Allen Jackson - Risk, Reward, and Judgement - Part 1
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I was invited to a small group, not uncommon for me, I don't get to do as much as I once did, but this was some months back. Wasn't a long time ago, but it's been a few months. I was invited to a group, and I didn't know it when they gave me the invitation, but the group was embroiled in a debate. One side was dug in pretty deeply, and the other side as I just listened when I got there, I think was really just trying to avoid the confrontation, so they invited me. It was a question about the kingdom of God and the loudest opinion around the table, was that it was a socialist system, that everybody would receive the same outcome in the kingdom of God. That if you were born again, if you made a profession of faith, that when you stepped out of eternity into the kingdom of God, we all landed in the same space, no difference. Equity at its best.
The idea was, that if you were welcomed into the kingdom of God, that it was an all-inclusive resort, that you'd have access to everything equally. There'd be no distinction or differentiation, there would be no distinction between participants. And to be completely candid, I had very little impact on the discussion 'cause they were too deeply entrenched to be overly interested in scripture, their opinions had taken the ascendant positions. But I haven't forgotten that meeting and ever since then, and it's been months and months now, as I've been doing the Bible reading with you, I keep making notes about this topic because I thought, "Wow, that was really deeply rooted in the hearts of those people and there was no negotiation to be had".
So, I wanna ask you some questions and I really kind of wanna unearth what you think. If you haven't thought about it intentionally, I'm gonna ask you to with me for a few minutes, 'cause it has a great deal of bearing, on the kind of faith you will choose to live out. Whether you'll have a determined faith, or a passive faith, or a casual faith, or a courageous faith. Let me ask you some questions. Do you think it makes any difference if we serve God with enthusiasm, or if we're just ambivalent, indifferent, not pagan, not blatantly immoral? Do you think it makes any difference if you serve God on purpose with intention, or not so much? I'm gonna ask several questions, you don't have to answer out loud. I don't wanna start a debate in the room. That's not true, I probably am trying to start a debate in the room.
Do you imagine there's any benefit to being fervent in your faith? Does God really pay attention to our responses? Do disobedience and obedience receive identical outcomes? You know, we are processing as a community of faith and expansion of ministry in the midst of a turbulent world, in a world where there's a lot of confusion, and upheaval, and a lot of stuff. What's the best response? Is there a single best response? Is it about quantity or quality? Should we tell as many people as possible, or should we walk carefully with those who are present? They're all layers to similar questions. Well, I wanna start with this notion of judgment, and I'm a little limited in time and scope in a single session, but I would remind you that in the New Testament, we're told that there are more than one judgment. That if you're a Christ follower, you'll be asked to give an accounting of your life, but it's not a judgment of destination, it's not a judgment of heaven or hell, it's an evaluation of the life you have led.
Now there is another judgment and that's a judgment of destination. So, as you're reading your New Testament, if you're just reading casually, you have to pay attention to know specifically or more specifically what's being discussed. But in 1 Corinthians, I chose the same book and actually I chose the same chapter, because there's a unity of context. It's talking about the believers and our lives. It's a bit of a different perspective on judgment. In 1 Corinthians 3 and verse 8, says "The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose". There's a fight in the Corinthian church. They're arguing about who's better, imagine that. Imagine church folks having an argument about who's best. That just seems like a fantasy to us, doesn't it? And they were saying, "Well, I'm better because Apollos is the one who instructed us". And another said, "No, no, we're better 'cause Peter taught us". And another says, "No, no, it was Paul that helped us".
And so, Paul's writing to them and he said, "The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor". So, the implication is, what you choose to do with your life, the effort you invest, the energy you invest, is going to be responded to. Now here's the hurdle, it's the elephant in the room. We don't earn our way to heaven. You can't qualify, you don't get a better seat because you endured more sermons, sorry. And when that idea has pretty much been drilled into us, that it isn't about works, and that is absolutely true, the righteous are saved by faith, that it is a free gift. But then the question that has to be processed, once you have received the gift of salvation, what are you to do with that? Put it on the shelf and wait for the fulfillment of what's been explained to you? Do you engage with it?
In my imagination, it's a little bit like being given a power tool, chainsaw. You have one, but it doesn't mean that all the trees that fall on your property will cut themselves up, or that because you have the saw no more trees will fall. You've simply been equipped to engage when the needs are present. And that feels like the idea that Paul is pushing towards the Corinthians, you're each gonna be recorded, and rewarded according to your own labor. Same chapter, verse 12. "If any man builds on this foundation," and the foundation that he identified in the preceding verses was Jesus Christ. He's saying, "I'm an expert builder", I laid a foundation with Jesus, "And if any man builds on this foundation using gold, or silver, or costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light".
Now, that's an interesting collection of building materials. Gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or stubble. The simplest observation to me, is that gold or silver worth a great deal, can be held in the palm of your hand. An equivalent amount of wood would fill many trucks. So it isn't always about what's apparent or most visible, value is attached in different ways and "His work will be shown for what it is, because the Day" day is capitalized, it's the day of judgment. "Will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he'll receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames".
