Yesterday marked the 91st Comrades Marathon Race in South Africa. Since the first race in 1921 the Comrades Marathon has become one of the most famous and prestigious of all ultra-marathons. Winning the race is a coveted achievement. But there are many ways to win the Comrades Marathon.
As I discuss in The Preacher’s Payday, you can win it simply by finishing first, like Bill Rowan did in 1921 by coming in a mere minute under nine hours. You can win it five hours and 18 minutes, like David Gatebe did yesterday, setting the new record. You can win it more times than anyone else, like Bruce Fordyce did: nine times. You can even win by running against people who are not running. Yes, you can win a Wally Hayward medal if you finish in under six hours or a Bill Rowan medal if you beat his time of nine hours.
But you can also win the race by beating the real competition: pain. It is the pain and fatigue that most runners are trying to conquer, not the person in front of them. It is a challenge of body and mind, and runners are racing against themselves. And so the awards reflect this. Most races award a gold medal for 1st, silver and bronze for 2nd and 3rd, and everyone else gets a pat on the back.
But the Comrades organizers realize there is more to this race than coming first. Everyone who finishes within the twelve hour limit gets a medal. Even those who come in during the last hour, get the Vic Clapham copper medal. And as agonizing as the challenge, that medal will outlast the memory of your pain and fatigue. It is that image that the New Testament writers use to picture our awards ceremony.
3 ASPECTS OF ETERNAL REWARDS SO THAT YOU WILL LONG FOR YOUR CORONATION DAY
1. THE TIME OF REWARDS
1 Pet 5: 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
Have you ever wondered what motivated people like Adoniram Judson, CT Studd and John Paton to give up their lives and comfort and wealth for unbearable conditions of poverty and danger? They all understood the implications of this promise, that rewards are not all meted out in this life, but… when the chief Shepherd appears. Here Peter encourages elders to persevere in their labor of love, because there is a reward coming….with Jesus.
But this doesn’t apply only to elders…
2 Cor 5: 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
We will all appear before the judgment seat [bema] of Christ. We will be paid back for what we have done whether good or evil. It is vital to see here that evil does not mean sin. The Greek word used is phaulon, useless things. Things that are not necessarily bad, they just have no eternal value.
You can watch TV, or you can sleep late, or you can serve, pray, read for God’s glory and the good of the kingdom. None of those are sins. But let’s face it, surely you don’t expect the same reward for watching all 6 seasons of Downton Abbey as the guy who has prayed the same number of hours for the conversion of the lost?
Your salvation is not in the balance, but this is what makes the difference between generous givers, hard servers, or sacrificial missionaries, and regular, couch-potato Christians. Missionaries understand that rewards are not about now, but when the Chief Shepherd appears!
2. THE TRUTH OF REWARDS
This judgment is not a time of testing whether you are saved. Your salvation depends on Jesus dying for you, not what you did in this life. But that doesn’t mean that how you lived after you were saved is irrelevant to God.
1 Cor 3: 12-15 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
I know this doctrine feels like fingernails on a chalk board for you who understand the wonderful truth that all is by grace, not works. But this is in the Bible.
3. THE TYPE OF REWARDS
The reward Peter promises is simply called the unfading crown (which is) glory.
There may be a literal symbol of our reward, such as a crown, but there is more to it. When Peter promises the elders the unfading crown of glory, he is not saying: and you get a nifty hat to wear in heaven.
So what does the crown represent?
In the parable of the minas the servant who earned ten minas gets the following reward Luke 19: 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’
When rewards are spoken of in Scripture they are either described as positions of authority, or they are simply called crowns, which are symbols of authority.
And what if I am not as faithful as I could be? Then you will lose some reward that could have been yours.
Remember 1 Cor 3: 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, …
What! Suffering for believers?? Well we know it’s not suffering for sin, or condemnation, we don’t know for sure what it means. But one commentator said it well: whatever suffer loss means, it can’t mean “not suffer loss.”
God gives you salvation, the opportunity to work for him, the ability to work, the desire to work, and then he rewards you for it! Grace!
If you don’t know Jesus, you have no reward only punishment which you deserve. But turn to him and ask for forgiveness and you can start living for his glory today and start investing in your heavenly portfolio to his glory, forever and ever, amen.