Saturday, November 26, 2016

"MY REWARD IS WITH ME"

Jesus said this: “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.” (Revelation 22:12 NAS).

When Jesus speaks of bringing his reward, what is it that he means? Other Bible translations use the word recompense instead of reward. The two words in some ways may be synonymous, but in my way of understanding, the word reward has a meaning that makes it seem more like winning a prize. Recompense, on the other hand, seems more to me to carry the meaning of compensation for work done or for service. It is the second of these that is closer to the meaning that Jesus intended.

“I am bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done” (ESV).

At another time, when Jesus was with his disciples, he told them this: 

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. (Matthew 16:24-27 NAS italics mine). 

It is clear that at least here, Jesus is talking about payment, as we would normally think of when we think of earning a wage. Indeed, this is very close to the meaning of the word that Jesus spoke in our verse in Revelation 22:12. The very literal meaning of the word (misthos) actually is “wages.” James uses the very same word when he speaks of the pay or the wages for the laborers (James 5:4). 

The Ol’ 9 to 5

When I was going to the university, I also worked part time in a factory. There, every two weeks  on a Friday, my foreman would walk around the factory floor with a handful of envelopes. One by one he would stop at each work station and hand the man or woman working there one of the envelopes that he carried with him. My own work station was near the end of the long building, and I could see him stop at each place as he made his way down the building. Each worker would brighten a little when he handed them the envelope, and very soon rip it open to look inside.

What was in there? It was their wages, of course. It was payday! We had worked for two weeks and now we were to be rewarded for that work. 

The Day that Jesus Comes Around
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Jesus said, “I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me, to give to every man according to what he has done.”

We may think it rather crude to think of this statement in terms of a payday, but that actually is not too far from the implication of the sentence. And this statement in Revelation is not the only time when Jesus spoke in these terms. We saw that when he spoke of picking up our cross and following him: “The Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.”

Jesus was actually quoting an Old Testament Psalm when he said this. A thousand years earlier, King David had written:

Once God has spoken; twice I have heard this:
That power belongs to God; and lovingkindness is Yours, O Lord,
For You recompense a man according to his work. (Psalm 62:11-12 NAS) 

The Pay Scale Used by Jesus

That Psalm reads almost like a proverb, and indeed, there is also a proverb I would like to quote:

If you say, “See, we did not know this,”
Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts?
And does He not know it who keeps your soul?
And will He not render to man according to his work? (Proverbs 24:12 NAS) 

Whenever we think of being rewarded for work done for the Lord, there are many believers who begin to compare their lives with others and say to themselves, “I have not worked as long or so hard as that person. Surely my reward will not be great, as theirs will.”

In this life, we are so accustomed to equating hours worked to the amount of the paycheck. Many people are salaried in their work, of course, but the great majority of people today work for a wage of a set amount of dollars per hour. If we work eight hours, we get eight hours pay. Because of this it is natural that we may also think of it in this way when we consider our work for the Lord.

But is not like that in the kingdom of God. The proverb puts forth the case of someone who did not know until later in life what was expected of him or her. What of that person?

The answer to this seeming inequality is what is brought out in the proverb. The proverb tells us that he who weighs our hearts, he who keeps our souls, takes it all into account. In the end, we will see that our reward is exactly right for us. There will be no person in that day who will think he was treated and rewarded unfairly. 

The Workers in the Vineyard

To illustrate this system of rewards, Jesus once told a story that began like this: “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard…”

The story is told in Matthew chapter twenty. I am not going to quote the entire story here, but in it, the landowner that Jesus mentioned needed workers for the day. Perhaps it was harvest time and there were many grapes. The landowner went out early in the morning to look for some day-laborers that he would be able to hire. When he found some, he agreed to pay them a denarius for a day of work – a good wage and a fair price.

As the day wore on, he could see that he would need additional help. So after about three hours, we went in search of more workers. He encountered some standing around in the market place and told them, “You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.”

The landowner did the same some six hours after the first had been hired, and then nine hours after the beginning of the day. He even went out at the eleventh hour of the twelve hour work day. “Why have you been standing here idle all day long?” he asked some men in the marketplace.

“Because no one has hired us,” they told him.

He said to them, “You go into the vineyard too.”

Finally, at the end of the day, the landowner sent the foreman to call all of the laborers so that he could pay them. He began with those who had only worked one hour. You can imagine their delight when they received a full day’s salary. One denarius.

