldn’t (19:27).

Jesus doesn’t correct Peter. He affirms him (19:28). When Jesus finally sit on his throne, these men who left everything to follow him around Israel will be rewarded with honour and authority. The coming kingdom is not characterized by uniform status. These disciples will rule (that’s what judging means) the twelve tribes of Israel.

Jesus then includes all sacrificial disciples (19:29). It’s an investment opportunity. The more you give up in this life to draw near Jesus, walk obediently with Jesus, and declare Jesus, the more you will get when all is made new (also 6:20). There are rewards available.

It does us no good to ignore, dismiss, or scoff at that reality. God, in his wisdom, has chosen to offer us rewards as motivation. We can either benefit from that fuel or not, but the latter is to our detriment.

Peter knew rewards were available. But then Jesus drops this statement (19:30). Yes, there are rewards available but they may not be given to whom you’d expect. More on that in a while.

Let’s look at the second conversation in this text about rewards (20:20–21). The Zebedees know a kingdom’s coming and, like all kingdoms, there’s a hierarchy to be filled. And Momma Zebedee wants her two baby boys helping run the show. Sometimes, parents, blinded by love, can be bold in advocating for their kids. And Mrs. Zebedee wants her Sons of Thunder next to the eternal throne. This family knew rewards and honours were available.

And it’s not just Peter and Momma Zee who assume this is the case, the rest of the disciples do also (20:24). Why? Because they wanted those seats and, if by chance, it’s a first-come-first-serve situation, the James and John just cut the line. The disciples knew rewards were available.

Again, Jesus offers no corrective. Instead, he adds curious details about the roles of suffering and his heavenly Father in the experience of future rewards (20:22–23). There are rewards available but they may not be given to whom you’d expect. It’s up to the Father.

Today, the one who gets the promotion is the one who has made themselves indispensable, networked smartly, and positioned themselves shrewdly. The one who gets the award is the one who is impressive, applauded, and admired. 

These two conversations warn us to not to apply the same metric to eternal rewards as we do to earthly ones. It’s not how God does things. There are rewards available but they may not be given to whom you’d expect.

Now, that might make us nervous. “What if I labour all my life, giving up worldly comfort, pleasure, and praise for Jesus’s sake only to find out I’m at the back of the rewards line?” Are we going to be disappointed or underwhelmed with the rewards we get? Are we going to question the fairness of their distribution?

The Character of the Giver of Rewards

Jesus anticipates these questions and that’s why he tells the parable he does. It’s a story that illustrates the character of the Giver of rewards. 

The land owner, who is the Father in heaven (20:23), hires workers at different points of the same day and, when the workday ends he pays them all for a full days’ work, much to the chagrin of those recruited in the morning (20:12). It’s not fair! “On what basis are you distributing payment? What kind of boss are you?”

First, the parable illustrates that this land owner is just (20:13, 2). He’s done right by these workers. He also claims justice for himself (20:3–4). What kind of boss are you? Among other things, he is just.

Second, the parable illustrates that this land owner is gracious (20:6–7). They couldn’t get work until this boss came along and sent them into the field for just an hour. Add to that his response to the grumbling workers at the end of the day (20:13a). They spit venom, he calls them friend. Not only is this land owner just, but he’s gracious.

Finally, the parable illustrates that this land owner is generous (20:14–15). He lavishes payment on these sixty-minute workers because he can, because he’s just and he’s gracious and he’s generous.

That’s the character of the Giver of rewards. We’re to trust him. In fact, the parable shows it’s those who trust in his character who most experience his grace and generosity (20:2, 4, 7). The first group knows what they’re getting. The second group has to exercise a bit more faith. The third group, however, goes to work simply trusting that the boss will compensate consistent with his character: justly, graciously, and generously. That’s good enough for them and they’re not disappointed.

Neither will we be. When you and I stand before Jesus and receive our rewards, we will know that what we get is right. No one will say, but so-and-so got that and all I get is this? No, we’ll worship him in absolute agreement with his perfect assessment. And we’ll worship him for his graciousness and generosity.

In a world where athletes use steroids to get gold, politicians use deception to get votes, celebrities us virtue signalling to get fame, and workers use padded resumes to get promotions, it’s good to be reminded that, ultimately, the best rewards—the eternal, unfading rewards—cannot be grasped through cheating, manipulating, lying, or posturing because of the character of he who gives them. There are rewards available and, while they may not be given to whom you’d expect, we can get to work trusting that their distribution will be just, gracious, and generous.

