Guaranteed Reward. If…
November 03, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 Ephesians 1:11-23 Luke 6:20-31
Do you know where you’re going?
I mean, do you know where your life is headed?
While many of us have learned, the hard way, that our plans for life can often change unexpectedly, do you know, at least for now, what destination you have in mind for your life?
Many of us grew up watching the Depression era comedy, The Little Rascals. In one episode, entitled, I think, “The Coaster Car”, the Our Gang built a big, unpowered, car in which a surprising number of them could ride. At some point, using their donkey Algebra, they brought the car to the top of an impossibly long hill and, cut loose from their donkey, they began freewheeling, uncontrollably and with frightening speed, down the hill. At one point in the dialog down the hill, Buckwheat famously exclaims, “I don’t know where we’re going, but we’re on our way!”
And, if we’re honest, that’s how many of us feel about our lives from time to time. Our education, our careers, our children, and just about everything else can change so unexpectedly that our plans are often in a constant state of change. We wake up in the morning and discover that while we have no idea where we’re going, we sure are getting there in a hurry.
But what about our spiritual lives?
Does being a follower of God and a follower of Jesus Christ give us any more stability than we often find in the chaos of our daily lives? Well, it should. Our spiritual lives come with a guarantee… if we do something simple.
But, before we get to the guarantee, let’s look at our destination. We begin this morning in Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 as the prophet Daniel describes a dream that was sent to him by God that told him, and tells us, some important things about the future.
7:1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.
2 Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. 3 Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.
15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.
“So, he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’
While Daniel is clear that earthly kingdoms, like those with which everyone was familiar, even the superpowers of their day, rose and fell, and would continue to rise and fall, the followers of God, whom he calls “the holy people of the Most High,” will receive God’s kingdom and keep it, and presumably live in it, forever. This is God’s promise to Daniel and to us, that we belong to God’s kingdom, that it is a real place, and that we will take ownership of it, and live in it, forever.
But how can we be sure?
After all, Daniel is a prophet of the Old Testament. Wasn’t that a long time ago? Didn’t the coming of Jesus change everything? Is the promise contained in Daniel the same today as it was then? And, the answer to all those questions is “yes.” But, at the same time, the news is even better, because with the coming of Jesus we understand more clearly how and why that can happen. In Ephesians 1:11-23, the Apostle Paul explains it this way:
11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Paul says that we were chosen as the followers of Jesus Christ as a part of God’s plan to accomplish his will. We were chosen so that people might see us, and our faith, and the way that we live our lives, and give praise to God. The moment that you believed, you were marked with a seal that guarantees your inheritance. Paul says that the God that has the power to raise Christ from the dead, certainly has the power rule over the kings, princes, popes, presidents, prime ministers, and all the other kinds of power and authority that exist on the earth yesterday, today, and forever. And that God has put Jesus Christ in charge everything on earth, and in all of creation, for all time.
So, not only do we have God’s promise that we belong to God’s kingdom and that we will live in it forever, we can have complete confidence that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords yesterday, today, and forever.
But, even if we believe that all of that is true, and are willing to put our faith and confidence in the promises of God and the redemption of Jesus Christ, how does it happen? What do we have to do to get there? What does God expect of us?
And Jesus draws us all a picture in his sermon on the mount in what we often call the Beatitudes contained in Luke 6:20-31, where we hear these words:
20 Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Jesus starts with a list of blessings that we will receive in heaven when we live in God’s kingdom because the ancestors of the poor, the hungry, and people who wept, the people who were hated and insulted and rejected, treated the prophets with care, respect and love. But many people will not be nearly so happy when that day comes. For them, the coming of the kingdom of God will be far less pleasant because they, and their ancestors, the people who were rich, comfortable, well fed, and well liked, treated the prophets just like they treated Jesus, with disrespect, contempt, and violence.
Jesus says that if we are listening, we should do something about it. If we want to be included in the first group, and not the second, if we want to be the people who receive the blessings of God, then we should love our enemies, do good to the people who hate us, bless the people who curse us, and pray for the people who mistreat us. We must give to people who steal from us, be generous to everyone, and treat everyone, even those who don’t deserve it, the way that you would like others to treat you.
Today we celebrate the lives of those who have passed from this world into the next, we honor their lives, remember what they have meant to us, how they showed us the grace of God, how they taught us about Jesus, and how they modelled a life of faith for us. Today, we celebrate because we know that in them, God has already fulfilled his promise and they are, already, at home with Jesus in God’s kingdom.
But as we remember, we also look forward to the day when we will rejoin all of those who have gone there ahead of us. But we also remember that in order to get there, we have been called to do something about it.
We have been called to live as if we believe.
Our reward is guaranteed.
If we walk the walk.
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