David Jeremiah - Heaven's Oscars
Within the last few years, most of you have noticed awards ceremonies are out of kilter. You know, I did some homework this week and I found there are at least 42 of 'em. There are enough awards ceremonies to watch one almost every week of the year, and I didn't get all of 'em. We have Academy Awards, and we have Choice Awards, and Prism Awards, and Screen Actors Guild Awards, and Country Music Awards, and Grammy Awards, and "Soap Opera Digest" Awards. It seems as if we're into awards. But there's an award day coming and there are Oscars to be given out like the world has never ever dreamed of.
I need to tell you that when we talk about rewards in heaven, a lot of people get a little nervous because there's this mentality that a lot of folks have that if you're living for God out of the love for your heart, why would you want any award? Why would you need a reward? They say something like, "Well, you know, if you give an award to someone for good works as a Christian, that's like trying to get your children to be good by offering them candy," which they view as an inferior strategy. Some people say, "We should not be lured into goodness by promises of a bonus, for goodness is its own reward". And while that argument sounds logical and spiritual, it is entirely out of harmony with what the Bible teaches.
The Bible never defends the concept of rewards. The idea is accepted as if it is the most natural and normal thing for us to expect. Not only was this idea accepted, but it was at the very core of the growth of the early church. The historian Gibbon traces the rapid progress of Christianity throughout Rome and uses his analysis to isolate five reasons why the church grew so rapidly in its early days, and here they are: the zeal of the early Christian, the power of miracles, the pure morals of the Christians, the compact church organization, and the belief in future rewards and future punishment. As you read through the Bible, starting even in the Old Testament, you discover that rewards is a common theme.
And as you read the Bible with that in mind, things start jumping off the page everywhere you go. It starts in the Old Testament in places like Psalm 58:11 that says: "So that men will say, 'Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely he is God who judges in the earth.'" Or Psalm 62:12: "Also to you, O Lord, belongs mercy; for you render to each one according to his work". When you come to the New Testament, the New Testament opens with the Lord's promise of rewards in the Beatitudes. You remember this passage in Matthew 5:11 and 12: "'Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you, say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.'"
When you go all the way through the New Testament and you come to the last book in the Bible, Revelation 22, verse 12 says: "'And behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me.'" And throughout the entire New Testament, rewards are assumed to be a part of the Christian's future experience. Hebrews 6:10 through 12 says that: "God is not unjust to forget your work and your labor of love which you have shown toward his name". Luke 18:29 and 30 says: "'Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.'"
Mark 9:41 says: "'For whoever gives you a cup of water in my name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.'" Mark 10:29 and 30 says: "Jesus answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for my sake and the gospel's sake,'" now, watch this, "who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come, eternal life". I don't know about you, but I haven't found any place where I can get a hundredfold on any investment I make. But when you serve the Lord, he tells you right out in the Scripture that he rewards you not only in this life but in the life to come.
Now, let's talk about how this is going to happen. First of all, let's look at the day of heaven's rewards. The Bible tells us that after the church, all of the believers are taken to heaven by the Rapture or Resurrection, individual believers will be judged for their works as Christians and special rewards will be handed out. This is the clear teaching of the Word of God, that even though we have been saved from our sin, one day, you and I are going to stand before the Lord Jesus Christ at the judgment seat, sometimes referred to as the "bema seat," and the Lord is going to judge us for our conduct and for our work as a believer.
Romans 14:12 says: "So then each of us shall give an account of himself to God". That's speaking to believers. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says: "For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad". Ephesians 6:8 says: "Knowing that whatever good thing each one of us does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free". And 1 Corinthians 3:11 through 15 tells us: "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. And if anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as by fire".
Now, at that day, we call "judgement day," Jesus Christ will see, listen to me now, he will see through all of our posturing and all of our spinning of who we are and what we do. He will see into our heart for the motives, for the reasons why we do what we do. He will get past all the exterior things that we want others to see and he will see us, and he does now. Notice, Paul says that "everyone's work will become clear". There will be no second-guessing on any awards. The one who sorts it out is the final authority. There's no appeal beyond him. When he gives you an award, you have been awarded. And if he doesn't give you one, it's over. You don't need to go back and appeal.
