Welcome to “Key to the Kingdom.” My name is Bret McCasland. For those who believe in God and are disciples of His son, Jesus Christ, the promise of heaven is a big deal. Heaven is the home where they will live with the Lord for all eternity. Heaven is the result of living an obedient and faithful life of service upon the earth. And for many, the joys and the blessings of heaven are highly anticipated. Some versions of the Bible mention heaven over 500 times. Heaven is described in various ways, many of which we never will fully understand, this side of eternity. Most of those descriptions present heaven as a place that is filled with God's presence and with those who are a part of His spiritual family. In the past three lessons, I have shared some things about heaven, which have hopefully helped us gain a deeper appreciation of it. Remember, all of these lessons are on the website and you are more than welcome to view or to listen to them again. In the fourth lesson, today, I want to share some things about the rewards waiting in heaven. As we bring this series to an end, let us not forget, according to the Bible, God has prepared a special home for those who have received His free gift of salvation. As we study today, on “Key to the Kingdom,” my prayer is that you will be blessed by the message and that you will be inspired to make every effort to enter into that heavenly home. I encourage you now to open your hearts and your Bibles as we study, once again, from God's Word.
In today's lesson, we conclude our four part series on heaven. Now, if you have missed any of the previous three, or would like to view them again, they are available on the website. Hopefully this short series has been beneficial, as we have considered the eternal reward waiting for those who are part of God's family. As we receive God's free gift of salvation, through His son, Jesus Christ, we know that it leads to an eternal home in heaven; and, how exciting it will be to experience that firsthand, someday. Again, there are many more Scriptures we could study, but I trust you will continue to look into God's Word and seek to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of heaven. Well, today we conclude our study by talking about heaven’s rewards, as mentioned in a previous lesson, for those who die in the Lord, they will rest from their labors (Revelation 14 and verse 13); and no doubt, that will be a great reward, as we enter into that heavenly rest (Hebrews 4, verse 11). However, we will continue to serve others, to share in a banquet feast with Jesus and to sing praises to God. Our focus, both now and in heaven, is and will be on serving and worshiping and praising the Lord. And we do that not only to bless others, but also to bring Him glory. At the same time, we will be part of the new life God has prepared for us. Everything will be made new in that new heaven and new earth, according to Revelation 21 verse 5. Heaven will be that new and that Holy City, which comes down so that God can dwell among His people. And in that city, there will be productive and refreshing activity. It will not be like the tedious work or labor some of us have to do here up on this earth, but rather we will be busy taking care of our new home; and certainly, that is something we can look forward to and anticipate. Jesus, in part, describes heaven this way, in the gospel of Matthew chapter 6, beginning with verse 21: <”Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”> The various things that destroy or damage earthly possessions will not be in heaven. Nothing will take away from that heavenly reward. The joys and the beauties and the treasures which are there will never grow old; they won't be stolen, they won't fade away and absolutely nothing will ever diminish heaven’s beauties. Well, a question which is often asked about heaven, in regards to the rewards or the degrees, is, “Are there such things?” Well, the Bible teaches heaven's rewards are based on one's faithfulness to God. Let's notice a few passages. Jesus will not overlook even the smallest good deed which is done in His name. He tells us that in Mark chapter 9, verse 41: <“I tell you the truth. Anyone who gives a cup of water in My name, because you belong to Christ, will certainly not lose his reward.”> The little things that we do in the name of the Lord to bless other people are noticed by the Lord, and He will reward us. Keep in mind, also, these words from Paul, in Galatians 6, verses 9 and 10: <Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.> We are not to grow weary or give up in doing good for other people, especially those who are a part of God's family. Well, from both of those passages, we notice that the good deeds we do here up on the earth bless others and are recognized by God. They bring Him glory and they have eternal rewards. And that is the second part of that Revelation 14 verse 13 passage: <They will rest from their labor for their deeds will follow them.> Yes, the good deeds we do here will follow us in heaven. Well, heaven's rewards are also promised to those who do certain things. Jesus makes that clear in the Gospel of Luke chapter 14, notice verses 13 and 14: <”When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”> Oh, oftentimes we, when we have a banquet or party or feast of some sort we like to invite our friends, our neighbors, our loved ones. We perhaps even focus on those people who might repay us by inviting us into their home. Well, Jesus states, “Take a different direction with that. Invite the people who cannot repay you. Invite the people who are overlooked or neglected or abused in some way, knowing full well they cannot repay you. But do that with the understanding God will repay you at the resurrection of the righteous;” in other words, in heaven. Well, in addition to that, rewards are given to those who persevere as they are being persecuted for their faith. They are given to those who endure their difficulties and the trials of life as they are living out their faith in the Lord. Jesus addressed that very thing in Matthew chapter 5, in verses 11 and 12: <Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way, they persecuted the prophets who were before you.