Written by Chris McKnight
For today’s blog related to yesterday’s sermon, I’m going to go Question and Answer style, using a question sent to me shortly after the message and my response. I hope this clarifies a theological principle suggested by the text but not really developed in the sermon.
Here’s the question:
I believe you said judgement would be worse on the ‘Capernaum types’ than on homosexuals and rioters. To me, that implied degrees of judgement, as indeed Scripture supported. Is not denying Christ being hell bound for eternity? Just as accepting Christ, is heaven bound for eternity. Can one extrapolate from the idea of degrees of judgement, to degrees of blessings in eternity? And if so, isn’t that just putting a toe in the polluted water of ‘works’ salvation? I serve not to get rewarded, but because Christ has awarded me the privilege of salvation and service through my faith in Him.
And now my answer …
Thanks for the question. It's an entire sermon probably, dealing with the theological implications of what Jesus says here re: degrees of judgment and reward.
First, I just want to say, I'm the messenger. The text and therefore Jesus is the one who says judgment will be worse for the three cities. The way He says it is to say, judgment will be more tolerable or bearable for Tyre, Sidon and Sodom than for the other three, meaning it will be harder or worse for Chorazin, etc.
Nearly every commentary I consulted agreed, this passage teaches, or at least implies, degrees of judgment and therefore on the flip side, likely degrees of reward. I think both are true and would be supported by other passages on the subject.
Now, how there can be degrees of judgment when those judged are all in hell and then the lake of fire, I don't know. It's beyond human comprehension.
On the flip side, how there can be degrees of reward when all those rewarded are in heaven and then the new earth/new Jerusalem, again, I don't know or understand. We can only speculate in both cases because Scripture doesn't tell us explicitly.
I find in Scripture that judgement is based on our deeds in light of how much revelation we have been exposed to. All have the revelation of creation and conscience and are thus rendered without excuse per Romans 1-2. Some, in addition, have the revelation of Christ and so are even more without excuse. The more light and truth rejected, the harsher the punishment. This only makes sense. "To whom much is given, much is required."
I also find throughout Scripture that God rewards, even though His grace and power is the reason for everything we would ever do to be rewarded! Many, many passages within the NT speak of this reward that clearly goes beyond just salvation or heaven. It seems to be very important to God and one of the many things He uses to motivate us. More to come on this in Matthew.
I find the whole concept of rewards something nearly every Christian doesn't like to discuss or consider. Somehow it's tainted in the minds of most but if the reward is not in this life and God is the one who decided to reward us, then that removes the taint. We need to joyfully accept it by faith and realize He rewards those who seek Him and faithfully serve Him, if done for the right reasons.
Another observation that I find odd is that we are all perfectly OK with rewards in every other area of life. We reward our kids to teach value of hard work. We reward ourselves a milkshake after hard day of yard work. We extol hard work in the marketplace and believe those who do well should be rewarded with raises and promotions and more responsibility while slackers and the mediocre shouldn't, etc. All throughout our meritocracy we use rewards for good behavior and punishment for bad behavior and until post-modernism, everyone was good with that. :)
Perhaps the reward for faithful service now will be more responsibility in the Messianic Kingdom to come. Perhaps it will be a greater capacity to worship and enjoy God in heaven, where everyone will be filled to capacity but some will have more capacity than others (like gas tanks, everyone's tank is full, but Paul has a 100 gallon tank and mine is 5 gallons). It's a deep and mysterious subject to be sure, like many areas of our faith.
As long as we separate justification from sanctification and as long as we serve the Lord out of the strength He supplies and ultimately for His glory, I don't see this tainting salvation as works-based. I see this as an area of walking by faith, not by sight, of God being gracious to give us many different motivations for this long, hard life of faith.
I think what's probably tainted our viewpoint is the prosperity gospel because they shamelessly seem to "love" God for the rewards of this world and nothing could be further from the truth.
Finally, I leave you with this Scripture: "For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising its shame ..." Why did He do it? One motive among many was "for the joy set before Him." It's something to chew on for sure.
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