So, on that day, the judgment day, the day of heaven's Oscars, the day of heaven's Academy Awards, we are going to one by one be judged by the Lord Jesus at the judgment seat. Not for our salvation, we're gonna be judged for what we have done as believers between the moment of our salvation and when we ultimately stand before him. Let's notice, secondly, the distinction of heaven's awards. The judgment seat of Christ is not the final exam for heaven. Oh, a lot of people think that one day, you're gonna stand before God in heaven's vestibule and he's gonna judge you for all of your works. If you've done enough good works, you'll get in. If you haven't done enough good works, you won't. That is an absolute error because the Bible doesn't teach that. The Bible teaches us that we who have trusted Christ will never again face our sin. It is forever behind us and it is over.
Galatians 1:4 says: "Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father". 1 Corinthians 15:3 says: "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures". 1 John 2:12 says: "I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake". Romans 8:1 says: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus".
Let me just explain this again. When you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, all of your sins, past, present, and future, were forgiven. His blood covered it all, paid the debt for it all. You will never again have to stand before God and give an answer for your sin. Jesus paid it all, and all to him we owe. But you will not have to ever face your... Somebody asked me, "Well, what about my future sins? I know that when I got saved, he took are of all my past sins. But what about all the sins I'm gonna sin before I get to heaven"? And I always like to ask 'em this question: "How many of your sins were future when Jesus died for them on the cross"? All of 'em. And God doesn't look at time the way we do. He paid for your sins. Are you with me on that?
So when you get to heaven, you're not gonna have to stand before the judge and give an account for your sin. The judgment seat of Christ is a place where you will be rewarded for your service to the Lord Jesus in your Christian experience. And one of the most asked questions that I get about this is, "How can someone have his sins forgiven and still have to have his works reviewed at the judgment seat of Christ"? The answer is found in this fact, that forgiveness is about justification and rewards are for the works which the justified have done in their flesh after their justification took place. These are not works which are done in order to be saved. These are works that are done because we are saved.
In other words, when you become a Christian, you don't just go into limbo. You don't just, you know, get into some sort of a fog until Jesus comes back. The Bible says in the book of Ephesians that: "By the grace of God we have been saved through faith; and not of ourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast". Then it says in the next verse, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, that we should walk in them". No, we are not saved by good works. We're saved for the purpose of doing good works. So that after we become Christians, we're to, "Let our light so shine that men will see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven".
This idea that because we're not saved by good works that we should not ever do any good works is seemingly going on in the church these days because George Barna says, "You can't tell any difference between the people in the church and the people out of the church". Maybe they've just believed this deceitful thing that if you're saved by faith and you don't have to be any good works to be saved, that after you get saved, you shouldn't do any good works either. 'Cause I know a lot of people that get saved and they just float. They go nowhere. Well, one day, they're gonna stand before the Lord and give an account for their lives on this earth.
Our eternal destination, according to Bruce Wilkinson, is the consequence of what we believe on earth. Our eternal compensation is the consequence of how we behave on earth. One is behavior and the other is belief. And you know, there are a lot of examples in the Bible, you guys, that are very interesting, people who started out walkin' for the Lord and blew it, made a big, big mess out of their life, even though they were continuing to be Christians. Go through the Scripture and you'll see it. Lot, Samson, Saul, Ananias and Sapphira, they started out right. They were Christians, all right, but after they became Christians, they just violated the things that were true and suffered some pretty awful consequences.
When you stand before the judgment seat of Christ, it's not about whether you're gonna get into heaven or not. You'll already be there. When you stand before the judgment seat of Christ, it will be about, "How have I lived my life as a believer? What kind of a steward have I been for the gifts that God has entrusted to me"? And it won't be a time for you to bring formal accusations against other believers. That's a strange thing, isn't it? "The judgment of seat of Christ is when I finally get to nail that guy," you know? Listen to me. All believers will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, each of us giving an account of himself to God. We have no right to judge the work of other believers.
1 Corinthians 4:5 says: "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, and will bring to life the things the hidden in darkness and reveal the counsels of the heart. Then each one's praise will come from God. That's how it'll work. So, are we together now? Here's what's gonna happen. We're either gonna be alive when Jesus comes and be caught up or we're gonna be dead and our bodies'll be in the grave. We'll already be with Jesus in our spirit, and our grave will open. We'll go up to be with the Lord. And as soon as we get to heaven, while the Tribulation is going on down here on this earth, we each one are gonna have our moment before the Lord for him to say to us, hopefully, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord". That's what I want to happen to me, amen?
Now, interestingly enough, in the Bible, there are some Oscars described for us. And this is not, by any means, all of the awards that are gonna be given. But there are five crowns that are listed in the New Testament for certain things, and it might surprise you some of the things that the Lord is gonna reward when we stand before him some day. Number one, there's the victor's crown. It is recorded for us in 1 Corinthians 9:25 through 27: "Everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain it a perishable crown, but we do it for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified".
