Matthew 5 Sermon on the Mount part 3           Part 4

First of all this week we looked at the phrase "acts of righteousness" in verse 1. In the original text the word is literally "almsgiving". For the Jews, as stipulated in the Talmud, almsgiving was an act that lead to righteousness, an act that caused one to inherit eternal life, and hence we have the KJV translating it correctly. The NIV translation has "acts of righteousness"

It is clear from early on in the passage that Jesus is talking about two different types of rewards. One which is earthly (recognition, being honored and praised by men) and one which is quite diffferent and bestowed by God Himself. The Pharisees loved the first type, and so made a show of their good deeds. However, Jesus clearly states that if that reward is what you are after, it is all you will get. You will have "already received your reward in full".  This reminded us of Luke 16: 19 - 26 (The story of the rich man and Lazarus). This made it quite clear that what is in view here, is an earthly, human reward.

The second type of reward, which God bestows, then became our subject for further scrutiny. We looked at several scriptures which confirmed for us that there is indeed a reward to be had for being a Christian. We had several ideas from members of the group what they saw as the reward for being a Christian - blessings and good things, heaven, eternal life, joy, peace, etc. We then looked at some Scripture references: 1 Corinthians 9: 25;  2 Timothy 4:8;  Revelation 2:10;  James 1:12;  Revelation 3:11. A number of these spoke about "crowns" that we will receive. This all sounded very lovely and exciting...and, isn't it just right that there should be crowns for us in the end for all this very hard work of following Jesus?

The problem with that, friends, is that then we have regressed once again to the first kind of reward and our motives are no different to those mentioned in verse 1, who seek a material blessing. It seems as if seeking material blessings is the default human setting and we find it very difficult to conceive of any type of reward outside of the physical and the material.

This fact was beautifully illustrated by our next three references:
Malachi 3: 13 -14"You have said harsh things against me," says the LORD. "Yet you ask, 'What have we said against you?' "You have said, 'It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty?

Luke 15: 25 -31 "Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on.'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' "The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' "'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours". 

Mark 10:17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" "Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good - except God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother. "Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy." Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!" The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God." Peter said to him, "We have left everything to follow you!"

In all three these references, true motives are revealed. Between the lines we read "But what is in this for me? There has not been any profit for me in serving you...!"  It is particularly sad to see the brother of the prodigal son declare how little he valued "being with the father" but would have preferred a goat and a party with his friends...

This led us on to our next set of references which painted a very clear picture indeed...

Genesis 15:1 "After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward"

Luke 23:43 "Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

John 14:3 "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

John 17:24  "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world."

Phillipians 1:23 "I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body."

1 Thessalonians 4:17 "After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever."

Psalm 73: 25-26 "Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you."

From the above it is abundantly clear that our reward, this "other" reward that God bestows, is Him himself.

We need to carefully consider whether this truly excites us - to have God Himself be our reward and nothing else. Perhaps there are some of us who have reached a point in our lives where things have really gone from bad to worse and we have asked the question " Lord, I really have served you to the best of my ability, but there has been no reward..." This kind of response is very revealing of our hearts and our true motive for serving Him.

Read Psalm 37:4 and the whole of Psalm 73.

Genevieve shared an interesting insight that material blessings were the very promise of God to Israel in the Old Testament. However, we also realised that the blessings had become that which they desired, and not the blessor. This reminded me of when my children were small and I always brought them gifts when returning from a business trip. As time went by I realised that whenever I returned, they would be eagerly awaiting their gift and that would excite them, not really my coming home. Later on, even when I was on the phone to Heidi, saying I was on my way, they would be asking "What present does Dad have for us..."

Rebecca shared a beautiful reference from Revelation 4: 10 - 11 regarding crowns.

Murray shared how new light is shed for him on the parable of the workers in the vineyard, which is true indeed, if seen from the above perspective. Read Matthew 20: 1-16

Hugh shared with us on the Lord's prayer which was blessed and reminded us of the fact that it is in reality a prayer for those who are truly God's children - "Our Father...."

May God grant us a desire and love for Himself above all else. Thank you Father for the exceedingly precious gift of yourself...

© 2011 Werner Schreiber

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