Saturday, July 27, 2013

Graduation with Honors

One of salvation’s eternal blessings is that we will receive eternal rewards at the judgment seat for believers (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10-12). We will not have to give an account of our sins, for they are already forgiven and paid for by His shed blood (Matthew 26:28; Romans 3:25). Once we place our faith in His death, burial and resurrection as the only Way to Heaven, we are saved to eternal life in His presence (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 3:16; 14:6).

But when we see Him face to face, Christ will review everything we did with our life since we were saved. He will also review opportunities He gave us but that we did not use to tell others about Jesus, to encourage and teach other believers, and to glorify God.

In the parable of the talents, Jesus explained that those who are faithful to use their gifts to further His kingdom will be rewarded proportionately (Matthew 25:14-30). For every good thing we did with the right motive, we will be rewarded. But for missed opportunities or good works done for self-serving reasons, we will suffer loss – not of salvation, but of rewards (1 Corinthians 3: 11-14).

The gold, silver and jewels that emerge unscathed from the fire of judgment are those deeds done with the right heart and the right motive to further Christ’s kingdom, while those “good deeds” we did out of pride or for our own selfish motives will burn up like wood, hay and stubble. These lost rewards will bring us momentary sadness and even shame, but He will wipe every tear from our eyes (Revelation 7:17;21:4), and our overwhelming emotions will be of joy and gratitude.

To use an analogy, at a commencement ceremony some graduates receive their degree “cum laude” (with honors), “magna cum laude” (with high honors) or “summa cum laude” (with highest honors). Some may receive special awards for their community service, leadership, or academic achievement. Other graduates may be disappointed that they were not singled out for these rewards. Yet all should experience joy, relief and gratitude that they have graduated and are beginning or “commencing” a new, better life. Each graduate wears a cap and has the privilege of casting it into the air when the ceremony is over.

The Greek word that Paul uses to describe the judgment seat for believers is Bema, referring to the award stand at the Olympic games. For all athletes in such games, it is a great honor just to be there, and all who take part in their event will be blessed by their participation. Certain athletes are given special awards to recognize the excellence of their achievement. But all who are there can be considered winners because of their self-discipline and their devotion to their calling. None are punished or sent home in disgrace.

Based on Christ’s review at the Bema seat of what we did with our lives once we were saved, some believers will receive crowns, which we will give back to Him, casting them at His feet, because of our awe and love for Him (Revelation 4: 4,10-11). Five specific crowns are mentioned.

The soul-winners crown is the crown of rejoicing (Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20) – a living crown of those souls we helped bring to Jesus. What unspeakable joy we shall have in glory when we see those we helped lead to Christ! This may include those with whom we shared God’s Word, even though the seed we planted did not bloom into the flower of salvation until much later. We may not even have met some of these believers before, if they were saved because of missionaries we helped support, or an Internet posting we made, or even a tract we left somewhere (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).

Each of us who looks forward to Christ’s return can receive the crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8). If we live each day in anticipation that the Rapture could occur at any moment (1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17), we are far more likely to live a holy and separated life, not through our own righteousness but through that of Christ.

The crown of life is the martyr’s crown, given to those who were persecuted for their faith yet did not renounce Jesus, even though they were executed as a result (James 1:12, Revelation 2:10).

Faithful, God-fearing preachers, and perhaps pastors, deacons and teachers, will receive the crown of glory, provided they feed their church with God’s Word, are good examples, and are motivated by service rather than financial gain (1 Peter 5: 2-4).  

The victor’s crown is the incorruptible crown, won through spiritual and physical discipline (1 Corinthians 9:25-27; 1 John 2:28). It represents denying the body’s fleshly lusts, such as sex outside of marriage or substance abuse, and living in subjection to the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 2:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5) Who inhabits our bodies as His temple.

These rewards and crowns will determine positions of responsibility in His Kingdom when He returns to earth to rule in perfect justice and peace for 1000 years (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 20:6). Knowing this, why would we not want to store up our treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:20), rather than working so hard for earthly treasures that we won’t be able to take with us? May we not give up in our quest to serve Him, so that we will not lose our reward and our crown (Galatians 6:9; Revelation 3:11; 22:12)

Throughout all eternity, we will have meaningful and enjoyable projects and fields of study to challenge and delight us, and we will have the joy of worshipping Him with all our God-given talents and all our being (Revelation 2:17; 3:12 5:8-14). What could be better than the unending joy of being in Heaven, in His presence, with all that He has lovingly designed especially for us? (John 14:1-4).

