I remember very little about the awards assembly at the end of my eighth grade year. Dozens of athletic and academic honors were being passed out to people I didn’t know at all. You see, I had only attended Sutter Middle School for one year and there were hundreds of students in the two grades that called Sutter home. I knew very few of my classmates and even fewer in my brother Jon’s seventh grade class. The handful of friends I’d made were mostly band geeks like myself. Trombone players. Trumpet players. Not jocks.
I was sitting at the back of the band on the stage in the auditorium, goofing off with my buddies in the shadows made by the curtains, when I heard someone call my name. I was shocked. I jumped up from my seat and headed to the front of the platform where I received that year’s eighth grade citizenship award. The honor was completely unexpected. I didn’t even know there were prizes for being a good citizen. I was pleased to find out they existed – at least at Sutter Middle School.
I think that was the only award I received in the three years I attended Sacramento public schools. It’s the only one I remember. If there were others, their memory has faded.
Do you have trophies or certificates like mine, awards you didn’t expect to receive? Do you still have them? Surely there are others with similar stories.
Well, God’s Word seems to indicate that surprise awards and unexpected praise will be handed out in Heaven to slack-jawed believers. Our Master Jesus told this story to give those who choose to follow him that hope.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:31-40, NIV)
Did you catch the puzzled looks on the faces of the righteous men and women who are commended here? They’re looking at Jesus, their King, and asking, “What are you talking about?” as he finishes up his words of praise. “We didn’t do anything special. Nothing worthy of mention here.”
But their Master insists. “You did so much. What you did for others in need you did for me.”
The story of the believers stops there, but there will be more, much, much more to their narrative. Theirs is the never-ending story. It goes on and on and on and on – forever! No “the end” to stop the delight of those who are here applauded. Can you see the puzzled looks disappear as the King welcomes the righteous into Paradise? Joy – unimaginable, complete – is now the dominant feature on each of their faces. Awe fills their hearts which thrill at the incredible reward given them for their service to the King.
Hey! Let me bring you into the story. If you’re a believer, one who has been made righteous by faith in Jesus, this is your story. You will be among the stunned followers of God’s Son rewarded on this day. Things you won’t even recall doing will be lifted up as praiseworthy. Moments when you showed compassion. Moments when you expressed love. Moments when you looked to the interests of others. They’ve all been recorded in God’s memory and they will be rewarded. I promise. They will not be overlooked. Not one little act of kindness will be forgotten.
Listen to Jesus words at another time. “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:40-42, NIV)
So go out and serve. Feed the hungry. Give the thirsty something to drink. Clothe the naked. Visit the sick and the imprisoned. If you will do these things, great will be your reward in Heaven.
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