Now the implication to me seems very clear, that our lives will be evaluated, and we're going to be rewarded accordingly for what we've done. Again, not for our destination, but I hope you'll see before we're finished, that our opportunities in the age to come, in the realm that is before us, are going to be impacted by the choices we make in this current age. The choice isn't simply, "I wanna go to heaven". The choice is, how many, "I honor the Lord"? Amen, Pastor. Again, it's not a judgment of destination, it is a judgment of faithfulness. Now, I understand how quickly that is often rejected, we push it aside, we don't wanna think about it, as if we're suggesting some sort of salvation by works. I'm not doing that, I'm not even intimating that. That isn't what I read, but what Paul said to the Corinthian church, is the quality of your life is going to be evaluated by fire.
Whenever you can stay with a single author, there's a unity of thought, a unity of language, there's a story being told, a message being delivered, and it's often easier to grasp, and there's a continuity when we can do that. And I believe Matthew provides for us as a faithful reader some lessons in significance that speak to this topic. So let's look at Matthew chapter 5 and verse 19. Jesus is speaking and he said, "Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so, to do the same will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven but whoever practices and teaches these commandments will be called great in the kingdom of heaven".
Jesus introduced two categories, and they're both participants in the kingdom of heaven. And the one category, he said, are persons who teach others. It says, "They break the commandments and they teach others to do the same". He didn't say they'd be cast out, he said they're gonna be labeled the least. He said, "On the other hand, if you're obedient, if you practice and you teach others to practice them, you'll be called great". So Jesus said, "The option before is you could be in the kingdom of God and be the least of these". Not bad, but you could be included in the kingdom of God and be the greatest of these. If your answer is, "Look, I just want to get in the door". Why? Does it not matter to you? Does the response of the Lord to your life, is it really... are you that indifferent to it? Is a pass/fail grade, is that really the objective of your life? What fuels that? Is the allure of the world or the invitation to ungodliness so great that you're really looking for the minimal daily requirement.
Remember years ago, I did a sermon around this, and I talked about the idea that, you know, there are requirements for your health, you need so much of this vitamin and that vitamin, or so much calcium, or so much water, or so much protein, and to be healthy, we try to at least take balance of nature. Please make it stop. And if something's toxic, we don't want that, I hope. And yet, when it comes to sin, or ungodliness, or immorality, or worldliness, we're pretty intolerant of that. We don't wanna be considered, you know, prudish or we don't wanna be outta step. So I brought a bottle of bleach one Sunday to church, and I poured some in a little glass and I said, you know, "Who's willing to drink an ounce for a $100"? And we were pretty much in agreement before we finished with the little illustration that, we didn't want any. We understood it was destructive, corrosive, debilitating, deadly, and we just didn't want to ingest any of it.
How is it we have become so casual with the things of God, that we will talk about what we're invited to obedience to in scripture, as if we have the privilege of setting it aside or not. Look at Matthew 6. Jesus again, this is a part of his Sermon On The Mount. He said, "Don't store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and in steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves don't break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also". Jesus gives us very specific instructions, to store up for ourselves, treasure in heaven, which suggests to me it can be accomplished. Wow! That we can make choices in time, that will result in us having invested heavily in the age to come.
I read something like that, I think, "I'd like to know more about that". I'm gonna think about that more, I'm gonna order my time, and my energy, and my effort, to see to it that that becomes a part of my life portfolio. That's different than just being born again. That's different than just robotically coming to church and enduring the sermons, you can get on with the things that are really important. That's different than imagining you have this antagonistic relationship with Christian leadership so that, you know, you're trying to get by with the least, the least service, the least engagement, the least participation, you wanna go to heaven, but you just don't wanna be one of those people.
I discovered something a couple weeks ago when I had the opportunity to participate in that news program and I was doing these interviews. Typically when I'm asked to do an interview with somebody in the media that I don't know and I'm the one that's being interviewed, I assume there's somewhat of an antagonistic nature to that relationship. There's a reason they've called, there's something they want to know, you generally feel like it's my best interest is at heart. Well, I didn't think about that when I was asked to do the interview, and, you know, after the first person, or the second, or the third, or the fourth, I thought, "These people are reluctant".
And honestly, I was in the middle of an interview with the governor of another state, and before we even got on, the press secretary came on and said, "You can have three minutes". And there's a little negotiation, I think we ended up with eight minutes, but it was about three minutes into the interview, when I realized that the governor recognized I wasn't looking for a gotcha moment. I didn't even do it on purpose, it was just kinda one of those godly accidents that happens to stupid people sometimes. But I said something and he realized I wasn't an antagonist, and his whole demeanor changed. He began to talk about his faith, and talked about how he understood the impact of faith in the way he was leading in his state and how he hoped that would... the tone of the interview changed completely. We got done, the PR guy stepped back on and said, "The governor will interview with you anytime".
