Labor for the Rewards of Grace

           Here is a section of my sermon notes from Sunday. I preached on Matthew 19:27-20:16.  This passage follows directly after the rich young ruler, pictured at the left. 

Sometimes the Bible emphasizes our need to do our duty without an eye towards rewards. For example in Luke 17:7-10 Jesus says that after all we have done we are just unworthy servants. So we understand that rewards are not deserved. They are the rewards of grace. However, the Scriptures still frequently put the theme of rewards before us. It is a constant in the Old Testament. If you keep my covenant, I will reward you. Sometimes this reward is the land. Sometimes it is victory over the enemies. The ultimate reward was always God and his city. (Hebrews 11:13-16). But rewards are recurring note in the Old Testament

            This does not change in the New Testament. Let me say that one more time, just so we get it. Rewards are held out before us just as much in the New Testament as in the Old Testament. Even in Matthew we have already seen this over and over again. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Why? Are we supposed to poor in spirit just because God says? No! If we are poor in spirit we shall obtain the kingdom of heaven. If we are meek we shall inherit the earth. In chapter 6 Jesus tells us to not do our good deeds, such as giving of alms and praying, before men. Why? God will reward us if our deeds are done secretly. At the end of Matthew 10 Jesus says that even a cup of cold water given to a disciple will be rewarded. He will say something very similar in a few chapters when he says those who fed and clothed the least of these will inherit the Kingdom (25:34-40).

            We could go to other parts of the Scriptures, such as I Corinthians 15:58 where we are told our labor is not in vain in the Lord. Or the letters to the churches in Revelation where the churches are promised certain rewards if they overcome. Why would we follow after Jesus if there was nothing in it for us? Some of you may feel this is crass and ungodly. But you are doing battle with the Bible not with me. The Bible is clear. We follow Jesus because in the end it is best for us. The sacrifices we make in this life for our Lord will be rewarded a hundredfold in the next life. 

            In Matthew 19:27-29 Jesus is telling us to labor for the rewards of grace. 

Broken Reeds

Here are some of my sermon notes from this past Sunday.  If you would like to hear the sermon you can go to

1.       We should rejoice in Christ’s ministry to us.
a.       First, Christ is the only one who meets our needs. There is no hope for us outside of Christ.  It is easy for us to believe that hope lies outside of Christ. In real life we tend to depend on other things. Christ is the delight of the Father.  Beloved is only used in two other places in Matthew, chapters 3 and 17.  Do you want the Father to delight in you? Then you must be in the Son. 
b.      Second, Christ’s ministry to us is ordinary. He avoids worldly pomp and show.  He is not like the rulers of this world, who crush and destroy the weak.
                                                              i.      Who in Matthew is most likely to have a ministry opposed to Christ? It is not Rome. It is the religious leaders.
                                                            ii.      Does our ministry look like the oppression of the Pharisees or the liberation of Jesus.
c.       Third, Christ will not destroy us.  He is here to redeem us, to save us, to drag us up out of the pit. Christ delights in healing broken people. Christ is not going to crush you.  You are a bruised reed. You are a smoking wick. Guess what? Christ is not going throw you in the ditch.
                                                              i.      To rejoice in Christ’s ministry we must recognize our need. We must realize that we are broken. We are bruised. We are useless.  You have nothing to offer Christ.  We are all bent and broken. Illustration: David’s travelling companions. I Samuel 22:1-2. Jesus’ choice of the twelve Apostles, Paul in I Corinthians 1:26-31.  We tend to nod our heads and go yes, yes, that is how Jesus works. But then we don’t put ourselves in that category.  We think of ourselves as the exception to the rule. Yes, Jesus you normally work through losers, but I am the exception. Your bruises should drive you to Christ.
d.      Fourth, Christ’s ministry to us is effective. He will lead justice to victory. He would bring justice to the nations. The point is not that the Messiah will not win. Matthew is not saying all is lost. He is saying all will be won, just not how men expected.  By his gentleness and sacrifice he would win the world.
e.       Fifth, Christ’s ministers to us through his Spirit, his Word, and his people.  Jesus is gone, but his ministry extends until the end of time. But how? Where do we find our Lord?  How do we meet with Christ as those people did 2, 000 years ago?