Now, let me give you a little background and history to this experience that Paul writes about here in 1 Corinthians, listen up. The Greeks had two athletic festivals, the Olympic Games and the Isthmian Games. The Isthmian Games were held at Corinth and would therefore be very familiar to those who were reading Paul's letter here. Contestants in the games had to prove rigorous training for 10 months. The last month was spent at Corinth with supervised daily workouts in the gymnasium and athletic fields. The race was always a major attraction at the games, and that is the figure Paul uses to illustrate the faithful Christian life. "Those who run the race all run, but only one receives the prize," he says.
No one would train so hard for so long without intending to win. Yet, out of the large number of runners, only one wins. The prize indicates that the apostle had in mind service and rewards, not salvation and life. Paul's point is that athletes who expect to win must train diligently. But Isthmian athletes disciplined themselves to win an insignificant prize. How much more ought Christians to win an incorruptible, a non-perishing prize? The thought, of course, is that of personal discipline. Walking with God, listen to me, walking with God demands personal sacrifice, sacrifice of things not necessarily evil, but which prevent the full devotion of our soul to God.
In an age of luxury, like the time in which we live, the words have real significance for serious-minded servants of Christ. If you want to win an award, if you want to be standing there receiving a crown, you're gonna have to say, "No," to some things so that you can say, "Yes," to some other things. You can't live this pleasure-gorged life that we have taught ourselves is normal in our culture today. You have to learn how to turn off the television sometimes so you can study to prepare your lesson. You have to learn how to get up when you don't feel like gettin' up in the morning so you can get into the Word of God and be ready for the day. You have to take time away from all the things that you wanna do so you can get the Scripture in your heart. You've gotta take a night out of your week once in a while and go talk to somebody about Jesus.
All of this is hard, and it takes discipline. And the Bible says that a person who won't do that, he can't be a candidate for this award. This award is given to those who discipline their body as Paul did, who keep their body under control, and they become candidates for the victor's crown. Most people, including many Christians, are slaves to their bodies. Have you noticed that? Their bodies tell their minds what to do. Their bodies decide what to eat, when to eat, how much to eat, when to sleep, when to get up, and so on.
An athlete cannot allow that. He follows the training rules, not his body. His runs when he would rather be resting. He eats a balanced meal when he would rather have a chocolate sundae. He goes to bed when he would rather stay up. He gets up early to train when he'd rather stay in bed. An athlete leaves his body and does not follow it. It is his slave, not the other way around. It is this kind of soldier that the victor's crown will be given. So, some of you are sayin', "Well, take me off that list. Take me off that list". You just, you had five waffles, four sausages, and two pieces of bacon for breakfast, right? No, I'm just kidding ya.
All of us need to learn this. And do we not all struggle with this, every one of us? We wanna be servants that the Lord can use, and it takes a certain amount of discipline in our life. And the Bible doesn't say we have to be perfect at this, but we have to be in training. Are you in training? Are you in training to serve the Lord? Are you trying to ask the Lord to help you become a better servant? God honors your heart in this matter. Then there's the crown of rejoicing. That's the second one. And you find that in 1 Thessalonians 2:19, this is what it says: "For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing"? Paul asked the Thessalonians this question. He says, "What is our crown of rejoicing"?
And then he answers it in the next phrase. He said, "It is even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming". What is he talking about? He is saying that the crown of rejoicing is the crown you get because you led someone to Christ. He said, "Thessalonians, let me tell you what the crown of rejoicing is, it's you because we ministered to you. And some day, when we stand before the Lord, you're gonna be there because we had a ministry to you". Sometimes it's called "the soul winner's crown". It's the crown that Almighty God gives to us when we get out of ourselves and we stop thinkin', "It's all about me," and we start lookin' around for the people who need a touch from God and we use the talent and the giftedness he's given us to reach out with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When was the last time you ever talked to someone about Jesus who wasn't a Christian? Let me as you another question. When was the last time you even thought about doin' that? Well, we have some people in this church who they're just witnesses. They just talk to people all the time about Jesus. And they're candidates for the crown of rejoicing. Paul's love for these Thessalonians is very emotional. He calls them his joy, his hope, and his crown. And the crown is sometimes the soul-winner's crown. Let's notice the third one, the crown of righteousness. It's found in 2 Timothy 4:8, watch this: "Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who love his appearing".