> God sent prophets to speak to individuals and to nations of people, warning them and guiding them on the way they needed to live. But oftentimes those people rejected not only the message that had come from God, but they rejected the prophet as well. They persecuted that prophet, and even put some to death. Well, likewise, if we are persecuted for the sake of the Lord, if we are being falsely ridiculed or laughed at or made fun of because of our faith in Jesus and our stance on what He wants us to do, we have a special reward, a great reward, in heaven waiting for us. And so as we help those who cannot help themselves, or when we display our faith in God while being persecuted, the message is, we will be rewarded. When we live a life of godliness and obedience, God notices, and He provides a reward. In other words, we can say it this way, the way we live our life matters! Now it is important to understand something here, heaven's rewards and eternal salvation are two different things. One’s salvation is a free gift from God. It comes through God's grace and through our faith in Jesus Christ; and, Paul made that clear, in Ephesians 2, verses 8 and 9, and also in Titus chapter 3, in verse 5. One's reward, however, seems to be based upon the work we do for the sake of others and to the glory of God. And so with those things in mind, eternal salvation depends upon God, while eternal rewards depend upon one's faithfulness to God. Well, let's move on. Rewards in heaven are oftentimes referred to as crowns; and I want to highlight four that we find here in Scripture. First of all, we read about the everlasting crown. The church in the city of Corinth had a number of problems. They had trouble getting along with one another. There were some issues of pride. There were issues of immorality. They could not even agree to worship together in a way that would honor God. And Paul knew about that, and so he wrote a letter to address some of those problems; and the highlight of what he was trying to say seems to be, refocus your attention, not on yourselves, but on the Lord. Notice his words here in 1st Corinthians chapter 9, verses 24 and 25: <Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.> Something similar to our Olympic games was common in the first century. The apostle Paul knew that as he penned these words. But the athletes made every effort to train and to compete and to be victorious in the races they ran. And the prize they received for winning that particular race was nothing more than a simple wreath of flowers that was placed up on one's head. And as flowers tend to do, they quickly began to fade away. And Paul used that image here and reminded these Christians in Corinth of the prize for running a faithful life in service to God was much greater than a simple wreath of flowers. The prize was a crown that would last forever. And what a vast contrast between those two, a simple wreath of flowers compared to an everlasting crown that would never fade away. It would always be there. And certainly, that is a reminder for followers of Jesus Christ, today. As we anticipate heaven and as we faithfully run the race of life that is set before us, indeed, there is an everlasting crown that awaits. Let's notice a second crown. It is the crown of glory. The apostle Peter was a disciple of Jesus Christ, but he had some struggles along the way, as did many other disciples. Perhaps the thing we remember most about Peter was the time when he denied knowing Jesus three times, just prior to His death. Oh, Peter was remorseful about that. He went out and he wept bitterly. But after Jesus died on the cross and then rose again from the dead, one of the very first things He did was to seek out Peter. Once He found him, He basically reinstated him. He gave him another chance, a second opportunity; and, Peter did something very good with that. In fact, he went on to become one of the leaders of the early church. He opened up the door of the church to both the Jews and to the Gentiles. Yes, the apostle Peter had a very significant role to play in the advancement of the early church. Well, as a leader or as a shepherd of the flock, he wrote a powerful message to area church leaders and believers, when he said these words, or wrote these words, in 1st Peter 5 and verse 4: <When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.> From one shepherd to another, from one elder to another, Peter had a message. When Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, returns to gather all of those who belong to Him, a crown of glory will be given to those who have served faithfully. Obviously, he had in mind his fellow elders or fellow shepherds when he wrote that; and, when the church or the body of Christ faces uncertain times, it needs those faithful shepherds. The church needs leaders who will stand on the truth of God's Word and who will take care of the people's spiritual needs. And it is those shepherds who receive that crown of glory. And yet at the same time, the same principle applies for all of us. As faithful followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, we too can anticipate a crown of glory, which reflects the glory of God. It identifies us as a child of God, in the likeness of Jesus Christ in all of His glory. And that is a second crown that awaits, the crown of glory. Here is a third crown to consider, the crown of life. James was the half brother of Jesus. He grew up being somewhat of a skeptic concerning Jesus, not really believing that He was the Son of God. But over a course of time and a number of events, James came to be a believer. And he wrote something, found in James chapter 1 and verse 12, that parallels the words of Jesus, from Revelation chapter 2 and verse 10; both of them stating basically the same thing. And this is what is written down: <Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.