2.       We should reflect Christ’s ministry to others.  
a.       First, Christ is the only hope for our world. Christ is the only hope for our friends and family members. Christ is the only hope for our children.  We must lead people to Christ. I do not just mean conversion, but the entire Christian life is a regular coming to Christ. Our aim is not just to be friends with people.  Our aim is not just to build bridges, though that has its place. Our aim is not just to be known in the community. Our aim is for them to come to the Hope of the nations. Our aim is to see them healed by the Great Physician.
b.      Second, our ministry must avoid worldly pomp and show. The world loves pomp. We love the glitter, the dazzling dresses, the million dollar homes, the White House. Even the churches we love are the big churches, with big name preachers who sell lots of books and speak at lots of conferences. These men are God’s gifts to us and I am glad they are here. But I wonder if in the long run Christ’s ministry goes through the faithful minister who has little, yet his ministry reflects that of Christ. Christ is often working the unknown parts of our town and our world. Christ does not love celebrity preachers and celebrity churches any more than small ones like ours.
                                                              i.      This means we focus on the Spirit, the Word and the people.
                                                            ii.      The ministry that looks most like Christ is the ministry that is very ordinary. Widows and orphans are at the top of James’ list.
c.       Third, our ministry must be one of compassion to bruised reeds and smoking wicks.  We must look among the needy and hurting and bring Christ to them. To do this we must actually believe number one. We must believe he is their only hope and that he can heal them. If our ministry is to the good looking, wise, noble people of this world, it is a betrayal of Christ.  Our society is an efficiency oriented society. We must be productive. We must get things done. But the church cannot function this way. Here are some examples of bruised reeds and smoking wicks.
                                                              i.      Believers: Healthy and hurting
                                                            ii.      Unbelievers: Hardened and Soft
                                                          iii.      Down Syndrome babies. Children in general are useless. What do they give to us?
                                                           iv.      What about women who have had abortions?  What about abortion doctors?
                                                             v.      Former porn star converted to Christ and now ministers to women who are coming out of the sex industry. Do we believe that Jesus does this? Do we even want Jesus to do this?
                                                           vi.      Former homosexuals who have turned to Christ for redemption and healing.
                                                         vii.      Sexual abuse is a huge problem in America. Some of you here might have endured it.
                                                       viii.      People who have lived in shallow, weak churches where the Gospel is rarely preached.   
                                                           ix.      Our ministry should be gentle, patient, and encouraging.  We must be careful here of course. There are ditches all around us to fall into. Matthew is not encouraging us to compromise with sin. Jesus doesn’t.  Matthew is not saying there is never a time to call someone out. Jesus does that often. But Matthew is encouraging us to want those broken reeds among. It is not enough to say that someone needs to care for those people. We need to care for them. Love, care, and patience can do wonders. 

Sermon Notes: Hebrews 12:18-29

What should new covenant worship look like? I gave a brief answer on Sunday.

