Saints will be Rewarded

The appointed Gospel reading for All Saints Day is Matthew 5:1-12, a passage that is often referred to as “The Beatitudes”:

[1] Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

[2] And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

[3] “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

[4] “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

[5] “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

[6] “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

[7] “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

[8] “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

[9] “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

[10] “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

[11] “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. [12] Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (ESV)

This passage, especially the last verse, could give one the impression that we somehow earn heavenly rewards by our good works: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,” Jesus says.

This would contradict what Lutherans have stood for from day one; our sins far outweigh any possible reward we could earn from God. The only hope we have for being saved is through faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as we heard last week in the Reformation Day epistle reading: Romans 3:22–24 “For there is no distinction: [23] for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [24] and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

And in his letter to the Ephesians Paul writes: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

But I found a passage from Martin Luther that helps us understand what Jesus means when he talks about rewarding us:

“Such statements should not be distorted and applied in an anti-Scriptural way to our earning grace but should be interpreted correctly, the way they were intended, as a consolation to Christians – especially when they have to suffer opposition, when they get the feeling and the impression that our life, suffering and activity are pointless and useless. This is the consolation that Scripture uses everywhere in urging perseverance in good works. So in Jeremiah 31:16 we read: “Your works shall be rewarded, and St. Paul says in I Corinthians 15:58: “In the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

If we did not have this consolation, we could not stand the misery, persecution, and trouble we get in exchange for doing so much good, nor let our teaching and preaching be rewarded with nothing but ingratitude and abuse.” (What Luther Says, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1959, page 1519)

Later Luther adds:

“God wants us to wake up and to strengthen us with this beautiful promise. Then we will not pay attention to the ingratitude, hate, envy, and contempt of the world…If the world refuses to thank you and deprives you of your reputation and property, even of your body and life, just cling to Me, and find you consolation in the fact that I still have a heaven with so much in it that I can easily recompense you and give you ten times as much as they take away from you now.” (What Luther Says, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, 1959, page 1519)

This is basically what Jesus is saying in The Beatitudes. The world is not going to appreciate any of the good works we do as Christians. We are tempted to think what we are doing is useless and worthless. That’s when we look at what Scripture says, “Our labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

In this world we will never be rewarded for our hunger and thirst for righteousness for our mercy or meekness for our persecution, being peacemakers or being pure in heart. The world will not reward or commend us for any of that.

When we are tempted to think this way Jesus wants us to know that, even though the world does not acknowledge or reward us for our good works, God will. He will reward us for the things the world thinks are useless.

Paul writes in Galatians 6:9–10: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. [10] So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

We are already saints through faith in Jesus. That is the greatest reward any one could ever receive. Purely by God’s grace through faith in Jesus we are going to be among that great multitude of saints surrounding the throne of God in heaven some day. (See Revelation 7:9-14) The reward we get for our good deeds is in addition to the gift of salvation we have as believers.

Look at all the rewards we get:

Those who are poor in spirit will be rewarded with the kingdom of heaven.

Those who mourn will be comforted.

Those who are meek will be rewarded by inheriting the earth.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be rewarded with satisfaction

Those who are merciful will be rewarded with mercy.

Those who are peacemakers will be rewarded by being call sons of God.

Those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake will be rewarded with the kingdom of heaven.

Again, these rewards are not because we have earned them. There is no way we could ever do enough good to cover our many, many sins. They are ours purely by grace. God’s grace enables us to believe in Christ and God’s grace enables us to do good works that God will then reward.

The hymn “Behold a Host Arrayed in White” That is based on Revelation 7:9-14 puts it this way:

“On earth their work was not thought wise, but see them now in heaven’s eyes;

Before God’s throne of precious stone they shout their vict’ry cries.

On earth they wept through bitter years; now God has wiped away their tears,

Transformed their strife to heav’nly life, and freed them from their fears.

For now they have the best at last; they keep their sweet eternal feast.

At God’s right hand our Lord commands; He is both host and guest.” (Lutheran Worship, hymn 192, verse 2)

So that is how we are to think of the passages in Scripture that talk about being rewarded for our good works. It’s not in the sense of earning God’s favor but in the sense of, “the world is not going to reward you for anything you are doing but God surely is so don’t give up.”

2 thoughts on “Saints will be Rewarded

  1. I have been following your blog post for years now, receiving them through my email and as a person of faith, they are always so refreshing to read. You are doing a great job and I also look forward to your carefully curated literature.

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