Allen Jackson - Ready For Rewards - Part 1
We're doin' a study on the benefits of serving Jesus. And before I unpack that, I wanna hand you a couple of ideas. I don't want you to miss this. And it's really simple: God loves you. You know you matter to him? You are of incredible value in God's sight. The one who created the heavens and the earth has attached enormous value to human beings. The Bible offers us no explanation for that. It doesn't give us the back story; it doesn't tell us why. It simply says that it pleases God to let his glory be made evident upon human beings. You matter to him. Isn't that crazy? I mean, he knows the stuff about us that we pray nobody ever finds out. And he loves us. And he cares about us. He not only wants to do good things for you in time, he wants to reward you for all eternity. Which really leads us to this study.
There's a benefit in serving Jesus. Being a Christ follower, being a believer in Jesus of Nazareth and choosing him as Lord of your life will not diminish you. It won't take away from your joy or your contentment or your sense of fulfillment in life. It will add to it. And I think the more clearly we understand that, that with greater abandon we will serve the Lord. In 1 Corinthians 15 and verse 19, he says: "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men". Did you know you have an existence beyond this life? Your earth suit's gonna wear out one day. Your body will eventually fail you. It happens to all of us. But when your body fails, your life isn't over. You have a life beyond time. And Paul is reminding us that if our hope is only for this life, if our faith only has value for this life, we're in a pitiful place. But then he adds to that a note of encouragement.
In 1 Corinthians 9 he says, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize". It's an intriguing verse. It runs a little contradictory, I think, to kind of the thinking a lot of times we hold about our faith. Most of us are introduced to Christianity along this notion that we're birthed into the kingdom of God. There's a point of initiation when we're transferred from one kingdom into another kingdom. The Bible describes a kingdom of darkness and a kingdom of light. And you don't make that transition by joining the right church or learning a diet or having a wardrobe adjustment. You change kingdoms by your relationship around a person. His name is Jesus of Nazareth.
You believe him to be the Messiah, the Son of God. You accept him as Lord of your life and you choose to serve him, and the Bible says when you do that, something supernatural happens to you. You are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's Son. That is the stuff of being a Christ follower. Church and all those other external things that we talk about extend from that internal transformation. Well, because we've been invited to Christianity in that context, I think oftentimes we have imagined, I'm not sure we've been instructed, but we have at least imagined that once that has happened, you're pretty much done. All the big rock ideas are out of the way. I'm a Christ follower already.
Now I wanna get on with my life. And I want God to help me. I want him to give me more of what I want, more victories where I want them. More peace, more health, I want him to upgrade my clothing and my car and my house and my kids' school, but it's about me. And Paul is inviting us towards a different imagination in this verse. He said, don't you know that everybody in the race is running but only one gets the prize. And in the context of your faith, he says run in such a way as to get the prize. He's eliminating all sloppiness, casualness, presumption. That is not a presumptive verse. If you watch world class athletes, easy for you to say, if you watch those folks that are highly trained and genetically gifted, they're not casual about what they do. Everything about their lives is pointed towards those opportunities when they put on display the gifts they've been given, and that's the imagery he's giving to us.
Now, why would we do that? Why would we make that kind of effort for our faith if we are the new birth conversion entrance into the kingdom of God is a gift? If we're given the gift, if we will accept it, why would we make an effort towards the Lord? We don't earn our way into heaven. We can't qualify. It's not merit-based, it's a gift. You receive it by faith. So why would we make extraordinary efforts? Why would we discipline ourselves? Why would we say no to anything? Why would we make that effort? And the Bible gives us a very simple answer: because God will reward you if you choose to honor him with your life. I don't think we've talked about it enough. I'm quite confident we haven't thought about it enough.
The one who created the heavens and the earth said he will reward you extravagantly if you will honor him with your life. I'm not talkin' about earning your way to heaven. I'm talking about what is the longing of your heart? Do you have a desire to honor the Lord? I wanna encourage you to think about it. Stop tellin' me the day you made the entrance into the kingdom of God it was June the 2nd, 1823. I'm happy for you, it's an important day. If you've never done it, today would be a good day. But once you've made that decision, what is the objective of your life? That's the stuff of this study. Now, I wanna begin with this idea that there are great rewards for honoring God. Great rewards. I'm not using hyperbole. Great rewards.