> Many first century Christians suffered a great deal because of their faith. Homes and possessions were taken away because of their devotion to the Lord. Families were torn apart and on some occasions lives were even lost. And it’s sad to say, but that same kind of thing still happens to believers today, in some parts of the world. Those who are following Jesus are persecuted. They are abused. They are mistreated. Homes and possessions are taken away and some even tragically lose their lives. And in the midst of all of that, some might wonder, “Well, is it really worth the effort? Is it really worth believing in and obeying God, as the almighty God, and His son, Jesus Christ?” “I don't know if it is,” might be the thought in some people's minds: “I might as well just give up on the Lord and go to the other side, and not stand for what I believe.” But yet, when that is the case, we need to recall the words of Jesus and of James: Remain faithful, even to the point of death, and you will receive the crown of life. Let's look at one more crown, number four. It is the crown of righteousness. The apostle Paul was a faithful servant of God. He fulfilled the commission God had entrusted to him. He had faithfully served throughout his life, and he had taught other people to do the very same thing. And at the very end of his life, Paul wrote a letter to a young man by the name of Timothy. Paul was his mentor. He was his father in the faith, if you will. And he was in hopes that Timothy would carry on the ministry which Paul had started. We don't know for sure, but we believe that 2nd Timothy is the last letter which Paul wrote before he died. And toward the end of this letter, in chapter 4, we find some of the very last words. Listen to what he wrote to Timothy in verses 6 through 8: <I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Righteous Judge will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.> Paul had run his race well, he had served faithfully, he had kept the faith. And he knew, with full assurance, there was a crown of righteousness waiting for him. And it would be given to him by God, Himself, not only to him, it would be given to all of those who have longed for the appearing of the Lord. Well, at the end of our life, whenever that might be, will we be able to say what Paul wrote? And that's all that will matter, isn't it! It won't matter how much money we made or how many days we worked here upon the earth. It won't matter how many empires we built, or how many times we read the Bible, or how much money we gave. Whether or not we have lived a faithful life as a child of God will be the only thing that matters. And if we have lived that faithful life, just like the apostle Paul, then that Righteous Judge, that Righteous God will award us with a crown of righteousness. Well, the question naturally comes: four crowns (the crown of life, the crown of glory, the everlasting crown, the crown of righteousness), how will we wear all four crowns? Well, I don't know the answer to that question. We'll have to wait and see. But there is something interesting that is found in John's vision, from Revelation chapter 4. As he looked into that heavenly throne room, he saw the 24 elders falling down before the Lord who sat upon the throne and they sang a hymn: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and praise.” And as they offer that hymn of praise to the Lord, they also cast their crowns before Him. You know, I don't know, but isn't that an interesting image, and isn't that the least we can do? When we stand before the Maker of heaven and earth, the crowns that He gives to us are then returned in grateful praise for the privilege to be a part of His eternal and heavily home. Oh, again, there are many more passages we could share and much more we could say about heaven, but I encourage you to do your own study and additional research. Seek to learn as much as you possibly can learn, this side of eternity, about what awaits you in heaven; but then, live in a spirit of anticipation. Anticipate the time when you can dwell in that heavenly home and how you can be a part of that new and eternal city called heaven. I want to end this lesson the very same way I've ended the previous three, and that is by simply asking this question: Are you prepared to receive God's wonderful gift of heaven? And that is an important question that all of us will have to answer at one time or another. Oh, we do not know when the Lord will return. We don't know the day nor the hour. However, we do know that He is coming back. We believe that. And when He does come back to gather unto Himself His family, our greatest desire, hopefully, will be to be in that number. But if you are not prepared for that time, I hope that you will get prepared and be ready for the Lord's return, so that you can enter into that heavenly home and enjoy all the blessings and promises that God entrusts and gives so freely to those who have received His free gift of salvation.
Thank you for tuning in to today's broadcast on “Key to the Kingdom.” I do hope this message about heaven gave you some things to consider, and that it inspired you to be ready to enter into that heavenly home. This lesson, along with the other three in this short series is available on our website. You can find them at keytothekingdom.com. They are easily accessible and can be downloaded, absolutely free. We simply provide them to assist you in your own personal study of God's Word. A variety of other lessons are on the website, as well. Please take a few minutes to review the list and find those which might be of specific interest. Devotional thoughts and other videos can also be accessed, not only on the website, but through a free app designed for smart phones. The phone app takes only a moment to download and it provides easy access to everything on the website. Facebook® is another way to keep up with this mass media ministry. Every Sunday night, short messages are uploaded, which can be liked and shared with others; and, I hope you will do that. If you would like to leave a message for me, please call the number on the screen. I will be happy to get back to you just as soon as possible. Oh, it is always our pleasure to share weekly messages from God's Word, and I am happy you joined us. I do hope these lessons are a blessing and encouragement. And please, consider tuning in again next week, as we continue to study the Bible on “Key to the Kingdom.”