Reward Is According To Works


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to each one according to his work. (REV 22:12)

We like to mark the end of a significant or pleasing event by making some kind of remark, or commentary that draws all the different elements together, that gives us sense that the event is complete.  When a guest minister visits our Society, when a graduating class gets ready to leave for school in another city, when the calendar year comes to an end, we like to gather together to hear some final words to mark the end of an important part of our lives, to get some kind of summary or extract that will help us to remember what’s essential.

When the Lord was on the earth, He foresaw the events of His life, He knew when it would be time to sum it up, and close it off.  And when the church was trying to assemble the various documents that would become the New Testament, it was His pleasure to lead His church to put the book of Revelation at the end.  And so, in the concluding verses of the book of Revelation, we find the Lord’s own closing remarks to us; the summary of His work in the world, the things that are most important for us to remember if we are to love and worship Him and follow His teachings.  In the closing verses of Revelation, He makes four very simple points to show us the way to live happily in this world and the next.

Reward is According to Works

The first is when He says, And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. (REV 22:12)
By His “reward” can be meant nothing else than eternal life in heaven, and it is according to His order that He gives it to people according to their work, according to way they lived their lives, according to how well they have loved and served their neighbor, rendering unto him good works.  Remember how He taught, Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me. (Matt. 25:40) We have been put into the natural world for the sake of practicing our love to the Lord on those around us.

Let’s look at another, longer passage to put the idea in its own context:  Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men.  Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. {3} “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, {4} “that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. {5} “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites.  For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men.  Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. {6} “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (MAT 6:2-6)

Or this passage:

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. (Luke 6:35)

Can there be any doubt that the “reward” that the Lord is talking about is eternal life in heaven?

Keep the Commandments and Enter the City

And then, in case we did not understand it clearly the first time He told us, He says it again: Blessed are they who do His commandments, because those who keep His commandments will have power in the tree of life and they will be able to enter … into the city, the Holy City New Jerusalem, which is a symbol for heaven itself. (See Rev. 22:14)

The Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church teach so many times and in so many places that there cannot be any confusion about what commandments are meant – none other than the Ten Commandments given to us by Jehovah through Moses on Mount Sinai, those same commandments which form the moral basis for the laws of every civilized nation in the world.  The Lord says that those who keep the Ten Commandments, who honor their parents, do not lie, steal, or commit adultery, and who love the Lord and keep the Sabbath will be blessed.  They will have power in the tree of life, and they will enter the Holy City New Jerusalem.

The Unworthy are Outside the Church

But the Lord knows that we are stiff-necked and stubborn.   Our rational minds, designed so carefully to make careful, wise judgments about the truth, can also twist the truth, turn it around and around until it appears to be something entirely new and changed.  We have the power of self-justification, and we can, by changing the name of evil, actually convince ourselves (and sometimes others) that evil is not evil, but good.

We don’t talk about someone committing adultery, instead they are just having an “affair.”  It sounds so much nicer, so much less evil.  We don’t gossip, but instead share “constructive criticisms.”  We don’t lie, we just put a favorable “spin” on the truth.  The list is actually quite lengthy, but the principle has been established:  One common way of avoiding our evils is to change their names.  Then we can pretend to ourselves that we are shunning our evils but still keep them around to enjoy, too.

But although we may be able to fool ourselves and others, we can’t fool the Lord. He knows what evil is, and He won’t tolerate it in His kingdom.  Those who are evil, He calls “dogs,” and “sorcerers” and “adulterers” and “murderers” and “idolaters” and “whoever loves and practices a lie.” (See Rev. 22:15) Such people are specifically denied entrance into the Holy City.

The Spirit and the Bride Say “Come!”

But even though we are evil – for we are all evil to some degree – we should not give up hope, because the Lord has given us the means to change our lives, He has given us the promise that no matter how evil we may have been, no matter what terrible things we may have done, if we will only turn away from the evil, if we will only begin to keep the commandments, we will find ourselves once again on the path to heaven.

