Summary: Sermon on the quest for rewards in heaven - whether they should be sought - how and why.
October 12, 2003 Mark 9:30-37
Dear saints living in the hope of the resurrection,
God’s Word is full of encouragements for us to look forward to the resurrection from the dead. One such encouragement is the promise of rewards that will be given to us once we get to heaven. This is very clearly found in the Scriptures, for example -
• During Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount He stated, Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. (Mt 5:11-12)
• Jesus also said - the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. (Mt 16:27)
• Paul told the Ephesians to - Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. (Eph 6:7-8)
No one who reads the Bible can deny that many such statements are made. Jesus and Paul wanted to encourage us to do what He tells us to because there are rewards in heaven.
This is a strange and uncomfortable topic for us to talk about in the Lutheran Church, because we state that we are saved by FAITH ALONE. The whole concept of getting a reward for works, then, seems foreign to us - even heretical. It can be. But that doesn’t mean we should shy away from the topic or not even talk about it. The reason I am bringing this up this morning is because of the argument the disciples were having as they were traveling through Galilee to Capernaum. Mark tells us that on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. It seems like a strange argument to get into - and it raises several questions. Are rewards something that we should also talk about and argue about or strive for? This is the question that Jesus answers for his disciples when He gets to Capernaum.
Are Rewards Something We Should Strive For?
I. It depends on WHY you’re striving for them
If God didn’t want us to strive for rewards, then why would Jesus and Paul even mention them? Logic would seem to make this answer an obvious “yes.” But we need to be careful before we answer this too quickly. Rewards can be good, but they can also be destructive. Martin Luther once bet a man that he couldn’t pray the Lord’s Prayer without getting distracted. He said, “if you can do it, I’ll give you a new horse and buggy.” Sure enough, when the man got halfway through the prayer, he started thinking about the horse and buggy. The reward distracted him. So rewards are tricky things. They can be good, but they can also be bad when they distract you from what you’re supposed to be doing.
The disciples were earnestly seeking greatness in the kingdom of heaven. But was this a good thing? When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. The disciples were not PROUD of the fact that they were arguing about who was the greatest. They were embarrassed about it - so much so that they didn’t know what to say when Jesus asked them about it.
Why? Because arguing about greatness leaves out a major point that Jesus, Paul, and all the Bible emphasized throughout. Paul said in Romans 3 that, There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. (Ro 3:10-12) Even as a believer Isaiah stated, All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; (Is 64:6) Even the RIGHTEOUS acts that we do as believers are only like filthy rags in God’s sight. So Jesus also said that you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty. (Lk 17:10) How could any of us go before God and say, “I deserve to sit at your right hand of your kingdom,” when even our good works are tainted with sin? Yet there are thousands to millions of people in this world who get caught up in the mentality of the disciples, who think that they can do things to be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Even you and I have a tendency to think to ourselves, “I’m a pastor, I came to church this morning, I don’t watch pornography, so I deserve SOMETHING from God for this!”