We read in Matthew 10:40-42 of rewards, but don’t think God owes us a place in heaven. It is hard to say tactfully that none of us – not even the best – earns favour. To think of marching up to the gates of heaven and asking for what we deserve would be disastrous. By comparison with the holy goodness of God, we all fail and cannot hope to meet the standard. What we deserve – is judgement, a “fail”.
Mercifully, that is not the end of the story! God’s goodness has made an opportunity for us through Jesus and his sacrifice. Accepting as a gift what he has done, we are offered not only forgiveness, but also a new life and status as God’s children. (That is by adoption, not by right, so we talk about God’s “grace”). So we live as those who are free, turning our backs on evil and walking the Christian way in thanks. Yes, we still try to do the right thing, but as a reaction to a God whose love is beyond expectation, not as earning a place.
But what about rewards? They are talked about several times in the New Testament. Those who welcome Christians will benefit. Their welcome or kindness may help them hear the good news that will free them for ever. Jesus explains more fully in Luke 18:29,30:
“Then Peter said, “Look, we have left our homes and followed you.” And he [Jesus] said to them, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”
So some of the reward is in this life. [There is more about rewards, for example in Matthew 6 which has much to say about hypocrisy and “looking good”. 1 Corinthians 3 also has some comments about the rewards of Christian ministry.]
If all this sounds great, there is a warning in the Old Testament lesson. Jeremiah 28:5-9 is an extract from a longer story of conflict between Jeremiah and Hananiah. Jeremiah had spoken of God’s judgement on an unfaithful people, and his ministry has cost him popularity and his security. Hananiah prophecies a rapid return of the exiles and life as usual – a popular message, avoiding difficult issues of responsibility and the need to repent of wrongdoing. While he would like it to be true, Jeremiah emphasises the test of prophecy (does it come true?), and later accurately prophecies judgement on the false Hananiah. Those who speak for God have to keep to God’s messages; it is a sad warning!
So we have the encouragement of knowing that our Christian mission is not unnoticed, and will be rewarded. Alongside that comes the reminder to be faithful. It cannot be right to say just what people want to hear as if it was God’s message. Indeed, to pretend to know God’s will without understanding can be – fatal. If that is a sobering thought, it emphasises the importance of the gospel, and our witness to it by action and word. Getting it right matters!