Just as graduates have the joy of throwing their hats into the air, celebrating their commencement of a new life, may we devote our lives to Christ so that we can earn crowns to cast at His feet with joy, reverence, and eternal gratitude!

© 2013 Laurie Collett
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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Water and Oil: Sacrifice and Worship: Part 2 – New Testament

As we have seen, water and oil play an important role in sacrifice and worship throughout the Old Testament. The ultimate sacrifice is Jesus Christ Himself, the perfect Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29) by paying the price and taking upon Himself the punishment for all our sins (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). Just as the elements of water and oil are significant in temple worship, they also appear in His sacrifice, given freely so that all who place their faith in His death, burial and resurrection would have eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 3:16).

Although fully divine, Jesus came in the flesh by water and by blood (1 John 5:6), signifying the physical birth experienced by all mankind. Frankincense, an aromatic oil in resin form,  was one of the three gifts brought by the wise men who worshipped Jesus as a young Child (Matthew 2:11). Incense was used by priests in temple worship and offerings, and this gift symbolized the role He would play as great High Priest Who sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for us. Myrrh. an aromatic oil-based ointment also offered to Jesus, was a costly spice used to anoint the dead, connoting that He came to die as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.

A sinful woman lavishly worshipped Jesus by washing His feet with her tears and breaking open an expensive box of oil-based ointment to anoint His feet (Luke 7:37-48). Shedding tears is an expression of our repentance and Godly sorrow, softening our hearts for His cleansing from sin (Psalm 6:60;119:136; Jeremiah 9:1,18; Lamentations 3:48) Another scene depicts a devoted woman anointing Jesus’ head with precious ointment, which He realizes is in preparation for His death and burial (Matthew 26:7-13)

In these perfumed ointments, the sweet spices adhere to the oil base, which sustains and preserves their fragrance. Similarly, when the Holy Spirit indwells the believer, the fruit of the Spirit adheres to Him, allowing others to perceive His presence in our hearts from the love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance He reveals (Galatians 5:22-23).

The last supper of Jesus Christ with His disciples before His crucifixion featured wine, or fluid pressed from grapes, representing the new covenant in His shed blood, which would cleanse believers from their sins. The bread, symbolizing His body, broken for us, was made from oil and water as well as grain (Matthew 26:26-29). Whenever we celebrate the communion of the Lord’s Supper, it is an act of worship commemorating His death to save us from our sins (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Before His crucifixion, Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36, Mark 14:32), praying so fervently that His sweat became drops of blood (Luke 22:44).  Interestingly, Gethsemane means “olive press.” Before olives can yield their pure, virgin olive oil that nourishes and sustains us, they must be bruised and crushed. The body of Jesus was beaten, scourged, and battered, His lungs crushed by the struggle on the cross, so that we could all receive His pure gift of eternal life.

Hyssop, another aromatic oil used in sacrifices as a form of purification in temple worship, appeared again on Calvary when the Roman soldiers held it to Jesus’ mouth in a vinegar-soaked sponge (John 19:29). As He died for us, water flowed from His pierced side (John 19:34), and later the women prepared His body for burial with spices rich in aromatic oils (Luke 23:56).

Now that His work is finished, we no longer need animal sacrifices, but we do still need spiritual cleansing “with the washing of water by the word,” (Ephesians 5:26). Before we approach His throne in prayer, we should have “our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:22).

One of the first acts of worship and obedience offered by a new babe in Christ, by one who has been born again, is baptism by immersion to signify our belief in His death, burial and resurrection as the only Way to Heaven (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; John 14:6). This water baptism is the outward manifestation of our obedience, whereas our internal conversion is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist called the latter a “baptism with fire,” foreshadowing the flaming tongues lighting on the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), and contrasting it with the water baptism he practiced as a symbol of repentance (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16).

Evidence of our salvation is the fruit of the Holy Spirit visible in our lives, allowing us to illuminate others with His light shining through us and to nourish them with His living water flowing through us. May we be as the wise virgins (Matthew 25), awaiting the Bridegroom’s return with our oil lamps full and burning brightly!

© 2013 Laurie Collett
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