Sermon: Rewards Instead of Punishment
Scripture: Matthew 28:11-15
In this week’s Easter lessons, we note the contrast between Jesus’ enemies and friends concerning the resurrection, and the price worth paying to be a witness to Christ.
Theme: Waiting for the Great Reversal
Or I think of Paul. He had been on the side of Christ’s enemies. He was one who had a vested interest in unbelief. He didn’t want to lose his traditions. He didn’t want to have to change his life. He didn’t want to have to turn his back on all that he had achieved in Judaism. Thus, in his supposed zeal for God he did everything in his power to stamp out the sect of the Nazarene. But God intervened, and called him to be an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Part of Paul’s calling was to suffer for the gospel. He wrote about it in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
Some would look at Paul’s experience and say, “If ever there was a case of a man receiving punishment instead of rewards, it was the Apostle Paul.” And so has it been for all who have been faithful witnesses to Christ’s resurrection. Some people might look at all Paul went through and wonder if it was worth it. They would see Paul as a man who had great talents and certainly had a great future as a Pharisee. But he left all that behind because he met the resurrected Lord on the Damascus road. He went throughout the Roman Empire preaching a message that was rejected by Jews and Gentiles alike, and he suffered greatly for it.
People could ask the same question of Stephen. He preached this bold sermon that he knew was going to anger his listeners. In fact, they became so furious that they killed him by stoning. Someone might ask Stephen if his martyrdom was worth it. The same thing could be put to Peter and John. Peter was martyred, and John was imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos. Was that a reasonable price to pay to be a witness for Jesus?
Wouldn’t it have been better to do what the soldiers did? The soldiers at Jesus’ tomb knew what had happened on that first Easter morning. They agreed to keep quiet about what they had seen in exchange for money. Was that a good thing to do, to keep quiet about the resurrection? Not according to men such as Peter, John, Stephen, and Paul. Any one of those men who were witnesses would say to us that it was absolutely worth it because this is not a case, you see, of merely talking about a human philosophy. This is not about a mere matter of ideas. This is a matter of history.
The resurrection is a fact, and they wanted to take their stand for it. If Jesus really did rise from the dead, as they knew, then that means that Jesus is alive, and therefore Jesus is the truth. These are men who said, “It doesn’t really matter what happens in this life—whether we’re scorned or persecuted or killed for our belief. What we believe is the truth, and the truth will last because Jesus reigns.”
One day there will be a great reversal. As is often the case in this life because of sin and the commitment that men and women have to unbelief, that unbelief is rewarded and the truth is punished. That’s happened before, and it will happen again. But, nevertheless, God is on his throne. The day is coming when all of that will be overturned. Unbelief will be judged, sin will be punished, and those who stand with the Lord Jesus Christ will hear him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
Read Philippians 3:1-11. What does Paul say about his religious background, and how does he describe his new life for which he left behind his aspirations in Judaism?
Read Acts 7, and note the general points and flow of Stephen’s sermon.
Application: How is the Lord calling you to suffer for the name of Christ?
Prayer: Remember to pray regularly for persecuted Christians throughout the world.
Key Point: One day there will be a great reversal. As is often the case in this life because of sin and the commitment that men and women have to unbelief, that unbelief is rewarded and the truth is punished. That’s happened before, and it will happen again. But, nevertheless, God is on his throne. The day is coming when all of that will be overturned.