July 2013


J. R. Jayabalan

When did you last bring an acceptable sacrifice to Jesus?

Many sermons, Bible studies and books have been written on ‘following Jesus’, but few have dealt on the subject of ‘rewards’ for His followers. The Lord Jesus did not ignore this aspect of His generosity. When Peter said to Jesus, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus replied, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father, or mother, or children, or lands for my name’s sake will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matt.19:27-29).

In the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, the topic is about ‘rewards’ or ‘wages’. The landlord recruits and appoints workers at different times during the day and the wages are decided at the time of appointment. As the workers were paid in the evening, those who laboured from dawn to dusk complained that they were paid the same wages as the ones who laboured only for a few hours. The landlord admonished the workers and asked them to be satisfied with the wages for which they agreed to work.

Read the complete parable (Matt.20:1-16) to get a better understanding of its message.

An Honest Question
We must appreciate Peter! He spoke out what was probably simmering within the other disciples. He asked a bold and legitimate question and sought a definite answer. Probably he was preoccupied with the subject because he had actually given up everything for his Master. He had left behind a big fishing profession. The disciples had done exactly what the rich young man was not ready to do: “sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come follow Me. When the young man heard this he went away sorrowfully, for he had great possessions” (Matt.19:21-22). If only the rich young man had decided to give up all to follow Jesus, he would have done the right thing. Peter was doubtful; being a fisherman, good yield was important to him. His investment must yield good returns.

Many Christians do not speak about rewards; not because they are modest or pious, but because they have really not given up much for the Lord! Following Jesus does not cost them their livelihood. With Peter and the rest of the disciples, however, it was different. Today we live in an age of compromise, euphemistically called tolerance—an age when it is OK for young people to have a little fun, an age when much need not be expected from the believers concerning the practice of their faith. But if we read the Scripture even casually, we cannot ignore these words which were closely associated with Christ’s disciples in the first century: loss of belongings and possessions, imprisonment, ill-treatment, persecution and death. Consistent and faithful followers of Christ pay a high price for their loyalty to their Master. When did you last bring an acceptable sacrifice to Jesus? No wonder we think little about the rewards. Only those who bring acceptable and pleasing sacrifices to the Lord can ask about their reward.

An Honest Answer
The disciples held their breath as they waited for their Lord’s answer. In His answer there is no trace of annoyance or rebuke. The explanation of the Lord is astonishing and humbling. Astonishing, because the Lord did not dismiss the question as impertinent. Humbling, because the Lord honoured the simple, inquisitive nature of His disciples. He rewards obedience, devotion, and faithfulness. There are two important aspects in the Lord’s answer: It conveys ‘assurance’ and urges ‘humility’.

Assurance: The Lord clears all the doubts of Peter. God will not keep anyone despondent. Banks might go bust and world economy might flounder. But investment in God is always stable and profitable. Let us not be coy about speaking of the rewards for following Jesus! The Lord Jesus does not expect that. He does not leave any room for doubt about the reward the followers of Jesus are entitled to. “Truly I say to you , in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt.19:28).

The Lord did not forget that these men had believed on Him and given up everything for His sake. “Peter, forget your business that you abandoned for my sake; you will be one of the twelve ministers of the world rulers!” The Lord wants to give you much more than that (2Chr.25:9).

Humility: The parable of the labourers in the vineyard also has a lesson in humility. “So the last will be first and the first last” (Matt.20:16). The kernel of the parable is its major surprise which challenges human logic. At the end of the day, the landowner (representing God) surprises everyone with his goodness, his yardstick, his standard, and his action. The worker who joined in last received his wage first, and that too the whole day’s wage—more than his expectation—whereas the workers who were hired first received their wages last.

The First And The Last
The workers who were hired first may be likened to those who think they are the privileged ones and so deserve more than those who were hired much later. They are the ones who have the sinful attitudes of jealousy and discontentment when they see others in a better position. The Pharisees, the chief priests and the elders of Christ’s day boasted about their Abrahamic lineage and exhibited a self-righteous attitude by fasting, praying and alms-giving in public glare. They expected recognition and big rewards for their religious services. The Lord Jesus had to admonish them with these words, “Truly I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you” (Matt.21:31).

Sacrifice Of Obedience
The Lord not only promises rewards, but much more. He says, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for My name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matt.19:29). Giving up everything for the Lord and His kingdom is actually a big and wise investment, and not a sacrifice! Followers of Christ are never the losers; they are always the winners.

The Lord Himself confirms the certainty of the reward. God is not an exploiter; He does not like to see His children in rags. Our God does not operate an industry for part time employment nor does He manage His business by paying low wages. He does not build His capital out of His destitute workers. He is prompt and generous in rewarding His servants. The NT reveals that there is a remunerative, a rewarding career in God’s enterprise.

Reward And Grace
Eternal life is the reason, the basis and the starting point for following and serving the Lord. His word is very clear about the difference between ‘reward’ and ‘grace’. …will receive a hundredfold (reward) and will inherit eternal life (grace).

Our faith in Jesus Christ is the basis for our salvation. Following the Lord who saved us from sin is building on that foundation. The reward varies according to how and what we build. Through His parable of the labourers, the Lord is teaching us about godly remuneration.

The writer to the Hebrews warns as well as encourages the Christians of his day who suffered persecution and painful trials for their allegiance to Christ with the words of exhortation found in Hebrews 10:30-36. “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward” (10:35). Let us therefore, confidently and unashamedly, count on God’s generous reward.

God’s Computation
In God’s computation, only those who willingly and gladly pay the cost of discipleship are eligible for reimbursement (Matt.19:29). However, God is not obliged to pay for any or every pious service. Many Christians are quick to place a high price on their labour, though often much of the harvest they reap is traced back to the hard labour of the previous generation who actually deserve the reward.

The Last Ones
God has a word of comfort for those who are last according to this world’s yardstick. Do you sometimes feel that you are insignificant and are being given the last place? Do not worry. Your Lord sees behind the façade. Some believers consider all that they do for Jesus as something natural and spontaneous. They never expect a reward from the Lord. They are glad to be working like the ones who were hired last, not knowing that their reward would be bigger than expected. The Lord rewards even a small act done out of love and sincerity. The lower the expectation, the higher the yield! That is God’s exchange rate!

The way to joy, peace, and assurance is to mind your work more than your wages. (Thomas Brooks)

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