Now, Paul is prepared to meet the Lord. He is certain of his own imminent death as he writes this. He is content with his record of service and confident of his reception by the Savior. And Paul's use of the athletic metaphor is especially descriptive of the life of a believer because it describes struggle, endurance, discipline, and final victory. The crown of righteousness is reserved for those who have a longing for the Lord Jesus, who look for Jesus to come back. And you know what? Since I've been doing this series on heaven, I've had so many people either send me emails or notes or tell me personally that they're sort of embarrassed that heaven hasn't even been on their radar screen for so long. Isn't that interesting?
Somebody said, "Why should I care about going to heaven? I haven't even been to Hawaii yet". You know, somebody said it like that, you know? And it tells you a little bit about where our heart is. But there are some people who have their heart set on heaven and have their heart set on seein' Jesus Christ. And those are the people that will get this crown because they love the appearing of the Lord. Then there's the crown of life, number four. James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10, this is pretty easy to understand: "Blessed is the man who endures testing; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him". Revelation 2:10: "'Do not fear any of these things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.'"
Now, watch this. The crown of life is given in recognition of enduring and triumphing over trial and temptation and persecution, even to the point of martyrdom. The motivation has to be love for Christ. When you go through the struggles and the persecutions that so many have gone through to preserve our faith, many of those people will be walking around in the early days of heaven with this particular crown of life because they suffered persecution for the cause of Christ. And I believe that in our culture today, there are many who are entrusted with a great deal of suffering. Many of you have too. You go through it with the right spirit. You don't always ask him, "Why"? But you walk through the suffering and the trial and you carry yourself as a person of integrity and a man or a woman of God. Someday, you'll stand before the bema seat and God'll say, "You took it, and you took it well, and you honored me in the midst of it, and here's the crown of life".
Charles Wesley wrote a little hymn that I've never heard sung before, but these are the words: "In hope of that immortal crown, I now the cross sustain and gladly wander up and down and smile at toil and pain. I suffer out my threescore years till my Deliverer come and wipe away his servant's tears and take his exile home". The crown of life. And then the last one is the crown of glory in 1 Peter 5:4, and I'm a little excited about this 'cause this is the preacher's crown. This is what it says: "And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of glory that does not fade away".
This crown is for those who are faithful shepherds of the people of God and for Christian leaders. He has one out of the five crowns that is reserved for those who are in leadership and who are shepherds of people. And you know what? You don't have to be a pastor or even on a staff. Maybe you shepherd a small group. Those of you who are facilitators and you shepherd that group and you care about all the people that come every week, and you know who they are, what their names are, what their challenges are, and you pray for them, and you shepherd them, you're in the running for the shepherd's crown, for the crown of glory.
Now, have you got all those? Those are just a few. Those are the five that are mentioned by name in the New Testament. That'll give you some idea of what this is all about. This is not about being a Christian. You already are a Christian are you wouldn't be there. If you are not a Christian, you will not be in front of the judgment seat of Christ. There's another judgment called the, "great white throne judgment" that comes a lot later. And if you're not a Christian, you'll get to stand before that one. But I wanna tell you somethin'. You don't wanna be there. You wanna be at this one because you will already be saved. You will already be in heaven.
And the Bible says some of you were gonna get to heaven yet so as by smoke or fire. In other words, you're going to skip into heaven with the smell of smoke on your clothes. I mean, that's kinda how it is, but you're gonna be in heaven, amen? Amen, but you know what? I don't wanna be there like that, do you? And I'm gonna tell you a couple of reasons why as we come to the end of this message. But I wanna give you some applications of how this works for us today. Let's take note. Number one, remember that the Lord himself is your chief reward. Don't ever forget that. Whatever else you may get in heaven, the Lord himself is your chief reward. In Genesis 15:1, we read: "After these things the Word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, 'Do not be afraid. I am your shield, and I am your exceeding great reward.'"
How many of you know the Lord God is your great reward? If you never got anything else, you get the Lord, you got it all, right, amen? Remember, the Lord himself is your chief reward. Number two, resist doing works outwardly just for the purpose of getting an award. In the book of Matthew, the Lord Jesus has some interesting things about posturing. Yeah, I mentioned that earlier, posturing and spinning. Did you know Christians are good at that? We're really good at posturing and spinning and playacting. Listen to this, Matthew 6:1: "'Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you himself openly.'"