The Christ-Example That Leads To Rewards

So, how do we get ‘em? We’ve eavesdropped on a couple conversations about rewards and been reminded of the character of the giver of rewards, but how do we use their reality as the motivation they’re supposed to be? How do we get ‘em? Well, what’s always the right answer in Sunday School? Jesus! We close this morning by looking at the Christ-example that leads to rewards.

How are you and I to live that we may be rewarded by our just, gracious, and generous heavenly Father in the coming kingdom? Well, how did Christ live and how will he be rewarded (19:28)?

Jesus knows his reward comes in the future regeneration, that is, when all things are renewed and, unless I’m missing something, we’re not there yet. So, Jesus is still waiting. But it’s going to be amazing. Jesus will be given an eternal kingdom, his deserved and unending glory and honour. That’s his reward but what did he do to garner such a reward (20:17–19)? 

Jesus’s glorious, eternal enthronement, eventually given to him by the Father, comes on the heels of a period of condescension, betrayal, injustice, rejection, humiliation, torture, and death. This is the Christ-example that leads to rewards. That’s how we get ‘em. It’s his example this passage invites us to follow (19:30; 20:16, 25–28).

For Eternal Promotion, Practice Self-Demotion!

This is the Christ-example. He, who was motivated by the joy set before him, endured the cross (Heb 12:2). Jesus invites us to walk as he walked, knowing—like Peter, the Zebedees, and the other disciples—that there are rewards available, given by a just and generous God to those who make themselves low for the sake of Christ. We could summarize the force of this passage this way: for eternal promotion,practice self-demotion! It’s through service to and sacrifice for others in the name of Jesus that true, lasting, rewards are given. That’s how true greatness is grasped.

Peter asked a question (19:27). Later in his life, no doubt reflecting on these conversations about rewards, would write 1 Peter 2:19–21. Christ’s steps, as we’ve been reminded today, lead to glorious, eternal reward, but they travel through servanthood, suffering, betrayal, and humiliation. It’s the Christ-example. Eternal promotion is bestowed upon those who live lives characterized be self-demotion.

As we close, I want to help us diagnose our own hearts, with the help of the Holy Spirit. As believers, I hope we’re all growing in our understanding that there are indeed rewards available in eternity, beyond everlasting life and resurrection and all that comes with it. And I hope we’re growing in our desire for them. But as we’ve seen today, they’re granted in surprising ways, through self-demotion, servanthood, and selflessness. So, I have three questions I’m going to invited us all to ask ourselves as we close.

First, what can you leave for Christ? What can you leave behind for his name’s sake? Is it a dream or goal you’ve had for a long time that you need to let die? A relationship you need to distance yourself from? A financial opportunity that has you joining yourself with an unbeliever?

Maybe you’re being called to serve the Lord full time? Missions? Pastoral ministry? Remember, it’s an investment opportunity. What can you leave for Christ?

Second, how can you trust the Father? Leaving something for Christ often involves trusting the character of the Father in heaven. Is he really as just, gracious, and generous as he claims to be? Perhaps you’re willing to leave something for Christ but you’re not convinced it’s going to be worth it and you’re waiting for that confirmation before you go to work.

If that’s you, ask God for faith. Ask him to help you trust him more fully, trust in his revealed character, his justice, grace, and generosity. How can you trust the Father?

Finally, how can you serve the body? The church is not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about others. It’s about building one another up, serving one another, sacrificing for one another, being wronged by one another and forgiving one another. How can you serve the body?

There are rewards available, brothers and sisters. God offers them to us as incentive to serve him. He wants to reward us and he will in accordance with his just and generous character. But they may not go to whom you’d expect. The eternal rewards and honours are reserved for those who make themselves low, who stoop to serve and suffer for Christ’s sake, who understand that eternal promotion comes through self-demotion.

 



Latest Posts

Josiah has served the Oakridge Bible Chapel family as one of its elders and one of its pastoral staff members since September 2018, before which he ministered as an associate pastor to a local congregation in the Canadian prairies. Josiah's desire is to be used by God to help equip the church for ministry, both while gathered (edification) and while scattered (evangelization). He is married to Patricia, and together they have five children—Jonah, Henry, Nathaniel, Josephine, and Benjamin.

Written by:

Share it:

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on email
Email