Hebrews chapter 10 says, "Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised". What an intriguing set of statements. It says not to throw away our confidence because it has a great reward. And then we're told some things that we need to have consciously held in our hearts. He said you're gonna have the need for endurance. Endurance means when you persist in something that is either uncomfortable or unpleasant, you're required to persevere. If it's pleasurable, you don't have to endure, you just enjoy it. I don't endure eating chocolate. I just keep shovelin' it in. I don't endure ice cream. I endure exercise.
So when the Bible says that we're goin' to be required, we're gonna have need of endurance, it means that following the Lord, honoring God with your life will include places and seasons that are uncomfortable, unpleasant. You haven't missed God, he hasn't abandoned you, he hasn't stepped away from you. And then we're told that we will endure, we'll need endurance to do the will of God. I hear Christians say, you know, oh, I just enjoy doing the will of God. Well I'm happy for you, but it's not always fun for me. You know, the Bible says to bless those who persecute you. I don't wanna bless 'em, I wanna smack 'em. I wanna hit 'em with my truck. I mean, I don't want it to be fatal, usually. And the Bible says to bless 'em. Sometimes it's hard to bless people that are persecuting you. I'd rather have justice. Persecution by definition means something unjust is happening.
You know, maybe if I could do 'em bodily harm, let's just have some justice here. And the Bible says don't demand justice. Just bless them. Aaah! I have to endure sometimes to do the will of God. And the third statement that's made is it says we're gonna receive something that's been promised. What's been promised? A great reward. Now, this intrigues me. The Bible says that God created the heavens and the earth and everything that's in it for our enjoyment. That's how committed God is to you and I. God is not interested in punishing you or torturing you or limiting your enjoyment. He created the heavens and the earth for us.
So every time I see a beautiful sunset or how everything comes alive in the spring, or some view that reminds me of the majesty of creation, I think that God has something better yet for me. So what's the reward? I don't know what it is, but it's better than all of creation. I might lean towards that, how 'bout you? 'Cause there're some pretty remarkable things in creation. Look at Matthew 19. This is Peter. He's talking to Jesus about himself and the other disciples, the ones that have been Jesus's closest friends and followers. And Peter asks the question that all of us have thought from time to time. Peter says to Jesus, "We've left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us"?
You gotta love Peter. He just blurts it out. "Lord, if you're walkin' on the water, I wanna walk too"! And in this case, he says, "Lord, what's in this for us"? And Jesus says, "I tell you the truth", now, any time you find Jesus starting a statement with "I tell you the truth," you wanna pay careful attention, because what follows that phrase is so bizarre that if he didn't say "I'm telling you the truth," you wouldn't believe it. He said, "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 twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel".
Wow! I don't think that's what Peter was expecting. "Lord, we've left everything to follow you". And Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, when I sit on my throne at the renewal of all things, at the end of this age when we've stepped out of time and we've stepped into eternity and I've come back to the earth and not born in a stable this time, but I've come back with all of the legions of angels and my glory on full display, you will sit on thrones judging the tribes of Israel". Can you see the looks on their faces? The glances they're givin' one another? The wide-eyed, the head shaking? Do you remember when Jesus recruited Peter by the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he and his brother, they had a fishing business and Jesus said come follow me, I'll do what? What was the promise? I'll make you fishers of men. He didn't say come follow me and you'll sit on a throne and judge a tribe of Israel.
That wasn't the bargain he presented. He said come follow me, I'll make you a fisher of men. I'm gonna change how you imagine your life. They had a business established. They didn't just have a boat, they had boats. They didn't fish for recreation, it was their career. It gave them a place to provide for themselves and their families. It established them in their communities, and an itinerant rabbi comes by one day and says come follow me and I'll make you fishers of men. And they walked away with him. They reoriented their whole lives. Well they still fished from time to time, but it was no longer the center of their existence. They had a different set of priorities. And now they're well into the journey and Peter said, okay Lord, we-we-we've left a lot for you.