Well, I would submit to you, we carry a little bit of that sense of antagonism oftentimes into the relationships in our formal religious settings. What do you need? What do you want? What are you trying to get me to volunteer for? And we're trying to protect our calendars and our lives and keep ourselves secret. We certainly don't want anybody knowing what we're doing. Let's just get in and get out, we wanna go. There's nobody's business, and Jesus is giving us this council to store up for ourselves treasure in heaven. The reason for the direction, is also given. He said, "The reason you want to do this, the reason you should think about doing this," he said, "Any investments you make in heaven, I'm not talking principally about your money". He said, "It can't be diminished. The market changes in heaven aren't gonna take it away. It won't deteriorate, there's no inflation". He said, "Work on your treasure in heaven".
This was Jesus's council to us. Now I'll tell you what I've discovered about myself and others, is what you treasure directs your heart. In most all of our cases, if you review our spending habits and our calendars, you can tell what we treasure. Forget the words. Look at Matthew 19. This is a little longer passage and it is in kind of three different segments. So I broke it in your notes, but they're all related. "A man came to Jesus and asked, 'Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?' And Jesus said, 'Why do you ask me about what is good? There's only one who is good and if you want to enter life, obey the commandments.' The man inquired, 'Well, which ones?'" God bless us. "Jesus answered him," He's playing along.
The patience of Jesus amazes me. "Well, don't murder, don't commit adultery, don't steal". You've heard about those; we used to put 'em in schools. "Do not give false testimony. Honor your father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself". And the young man said, "All these I have kept". Now because Jesus was gracious, he didn't laugh at him. "What do I still lack?' Jesus answered, 'If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.'"
Now, I don't believe the only way to get treasure in heaven is to liquidate your assets and give it to the poor. But in the context of this man's life, Jesus understood what was at the center of his person. "Then come follow me". He was given the invitation of a lifetime. Get over there with Matthew and Pete and James and John, come follow me. "When the young man heard this, he went away sad. He had great wealth". Wasn't immoral, wasn't ungodly, he's a leader, has a lot of momentum in his life. He recognizes Jesus as an authority enough that he comes to inquire of him. He listens to him as a respected rabbi, and when Jesus gives him his answer, he rejects it. He imagines he can do it without that. He's gonna go see if he can build his own resume, his own portfolio.
If he can't accumulate enough treasure in the current realm, that he can influence the attitudes in the realm to come. That's a very common attitude, it stretches across human history, it stretches across the history of the church. It is very prominent in the world today. That if you have enough success in this current world order, that it should give you some influence in the world to come. Because you can negotiate a deal, or build a building, or whatever your expertise may be, you imagine that God is anxious to get your help in what he's doing. Well, the disciples are distressed by this and they said, "Look, if he can't make it, what hope is there for the rest of us"?
Same conversation, "Then Jesus said to the disciples, I tell you the truth," and when you hear that, right, you don't just put your seatbelt on, you need to shoulder harness 'cause you're about to come to a sudden stop, a reorientation. "I tell you the truth, it's hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you," he repeats it. In the languages of scripture, repetition is a means of emphasis. "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God". That's not the eye of a sewing needle, it's a tight place in the path where a camel would pass, and to get the camel through the eye of the needle, you have to take the packs off, you have to get then the camel down on their knees, they are grumpy beasts. It's a lot of work, a lot of effort, it's a detour that's going to take tremendous effort. And he said it, it's easier to do that with a camel than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
So twice in these two verses, Jesus has said, "The more affluent we are, the more difficult it is to enter the kingdom". He should have our attention; we're the most affluent people on planet Earth. We have more than any people who've ever existed. It's the reason hundreds of thousands of people a month are pouring over our border. It's not because we're cute, we take it for granted. We are wrongly told that the rest of the world is like we do, it's just not true. We are a blessed people. So what Jesus is saying is very much directed at us, I know you don't imagine yourself to be affluent, or rich, or wealthy, that's always someone else. But I assure you by a global evaluation, the least amongst us is wealthy. And we should hear what Jesus is saying. It's a cautionary tale. He said, "It's more difficult for us 'cause we can solve most of our problems".
The healthcare is free, the schools are free, we have transportation. There's food to eat, it may not be the food you want, but there's food to eat. There's too much of us. We have so much stuff we have to rent places to put it. They're everywhere. So we very seldom come to desperate points. We come to desperate points sometimes when there's a breach in a family system, or a breach in our health, and the scientific community can't help us or the healthcare community can't help us, but we avoid desperation. Much of the world leads desperate lives.
I wanna pray with you before we go. You know, I've been a pastor for quite a while now, and God's people consistently undervalue themselves in God's economy. God attaches enormous significance not only to human beings, but to his people. We are at the center of his purposes in the earth. Others may not imagine we're necessarily significant, or our resources may not suggest it, or the influence that our lives reflects, but the creator of the universe knows you by name. You matter to him and you matter to his purposes in the earth. I wanna pray for you, let's pray:
Father, I thank you for every person that I've had this time with today, that you have attached tremendous value to them. You have called them by name, you have written a script for their life, and I pray that not one of them would turn loose of your very best for them, in Jesus's name, amen. God bless you.