1.       New covenant worship is decentralized on earth. We do not all have to be in one physical location to worship. No matter where saints are gathered, South Africa, Pensacola, FL. or Morgantown, WV, if they are in Christ they are worshiping on Mt. Zion. 
2.       To refuse new covenant worship is to sit on the door while the feast goes on inside. It is to choose mud over steak. It is to live in the slum instead of the mansion. There is no greater sin than this. (c.f. Matthew 22, I Cor. 5:8) Refusing grace is to refuse glory and feasting and joy and gladness. The primary gospel message is not believe in Jesus Christ so you won’t go to Hell. It is believe in Jesus Christ so you won’t miss the feast.
3.       Our worship should be filled with the Word of God. God still speaks. We must still listen. God has not stopped speaking. 
4.       Our worship should be shot through with gratitude. Gratitude is rooted in humility.
5.       Our worship should be shot through with awe, fear, and reverence. Again this comes from humility before the God who made Heaven and Earth and who redeemed us from the pit.
6.       In worship we come to the same God as the Israelites on Mt. Sinai.  We come to the same consuming fire. God has not changed. He does things now just as he did then. Except the priests and sacrifices and temple were all weak and have been replaced by the greater Priest, Sacrifice and Temple.
7.       Our worship should give equal access to all Christians. The table is for all.  That is why all Christians can eat and drink with us. That is why our baptized children come to the table. They are part of this new covenant. Anyone we consider a Christian needs to be included. There is no longer a veil.
8.       Our worship should be bold because of Christ. (Hebrews 4:16, 10:19-23) The foundation of our worship is the shed blood of Christ. The most amazing thing is not that God is a consuming fire, but that you can stand in the presence of this consuming fire.
9.       Our worship should shake the world out of us.  Christ came to shake the world. (c.f. I John 2:17) The world is passing away. The world is transient. The nations are transient.  America is a shadow. There is stone filling the earth. A kingdom whose dominion shall be from shore to shore. A King to whom all kings will bow. This means part of worship is to show us where we have compromised with the world.  And our worship is to remind us that the kingdoms of this world are a drop in the bucket. (Isaiah 40:15)
10.   Our worship should focus on the unshakeable Kingdom of Christ. The great realities of the cross, redemption, sin, worship, etc. should dominate our worship. This will not make our worship irrelevant. It will make the whole world relevant for us. 

Sermon Notes: Ephesians 6:5-9

Here is the application portion of my sermon from this past Sunday. 

1.       This passage makes all of our jobs holy. It breaks down the divide between secular and sacred. It means you can honor God typing in data just as much as you can honor him in prayer. In the Kingdom the man is holy because he is united to Christ. Thus his vocation becomes holy.
a.       O’ Brien: Any and every task, however menial, falls within the sphere of his lordship and is done in order to please him.
b.      Why is the view that there are levels of holiness so deadly for the Christian life?
                                                              i.      It creates 2nd class citizens in the Kingdom. There are the less holy ones who are auto-mechanics and the more holy ones who are missionaries. It drags us back to the Old Covenant.
                                                            ii.      It leaves the world to the Devil. Both the dominion mandate and the great commission go unfulfilled.  Journalism, medicine, art, politics, building cars, etc. are all part of the world. We tolerate these things, but they are not really spiritual or holy. Thus we leave them to Satan. Which means the whole world is left to Satan except my devotions and Sunday worship.
                                                          iii.      It creates a spirit only view of the Christian life.  The Christian life becomes something primarily internal. It can be the life of the mind or the life of the heart, but what it is not is a life of the body.  Thus our Christian life is not worked out in making casseroles, building houses or mowing lawns, but primarily in Bible study and prayer.
c.       We should not assume that more Bible reading and prayer will make us holier. Even in our free time we should not assume this. Yes, we should read our Bibles and pray. But then we should live. We should build houses and fix cars and write briefs and cook meals and read books and make movies. This passage makes the whole world our workshop. There is no area of human endeavor where we cannot honor Christ.  
d.      We do not need to continually add more “spiritual disciplines” to our lives.  God has called us to work, to labor, to a vocation. Our calling is to productive labor. There are biblical disciplines that should be cultivated. But too often we add extra disciplines, such as fasting or personal evangelism or numerous Bible studies, to our lives. God wants us to honor him with productive labor in our vocations.
2.       Christ is honored when we are skilled in our labors and productive for your employers. We do this because it is right not because we are trying to manipulate the system.  Everyone here should be striving to do their jobs better. If we are working for the Lord then we should want to do our best. Wives in your homes there should be regular evaluation of your labor.  Are there things you could do better? Is your home a place of joy? Why not?
3.       External obedience is not enough.  We must throw ourselves into our vocations with joy and vigor. Paul, indeed the Bible, never leaves us with only external obedience.  In our work, we are to honor Christ by doing our jobs with our whole being.  This includes a heart that is sincere, joyful, and seeks to please God in all things.
4.       There are rewards for obedience.