When the workers who started working very early in the morning saw this, the mental arithmetic immediately began within their heads. They knew the landowner was a just man, so they thought that they would receive more. However, when it came their turn, they also just received the agreed upon salary. One denarius. It was a very fair and just salary for a day’s work.

But they were upset with this treatment and told the landowner so. “Why are we, who worked the entire day, getting paid the same as those who worked only one hour?” they asked him.

We might sympathize with these who had worked in the hot sun for twelve hours, but that is because we are accustomed to the economy of this world. However, Jesus told the story to illustrate that the economy of the world is not the same as the economy of the kingdom of God.

The response of the landowner was, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. This is the wage that we agreed on. It is just that I also wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Don’t be envious, just because I am generous.” 

The Reason it is This Way

What was the purpose in Jesus telling this parable? In considering this story, I go back to the proverb that I quoted earlier: 

If you say, “See, we did not know this,”
Does He not consider it who weighs the hearts?
And does He not know it who keeps your soul?
And will He not render to man according to his work? (Proverbs 24:12 NAS) 

In the story of the landowner and the workers of the vineyard, the workers who began to work in the eleventh hour had not been idle for most of the day because they had been lazy and refused to work. It was just because no one had come to hire them and they did not know about the need of workers in the vineyard of the landowner.

In the case of Jesus bringing his rewards to give to those who had been faithful workers for him, I should think that we can all be heartened by this story. Perhaps you are at a point in your life where what you see as the best of your working years are already gone. You are thinking, “It really is too late for me now to accomplish anything worthwhile. If only I would not have wasted so many years earlier in my life!”

All of us can relate to that in one sense or another, but we all have had different circumstances in life. Some, Jesus has called very early in their lives. Others, he has not called until the eleventh hour. Perhaps the truths of Scripture had not really sunk into your life until you were quite old. Like the workers who had been waiting in the marketplace for most of the day, you did not know! Nevertheless, according to the teaching of the parable of Jesus, your reward, your salary, will be the same as if you had been working your entire life!

The important thing is that you begin. You know now. It is time to get busy about the work of the kingdom. “He will render to each according to their work.” 

Do We Work to Earn our Eternal Life?

I want to speak a little further about the nature of this work that we can currently do for the kingdom of God, but that will have to wait until the next post. First I need to prevent you from coming to the wrong conclusions about what I am saying. With all of this talk of working for the kingdom, I do not mean to imply that eternal life, or our life in heaven comes about depending upon how many good deeds that we have done or how hard we worked at earning our salvation and eternal life. To begin to tell you what I mean, I am going to quote a statement by the Apostle Paul, and then comment on it.

In speaking on this very subject about trying to earn our salvation by doing good works, Paul says this: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NAS).

Notice that here again Paul is speaking of wages. However, these are not the same type of wages that Jesus spoke of. Jesus spoke of wages for working in the Kingdom of God. Paul is speaking of the wages of sin. As we can see, sin also has wages. That wage is death. The wages of sin will bring your life to an end.

In the previous post I quoted a verse written by King David, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). The only thing that he means in saying this is that, from the moment we are born, we have the wages of the sin penalty already on our heads. This, we cannot overcome, because we are already destined to eternally die. Something dead cannot bring about life. Life must be given to us.

Actually, when you think about it, it cannot be otherwise. Consider your life on this earth at this present moment. What did you do to acquire this life? Did you work so that you would be born to live this life on earth? None of us did. The life that we are living now is not a result of our own efforts, but it is a gift that was given to us by our parents. We did not and we cannot give life to ourselves.

Life is always a gift. It must be a gift. It is the nature of life to be something that is freely given and acquired without cost. It is the same, Paul says, of eternal life. We cannot work to attain eternal life. Eternal life is not our payment that we receive for any effort that we do. It is a gift! It is a free gift! Eternal life is something that is simply given to us!

Since this in this present life that we are living we are destined to die, if we want to live eternally, we must somehow obtain a new life. This is exactly what Jesus told a man named Nicodemus. He said to him, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

This is the life that is offered by Jesus. How do we obtain this life? It certainly cannot be by our own efforts, since we are dead men walking. The message that Jesus told Nicodemus is the same message repeated often in the New Testament: “Whoever believes in him (in Jesus), will not die, but have eternal life” (John 3:15-16. See also John 3:36; 6:40; 11:25; Romans 10:9-10; Acts 16:31). 

That is how we obtain the life of the Kingdom of God. What then is our work that we do now for the kingdom? We will address that question in the next chapter.

 

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