If you serve the Lord just so you can get a reward, it indicates that you don't understand Christianity. Why do you serve the Lord? Because you love him. And these rewards, these heavenly Oscars, are for people who take it to the next level and throw themselves into serving the Lord with all of their hearts. I don't know very many people. I've never heard very many people even mention who are serving the Lord just to get a reward. Somebody put it this way: "In theory, it might be possible to pursue eternal rewards with fleshly motives. However, I've never met anyone I've sensed was guilty of doing so". I've never heard someone say, "I'm a missionary in the deep, dark jungle because when I get to heaven, I want a mansion that's bigger than the Jones'".
I never heard anything like that, have you? For myself, I can't ever remember thinking, "If I witness to that guy, God's gonna owe me big time". I mean, you don't think that way. You see, that's what he's talking about. Don't do your service because you're saying, "Oh, I'm gonna get this," or, "I'm gonna get that". You know, if you're really an athlete, you don't run for the trophy. You run for the joy of the race and for the discipline and for the victory that comes in your heart. The trophy's just somethin' to keep around and remind you of the blessing of being in the race itself. And then, reflect on the ultimate goal of any rewards that you will receive. What are we gonna do with these crowns? I don't know what they're gonna look like, but let me tell you what we're gonna do with them.
Watch this, "And the twenty-four elders fell down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever, and they cast their crowns before the throne, saying: 'You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and by your will they exist and were created.'" Did you know that that's gonna happen in heaven? After we get all our rewards, and we're gonna be so excited about it, then we're gonna see Jesus. And we're gonna take the only thing we have that's in heaven beside us, which is the crown he gave us, and we're gonna fall down at his feet and give it to him and say, "Thank you, Lord, for helping me to be here. Thank you, Lord, for paying for my sin. Thank you, Lord, for being my Redeemer. I haven't got much to give you, but here's my crown".
And friend, I don't wanna be left out of that, do you? I don't wanna be standing in the background, watching everybody that I knew on this earth bringin' their crowns and givin' them to the Lord Jesus, and because I was so lazy as a Christian, so undisciplined as a child of God, I've got nothin' to offer. That will be a moment. And I'll tell you what. That is before he wipes away all tears. He wipes away all tears after this is over 'cause there are gonna be tears at that moment, I promise you. Well, I'm pretty excited about heaven and what the Lord has in store for us. There's a story that I've heard over the years. I almost didn't wanna tell it to you because I'm sure some of you have heard it, but I don't know a better story to end this sermon with than this one, so listen up.
There was old missionary couple who had been working in Africa for years and they were returning to New York City to retire. They had no pension. Their health was broken. They were defeated, discouraged, and afraid. They discovered as the got aboard ship that they had booked the same as President Teddy Roosevelt, who was returning from Africa and one of his big-game hunting expeditions. No one paid attention to them. They watched the fanfare that accompanied the president's entourage, with passengers trying to catch a glimpse of this great man wherever he was aboard ship.
As the ship moved across the ocean, the old missionary said to his wife, "Something's wrong, why should we have given our lives in faithful service for God in Africa all these many years and have no one care a thing about us? Here this man comes back from a hunting trip and everybody makes much over him, but nobody gives two hoots about us". And this dear man's wife said, "Honey, you shouldn't feel that way". "I can't help it," he said, "doesn't seem right".
Well, the ship docked in New York. A band was waiting to greet the president. The mayor and other dignitaries were there. Papers were full of the president's arrival, but not one single person noticed this missionary couple. They slipped off the ship, found a cheap flat on the east side, hoping the next day to see what they could do to make a living in the city of New York. That night, this missionary man's heart broke. He said to his wife, "I can't take this. God is not treating us fairly". His wife replied, "Well, why don't you just go in the bedroom, tell that to the Lord"?
Boy, are you fortunate if you have a wife like that. A short time later, he came out from the bedroom and now his face was completely different. His wife asked, "Honey, what happened"? He said, "Well, the Lord settled it with me. I told him how bitter I was that the president should receive this tremendous homecoming when no one met us as we returned home. And when I finished, it seemed as though the Lord put his hand on my shoulder and simply said, 'But you're not home yet. You're not home yet.'"
It's rewarding to serve Christ, and there are many rewards that we receive in this life, people being thankful, letters of appreciation, testimonies from the baptistry that we've had a little part in. But I wanna tell you somethin', all the awards are not given out down here. The best awards are being reserved for the awards ceremony in the heavens. And if you've been serving the Lord faithfully and nobody seems to be noticing, just remember, you're not home yet. And there's somethin' comin' that you don't wanna miss out on. Don't you just love the Lord today? And don't you wanna serve him, amen, amen?