What's in this? And Jesus said you're gonna sit on a throne. Folks, there is a benefit to honoring God with your life. But Jesus didn't stop there. Look at the next verse, verse 29. He said, "Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life". Hello. Jesus said that. Pastor didn't make it up when he was handing out pledge cards. Jesus said whatever you turn away from in turning more fully towards me, you will receive an exponential reward for. That's a pretty strong incentive.
You see, we've been so focused on this kingdom transition, a get outta hell card and a get into heaven card that we really haven't thought about anything else. And we have lived as if everything to be gained is in time and there's nothing in eternity to be gained or forfeited, that we got it all when we got into the kingdom. That's not what the Bible says. The Bible says God will reward us in eternity if we will honor him. "Well, I never thought about that". And I think we've forfeited some things because of that. God wants to reward you. He loves you. He didn't just welcome you into his kingdom, he wants to give you a place of significance. He wants you to invest your days in serving him. He's not gonna diminish you.
I wanna take it one step further. God loves you enough that he's gonna give you from time to time a spiritual health check. You'll get a spiritual checkup. Ever gone to the doctor for a checkup? Isn't that wonderful? You go stand in front of somebody you know kinda casually and they check you out from top to bottom, and the comment. "Getting a little thick around the middle, aren't you Allen"? "Not if I stand this way and hold my breath". They point out how you're changing. And if you've gone to the same person for a long time, they have like pictures of what you looked like when you were 16, and you're not anymore. That's just not fair!
And then when they've done all they can do just with what they can see, they take your blood and they're gonna evaluate what you don't even know about yourself. And they get the lab report back and they're gonna compare you to normal. I wanna meet normal. I can tell you this, normal doesn't have much fun. Normal just eats sprouts. Right? 'Cause they keep comparing me to normal. "You're a little above normal in this, and a little below normal", I wanna meet him! I bet he hasn't been in the sunshine in years. So they sit there givin' you this physical evaluation of what you're not and what you could be and what you need to adjust and how you can change. And then they give you a bill. And you thank them, because you believe that the fundamental nature of the bargain is they're trying to help you be healthier. And we're for that.
And you know, God cares about you and me enough that he will give us spiritual checkups so we can be healthier spiritually. Say, well I don't really care that much about that. I know. But God loves you. Your kids don't care about bein' healthy. That's why they're good with cake breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That's why you have to teach them to eat a balanced diet. If you left it up to them, they're good with chicken fingers 24/7. They'd be chasin' with a slice of pizza from time to time. If it's green, it should not be consumed. It's better if it has sugar in it and you can fry it. You have to teach them to be healthy. Well, Almighty God wants to help you and I to learn to be healthy spiritually. But we're not all that interested. And he gets that, but he helps us anyway.
This isn't my imagination. Look at your notes. Job 23 and verse 10, it says "God knows the way that I have taken, and when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold". Or Psalm 66, it's on the next page. Says, "You, O God, have tested me, you refined me like silver. You brought me into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads, we went through the fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance". It says that God in testing us puts us in places that can be uncomfortable. Unpleasant. Awkward. Not to leave us there. Not because he's somehow twisted and he enjoys watching the torment. He's helping us understand the condition of our character. If there's no test, if we get what we want the way we want all the time in which we want it, there's no challenge to me. And God loves me enough to let my character be exposed. We do the same thing physically.
When I was in college, I was a part of a big study. They wanted to evaluate the health of a group of people, broad group of people over a broader period of time, so every semester in college, we had to do a stress test. Which means they would hook us up to all the heart evaluation stuff. We got all the wires on our chest and they wanted to monitor our O2 consumption so you had to breathe into something. And they put you on a treadmill and they start out in a really friendly way. And then the longer you moved, the more evil it became. Until finally you were climbing Mount Everest at a full-on sprint. And some person in a white coat with a wicked grin was over here monitoring you. And they did that every semester. Stress tests were not pleasant, because the objective of the stress test was to push you to the point of failure so they could evaluate your spirit, your physical condition over a broader period of time.