Isaiah says it this way, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.  If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat of the good of the land.” (1:18-19)

We have been created with our will separated from our understanding.  We have the ability to do what we know we should, even if we do not want to do it.  The truth from the Word can, if we desire it, overpower all the lusts of evil that rise up in our hearts.  The Lord only requires that we do the best we can to do what we know, from the Word, that we should.  His part is that He will then work in secret ways to change our loves, gently, quietly, so that what was once very difficult, becomes less and less so, until finally we don’t notice it at all because it takes no effort.  Then one day we may suddenly discover that we in fact love to do what we used to have to compel ourselves to do.  This is how, with the Lord’s help, we can rid ourselves of our evils through the application of the truth from the Word in our lives.  And, believe it or not, the Lord tells us that it’s not even that hard to do.  Hear the following from Heaven and Hell:

That it is not so difficult to live the life of heaven as some believe, is now clear from this, that when anything presents itself to a man that he knows to be dishonest and unjust, but to which his mind is borne, it is simply necessary for him to think that it ought not to be done because it is opposed to the Divine precepts.  If a man accustoms himself so to think, and from so doing establishes a habit of so thinking, he is gradually conjoined to heaven; and so far as he is conjoined to heaven the higher regions of his mind are opened; and so far as these are opened he sees whatever is dishonest and unjust, and so far as he sees these evils they can be dispersed, for no evil can be dispersed until it is seen.  Into this state man is able to enter because of his freedom, for is not any one able from his freedom so to think?  And when he has made a beginning, the Lord performs all the good deeds with him, and causes him not only to see the evils to be evils, but also to refrain from willing them, and finally to turn away from them.  This is meant by the Lord’s words, My yoke is easy and My burden is light.  Matt. xi. 30. (HH 533)

It is our choice.  The invitation is clear, and open to all.  The spirit, the Divine truth, and the bride, the Divine good, together invite us to heaven.  The Lord cannot, and will not compel us to do anything that we do not ourselves want to do.  It is our choice alone.  But, if we want living water, water that once we drink of it we will not be thirsty again for it is spiritual truth, we need only come to the Lord in the Word in humility and obedience, for the Lord said, My reward is with Me, to give to each one according to his work. (Rev. 22:12) AMEN.

First Lesson:  (JER 7:1-11) The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, {2} “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah who enter in at these gates to worship the LORD!'” {3} Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. {4} “Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD are these.’ {5} “For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, {6} “if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, {7} “then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. {8} “Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. {9} “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, {10} “and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’? {11} “Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes?  Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” says the LORD.  Amen.

Second Lesson:  REV 22:8-21 Now I, John, saw and heard these things.  And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. {9} Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that.  For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book.  Worship God.” {10} And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. {11} “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.” {12} “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. {13} “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” {14} Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. {15} But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie. {16} “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches.  I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” {17} And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”  And let him who hears say, “Come!”  And let him who thirsts come.  Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. {18} For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; {19} and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. {20} He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”  Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! {21} The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.  Amen.

Third Lesson:  HH 521 NO ONE ENTERS HEAVEN BY MERCY APART FROM MEANS. Those that have not been instructed about heaven and the way to heaven, and about the life of heaven in man, suppose that being received into heaven is a mere matter of mercy, and is granted to those that have faith, and for whom the Lord intercedes; thus that it is an admission from mere favor; consequently that all men without exception might be saved if the Lord so pleased, and some even believe that all in hell might be so saved.  But those who so think know nothing about man, that he is just such as his life is, and that his life is such as his love is, both in respect to the interiors pertaining to his will and understanding and in respect to the exteriors pertaining to his body; also that his bodily form is merely the external form in which the interiors exhibit themselves in effect; consequently that one’s love is the whole man.  Nor do they know that the body lives not from itself, but from its spirit, and that a man’s spirit is his essential affection, and his spiritual body is nothing else than his affection in human form, and in such a form it appears after death.  So long as man remains ignorant of all this he may be induced to believe that salvation involves nothing but the Divine good pleasure, which is called mercy and grace. Amen.

Copyright General Church of the New Jerusalem, 1982 – 2008
Author, Rev. James P. Cooper, M. Div.
Page last modified October 21, 2008

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