Well, God loves you and me enough that he said he'll test our character. Why would he do that? So we can make adjustments. The same way you have a physical checkup so you can make lifestyle adjustments to help you be healthier, God will test you and me so that we can make adjustments to be healthier spiritually. Well, why would I wanna be healthier spiritually? Because God will reward you in eternity for leading a life that honors him. And it's not an intuitive response. We have to grow up into it. Folks, the more aware we become of this, the more joyful we will be about those opportunities. We have been so grounded in ourselves that the distinctions between ourselves and the ungodly are so small that it's hard to recognize. We've had to come up with external things and argue about wardrobe and menus because our character is so indistinguishably different.
Psalm 26 says, "Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind". Now, if we're evaluated now in time and the progress we have is established as genuine, it gives us a footing from which we can move forward. Look at 1 Peter Chapter 1. It says, "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief at all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold which perishes even though refined by fire, may be proved genuine and may result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed".
When Jesus is revealed, there's a point ahead of us at the end of this age. We're living in the middle, an age is a span of time that the Bible uses, and it describes this season we're in as an age, but this age will come to a close when Jesus returns to the earth. There'll be a new authority, a new structure. New rules. Some of the current limits we have will be lifted. You'll get a new body with a whole different set of parameters than the earth suit you've currently got. Hallelujah! But we're said that at this point, we may have for a little while to have suffered grief and all kinds of trials, not a singular trial.
A whole multitude of those rascals. And the purpose of those is so that our faith can be evaluated. Because when it's established as genuine, if you could have genuine faith, you could have a false faith. A faith that wasn't genuine. A faith you couldn't count on. When your faith is proved genuine, it will result in praise and glory and honor, at that point when Jesus is revealed. So God tests our character to see what we're made of. It's not always a battle with sin or wickedness or ungodliness. God puts us in those places so that we can make a choice and we can see for ourselves the condition of our heart.
You know, in our physical lives, we call that maturing, growing up, well, God wants us to grow up and mature spiritually. It's really better if little people learn to be responsible and to mature and to grow up and accept responsibility for outcomes. That will give them a more fruitful, a more peaceful, a more contented life as an adult, is that not true? Takes a lot of love, a lot of effort, a lot of investment, a lot of time, a lot of concern, it's hard work to watch that happen in the life of a child. And God loves you and me so much that he said, I'm committed to helping you grow up in me, and I will reward you for it.
Now, we can be rebellious as children, we can be rebellious as adults. We can sit in church and be filled with rebellion towards God. "I'm not gonna. I'm not gonna". "Preacher's not gonna get me to... I'm not goin' to". We have an appointment ahead of us as Christ followers, as believers in Jesus, as participants in the kingdom of God. At the end of this age, every one of us will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. The Bible talks about more than one judgment. Not every judgment includes the same groups of people, and the judgments are for different outcomes. We're not gonna unpack all of those this morning, but the judgment set of Christ is not a judgment for condemnation It's not a judgment of heaven or hell. It's a judgment for reward. It's an evaluation of how you and I have lived our lives, and every one of us has that appointment ahead of us.
Look in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 and verse 8. Says, "We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord". It's an intriguing statement. Paul said, "I would prefer to be away from the body". Folks, most of us are doin' everything we can to hang onto our body. And Paul said it's actually better for me to be away from the body. He's perceived like he's pretty heavily invested in "next," doesn't it? "So we make it our goal to please him, whether we're at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad".
Now, somebody will say, 'cause I've answered the questions at the end of every service this week, "Well Pastor, I thought if I was a believer in Jesus and I had said that prayer and been dumped in the pool, I was good to go". Well, the Bible says that is the entry point of initiation into the kingdom of God. It's a gift, it's a free gift. You receive it by faith in Jesus, not by joining a church or a movement or sitting in the right building on Sunday morning. It's about a person, and it's true, you gain access to the kingdom of God. But it's equally true that God is going to evaluate what you have done with your life.